Posted by Jerry Hinnen
A look at the key matchup that could determine the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
Auburn QB Kiehl Frazier, RB Tre Mason vs. Virginia LBs Steve Greer, Leroy Reynolds
The Auburn offense that takes the field against Virginia in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl is likely to have some key differences from the one that Tiger fans watched for much of the regular season--some of those differences promising, some much less so. Where the latter's concerned, the suspension of star running back Michael Dyer removes the Tigers far-and-away leading rusher and (receiver Emory Blake arguably excepted) only consistent offensive weapon out of the equation.
But after a season in which the Auburn quarterbacks threw for fewer yards in SEC competition than the QBs for any other team in the league, one of those differences may also be the unveiling of true freshman QB Kiehl Frazier as the every-down signal-caller. Frazier has reportedly shared first-team snaps with ostensible starter Clint Moseley during Auburn's bowl prep, and Frazier's already proven during the season that he can be an effective run-first change-of-pace. Adding that athleticism to the offense full-time would open up more of the Tigers' 2010 Cam Newton-derived playbook, and with the extra time to prepare, Frazier could be ready to show enough command of the offense to get the Tigers moving again. And while Dyer's absence strings, Frazier's fellow freshman Tre Mason has shown promise in limited action at tailback and could be due for a breakout game.
Standing in Frazier's and Mason's way, though, will be a pair of outstanding Cavalier linebackers in Steve Greer (pictured) and Leroy Reynolds. The juniors finished 1-2 on the team in tackles, with Greer's 103 stops earning him second-team All-ACC honors and helping lead the team to a 34th-place finish in the FBS rush defense rankings.
With Frazier and the speedy Mason in place rather than Moseley and Dyer, Auburn would rely much more heavily on the inverted veer and similar option plays than earlier in the season, putting more pressure on linebackers like Greer and Reynolds to play assignment football and stuff the run before it starts. If they don't, Gus Malzahn's patented run-short-throw-deep play-action game could finally get Auburn out of its offensive rut. If they do, though -- and leave Auburn facing clear passing downs against Chase Minnifield and the talented Cav secondary -- the Tigers may be rendered as toothless as ever, no matter how much Frazier and Mason shake things up.