Posted on: January 1, 2012 1:07 am
Edited on: January 1, 2012 1:12 am
Posted by Bryan Fischer
ATLANTA -- After every score Saturday night Virginia fans swayed back and forth singing their alma mater to the tune of 'auld lang syne.'
On New Year's Eve at the Georgia Dome however, it was the Auburn faithful who sang the actual song with gusto to ring in 2012 with a 43-24 win in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
"What a great win," head coach Gene Chizik said. "You can say it's the last win of 2011 or the first win of 2012. However you want to spin it, it was a great win. I couldn't be more proud of our players or our coaches."
Playing their final game in the waning hours of 2011 was not what some in the orange and blue were looking forward to. The program had been to the top, been perfect, nearly 12 months earlier but had tumbled down the mountain to 8-5.
The confetti and plush Chick-fil-A cows falling from the rafters in Atlanta were nice but it was unmistakably different from what was falling from University of Phoenix Stadium in January.
The victory, in many ways, bookended one of the most up-and-down years in school history.
"I've said many times that our future is extremely bright. We've got a lot of really good young players," Chizik said. "We've had a lot of highs this season and we've had some lows. The highs have been really high and the lows have been really low. But these guys always bounce back."
They had been through so much, Aubie the Tiger could have gone to the court house and changed his name to Teflon Tiger. NCAA investigations? Asked, answered and over. They were walloped at home by rival Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Top running back Michael Dyer was not with the team and rumors swirled all month about him transferring. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof departed for Central Florida and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn surprisingly accepted the head coaching job at Arkansas State.
Despite all that, the program wrapped up 30 wins in three years and are tied for the active lead with five straight bowl wins.
"Even though we didn't have a defensive or offensive coordinator, I give all props to Coach Chizik and the staff for holding us together," defensive tackle Gabe Wright said.
Chizik, who is a perfect 9-0 in bowl games as an assistant or head coach, had a little extra on his plate given that he was coordinating the defense.
"It was very challenging," he said. "(Virginia) was an offense that did a lot of things we hadn't seen all year long. You have a lot of obligations. To try and be a position coach, the defensive coordinator, to call the game and still make decisions on the sideline - to go for it, onside kick it, punt, whatever it is - that's a lot of moving parts."
Special teams - one area where the head coach usually helps oversees - was key to turning a tight game into a blowout. Down seven, Onterio McCalebb scored on a statue of liberty play. Instead of putting the defense on the field, Chizik called for an onside kick.
Well, was nudged into calling it.
"We told them before the game started that after we scored the first touchdown, we were going to do it," he said. "But I forgot because I was over getting mixed up with the defense. After the second one, one of the coaches came up and said we had to do it. The players were all in to it."
The defense set a school-record, though it's nothing for them to be proud of, by allowing 408 yards per game. It's one reason why Roof is in Orlando and Chizik now sits at a crossroads having to replace two coordinators.
Last season, it was Malzahn - not Chizik - who was credited for most of the Tigers success last season. He won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant and his departure is one reason why, despite the amount of talent on the depth chart entering 2012, the future at Auburn still seems unclear.
How respected is Malzahn? He was the one, not the head coach, that was showered with Gatorade as the final few seconds ticked off the clock.
"That style of offense, they change up the reads and make it to where your run fits are important," Virginia head coach Mike London said. "Coach Malzahn does a great job and I wish him luck at Arkansas State."
"He's always going to be a great friend of mine and I'll always be very appreciative of him for what he's done for Auburn in three years," said Chizik. "I wish him the best, he's going to do a great job and be a great head coach."
Malzahn was aggressive and sped up the offense more than he had during the season. The Tigers' offensive output was so unusual that even normally sure-handed H-back Philip Lutzenkirchen dropped what would have been a touchdown pass in the 2nd quarter. The Auburn sideline took a few moments to stare in disbelief before snapping the ball again.
Starting quarterback Clint Moseley, who took over down the stretch run to close the season, injured his ankle early in the game. The offense didn't skip a beat with Barrett Trotter and Kiehl Frazier however, the former using his arm and the latter his legs to power scoring drives complete with misdirection and big plays. Fully healthy for the first time since October, wide receiver Emory Blake seemed to change the dynamics of the offense with his ability to stretch the field. The game's most outstanding player, McCalebb, had the team's longest run of the season in the second quarter.
"We just went out there and played hard," Lutzenkirchen said. "It felt good to get a win for the seniors."
The Cavaliers, who competed a remarkable turnaround in London's second season to come close to playing in the ACC title game, couldn't sustain momentum despite 428 yards of offense at nearly six yards a play. They missed a chance at the program's first bowl win in six years but did so without two of the team's best players, cornerback Chase Minnifield and linebacker Steve Greer.
"It's been a fantastic year for us," London said. "You get a chance to reflect on a lot of things. Right now this one stings a little bit. They played better than we did. We just regroup and get ready."
