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April 12, 2012

Auburn spent a little more than $1 million on Chick-fil-A Bowl expenses

Auburn spent $1,031,380 on its trip to Atlanta to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, according to its NCAA bowl expense reports, a figure far smaller than the expenses the Tigers incurred a year earlier for the trip to play in the BCS Championship Game.

The SEC hasn’t released completed revenues yet for the conference’s bowl game, which makes it impossible to determine Auburn’s bottom-line revenue or deficit on the trip, but after the SEC dispenses bowl revenue from all of its games, Auburn will likely come out far ahead given the relative savings of the trip.

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer obtained the expense reports through an open records request.

Auburn absorbed 2,775 tickets out of the 16,000 tickets the school was allotted to sell through the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but less than 1,000 of those tickets went unused. Of those tickets, 1,861 were used by Auburn staff, player guests and the band, and 864 were unsold.

For the second straight season, Auburn spent nine days at its bowl destination, but the Tigers spent $2,901,706 on the trip to Glendale, Ariz., an unsurprising figure given how much further Auburn had to travel for its national championship game appearance.

The Tigers spent very little for the 2-hour trip up the highway to Atlanta, nearly $900,000 less than it cost the school to get everybody to Arizona for the national championship game.

Auburn’s entire party, which included 351 members of the team and staff, 438 members for the band and cheerleaders and 28 members of the official party, which includes faculty, athletics department employees, etc.,  spent $151,905 on transportation expenses and $541,231 on meals, lodging and per diem, by far the biggest expense on the trip.

After taking 938 total members of the party to the BCS National Championship Game, Auburn’s entire party was only 817 members in this season’s trip to the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Also, after spending $19,648 on entertainment in Arizona, Auburn spent a paltry $360 on entertainment in Atlanta.

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January 1, 2012

The day after: Unlikely faces make a big impact in Chick-fil-A Bowl win for Auburn

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Before I leave Atlanta to head back to Auburn, I’ve parked at a Taco Mac to take another look at Auburn’s Chick-fil-A Bowl win and catch some of the early NFL action on New Year’s Day. Beyond the obvious, there were an awful lot of players who came up with big plays in Auburn’s 43-24 drubbing of Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and some of those plays went a little bit under the radar in a game that had a bunch of big plays and big moments.

On the earlier post, I tried to look at some of the big-picture stuff from Auburn’s Chick-fil-A Bowl win. With this post, I wanted to get a few more quotes in there, plus a glimpse at some of the other things I took away from the Tigers’ bowl game heading into the offseason. Unfortunately, the fact that so many players saw action in Saturday’s game — 28 Auburn players saw the first bowl action of their careers in the first half alone on New Year’s Eve — means there are probably not many conclusions to be drawn going forward about who’s the starter, who’s going to play a backup role, or any other depth chart-type stuff long-term. With two new coordinators to be hired by Auburn

Photo by Todd Van Emst

head coach Gene Chizik, nearly every player is probably going to have to earn his spot under a new coach in the spring and next fall.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t draw a few observations. For more on Auburn, make sure to follow the blog on Twitter.

