SEC: Mike London

Instant Analysis: Auburn 43, Virginia 24

December, 31, 2011
12/31/11
11:29
PM ET

After falling behind early, Auburn emptied out its playbook on offense and dominated the kicking game to charge past Virginia 43-24 on Saturday night in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Here’s an instant analysis from the game:

How the game was won: Auburn was truly special in special teams, and Virginia was utterly awful. The Tigers blocked two punts -- one leading to a touchdown and another resulting in a safety. They perfectly executed an onside kick to lead to another touchdown, snuffed out a Virginia fake field goal and also returned a free kick 62 yards to set up a field goal. The Tigers, who led 28-17 at the half, also played much better defensively in the second half and held the Cavaliers to 140 total yards after the break.

Turning point: Cody Parkey’s onside kick came right after Auburn had tied the game at 14-14 early in the second quarter. On the second offensive play, Barrett Trotter hit Emory Blake on a 50-yard pass. Three plays later, Kiehl Frazier scored on a 1-yard touchdown plunge to give Auburn the lead for good.

Player of the game: Auburn’s Onterio McCalebb said prior to the game that he wanted to prove to everybody that he could be the go-to running back with Michael Dyer indefinitely suspended. McCalebb delivered for the Tigers with 109 rushing yards on 10 carries and two catches for 53 yards. He ran for a touchdown and also caught a touchdown pass.

Unsung hero: After Auburn starting quarterback Clint Moseley went down with an injury in the second quarter, Trotter came off the bench to throw the ball as well as has all season. He finished 11-of-18 for 175 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He also scrambled for 32 yards and kept several plays alive.

Stat of the game: Auburn’s 43 points were a season high.

Stat of the game II: Auburn coach Gene Chizik ran his bowl record to 9-0. He’s now 6-0 as an assistant coach in bowl games and 3-0 as a head coach.

Stat of the game III: Auburn (8-5) avoided the dubious distinction of becoming the first defending national champion since Ohio State in 1943 to lose six games.

Best call: Just about everything Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn dialed up. The Tigers ran statue-of-liberty plays, reverses, throwback screens, wrap-around handoffs and halfback passes. Malzahn, who will move on to be the head coach at Arkansas State, went out in style.

Second guessing: In one of several special teams blunders by the Cavaliers, coach Mike London called for a fake field goal in the second quarter with Auburn leading 21-14. The Tigers had all the momentum at the time, and the Cavaliers needed some points. But their fake from the 15-yard line was snuffed out by Auburn’s Chris Davis, and the Tigers answered with a touchdown drive of their own to take a 28-14 lead.

What it means: Auburn heads into the offseason with some momentum, not to mention its third straight season of at least eight wins under Chizik. The finish to the 2011 regular season for the Tigers was anything but memorable, as they were blown out by LSU, Georgia and Alabama. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof left for the same job at UCF. Malzahn took the head coaching job at Arkansas State, and Dyer was indefinitely suspended. But the Tigers overcame the distractions to play one of their most complete games of the season and win their fifth straight bowl game. The Cavaliers (8-5) are still looking for their first bowl win since the 2007 season and will go into the offseason with a sour taste in their mouths. Counting the 38-0 loss to Virginia Tech to end the regular season, they lost their last two by a combined 81-24 margin.

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Auburn vs. Virginia

December, 30, 2011
12/30/11
3:00
PM ET
No. 25 Auburn (7-5) makes it back to Atlanta to take on Virginia (8-4) in the Chick-fil-A Bowl Saturday night. Here's a quick preview:

WHO TO WATCH: Auburn sophomore defensive end Corey Lemonier showed how to avoid the sophomore slump this season. Despite the Tigers' defensive troubles, Lemonier was an absolute stud, finishing second in the SEC in sacks with 9.5, getting 8.5 of those in SEC play. He also tied for fifth with 13.5 tackles for loss. Against Virginia, Lemonier will have to be able to generate some pressure in the Cavaliers' backfield to take pressure off the rest of the defense. Virginia isn't great throwing the ball, but the Cavaliers are averaging 232 passing yards per game and are rushing for 165 yards a contest. Getting stops up front will go a long way for Auburn's defense Saturday.

