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2011 Chick-Fil-A Bowl Recap

Virginia Cavaliers vs Auburn Tigers - Auburn 43, Virginia 24

It was New Year’s Eve night in the city of Atlanta, a vibrant urban environment with a lot of happy college football fans and a cosmopolitan population intent on having a first-rate party. It was incredibly fitting, then, that one of the nation’s most successful December bowls – regularly able to get a crowd of over 70,000 people – threw such a thoroughly entertaining bash for a mass audience.

The man throwing the first-rate New Year’s Eve party was Gus Malzahn. The Virginia Cavaliers never really had much of a chance.

Malzahn was the man who took center stage inside Atlanta’s Georgia Dome on Saturday. The offensive coordinator of the Auburn Tigers – in his final game for AU – let loose by uncovering every last page of his expansive playbook. After a year of tensions with Auburn head coach Gene Chizik, Malzahn decided to take the open head coaching position at Arkansas State University. The move shocked many national college football observers, but it gave Malzahn the freedom to call exactly the kind of game he wanted to call at Auburn. Malzahn is considered one of the foremost offensive minds in the sport, and so with one last chance to leave a memorable mark on the AU program. He did not disappoint.

Auburn used all sorts of gadget plays, including a Statue of Liberty play and multiple variations on the reverse and end-around templates designed to snooker Virginia’s defense through the use of misdirection. Most of these plays worked, as shown by Auburn’s prolific output against the constantly befuddled Cavaliers.

Auburn rolled up 454 yards of offense, with 273 of those yards coming on the ground. At least three different Tigers ran for at least 55 yards, a sign of Auburn’s diversity and unpredictability on offense. Virginia coach Mike London made the Cavaliers one of the ACC’s and the nation’s most surprising teams this season by instilling a flinty, hard-nosed demeanor into UVA’s defense, but on this night in Georgia, the Cavaliers looked slow and soft against Malzahn’s innovative boldness. Auburn racked up 40 points through three quarters (38 on offense; two other points came on a safety resulting of a blocked Virginia punt that bounced out of the back of the Cavaliers’ end zone) and could have gone for a lot more if the game hadn’t already been decided midway through the fourth quarter.

Malzahn will now take his show to Jonesboro, Arkansas. The Sun Belt Conference will be the lucky and unexpected recipient of a top-level play caller. If Malzahn’s head coaching career enjoys a level of success that is even slightly comparable to the 2011 Chick-Fil-A Bowl, Arkansas State is going to prosper in the coming years.

By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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