The Virginia Cavaliers (8-5, 5-3 ACC) fell 43-24 to the Auburn Tigers (8-5, 4-4 SEC) in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, GA. The Hoos came out strong in the first quarter, striking first and playing competitive to a 7-7 tie. The second quarter, though, was an entirely different story, giving up a whopping 21 points and, ultimately, an insurmountable lead.
Here's a few quick hits from tonight's matchup:
"Special" Teams. Virginia's special teams gave up a lot of yardage - and points - tonight, beginning with a blocked punt on the Cavaliers' own 15 yard line, including a failed effort at an Auburn onside kick, and through a blocked punt in Virginia's own end zone that led to a safety. No matter what the Hoos tried to do on special teams, nothing worked. Special teams was directly responsible for the two points coming off the safety, and was largely responsible for the seven points coming off the blocked kick on the 15 yard line, and yet another seven more coming off the Auburn onside kick. That's 16 points right there. The Hoos' special teams also gave up a 62-yard free kick return.
"It's a tough thing for our seniors to go out on, but I'm very proud of our team and our players," Virginia head coach Mike London said after the game.
The senior that comes to mind first is wide receiver Kris Burd, who had 6 receptions for 103 yards and two touchdowns. Burd came out of the game in the fourth quarter due to injury, clutching his right arm after a big hit. Following the game, Coach London didn't have an immediate assessment of the injury, saying it could be either a shoulder or a collarbone injury.
Michael Rocco is looking good. After having a rough game against Virginia Tech last month, Rocco had a largely solid day, making 26 of 41 attempts and passing for 312 yards. He had one interception to his name, though it was a dropped pass that really shouldn't have happened.
Kevin Parks is a freshman, right? Because he looked like a senior out there tonight, leading the team with 11 carries for 48 yards and one touchdown. Parks looked like the same guy who had picked up four touchdowns earlier this season against William & Mary.
Exhibition Game. Virginia didn't look nearly as good as a lot of the other games, but look. How many of you predicted that we'd be playing the reigning national champions in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the highest-ranking ACC tie-in bowl following the BCS bowl. For me, today was less about getting the ninth win of the season and more about giving the seniors a chance to play one more game and putting Virginia into the national spotlight. The Hoos won't be ranked in the final polls, but an 8-5 season, and in particular, the opponents Virginia beat en route to winning those eight, far exceeds what anyone was dreaming.
"Right now, this one stings a little bit," London said. "Obviously, when you get in a game, you want to win a game. They played better than we did, they made more plays than we did, so my hat goes off to them."
Coach also recognized that this wasn't exactly what Virginia fans were hoping for to ring in the new year. "I know it was ugly, and I appreciate you traveling. But this program is up and coming."
Virginia fans almost unanimously agree that this season has to be considered very successful. The question is, what is your outlook on the upcoming year and how much of an impact do these last two games of the 2011 season have on your impression of just how much this team has grown and how much more they have to go?
Happy new year, Hoos. The loss stings a bit right now, but hey. Virginia just played in the Chick-fil-A bowl.