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.