  • Auburn head coach Gene Chizik had all kinds of good things to say about quarterback Barrett Trotter. “This guy is a man’s man,” Chizik said. “He’s never pouted a day. Let me tell you what he did for us the last three days. He threw passes at times for our scout team. Tonight, he stepped up to the plate.”
  • Chizik and several players have only good things to see about Trotter as a person. He’s a widely-respected figure on the team. “If my son Cally grows up and is like Barrett Trotter, then I did everything right,” Chizik said.
  • Trotter admitted that being the backup has been tough, going so far as to say that it can be tough to prepare the same way. As far as the way he was able to get in and start clicking, Trotter said that’s part of the role. “As the backup, it’s kind of the role I’ve been in lately,” Trotter said. “You have to prepare to come in cold.”
  • Being demoted was tough, even for a guy like Trotter. “There were times after not playing that I was thinking I’m never going to play again,” Trotter said. “It is really hard to stay motiveated and even go out and practice every day. I can’t  lie and say I was excited to go out and watch most of practice. You owe it to the rest of the guys on the team.’
  • Chizik did make one reference to the injuries Auburn has faced. “We’ve had something in the neighborhood of 12 or 13 surgeries, and we just kept coming back,” Chizik said.
  • Auburn went at a very quick pace. “Coach Malzahn told us, as soon as we get the first down, we’re going to start pacing,” Onterio McCalebb said.
  • As the game wore on, middle linebacker Jake Holland saw increasing time in Auburn’s lineup in place of senior Eltoro Freeman, and sometimes in the same formation with Freeman. One simple reason. In Chizik’s Tampa Two schemes, the middle linebacker is key, because he has to drop deep down the middle of the field in pass coverage. Freeman, although a physical player at the point of attack, is not a coverage specialist. Holland rewarded the extra playing time by making a pick late in the game. “
  • Cornerback Ryan White did not play much, but he has been almost an afterthought for most of the late portion of the season, and he made one key play early in the game. With Virginia hoping to hit a big play on a halfback pass, White stayed in tight coverage on the only receiver in the pattern and forced the Cavaliers’ running back to pull the ball down and run.
  • Planning to have more on this in tomorrow’s Ledger-Enquirer, but Carver graduate Gabe Wright showed some impressive pass-rush skills on two plays in the second half. On his sack, Wright said he ripped through the guard and beat a chip from the center to come up with Auburn’s only sack, and on the ensuing drive, Wright used a textbook swim to beat Virginia’s All-ACC guard, Austin Pasztor, and get another hit on Rocco. The battle between Wright and Kenneth Carter for playing time going forward should be a good one. “The swim move has been one of the moves I like using,” Wright said. “It’s not (defensive line coach Mike) Pelton’s favorite, he’s more of a rip guy, but he’s told me to do whatever’s more comfortable.”
  • Philip Lutzenkirchen had an uncharacteristically bad night catching passes. His first target, a laser from Clint Moseley, was probably a little hard, but it still hit him in the hands, and he had a chance to score on a nifty play from Barrett Trotter that he dropped later. Lutzenkirchen made his contributions mostly as a lead blocker on the night. “My job tonight was blocking wide,” Lutzenkirchen said.
  • Only caught a brief glimpse of Clint Moseley in the postgame melee, but he was on crutches as he headed to the bus.
  • Auburn has won five straight bowl appearances, the longest such streak in school history. In addition, Gene Chizik is 9-0 in his coaching career in bowl games, a stat that gets a little more freaky every time I look at it. Auburn also has four straight wins inside the Georgia Dome, where the Tigers open next season against Clemson.
  • DeAngelo Benton hasn’t been able to make much of an impact on Auburn’s offense, other than a big touchdown catch against Florida, but he came up with a big play on special teams to help spring Quan Bray’s 62-yard punt return. “It felt good,” Bray said. “DeAngelo got the block.”
  • Meant to make note of this already, but free safety Ryan Smith saw extended action in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, at times in place of starter Demetruce McNeal. McNeal still had four tackles, but Smith recovered a fumble and came up with tackle-for-loss on the blitz later in the game.
  • On Garrett Harper’s punt block, he wasn’t expecting to burst through. “I didn’t expect to get it,” Harper said. “I always try to get through there, but it rarely happens.”
  • Onterio McCalebb said he hasn’t been listening to all the questions about his size and whether or not he’s too small to run inside. “I don’t listen to people when they say he’s too small, he can’t do this, he can’t do that,” McCalebb said. “I just go out and play my game.”
  • Both McCalebb and Chizik had high praise for Auburn’s offensive line. “It all goes back to our offensive line,” McCalebb said. And Chizik said the line got an awful lot of push. “They did a good job of knocking people off the line,” Chizik said.
  • Emory Blake said he recognized that Trotter may try to find him deep before the 50-yard throw the two connected on in the first half. “I kind of had a feeling, because I saw the safety was kind of flat-footed,” Blake said. “B.T. just let it go. It was in the air, all I had to do was go get it.”
  • Following the decision by Malzahn to insert Trotter in the game rather than let Kiehl Frazier run the entire offense, Frazier rushed for 55 yards and two touchdowns, but he would like a chance to run the full-fledged offense. “I really don’t like running the ball,” Frazier tweeted after the game. “Wish I could throw it. Whatever gets us a win though.”
  • Frazier was used as Auburn’s power option. “We came in with Kiehl, and we ran an inside power running game off that same look to try to be able to open it up,” Chizik said.

