Michael Dyer Auburn

January 1, 2012 by staff 

Michael Dyer AuburnMichael Dyer Auburn, It has been a replacement kind of year for the defending national champions.  For a while, it looked like every Auburn Tiger but tailback Michael Dyer and a couple of ball boys had either graduated or left early for the NFL. In more than a few games this year, the Tigers played as many as a dozen freshmen. Even so, Gene Chizik’s team won some games they weren’t supposed to (Mississippi State, Florida and South Carolina).

But they were also exposed as a shadow of their former selves by LSU, Georgia and Alabama.

And yet in the final college football game of 2011, Auburn showed that replacements – even last-minute ones – can surprise you.

Dyer, the Tigers’ biggest offensive weapon, was sitting at home after being suspended indefinitely for an unspecified rule violation. Starting quarterback Clint Moseley was hobbling around the sideline on crutches midway through the first quarter.

None of it fazed Auburn, whose backups put together the most inspired second-string performance of the year, beating Virginia 43-24 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

It was a game that saw the Tigers block two punts, recover an on-side kick and rush for 273 yards, while holding the Cavaliers to 123 yards on the ground. If those numbers don’t sound that impressive, consider this: Prior to the bowl game, Dyer had more than twice as many rushing yards and touchdowns as all the other Auburn backs combined.

On the other side of the ball, Auburn ranked among the worst rushing defensive teams in the nation, and they played this game without a defensive coordinator. Ted Roof left after the Iron Bowl, so Chizik stepped in and ran the defense in addition to everything else.

“That was very challenging,” Chizik said of pulling double duty. “You have a lot of other obligations out there, and to try to be a position coach, and defensive coordinator, call the game, and still make decisions on the sidelines – that’s a lot of moving parts.”

Those parts moved pretty effectively. Virginia could manage only 24 rushing yards in the second half, while Auburn, despite an anemic first quarter, put up 454 yards of offense. On two occasions, the Tigers’ defense stopped the Cavs on fourth down, and both blocked punts resulted in points: the first setting up Auburn’s first touchdown, and the second being batted through the end zone for a safety.

Maybe they were fired up by Chizik, or maybe they were playing for offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who left Auburn the moment the bowl game ended to become the new head coach at Arkansas State. Whatever the motivation, Onterio McCalebb, playing in place of Dyer, rushed for a season-high 109 yards and added another 53 yards after catching passes from backup quarterback Barrett Trotter.

Trotter, who spent most of the year holding up signs on the sideline and throwing passes to the scout team in practice, came in for Moseley and looked like Tom Brady coming in for Drew Bledsoe. Trotter was 11 for 18 for 175 yards and one passing touchdown. He also rushed for 32 yards and led the offense like a man who had been there all year.

“As the backup, you have to be prepared to come in cold,” Trotter said. “That’s part of the deal. To be able to send all the guys out with a win, including coach Malzhan, that’s pretty special. That’s what it’s all about.”

“Barrett Trotter is a man’s man,” Chizik said. “Tonight, he stepped up to the plate and helped Auburn with their 30th game in three years. He never pouted (when he didn’t start) and never said anything negative. I told our football team and I told him, if my son Cally grows up and is like Barrett Trotter, then I’ve done everything right.”

The Tigers didn’t do everything right in Atlanta. Virginia was four of eight on third-down conversations, many of them from third-and-long. But Auburn did enough to make their head coach say, “The future looks bright at Auburn.”

“We’ve had a lot of highs this season, and we’ve had some lows,” Chizik said. “The highs have been really high, and the lows have been very low. But to see these young guys always bounce back makes me proud and happy for them.

“It’s not just a young football team; there have been the injuries. We’ve had somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 or 13 surgeries. But it didn’t matter to our guys. It didn’t matter who was playing and who wasn’t. The next guy always steps up and does his job.”

They were a team of subs, living in the shadow of Cam Newton and Nick Fairley and the BCS Championship trophy that looms large in the lobby of their athletic center. But on this night, they were inspired replacements who seized their moment and sent Auburn fans home with another win to remember.

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