While London appears to have Virginia pointed in the right direction, there's still plenty that remains to be seen about the direction Auburn is taking. If the bowl game was any indication though, things will be just fine on the Plains.
"We just came out here and got the job done," said McCalebb. "People didn't give us much credit coming in. We knew we had to go out and do what we do."
Wright, a freshman defensive tackle who said he would ably step in for Nick Fairley on Signing Day in February, had a coming out party with a sack that setup the safety and was the only player who was able to get any pressure on quarterback Michael Rocco most of the night. Fellow frosh Quan Bray had a nice return after the safety and, despite his lack of attempts, Frazier left an impact by scoring two touchdowns in goal line situations.
"I've said it before, the future is extremely bright," Chizik said. "And this win gives a good idea of the direction we've been going in."
Bookended by success, Chizik will have to hope he's got a few more lessons ready to keep the program from taking two steps forward but one step back in 2012.
"We won some big games and we got beat in some big games," he said of the season. "There's a lot of teachable moments in there for our team."
Enough, he hopes, to carry over into next season as old acquaintances be forgot.
Tags: ACC, Alabama, Arkansas State, Aubie the Tiger, Auburn, Barrett Trotter, Broyles Award, Bryan Fischer, Central Florida, Chase Minnifield, Chick-fil-A Bowl, Clint Moseley, Emory Blake, Gabe Wright, Gene Chizik, Georgia Dome, Guz Malzahn, Iron Bowl, Kiehl Frazier, Michael Dyer, Michael Rocco, Mike London, NCAA, Nick Fairley, Onterio McCalebb, Philip Lutzenkirchen, Quan Bray, Steve Greer, Ted Roof, UCF, University of Phoenix Stadium, Virinia
Posted on: December 31, 2011 11:14 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
AUBURN WON: A Tiger offense that had been in second gear since September and was missing leading rusher Michael Dyer suddenly roared to life in Gus Malzahn's final game at the helm, scoring 43 points and racking up 454 yards, both season highs allowed (or are they lows?) for the Cavalier defense. But the story of the game was Auburn's dominance on special teams, where the Tigers blocked not one but two Virginia punts (leading to nine points), foiled a fake Cavalier field goal, successfully executed a surprise onsides kick and set up a field goal with a 62-yard Quan Bray kick return. The Tiger offense was the best it had been since Week 2 vs. Mississippi State, if not all season--but it also had the benefit of a lot of help.
WHY AUBURN WON: Those special teams played the largest role, but if the same Tiger offense that had shown up over the last half of the season had shown up in Atlanta, those special teams wouldn't have mattered for much. The difference was an unusual source for a spark: demoted backup quarterback Barrett Trotter, benched at midseason for Clint Moseley and not even considered a part of the team's bowl preparations with freshman Kiehl Frazier being groomed for a larger role. But Moseley left the game after just one series with an ankle injury, and Trotter stepped into hit 11 of his 17 passes for 175 yards and 1 touchdown.
Sure, the total yardage number isn't all that eye-popping. But Trotter only needed to make a couple of throws downfield -- the prettiest a 50-yard in-stride bomb to Emory Blake to set up a second-quarter touchdown -- to open up the Auburn screen and running games that had been bottled up since the early stages of the season, thanks to the lack of deep accuracy from the Tiger QBs (Trotter included). With everything in the playbook at his arsenal (including the read options Cam Newton used to great effect last season, thanks to Frazier's repeated successful cameos), Malzahn was unable to unleash the kind of offensive barrage that's made his name as a coach.
Virginia's offense had its moments -- the Cavaliers had 435 yards of their own -- but with the Tigers clicking the way they were and the UVa special teams providing less than no help, they missed far too many opportunities to keep up.
WHEN AUBURN WON: Tiger placekicker Cody Parkey had a nice night, depositing five of his eight kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks, perfectly executing the onsides, and hitting 3-of-4 field goals. The last of those put Auburn up 43-24 with just over 8 minutes to play, and effectively ended the game.
WHAT AUBURN WON: Their fifth straight bowl game -- good for a share of the nation's longest bowl streak, tying Rutgers and Mississippi State -- and an eighth game for third time in Gene Chizik's three-year tenure. Given Auburn's schedule and the massive roster attrition following last year's run the national title, the Tigers can't feel disappointed about their 2011 effort.
WHAT VIRGINIA LOST: A chance at a first bowl victory since 2005, but given where the program was when Mike London arrived, the Cavs will happily take 8-5 and a Chick-Fil-A bowl appearance, we think.
FINAL GRADE: Though the outcome left the realm of doubt sometime during the third quarter, the ample offensive fireworks, aggressive coaching from both sidelines, and big plays made the game a breezy, enjoyable watch all the same. It wasn't the Alamo Bowl, but what is? B.