Emptying the Chick-fil-A Bowl Notebook: Auburn vs. Virginia

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Time to get the New Year started with a blog to get things rolling. Ever since the Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup between Auburn and Virginia was announced, the collective press assembled have been hearing from bowl officials that the game was unopposed in its time slot. And I’m guessing that’s a good thing, because Auburn put together a wildly entertaining finish to the season filled with big plays and surprise performances. Barrett Trotter, a quarterback that Gene Chizik said has been running scout team at times during bowl practices, came off the bench to throw for 175 yards and a touchdown, rush for 32 yards and capably lead an Auburn offense that rarely struggled after its first two drives.

Coming into the game, Virginia’s defense was ranked 31st in the country, and even though the Cavaliers faced a weakened ACC schedule — Virginia did not have to play Clemson, the league’s most prolific offense — Virginia had hung its hat on an ability to play tough defense and stay close in games. Auburn responded by shaking off some early cobwebs and tearing apart a Virginia defense that was working without leading tackler Steve Greer and All-ACC cornerback Chase Minnifield. Auburn’s 454 yards were the most any offense has gained against Virginia this season, and the Tigers’ 273 rushing yards were also a season high for the Cavaliers to allow. Not a bad finishing flourish for outgoing Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who can now take over the head coaching job at Arkansas State full-time.

The offense can’t take all the credit, though. Auburn’s special-teams units crushed their counterparts on the Virginia side. Garrett Harper and Angelo Blackson blocked punts, Cody Parkey belted three field goals despite an early miss, Parkey recovered his own onside kick early in the game and Quan Bray had a 62-yard punt return. Even Steven Clark blasted his three punts for a 49.0 average and buried one inside the 20. Chizik has said all year that for Auburn to win big games, the special teams have to produce, and Tigers special teams coordinator Jay Boulware led a tour de force performance on New Year’s Eve.

Because the Chick-fil-A Bowl ended as the Ledger-Enquirer’s deadline started, getting full stories in the paper was a little tough, but I went back and rewrote the stories for the paper’s website. Take a look at the links below.

Things may be quiet for a couple of days as far as Auburn availability goes, but there are a couple of obvious questions hanging over the football team that will need to be answered soon (Coordinators, anyone?). For coverage of that, and some basketball now that the holidays and football are drawing to a close, follow the blog on Twitter.

