Auburn running back Onterio McCalebb hoists the MVP trophy after helping the Tigers defeat Virginia, 43-24, late Saturday to win the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.
AUBURN, Ala. — Quarterback Barrett Trotter went into Auburn’s bowl game with some uncertainty about his situation — much like the rest of the program.
Trotter, who lost his starting job at midseason, and the Tigers finished the year on a high note with a 43-24 win against Virginia late Saturday night in the Chick-fil Bowl in perhaps the best all-around performance of the season for the team.
Trotter and freshman Kiehl Frazier came through for the Tigers (8-5) after Clint Moseley left with an ankle injury.
“There were times after not playing where you’re thinking, ‘Am I ever going to play again?’” said Trotter, who started the first seven games. “It was really hard to stay motivated. I can’t lie and say, ‘Oh yeah, I was real excited to go out every day and watch most of practice.’
“But at the same time, you owe it to your teammates.”
He delivered for them in the bowl game to help the defending national champions finish a sometimes rough encore season in strong fashion. The win, and season high in points, elevated the Tigers’ mood going into the offseason but didn’t resolve some pressing questions.
Auburn is still seeking an offensive and defensive coordinator, and the status of suspended tailback Mike Dyer remains uncertain. The frontrunner for starting quarterback seems an open question, too, though Frazier is presumably the quarterback of the future.
Moseley, Trotter and Frazier all have eligibility remaining. Trotter, though, already has graduated and is pursuing his master’s degree.
Frazier was one of the Tigers’ top recruits but was used mostly in a wildcat role — which seems to have grown old for the freshman.
“I really don’t like running the ball,” Frazier posted on Twitter after the game. “Wish I could throw it. Whatever gets us a win though.”
In this game, that meant running 16 times for 55 yards and two short touchdowns. He only dropped back to pass once.
Dyer’s understudy also got a chance to shine. Onterio McCalebb ran for 109 yards and had two catches for 53 against Virginia, scoring a pair of touchdowns.
Freshman Tre Mason also ran for 64 yards on nine carries.
Amid rumors that Dyer was pondering a transfer, Chizik would only say Friday that his “status has not changed.”
The bowl game showcased the creative playcalling of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn to revive a sputtering and short-handed attack. Malzahn, who is taking over the Arkansas State program, called Statue of Liberty plays, smoothly alternated quarterbacks, and largely dictated the pace.
Chizik ran the defense in the game while seeking a replacement for Ted Roof, who left for the same position at Central Florida.
This was predictably something of a rebuilding year after the departure of stars Cam Newton and Nick Fairley from the national title team, along with a big senior class.
Auburn had 16 freshmen play and six of them start games, including center Reese Dismukes, the only offensive player to start at the same position in every game. The 79 scholarship players included 51 underclassmen, plus top linebacker recruit Kris Frost missed the season with a shoulder injury.
The list of healthy key seniors departing is short: Right tackle Brandon Mosley, linebacker Eltoro Freeman and safety Neiko Thorpe.
“It’s not just a young team,” said Chizik, who is 3-0 in bowl games at Auburn after winning all six as an assistant. “We also had 12-13 surgeries and they just came fighting back again and again. These guys just kept coming back and fighting back. There’s a lot of learning moments in 2011. That’s why I think the future for Auburn is extremely bright.”