These next two games were hard to put in any order. To be honest, outside of the top three I'm not sure I would label this as a "top ten" list so much as a "list of ten." But it's too late to change that, now. We continue this fun little offseason distraction with the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl.
The 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl against Virginia was the first FBS post-season game I ever attended. I've been to plenty of FCS post-season games, but never even to the SEC Championship Game with FBS. The SEC Championship Game always falls on a drill weekend, so I've never been able to make it. I wasn't planning on making this game, but an Auburn classmate and fellow ROTC graduate called me and said he had two tickets, so I bought them and gave one to my brother as a Christmas present. My brother and I have been together for quite a few great football games, of which one more will be on this list before we're finished. I also took the opportunity to go to this game because I take every opportunity I can to see old Army buddies. This is particularly true of ones who have become brothers in their own right from time deployed together.
This game was just a lot of fun. The Georgia Dome - to me - is a great place to watch a football game. I hope the Stankonia Dome can give us as much in terms of not really being a bad seat in the house. We sat just a few rows from the top of the dome near the fifty yard line for this game and they were fantastic seats. We caught the tail end of Tiger Walk and the pregame pep-rally before heading into the dome and discovering how good the view was from the seats. It was shortly afterwards that we discovered one of my favorite things about this game:
Both teams wearing a "home" jersey. I think I would have preferred Virginia's blue helmets, but I liked this look overall. And it was a lot of fun to see the orange and blue on the field at the same time. With the color discrepancy not needed for black-and-white TV anymore, I wish it happened more often. However, I am personally NOT a fan of Auburn ever wearing an orange uniform. Look at that beautiful blue and white. It's perfect.
For the game itself, it started out as a bit of a struggle offensively for Auburn. Star running back Mike Dyer was suspended and would never put on an Auburn uniform again. Starting QB Clint Moseley went down with an injury on Auburn's second possession of the game. I remember thinking then that Auburn should just put in Kiehl Frazier and let him run with it since he was likely to be the 2012 starter. Gene and Gus had different plans and put in former starter Barrett Trotter.
I remember thinking after the first few games that Barrett Trotter definitely had what it took to run Gus' system. I think he was hampered by a relatively weak offensive line, the mid-season injury to Emory Blake, and the handcuffing of Gus' play calling by Gene Chizik. When Trotter came back in during the bowl game it was obvious he planned on going out on top. And it also seemed to me that for this game, Gus' last as offensive coordinator, Gene Chizik had removed the handcuffs and let Gus do what he does best.
The result was an offensive explosion. Auburn scored on five of their next six possessions. The other possession resulted in a missed field goal. Trotter showed why he was the starter at the beginning of the season behind a more experienced line, a healthy Blake, and Gus free with his play calls. Special teams showed out with two blocked punts, a long run back on a free kick, and Cody Parkey laying down one of his beautiful onside kicks.
We also got to see something else that had been sorely lacking: an impressive defensive performance. Say what you want about Gene Chizik as a head coach, but as a defensive coordinator the man was very good. It gave me hope that Auburn's 2012 defense would show great improvement. I promptly lost all hope after the new Defensive Coordinator was hired. If you're interested in my reasoning there I'll cover it in the comments. No need to clog the article with it.
The game ended in a 43-24 victory for the good guys. Spirits were high even with Gus Malzahn moving on to take the head coaching job at Arkansas State. After a frustrating 2011 regular season, the bowl game was a breath of fresh air and showed us how much fun a high-powered offense could be. And then 2012 happened.
For the last night in 2011 though, all was right in the Auburn football world. Midnight struck as my brother and I were leaving a MARTA parking lot headed to our parents' house. And as always when the clock strikes midnight on the new year wherever my father is, I called to wish him a happy birthday. I haven't missed it when I've been away from home, even when I've been in Iraq or Kosovo. It was nice to be able to have a conversation about a fun Auburn football game, as well.
One thing that is clear about Gus from this game is that he does not need an athletic quarterback to be successful. Right now we're blessed with a phenomenal athlete in Nick Marshall. But go back and watch this game on YouTube and you'll see that Gus is effective whether his QB is considered "mobile" or not.
Next up on the list we're going to dip back in to my days as a student. My last home game as a student, actually.