Four-down territory

  • First down — Kevin’s already handled the Trotter performance well, but if there was one thing that really stuck out about his performance, it was Trotter’s pocket awareness. He never got sacked, a point of issue that had been a problem at times with Moseley back there. Trotter seems to have a better feel for moving around in the pocket, buying time and knowing when to take off and try to pick up some yardage with his legs. Trotter finished with 32 yards rushing on five carries, plus a 12-yard run late, and kept himself clean for the most part against a Virginia pass rush that really did put a heavy rush on the junior for most of the game. That, and Trotter was extremely accurate, especially on the beautiful deep ball to Blake down the middle of the field. Perfect throw by Trotter, and probably the best throw I’ve seen from an Auburn quarterback since taking over the beat.
  • Second down – Coming up with a complete defensive tour de force would have been pretty tough for any defensive coordinator, and Auburn did give up 435 yards of total offense. With the performance, the Tigers’ defense set school records for most yards allowed in a season and broke a 32-year-old Auburn record for yards allowed per game. Auburn gave up 408 yards-per-game this year. But if I had to make one observation about the difference between Roof’s defenses and Chizik’s defense — and granted, it was a small sample size — the defensive backs seemed to be dictating the action more than they did earlier in the season. Chris Davis was a force with eight tackles and a forced fumble, Ryan Smith seemed to be playing closer to the line of scrimmage, even Jonathon Mincy seemed to be playing with a little chip on his shoulder. It will be interesting to see who emerges from that group next year.
  • Third down — On the other hand, take away a couple of big plays by Carver graduate Gabe Wright and Angelo Blackson’s blocked punt — by the way, what was Virginia thinking by trying to rugby punt out of the shadow of its own goalpost? — the defensive line really needed to make a bigger impact in this game. Corey Lemonier had three tackles, but he really struggled to get any kind of consistent pressure, and Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco had all the time in the world to throw, which played a huge role in his 312-yard performance. And it wasn’t just Lemonier. Without Wright’s late-game burst, Auburn had no sacks, no quarterback hurries. That’s leaving the secondary out on an island in a big way.
  • Fourth down — A healthy Emory Blake can make all the difference in the world for Auburn’s passing game. Most of the Tigers’ other receivers have very clearly defined roles; Quan Bray and Trovon Reed are swing-pass guys who make people miss in the open field, Quindarius Carr is a deep threat, DeAngelo Benton plays behind Blake and so on. Blake really can run every route in the playbook. Hampered for most of the final stages of the season due to a high ankle sprain, Blake didn’t have his normal burst, but it looked like he’s all the way back against Virginia. Blake’s speed gave Virginia fits on the outside, and other than an uncharacteristically bad drop on third down, Blake was a force as Trotter’s go-to receiver.

December 31, 2011

Auburn’s offense explodes in 43-24 Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Virginia

Here’s my game story, or at least how it starts, from Auburn’s win over Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. There will be more reflection coming on Sunday. Right now, I’m guessing most of you are busy out celebrating New Year’s.

ATLANTA Outgoing offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn had drawn a lot of criticism for Auburn’s struggles this season.

Hired at Arkansas State last month, Malzahn stuck around to call the plays in the Chick-fil-A Bowl for an Auburn offense that did not have its leading rusher and lost its starting quarterback early in the first quarter.

None of those factors made any difference.

Auburn blasted Virginia 43-24 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl behind a Malzahn-directed offense that featured a game plan built to highlight Auburn’s speed.

“He was on the aggressive side,” Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said. “We have a lot of speed, starting with Onterio (McCalebb), and we have some weapons they have to be concerned with.”

Replacing Michael Dyer, the bruising 210-pound star who is suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules, fell to the speedy McCalebb, a 174-pounder who normally takes Auburn’s carries on the edge. Throughout bowl practices, McCalebb had been asked if he had the body type to be a feature back.

“I’ve been here for three years, and people say that I can’t do this or can’t do that,” McCalebb said. “I just wanted to go out and play my game.”

McCalebb finished with 109 yards rushing on 10 carries, caught two passes for 53 yards, scored two touchdowns and was named offensive MVP.

But the speedy junior wasn’t the only weapon Malzahn used. Freshman running back Tre Mason picked up 64 yards and scored on a 22-yard touchdown run. Emory Blake had six catches for 108 yards. Kiehl Frazier was used as the Tigers’ inside presence and picked up 55 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

The offense took a little time to get in gear.

Both of Auburn’s first two drives ended badly, and starting quarterback Clint Moseley left the game in the first quarter with a leg injury. Moseley was on crutches after the game.

Malzahn replaced Moseley with Barrett Trotter, the junior who opened the season as Auburn’s starter before giving way to Moseley at halftime of the Florida game.

The decision came as a surprise. Most observers thought Auburn would put in Frazier, the highly-touted freshman. Trotter had taken reps as Auburn’s scout team quarterback at times in the week leading up to the game.

“There were times after not playing where you’re thinking, ‘Am I ever going to play again,” Trotter said. “As the backup, it’s kind of the role I’ve been in lately, you have to prepare to come in cold.” …

For the rest, check out the story at www.ledger-enquirer.com. Be back on New Year’s Day with more.

Chat live at halftime of the Chick-fil-A Bowl with Auburn beat writer Joel A. Erickson

Been a while, but the halftime chat is back. Come here at halftime of the Chick-fil-A Bowl to talk all things Auburn from the first half.

