Tide must stop Michael-Vick-like quarterback

Hailing from Sacramento, California and competing for Iowa State, Seneca Wallace is used to being far away from home. But even though he and his teammates have never played Alabama, they know the name very well. <br><br>"When you hear ‘Alabama,' you just think about the Tide and their tradition," Wallace said. "They've been to so many bowls and competed for so many things.

"Their tradition is the first thing that comes to mind.

Wallace and the Iowa State Cyclones will face off versus Alabama in Shreveport, Louisiana in the Independence Bowl. The game will be played Thursday, December 27th at 6:30 pm (CST) and will be televised nationally by ESPN.

"I grew up watching everybody--It wasn't just Alabama," Wallace continued. "But I saw them play a couple of times on TV. Growing up I heard about their big rivalries. We've been preparing for Alabama, getting ready for this big game on the 27th. It's going to be fun to go down there and play against them."

Wallace ended up second in the Big 12 in total offense. (Cyclone Illustrated)

Accounting for more than 2500 yards of total offense, Wallace was named the Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year. "(Wallace is) one of the most athletic quarterbacks we've played all year and one of the better ones that I have seen," said Carl Torbush, Alabama's defensive coordinator. "He's very poised. He throws the ball extremely well, especially the deep ball."

Wallace was signed by Iowa State out of Sacramento City Junior College, and in his first season of major-college competition he completed 167 passes for 2044 yards. In leading the Cyclones to a 7-4 record, Wallace threw 11 touchdown passes with nine interceptions.

He's obviously a talented passer, but it's what Wallace does when the play breaks down that sets him apart from other college QBs. "What really worries you is that he has tremendous scrambling ability," Torbush said. "He's got great running skills. He's made some big runs against everybody they've played. He made several runs against Nebraska that were truly outstanding. You can think you've got them stopped, then all of a sudden that quarterback will make a big play."

Subtracting lost yardage due to sacks from the numbers, Wallace gained 663 yards carrying the football. He scored seven touchdowns on his own with a long run of 60 yards. "It's all about what the defense gives you," Wallace said. "Like any other quarterback, if I'm able to run for 10 yards and pick up a first down, them I'm going to do that.

"It's all about what plays are designed for me. If we roll out and can get to the edge and I can pick up a couple of yards running the ball, then I'm going to be able to do that."

Texas A&M's R.C. Slocum assessed Wallace's ability. "He is one of the best quarterbacks in our league, and we have some great players in the (Big 12). (Nebraska quarterback Scott Crouch) is a good player. But in terms of athletic ability and being a threat, Wallace might be the best quarterback in the league."

Given the fact that Crouch recently won the Heisman Trophy as the best player in college football, it's evident that the Alabama defense will face a tough task in stopping Wallace. "He's what you're looking for in today's game of football," Torbush said. "He's very athletic, but he's not just an athlete playing quarterback. He is a quarterback that is a very good athlete. He's got great running skills, but I think he's also got great vision. We're going to have to tackle him very well.

"He checks off well. He's able to throw the deep ball. He's a good passer. You can look at the stats; he's had a very solid year. He's made very few mistakes."

Led by Wallace, the Cyclone offense averages 384 yards per game, with the numbers breaking down to 202 via the pass and 182 on the ground. "Our offense is real balanced," Wallace said. "We want to establish and run our base offense. That's when we're most effective."

Recognizing their quarterback's special ability to run the football, Wallace's coaches installed several plays designed especially for him. "I wouldn't say they encourage me (to run)," Wallace said. "But sometimes when it's crucial they say ‘When you get to the edge and can pick up the first down, then just go ahead and run the ball.' And they've got a couple of plays that are designed for the quarterback to run the ball. They just tell me to do my best."

The balance of power shifts from year to year, but few would argue that in 2001 the Big 12 Conference was as tough as they come. And Wallace impressed all season long. "In the open field, Wallace runs like an elusive running back," was Kansas State Head Coach Bill Snyder's assessment. "I've seen him make some very, very good players miss. Also, he's completing (62) percent of his passes. Most people don't do that in warmups."

Said to be Michael Vick-like in his athleticism, Wallace can be most dangerous when he has to scramble with the football. (Cyclone Illustrated)

Given his success, it's interesting to note that relatively few big-time programs were after him to play quarterback. Wallace explained; "I was recruited by a lot of schools, but a lot of them wanted me to play receiver. A lot of the Pac-10 schools were trying to get me to play receiver. Iowa State or Kansas State were the last two places."

Against the Baylor Bears, Wallace broke several Big 12 records, completing 22-of-24 passes for a career-high 299 yards and four touchdowns. His passing percentage (.917) was a Big 12 record and his 18-straight completions during the game not only broke the conference record, but also bettered the old Big Eight and Southwest Conference marks.

With 229 yards per game, Wallace finished the season second only to Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury in Big 12 Conference total offense. "I've surprised myself," Wallace admitted. "I thought it was going to be a tough task. We're in one of the best conferences in the country, so I thought it was going to be a tough job. God watched over me. He got me through the season healthy and made sure I could go out there and compete every Saturday. The outcome was good."

Having lost numerous starters from last season's 9-3 squad--including quarterback Sage Rosenfels to the NFL's Washington Redskins--Iowa State was expected to struggle this season. But thanks in large part to the efforts of Seneca Wallace, that didn't happen.

"It's more than I could have imagined," Wallace said. "I came here and had a great time. We've been able to accomplish some things, so it's been a great season for me. This is an important time in my life. It's special because we're going back to a bowl. People didn't think we would be able to do that, because of so many seniors that we lost. But we got back to that point, and I'm really appreciative of that."

Of course waiting for them in that bowl is the Alabama Crimson Tide, a team Wallace and his teammates are frankly excited about playing. "Alabama's tradition means a lot," Wallace said. "I know they're going to come out and play hard, because they've been to so many bowl games. They've been there before, so I'm pretty sure they know how to come out and play.

"Playing Alabama with their tradition means a lot to me and the rest of the team."

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