Teel Time: Picking Virginia to grind its way to Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over Auburn

In their two most recent games, Virginia’s Cavaliers rushed for a combined 108 yards on 54 attempts, a paltry 2.0 yards per carry. Not coincidentally, Virginia scored a combined 14 points in those contests and endured its first home shutout since 1984.

Why, then, do I suspect the Cavaliers will run and score in bunches while defeating Auburn in Saturday’s Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome?

Perhaps it’s sheer lunacy. After all, I picked Virginia to upset Virginia Tech last month, and we all know how that turned out.

But there is logic behind the hunch.

The opponents that stuffed the Cavaliers’ running attack, Florida State and Virginia Tech, are among the game’s top defenses. The Seminoles rank second nationally in rushing defense (81.8 yards per game) and fourth in points allowed (15.2 per game); the Hokies are 17th in rushing defense (107.8 yards per game) and eighth in points allowed (17.2 per game).

Auburn? Not so much.

The Tigers rank 98th against the run (194.8 yards a game) and 80th in points allowed (29.3). Sure, they played six teams in the current top 16 – LSU, Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina, Clemson and Georgia – but that doesn’t explain yielding 227 rushing yards and five ground touchdowns to Utah State, or 333 and three to Mississippi State, or 220 and two to Mississippi.

Let’s also remember that Auburn (7-5) is 1-5 against those top-16 opponents. The Tigers won at South Carolina, 16-13, but dropped the others by a 27.8-point average. None of the margins was closer than 14 points.

Maybe this is a pedigree game. Maybe last season’s national champions from the mighty Southeastern Conference will intimidate, overwhelm and overpower an ACC program playing its first bowl in four years.

But I suspect otherwise. Virginia (8-4) won at Florida State 14-13, upset Georgia Tech 24-21 and was a play away from beating a very undervalued Southern Mississippi bunch – the Golden Eagles prevailed 30-24.

Yes, the 38-0 faceplant against Virginia Tech in the regular-season finale, at home no less, raises a red flag or 10. But with three quality tailbacks in Perry Jones, Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson, and a capable offensive line anchored by All-America guard Austin Pasztor, Virginia should not blink.

Moreover, if the Cavaliers run well, Michael Rocco becomes all the more effective as a play-action passer.

Virginia wins 27-24 – the score should be familiar to Cavs faithful -- in a game that ends just as the Zac Brown Band gets cranked up next door to the dome at Philips Arena.

That’s all for the pregame hype from home base. Wheels up for Atlanta on Friday morning. Talk to you from there.           

I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

And, in a final bit of shameless self-promotion, here’s a link to all my print columns in the Daily Press.

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