Pregame, Chick-fil-A Bowl edition: Auburn vs. Virginia

Bowl week has finally come to a culmination after a week full of bowl practices, bowl contests and press conferences, and I’m in the press box at the Georgia Dome for tonight’s Chick-fil-A Bowl, scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. ET, but I’m going to bet the clock runs a couple minutes past that before this game actually gets started. From what I’ve seen, there are plenty of fans of both schools walking around Atlanta so far, but you have to get close enough to read the writing on their shirts to figure out who’s who. Not sure every fan coming to the game got the memo that Auburn is supposed to wear navy and Virginia is wearing orange.

The Chick-fil-A Bowl has been announced as a sellout, but whether or not the stadium will be full depends on whether or not both schools sold out their ticket allotments. When a school reaches a bowl, the school then buys tickets from the bowl to sell out of its own site, and reports out of Virginia were saying that the Cavaliers had not been able to sell as many as 4,000 tickets.

For news and notes throughout the game, follow the blog on Twitter, and I’ll be chatting live at halftime here on whatever Auburn’s got cooked up for the first half. Take a look at the links below for all the stories I wrote to preview the game in today’s paper.

Not much more left that hasn’t been covered at some point in the last month, but to recap, Clint Moseley should be the starter, Tre Mason will probably play a big role in Dyer’s absence and Quan Bray may see time at running back. Keep coming back, this blog will be updating until Auburn goes into the locker room before the game.

QUICK SLANTS

  • For those who have a little money to kill, or a bowl pick-em that is still in flux, Auburn is favored by 3.
  • Auburn head coach Gene Chizik is undefeated in eight bowl appearances as a coach. As a graduate assistant, a defensive coordinator and a head coach, Chizik has not been beaten.
  • The series between Auburn and Virginia is tied at one game apiece. The two teams played in 1997 and 1998, splitting both games.
  • Auburn has won four straight bowl games, and a bunch have been close games. The last four, in fact, have been decided by three points and the last three ended on scoring plays as time expired.
  • Virginia has not played an SEC team since facing South Carolina in 2003. Besides the annual rivalry with Clemson, Auburn is 4-2 against ACC teams in bowl games.
  • Auburn is 20-3 when Emory Blake or Philip Lutzenkirchen catches a touchdown pass.
  • The Tigers have won 17 straight games when intercepting a pass and 20-1 in the last 21 games.
  • Auburn’s roster is extremely young. For those looking for the breakdown, Auburn has 24 true freshmen, 11 redshirt freshmen, 16 sophomores, 15 juniors and 13 seniors on scholarship. Seventeen freshmen have played this season, the second-highest figure in the nation behind Texas.
  • Mike London has not been a head coach in a bowl game, although he took Richmond to an FCS national championship in his first year in charge of the program. As an assistant at Virginia, London is 2-2 in bowl games.
  • Virginia is 31-47-6 all-time against current members of the SEC, but the numbers change if you look at the stats another way. The Cavaliers are 7-17 against teams that are active members of the SEC.
  • Virginia is playing in its first bowl game since 2007.
  • The Cavaliers also haven’t had to deal with all the injuries and movement on the offensive line that Auburn has struggled with this season. Auburn has only had one starter, center Reese Dismukes, start every game at the same position, but Virginia’s line hasn’t changed once this season. All five players have been the same for all 12 games.
Update, 5:26 p.m.: Virginia middle linebacker Steve Greer, who led the Cavaliers with 103 tackles, probably will not play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Update, 6:43 p.m.: Davis Hooper and Garrett Harper are both warming up with the running backs behind McCalebb and Mason.

Update, 6:48 p.m.: Still have not seen banged-up Virginia corner Chase Minnifield, an All-ACC pick, on the field yet. London said he was a game-time decison.

Update, 6:51 p.m.: Minnifield is on the sideline in sweats. So I’m going to guess he’s not available.

Update, 7:08 p.m.: Both teams have headed to the locker room, the clock reads 27 minutes left until kickoff. Come back here for the live chat at halftime, I’ll be chatting.

