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Virginia done in by special teams failures, turnovers in 43-24 loss to Auburn
ATLANTA — Virginia got to the Chick-fil-A Bowl with gutsy playcalling and flawless execution.
That’s exactly how Auburn won it.
Auburn blocked two punts, the second for a safety, and recovered a surprise onside kick. On offense the dominance was more traditional, as the Tigers run game took advantage of key injuries to the U.Va. defense as two quarterbacks danced around in the pocket.
Virginia finishes its season with an 8-5 record — the Cavaliers haven’t ended with a win since 2005.
Matoaca grad Kris Burd, sporting one of the team’s newly designed orange helmets, helped send the message the Wahoos wanted to convey, that they are now a team with national cachet. He caught two touchdown passes.
The rest of the night, U.Va. went woefully off script.
After taking an early 7-0 lead, Virginia had a punt blocked, then running back Perry Jones was stripped for a fumble. Later in the half, a fake field goal went wrong as Jacob Hodges rolled out, but Terence Fells-Danzer tripped on his way out.
Hodges was stopped well short of the first-down marker, ending a red-zone possession early. Another possession got to the Auburn 7 before the end of the half forced a field goal, even though Virginia held a time out.
“Our offense did a great job moving the ball and putting points on the board,” quarterback Michael Rocco said. “It didn’t turn out the way we would have liked in the second half.”
Defensively, the loss of cornerback Chase Minnifield wasn’t nearly as relevant as missing middle linebacker Steve Greer. Minnifield declined comment, and Greer was made off-limits for interviews by a media relations official.
Replacement linebacker Henry Coley looked outmatched by the Auburn run game after being thrown into an unenviable situation. The freshman had missed most of the season with an injury.
The Cavs also tried Tucker Windle at the position, with little success. Auburn quarterback Clint Moseley injured his ankle early in the game, and replacements Barrett Trotter and Kiehl Frazier kept things humming.
“We had five or six really great opportunities for sacks,” defensive coordinator Jim Reid said. “We came away not just empty, but with them getting first downs and big plays.”
Auburn opened the second half with a 28-17 lead and over the next four minutes methodically pushed Virginia around for another touchdown.
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