0

Auburn, Alabama QBs both having roller-coaster seasons

AUBURN, Ala. - Auburn's Brandon Cox and Alabama's John Parker Wilson have alternately thrilled and exasperated.

The two quarterbacks have coolly led game-winning drives, gamely risen from countless hits and won big games. Then there's the flip side: misfires, interceptions and assorted mistakes that have made both the targets of boos and criticism.

All that makes for one of the more tantalizing mysteries leading up to Saturday's Iron Bowl at No. 25 Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium. Which Wilson will show up? Which Cox?

Teammates and coaches have spent the week leading up to the game on the defensive about their quarterbacks.

'We have confidence in John Parker,' Crimson Tide linebacker Darren Mustin said. 'Everybody has bad games. He's my quarterback. I've got his back.'

Auburn tailback Ben Tate offered a similar sentiment on Cox. He points to dropped balls, missed blocks and other miscues that have affected Cox's production.

'Everybody's always down on the quarterback when things aren't always going right, but it's not always the quarterback's fault,' Tate said. 'Everybody has seen what he can do. He has won plenty of games with last-minute drives. I always have confidence in him.'

Sometimes it doesn't seem quite warranted.

Cox was intercepted four times for the Tigers (7-4, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) in their last outing at No. 6 Georgia two weeks ago. He's also the guy who has led Auburn on scoring drives to take the lead five times in the final 4 minutes of games this season, including winning drives at Florida and Arkansas.

'He's had four or five drives at the end of the game this year that were picture perfect,' Tigers coach Tommy Tuberville said. 'He's got experience. He understands how to prepare for a game like this one. He's played in this one before, and he likes this game.

'I like a quarterback like Brandon going into this game. He doesn't get rattled, doesn't get shook. He can take a lick and get back up and make a big play the next play. I'm looking forward to him playing this game.'

Wilson has been frequently off-target for the Tide (6-5, 4-3) in the Tide's last three games, all losses. He has been intercepted five times in those games and had a costly fumble in the final minutes against No. 1 LSU.

He's also the guy who picked Tennessee's secondary apart for 363 yards and three touchdowns and threw the game-winning touchdown pass against Arkansas.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wilson prepared like a coach before last week's Louisiana-Monroe game, spending late nights studying film. He appreciated the effort, which led to better numbers despite the two picks, one of them off a deflected ball.

'I have a lot better feeling about working with guys that really want to be good and are trying to be good and doing the right things than if they don't care about it,' Saban said.

Wilson said the extra preparation helped, staying in the film room as late as 11 p.m. then going home and doing more work. He said making smart decisions doesn't mean being overly cautious.

'You have to be conscious of the mistakes you've made, but you can't go out there and not throw a ball because you might get it picked,' he said. 'You have to understand what you're seeing and understand what the defense is doing and you have to protect the ball. That's the No. 1 goal.'