Posted on: July 20, 2011 2:11 pm
Edited on: July 20, 2011 2:45 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
It always seemed a longshot that running back Mike Blakely would see the field this season for Auburn.
A four-star recruit out of Bradenton, Fla., Blakely signed with Florida and enrolled in Gainesville in time for spring camp. But a closer look at the new Will Muschamp regime (and specifically Charlie Weis's pro-style offense) convinced him to transfer to the Plains. Even with Blakely's limited time as a Gator, his signature on his Letter of Intent means the NCAA's transfer rules dictate a year on the sidelines.
But Blakely and Auburn applied for a waiver from the NCAA, hoping that the coaching change and Blakely's injury-induced absence from Florida's spring practice might induce them to let Blakely skip the usual transfer penalty.
Per Blakely's own Twitter feed, that waiver is not happening:
Blakely will spend his redshirt year in 2011 and hit the field for Auburn for the first time in 2012.
While not exactly a surprise, the decision could prove to be a blow for an Auburn backfield not exactly swimming in depth. With stars Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb the only two true scholarship tailbacks on the spring roster, Gene Chizik already moved former cornerback Anthony Morgan to running back to shore things up. Incoming freshman recruit Tre Mason is expected to qualify (again, per his own Twitter feed) but has not yet officially been cleared and enrolled. If Mason for whatever reason does not clear the qualifying bar, the untested Morgan will be one injury away from likely seeing major carries.
Auburn would have other ways of dealing with this worst-case scenario -- athletic receiver/returner freshman Quan Bray is already slated to moonlight at running back -- but for a team with as much inexperience as the reigning national champions, it's one more headache Chizik and Co. would rather avoid.
Posted on: July 4, 2011 4:03 pm
Edited on: July 4, 2011 6:19 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
What has already been a miserable offseason for two college football programs in the state of Alabama has become that much worse this holiday weekend.
Tonya Bray, the 37-year-old mother of Auburn wide receiver/running back signee Quan Bray, died Sunday after being shot in LaGrange, Ga. Police have arrested Quan's father, Jeffery Jones, and charged him with murder in connection with Tonya's death.
According to police, witnesses saw a driver pull alongside Tonya Bray's vehicle in LaGrange Sunday morning and fire multiple shots into the vehicle before speeding away. Jones turned himself into police within an hour of Bray being pronounced dead at West Georgia Medical Center.
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik released a statement regarding the incident:
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Quan and his entire family during this extraordinarily difficult time. This is a terrible tragedy, but the Auburn Family will support Quan in every way possible throughout the grieving and healing process ahead. Quan is a great young man with a bright future, and we will be there for him every step of the way."The tragedy only adds to what has been the most difficult offseason in recent memory for college football in the Yellowhammer State. Bray's death comes on the heels of the drug-related passing of Alabama lineman Aaron Douglas, the loss of Tide long snapper Carson Tinker's girlfriend in the April tornado disaster and all the other difficulties for both programs in the wake of those storms, as well as (on a much less serious note) the poisoning of Auburn's beloved Toomer's Corner oak trees and the March arrest (and dismissal) of four Tiger players on armed robbery charges.
A highly regarded all-purpose athlete out of Lagrange's Troup County High School, Bray is already enrolled in classes at Auburn and is expected to compete this fall for playing time at receiver, running back, and kick returner. Eye on CFB offers he and his family our thoughts and condolences.
Posted on: January 5, 2011 5:49 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
At 7 p.m. Eastern tonight, college football fans can get a look at some of the proverbial stars of the future in the Under Armour All-American Game, which will feature any number of top-flight recruits and the commitment decisions of maybe a dozen or more currently uncommitted prospects.
One of those players is expected to be Griffin (Ga.) defensive end Xzavier Dickson, who'll be choosing between Alabama and Georgia. Or, if he's telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the truth, he'll be letting random fate choose for him . The AJC's Chip Towers relayed the following conversation:
I asked [Dickson] if he already knew which way he was going at that moment. He admitted he had not.
Fellow Georgia blue-chip Quan Bray (a wideout/running back from LaGrange), Dickson's roommate at the game, told Towers that Dickson had told him the same thing. So at the very least, it's not some elaborate lie told solely for Towers' benefit.It could, of course, be an elaborate lie to add some extra drama to his announcement all the same; while he's right that both the Bulldogs and Tide would provide him with plenty of top-flight coaching and SEC excitement (not to mention a role as the outside pass rusher in the teams' respective 3-4 defenses that have made players like Justin Houston and Courtney Upshaw), surely Dickson wouldn't see them as such dead equals as to let a coin decide for him. And the coin flip won't happen live on camera, as Dickson said he'd do it the night before.
But if Dickson is dead-set on making a decision at the game (and, more to the point, on ESPN) and truly doesn't see any difference between the Tide and Bulldogs, well, plenty of far important choices have been made with even more unreliable decision-making processes before.