“First of all I want to say think you to the Auburn family,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said in accepting the winners’ trophy in front of the remaining Auburn fans in the Georgia Dome. “Look at you, it’s New Year’s Eve and you’re still here.”
Auburn starter Clint Moseley left the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury with the Tigers trailing the Cavaliers 7-0, leaving the game in the hands of Trotter and freshman Kiehl Frazier who has been used primarily all season in the Wildcat formation.
With Trotter and Frazier sharing the snaps, things worked out just fine as Auburn (8-5) won its fifth-consecutive bowl game, the longest bowl winning streak in school history.
Trotter, who started the first seven games of the season before being replaced by Moseley, completed 11 of 18 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown, but he was hardly a one-man show on a night when the Tigers rolled up 454 yards in total offense.
Tailback Onterio McCalebb, the bowl MVP, rushed for 109 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown run and caught six passes for 108 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown pass from Trotter.
Frazier also helped out with 16 carries for 55 yards and two touchdowns.
The Tigers had promised to pull out all the stops against Virginia (8-5) and did just that.
Auburn pulled a successful onside kick in the first half that led to a touchdown, and was aggressive throwing the ball downfield, including a 50-yard completion from Trotter to Emory Blake that led to one of Frazier’s touchdown runs..
Auburn also blocked two punts, one by Angelo Blackson that went out the back of the end zone for a safety.
The Tigers led 28-17 at the half.
Tailback Tre Mason put the Tigers ahead 35-17 with a 22-yard touchdown run on Auburn’s first possession of the second half.
Virginia rallied back with a drive that resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run by Kevin Parks.
Auburn moved the football, but the drive stalled. Then came the first of four consecutive special teams’ plays that put the Tigers firmly in command of the game.
A Stephen Clark punt was downed on the Virginia 6-yard line.
The Cavaliers lost yardage back to the 1, and on fourth down Blackson slipped through the line to block the punt out of the end zone for the safety.
The third big play came on the ensuing free kick, which Quan Bray returned 60 yards.
That led to the fourth big play on special teams — a 45-yard field goal by Cody Parkey that put Auburn ahead 40-24 with 47 seconds to play in the third quarter.
The victory wrapped up an uneven season for the Tigers coming off last year’s magical, unbeaten run to the BCS national championship.
Auburn suffered massive personnel loses from last year, including Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and NFL No. 1 draft choice Cam Newton.
A down year was not unexpected, but the margins in some of the losses were.
Auburn lost to Arkansas 38-14, LSU 45-10, Georgia 45-7, and Alabama 42-14.
But the Tigers came back from the Auburn loss with Saturday night’s performance, arguably their best of the season.
Charles Bennet covers Auburn University sports for The Star. Follow him on Twitter @AUTigers_Star.