 

Matching Up: Chick-fil-A Bowl, Auburn vs. Virginia

Photo by Todd Van Emst

By now, it’s been an awfully long time since Auburn played a football game, but the Tigers are finally getting ready to take the field and get your New Year’s Eve started off early. In that break — which was 35 days, to be exact — an awful lot has happened. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof left to take the same position at Central Florida. Running back Michael Dyer was suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn agreed to become the head coach at Arkansas State, although he’s sticking around to call the plays in the bowl game. Whether or not the change is for better or worse will not be seen for a couple of years, but there is some shifting going on in the Auburn football offices. At the very least, two new coordinators will be working with Gene Chizik in 2012.

But that’s a question to answer for tomorrow. Auburn (7-5) finishes off 2011 tonight against Virginia, a scrappy ACC team that knocked off a few high-profile opponents this season. The Cavaliers (8-4) have not played in a bowl since 2007, and Virginia is trying to get a signature win. Beating an SEC opponent — Virginia has not played an SEC team since taking on South Carolina in 2003 — might be that win, pushing the Cavaliers to a nine-win season. For the Tigers, the game is an opportunity for a young group to build momentum heading into the 2012 season.

A little later than usual, but the look at the matchups is below. For news and updates in 140 characters through tonight’s game, follow the blog on Twitter, and I’ll be live chatting at halftime as always.

Matching Up

  • Where: Georgia Dome.
  • When: 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday.
  • TV: ESPN
  • Records: Auburn 7-5; Virginia 8-4.
  • Series: The series is tied 1-1.

When Auburn runs

Establishing the ground game has been paramount all season long for an Auburn team that finished fourth in the SEC in rushing at 174.8 yards-per-game, but there is a little bit of the unknown in tonight’s incarnation of the Tigers’ rushing offense. With Michael Dyer suspended, Tre Mason and Onterio McCalebb will have to carry the load, along with a possibly brief appearance by Quan Bray. In addition, I have a hunch — and it’s only a hunch — that Kiehl Frazier may see extended action in the running game to help make up for the loss of Dyer. Over on the other sideline, Virginia has built a defense that is strongest between the tackles. The Cavaliers finished fourth in the ACC by only giving up 128.3 yards-per-game, but Virginia also gave up more than 180 rushing yards to North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Virginia Tech. Edge: Push.

When Virginia runs

Throw out the Cavaliers’ last two games against Florida State and Virginia Tech, and Virginia’s rushing game was an extremely consistent weapon this year. Running backs Perry Jones and Kevin Parks complement each other well, and Clifton Richardson may also factor into the mix as an option to carry the ball. Virginia did struggle against Florida State and Virginia Tech, but those two teams finished the season ranked No. 6 and No. 12 in the nation in total defense. Over on the other side, Auburn gave up 194.8 yards-per-game, 11th in the SEC, and faces a big, experienced line. Even with Chizik running the defense, the Tigers face a tough test in stopping Virginia’s two-headed running attack. Edge: Virginia.

When Auburn throws

Auburn’s inability to consistently throw the football hampered the Tigers’ offense this season. The Tigers finished 10th in the SEC in pass yardage at 153.4 yards-per-game, a mark that ranked 106th in the country. Inconsistency at receiver beyond Emory Blake, problems at quarterback and an offensive line that gave up 31 sacks all contributed to Auburn’s problems in the passing game.  Virginia was only middle-of-the road against the pass in the ACC, allowing 214.8 yards-per-game, but the Cavaliers also held opponents to a league-low 53.8 percent completion rate. Whether or not All-ACC cornerback Chase Minnifield is healthy, the Tigers have to find a way to open up Virginia’s defense and make some plays down the field in the passing game. Edge: Virginia.

