Virginia-Auburn Preview

A year ago, Auburn won the national title by completing an
unbeaten season. Virginia was licking its wounds from another
losing campaign.

The upstart Cavaliers may be enjoying the more accomplished
season this time.

Virginia goes for its first postseason win in six years when it
faces the Tigers in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta on New Year’s
Eve.

Auburn (7-5) won its second national championship last season,
beating Oregon in the BCS title game – its fourth consecutive bowl
victory – to cap a 14-0 season.

After losing a great deal of the roster including Heisman Trophy
winning junior quarterback Cam Newton, the Tigers have endured an
inconsistent season, finishing 4-4 in SEC play.

While the Tigers were lifting a trophy last season, Virginia
(8-4) went 4-8 to finish outside the bowl picture for a third year
in a row.

It’s been a different story in 2011 for the Cavaliers, who
nearly reached the ACC title game before falling 38-0 to
then-sixth-ranked Virginia Tech in their regular season finale.

“Last year at this time, I was packing it up and putting it away
for the season,” senior wide receiver Kris Burd said. “It’s my last
game coming up. It’s going to be an emotional game and I’m looking
forward to it.”

Second-year Virginia coach Mike London is pleased with the
dramatic turnaround.

“No one thought we’d be this far or get to this point,” he
said.

Michael Rocco will be under center for the Cavaliers looking to
redeem himself after a difficult performance in the loss to the
Hokies. The sophomore completed 16 of 27 passes for 211 yards but
with two interceptions, matching his total from the previous seven
games when he also tossed 10 touchdowns.

Virginia will surely need a better performance from the
offensive line, which allowed Rocco to be sacked a season-high four
times against Virginia Tech while the running game was held to 30
yards.

The front five, which includes senior All-American guard Austin
Pasztor, is considered among the ACC’s best, having given up just
15 total sacks while the Cavaliers averaged 165.3 yards on the
ground.

They’ll now face an Auburn defense that surrenders 29.3 points
and 405.8 total yards per game, second-most in the SEC for both
categories.

It’ll be up to coach Gene Chizik to help the Tigers contain
Virginia. He’s assumed the role of defensive coordinator after Ted
Roof left to take the same position at Central Florida.

“I’m doing a good juggling act right now,” Chizik said. “Time
management is something I’m trying to spend a lot of time trying to
balance out right now. It’s a challenge, but I’m making it
work.”

At least Chizik won’t have to worry about the offense, since
coordinator Gus Malzahn is expected on the sidelines despite
already having been introduced as Arkansas State’s next coach.

It’s still unclear who Malzahn will be directing in the
huddle.

Clint Moseley took over for Barrett Trotter as the starting
quarterback down the stretch, but now freshman Kiehl Frazier is
also emerging as an option.

During a season-ending 2-3 stretch as the starter, Moseley
completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 674 yards with five
touchdowns and three interceptions, all returned for TDs.

Frazier has been used in wildcat formations, completing 5 of 12
passes for 34 yards and two picks. He’s a more imposing threat on
the ground, gaining 272 yards and a score on 60 carries.

However, Frazier has seen more time with the starting offense
recently, and this could be his chance to make a case for unseating
Moseley as the Tigers’ starting quarterback for 2012.

“He’s getting more reps in the regular offense, because he
understands it better,” Chizik said. “He understands different
concepts.”

Whichever quarterback is under center will have to contend with
a stingy Virginia defense that allows an average of 214.8 passing
yards, and he’ll have to do it without top running back Michael
Dyer.

Dyer is suspended for the Chick-fil-A Bowl for violating team
rules, leaving the Tigers without their first player to top 1,000
rushing yards in his first two seasons.

The sophomore, who ran for 1,242 yards and 10 touchdowns this
season, is likely to be replaced by Onterio McCalebb.

McCalebb, a junior who is more than 30 pounds lighter than the
206-pound Dyer, ran for 532 yards with an average of 5.2 per carry
and four scores. He also caught 30 passes for 291 yards and a
TD.

The teams have split two all-time meetings with Virginia winning
the most recent Sept. 3, 1998.

The Cavaliers’ last postseason appearance was a 31-28 loss to
Texas Tech in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, 2008, when they blew a
14-point fourth quarter lead and allowed the decisive field goal
with two seconds to play.