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Virginia Game Postgame Thoughts

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Once again, Coach Gene Chizik’s staff did a solid job of preparing their team for bowl game competition. There were many distractions leading up to this season’s game but the coaching staff and players were able to overcome the obstacles to defeat their opponent by 19-points. The Auburn offense and special teams were clearly the difference in the game as Coach Gus Malzahn leaves on a high note, directing a unit without it’s best player in 2011.

With Clint Moseley going down with an ankle injury early in the game, it was a great finish for the season to see much maligned Barrett Trotter coming off the bench to rally the offense with very limited preparation for the game. Even with the loss of Michael Dyer in the lineup, Auburn still rushed for 273-yards, the most in an Auburn Bowl Game, since the Tigers rushed for 301-yards against Michigan in the 1984 Sugar Bowl. Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason combined for 173-yards on 19 carries and 2 TD’s.

Special teams has been a team strength all season and was the only advantage Auburn had coming into the game based on both team’s regular season statistics. They were instrumental in Auburn separating itself from the Cavaliers, resulting in a lopsided victory. Auburn came up with 4 touchbacks on kickoffs, 2 blocked punts, a safety and a long kick-return. The Tigers connected on 2 long field goals to go along with a 49-yard punt average. Auburn’s special teams finished the season with a passing grade in 11 of 13 games, a primary reason why the Tigers finished the season with a winning record in 2011.

Inside the Numbers:

  • Of McCalebb and Mason’s combined 21 offensive touches, 9 went for at least 11-yards or more, including 5 of Auburn’s 9 impact plays on offense.
  • Trotter’s QB rating of 161.1 against Virginia was the 4th best passing performance by an Auburn quarterback during a bowl game.
  • Emory Blake’s 106-yards receiving was the 11th time an Auburn receiver had over 100-yards receiving in a bowl game. The Tigers are now 10-1 in bowl games, with a 100-yard receiver.
  • McCalebb’s 10.9 yards per carry was the best rushing average by Auburn’s leading rusher in a bowl game.
  • Auburn has now allowed 503.0 yards per game in the three bowl games underChizik. The 435-yards allowed to the Cavaliers was the lowest total in the 3 bowl games.
  • After giving up 99-yards rushing the first half, the Auburn defense allowed only 24-yards during the second half.
  • Auburn’s defense gave up 295-yards during the first half and 140-yards during the second half.
  • Under Chizik, Auburn has allowed an average of 97.0 yards rushing in bowl games.
  • Auburn is now 16-0 in bowl games, when holding the opponent to under 140-yards rushing.
  • 10 of Virginia’s 11 possessions started at least 70-yards away from the Auburn end zone.
  • Under Malzahn, Auburn averaged 466-yards and 34 PPG in three bowl games.
  • Cody Parkey finished the season with an amazing 38 touchbacks on his kickoffs in 2011.
  • During his 40 games as Auburn’s offensive coordinator, Malzahn’s offense averaged 425-yards and 34 PPG. This included an average of 228-yards rushing per game.
  • Auburn’s 43 points against Virginia was a school record in bowl games.
  • Auburn is now 100-2-0 in games they score at least 21 points by halftime since 1981. The two losses were to Georgia in 1996 and Clemson in 2011.
  • Under Chizik, Auburn is now 11-1 in games they held their opponent scoreless during the 4th period.
  • Under Malzahn, Auburn had at least 20 points by halftime in 16 of 40 games. During the previous 40 games prior to Malzahn’s arrival, Auburn had 20 points by halftime, 6 times.
  • Auburn’s pass offense under Malzahn had a compiled pass rating of 148.1 in 40 games. During the 40 games prior to his arrival, Auburn’s pass offense had a pass rating of 117.2. This includes 72 TD pass and 29 interceptions under Malzahn and 36 TD’s and 39 interceptions during the 40 games before Malzahn’s hiring.
  • Under Malzahn, Auburn’s offense totaled at least 400-yards in offense in 24 of 40 games. During the 40 games before his arrival, the Auburn offense reached 400-yards in total offense, ten times.
  • Auburn’s offense rushed for at least 200-yards in 26 of 40 games under Malzahn. During the 40 games before his arrival, Auburn rushed for 200-yards, 9 times.

Gus sticking around to coach the bowl game was a huge benefit for the 2011 Auburn Tigers. There is no doubt he is well respected and loved by his players and they clearly played well to send off their coordinator in style. The offense was a major disappointment this season but they saved their best performance of the season for the bowl game. I don’t believe this would have been the case had Malzahn departed after being hired by Arkansas State. His offense set numerous school record in just three seasons and was the driving force of capturing a BCS National Championship. He will be missed at Auburn as a coach but more importantly as a role model to his players. I wish him all the success in the world in his quest to be the best head football coach possible.

Though there isn’t a major difference in finishing 8-5 or 7-6 but winning this bowl game is the first step to rebounding in 2012. The returning players and coaches will go into the off-season on a positive note, which is a stepping stone for a high number of returning players. As much of a hindrance as it was to have such a youthful team in 2011, it should be a blessing for 2012 with all these players coming back. Auburn’s off-season conditioning program will be paramount to building a much stronger team in 2012, especially in the trenches. The incoming defensive coordinator will be in a much better situation than when Ted Roof arrived in 2009. The offensive coordinator won’t be as fortunate but it’s far from being dismal.

There hasn’t been much good news rolling in over the past month, when it comes to Auburn football, so the 43-24 victory over Virginia is a terrific start. Auburn will likely hire their two new coordinators over the next couple of weeks, which should bring back more excitement to the program. It will be interesting to see if Trotter elects to play his senior season at Auburn to compete once again for the starting job. If not, I am thrilled he played well during his final game as an Auburn Tiger, despite being called into duty with minimal preparation. The 2011 Auburn Tigers lacked leadership this season, so it was wonderful to see him step tonight, when he was needed the most.

On a side note, I wish the Auburn family a happy and healthy new year. I’ve had some health issues this season, which kept me out of work for nearly 8 weeks. The good Lord blessed me physically as well as spiritually to return back to work after Thanksgiving. I hope to continue crunching Auburn numbers for many years to come but have come to appreciate every opportunity to do so. When you have your life values prioritized the way they should be, it makes the losses far easier to handle and the victories much more enjoyable!

God Bless, War Eagle and Happy New Year!

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