When Virginia throws

Sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco threw for 2,359 yards this season, and backup quarterback David Watford also saw some time in the pocket for Virginia this season. But the passing game has hampered the Cavaliers by producing mistakes. Rocco and Watford combined to throw 15 interceptions this season, lose three fumbles and only tossed 14 touchdown passes. In terms of turnover margin, Virginia was 90th in the country after turning the ball over 26 times this season. Auburn’s pass defense struggled against good quarterbacks this season, but the Tigers have been able to regularly exploit quarterbacks who can be rattled despite their suspect pass defense, which ranked dead-last in the SEC at 211 yards-per-game. South Carolina, Florida and Ole Miss struggled to get something going in the air against the Tigers. Edge: Auburn.

When Auburn fields a kick

Even if the Tigers haven’t garnered the same attention nationally that other teams have, Auburn’s special teams have been solid all season long. In the kick return game, problems against LSU and Georgia were countered by Onterio McCalebb’s 83-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the Iron Bowl, and Tre Mason has also brought a kick back this season. In terms of kickoff coverage, Virginia was fifth in the ACC, and punter Jimmy Howell only averaged 39.4 yards-per-kick. Edge: Auburn.

When Virginia fields a kick

Unless Khalek Shepherd, who averaged 26.2 yards-per-return on 15 kickoff chances this season, has the ball in his hands, Virginia has had problems getting a consistent return together. The Cavaliers only average 5.8 yards on punt returns and 21.7 on kickoff returns. More importantly, Auburn’s kickers may have a field day booming balls inside ideal kicking conditions in the Georgia Dome. Cody Parkey, who blasted 34 touchbacks this season, and Steven Clark, who only gave up 10 punt returns all season, may not give any Cavalier a chance to try to bring one back. Edge: Auburn.

Through the uprights

Being in the Dome eliminates any elemental problems for Auburn’s Cody Parkey and Virginia’s Robert Randolph. Parkey was 11-of-15 with a long of 43 this season, Randolph finished 15-of-22 with a long field goal of 48. Edge: Push.

On the sideline

Ever since Roof left for Central Florida and Chizik took over as defensive coordinator, many Auburn fans have been looking forward to seeing what a Chizik-run defense can do in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and all indications from the players themselves have been that Chizik has made a positive impact on the defense. Malzahn may be leaving for Arkansas State after this game, but he’s also gotten a reputation for having a one-track mind, and with 35 days to prepare, give or take a few, he will probably have a few wrinkles ready that is not on film yet. In addition, Chizik is undefeated in bowl games as a graduate assistant, defensive coordinator or head coach. On the other sideline, Virginia’s Mike London has drawn rave reviews for his performance in bringing the Cavaliers back to a bowl game, but this is Virginia’s first bowl since 2007. Edge: Auburn.

Prediction

Auburn’s strength of schedule has to factor into any assessment of the Tigers’ season so far. Against top-tier teams, the Tigers struggled mightily, but they also beat South Carolina and handled every weaker foe they played, even if it sometimes wasn’t the prettiest of wins (I’m looking at you, Florida Atlantic and Samford). Virginia’s national rankings may be better, but the Cavaliers’ offense did not play the slew of top-10 defenses Auburn faced — five teams in the top 10 in total defense — and it struggles to take care of the football. In bowl season, as a rule, I tend to put a heavy premium on conference strength, and the SEC schedule Auburn faced dwarfs Virginia’s ACC slate, which didn’t include Clemson, the league champ.

My pick: Auburn 24, Virginia 20.

December 30, 2011

Profiling the Opponent: Perry Jones, RB, Virginia

Virginia has flown under the radar for most SEC fans this season by virtue of being in the ACC. But the Cavaliers seem to be building a little momentum under second-year head coach Mike London, who has assembled a young roster with room to grow going forward that has a knack for winning close games. Wins over Florida State, Miami and Georgia Tech all came by a touchdown or less, and the Cavaliers have a nice combination of balance on offense. The key to that balance may be junior running back Perry Jones, who operates in a time-share with freshman Kevin Parks in the backfield, but Jones carries an awful lot of responsibility in Virginia’s offense.

Because of an altered schedule for bowl week, my normal schedule of blogs has been shaken up, but look for the normal Matching Up post to go up on the website sometime early on Saturday morning along with all the rest of my preview coverage. For more, follow the blog on Twitter, and the halftime chat will be up and running tomorrow.