WHAT TO WATCH: With Michael Dyer suspended for the bowl game, Auburn will turn to junior Onterio McCalebb and freshman Tre Mason to carry the rushing load. Dyer was Auburn's top offensive player and was a much more complete back than the others in the Tigers' stable. However, McCalebb and Mason have the talent to be a formidable one-two punch, but Mason is still very inexperienced. Freshman Quan Bray, who has a ton of athleticism, could get some work as well out of the backfield. Awaiting this running game is a Virginia defense that ranks 33rd nationally in rushing defense and is allowing just 3.7 yards per carry.

WHY TO WATCH: Until a winner is crowned between LSU and Alabama, these Tigers are still the defending national champs. On the other side, Virginia was a pleasant surprise in the ACC this season. A year removed from a 4-8 start to his coaching career at Virginia, Mike London guided the Cavaliers to an 8-4 regular season and they were in the mix for the ACC championship game until the final week. These two teams are similar in some ways. They are both young, rotated quarterbacks and had a knack for pulling out close games in 2011. Auburn's Gene Chizik is also pulling double duty as head coach and defensive coordinator, so it'll be interesting to see how the defense plays now after a season where it was near the bottom of the SEC in every statistical category.

PREDICTION: Virginia 31, Auburn 17. Thirty-one points for the Cavaliers is probably a little high, but I'll stay with my original prediction. Both teams are dealing with a youth movement, but Auburn's youngsters hit the wall at the midpoint of the season, while Virginia almost made the ACC title game. I'm not sure Chizik can turn this defense around that quickly and Dyer won't be around. Advantage: Cavaliers.

Chick-fil-A Bowl

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
11:27
PM ET
Virginia Cavaliers (8-4) vs. Auburn Tigers (7-5)


Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Virginia take from ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Just getting to a bowl game was an accomplishment for Virginia, which hasn’t been to one since 2007, but to be chosen as high as the top pick behind the Discover Orange Bowl exceeded expectations once again in Mike London’s second season.

The Hoos got some help from rival Virginia Tech, whose bid in the Sugar Bowl bumped everyone up a notch in the selection process. It’s a legitimate place for Virginia, though, which beat Florida State on the road during the regular season, and was in contention for the Coastal Division title through the final game, when it lost to Virginia Tech.

The Cavaliers had won four straight heading into the regular-season finale, before losing 38-0 to the Hokies. Despite the loss, London was named the ACC Coach of the Year, as his team had been picked by the media to finish fifth in the division this year.

The Cavaliers’ strengths are their front seven on defense, which is a veteran group, and an offensive line that has had the same lineup all season. The Hoos have been able to run the ball well for most of the season. It will be Virginia’s fourth appearance in the bowl, but the program hasn’t been there since 1998 -- also the last time UVa faced Auburn, a 19-0 win for the Hoos at Jordan-Hare Stadium.


Auburn take from SEC blogger Edward Aschoff: Along with replacing the nation’s best player in Cam Newton, the Tigers had to find players to fill in for just about everyone who was a part of the 2010 championship team.

Coach Gene Chizik and his team never let youth be an excuse for a team that had freshmen making up almost half of the entire roster. Auburn began 4-1, and while the Tigers were sloppy at times, when the game was on the line late, Auburn found ways to win. That included beating preseason East favorite South Carolina 16-13 on the road.

However, as the season continued, the team's youth began to show. The physicality that Auburn showed in close games started to die down and as the struggles continued, the Tigers found themselves dealing with a quarterback shuffle.

Junior Barrett Trotter began as the starter, but saw highly touted true freshman Kiehl Frazier take more and more snaps. But everything changed in Auburn’s 17-6 win over Florida, when sophomore Clint Moseley took the starting job after a solid second-half performance against the Gators.

Moseley remained the starter, but Auburn never really looked like the same team that opened the year. Outside of solid play from running back Michael Dyer, the Tigers’ offense struggled along, ranking 10th in the SEC (328.2 yards per game), while the defense stayed near the bottom of the league, giving up 405.8 yards and 29.3 points per game.

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