Perry Jones, RB

  • Height: 5-8.
  • Weight: 185.
  • Class: Junior.
  • Hometown: Chesapeake, Va.
  • Twitter: N/A.

So far this season: Jones earned honorable mention All-ACC honors as Virginia’s multi-purpose threat out of the backfield. Jones, a speedy back who is sometimes used on special teams, racked up a bunch of yardage this season. In the running game, Jones carried 176 times for 883 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught 41 passes for 416 yards and three touchdowns, the second-most catches on the team. In addition, he can step into the return game if needed. Over the course of the season, Jones had 45 yards on six punt returns and 191 yards on 12 kickoff returns.

Scouting report: For Virginia, Jones is something of a Swiss Army knife who can be used almost any way the Cavaliers want to deploy him. Rather than hitting the hole hard, Jones like to pick his way through the line, using good vision to find a hole and hit it. Jones also has very good hands out of the backfield and serves as quarterback Mike Rocco’s security blanket. He may not be a traditional home threat, but Jones is the player Virginia will turn to when the Cavaliers need to move the chains and keep things going.

Gene Chizik says he will serve as defensive coordinator from the sideline

In 13 years as the defensive coordinator, Gene Chizik never coached from the sideline. He has always called the plays from above.

But Chizik confirmed Friday during the Chick-fil-A Bowl coaches press conference that he will be on the sideline to fulfill head coaching duties while serving as Auburn’s defensive coordinator in the bowl game.

“We’ll have to get used to it in the first quarter, and it’ll be a little bit different,” Chizik said. “But we’ll make it work.”

Auburn graduate assistant Dustin Landry, who has been with Chizik the past three years, will be up in the the press box to serve as Chizik’s eyes above the field. Landry and Chizik have been working on the dual role for the past three weeks, Chizik said.

And asked if he feels any added pressure by being the defensive coordinator, Chizik said he’s heavily invested in every game Auburn plays.

“I’m heavily invested in every game,” Chizik said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m going to serve water on the sidelines, or coordinate the defense.”

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  • Virginia cornerback Chase Minnifield will be a game-time decision with an undisclosed injury.
  • Asked if there is any danger of overconfidence going into a game against a non-SEC opponent, Chizik said they handle every game the same way. “”Every week, the way we structure everything we do, is almost robotic to a certain degree,” Chizik said.
  • Chizik has been asked over and over again whether or not the coordinator change is going to change the program at all, and he responded the same way he has for weeks.  ”Auburn is Auburn,” Chizik said. “That’s not changing. It could be Joe is the coordinator, Jim is the coordinator, Frank is the coordinator.”
  • Making the decision to be the defensive coordinator for the bowl game was no problem. “I felt like since I did it for 13 years, I was qualified to be the defensive coordinator,” Chizik said.
  • A moment later, Chizik came up with a joke about the same thing. Asked by a Virginia reporter about what it’s like to see a game like Baylor’s 67-56 win over Washington in the Alamo Bowl Thursday night, Chizik said he hadn’t seen it, but any game like that makes any defensive guy cringe. “If that happens to us tomorrow, then I’m probably not qualified to be the defensive coordinator.”
  • Chizik came up with another joke when asked about Virginia’s motion on offense before the snap. A reporter referred it to their shifts, motion and trading, and then added “stuff.” “Their stuff is pretty good stuff, and that stuff wins a lot of games,” Chizik said.
  • The Chick-fil-A Bowl is a sellout for the 15th straight year, Chick-fil-A Bowl spokesman Matt Garvey said Friday.

Chizik: The status of Michael Dyer has not changed

Photo by Robin Trimarchi

Auburn head coach Gene Chizik addressed rumors about Michael Dyer’s status with the team at Friday’s Chick-fil-A Bowl press conference.

“Michael Dyer’s status with Auburn has not changed, and if it does, I will let you know,” Chizik said.

Two Arkansas State players tweeted Thursday that Dyer was transferring to Arkansas State, but the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette refuted that report.

“I’m not aware of any of that,” Chizik said.

Chizik also declined to discuss his conversations with Dyer, who is suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules.