CHARLOTTESVILLE — When Virginia running back Perry Jones started to break down Auburn's defense, a thorough analysis of the upheaval the Tigers have experienced of late wasn't part of Jones' study plan.
Jones is aware of Auburn's troubles against the run, accentuated by the fact the Tigers are 98th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs in rush defense (194.8 yards per game). He knows Auburn won't have the defensive coordinator it had all season when it meets U.Va. (8-4) on Dec. 31 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.
He's also heard there's more unrest on Auburn's offensive side, where starting running back Michael Dyer has been suspended for the bowl game due to a violation of team rules, and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn in his last days on campus after accepting Arkansas State's coaching job.
All those stats and personnel machinations don't amount to much in Jones' world. It doesn't change his duties.
"With our mindset, we're confident that we can run the ball on anybody," said Jones, who has 883 rushing yards this season, putting him within reach of becoming U.Va.'s first 1,000-plus yard rusher since 2004 when Alvin Pearman finished with 1,037 yards. "We don't follow stats too much. We know they're a good defense and they play in a good conference, so we're not really going to look at how many rushing yards they give up during the season. We're going to go out there and play our game."
Before Ted Roof left his post as Auburn's defensive coordinator on Dec. 8 to take over the same role at Central Florida, the Tigers had struggled to rise to the defensive level they played last season, when they won the national championship and finished ninth in the nation against the run (109.1 yards per game).
In '09 and last season, which were Roof's first two seasons at Auburn, the Tigers gave up at least 213 rushing yards in four games. This season, six teams have run for at least that many yards against Auburn (7-5), which lost its five games by an average of 27.8 points per game.
Those are encouraging numbers for a U.Va. offense that gained at least 153 rushing yards in nine of its first 10 games this season, but posted just 78 yards in a win at Florida State and 30 yards in a loss to Virginia Tech in the last two games.
With Roof gone, coach Gene Chizik will direct Auburn's defense on game day. Despite the play-calling adjustment, U.Va. offensive coordinator Bill Lazor doesn't anticipate many on-field changes.
"The only way to go into a game feeling prepared is to assume that their personality is going to stay the same," said Lazor, who will lead U.Va.'s offense against a group that's also 44th in the nation in passing defense (211 yards per game) and 78th in total defense (405.8 yards per game).
"Maybe the specifics on third-and-four, that might change, but if you think overall they're this tendency or this kind of team, I think you have to assume. If they prove (the defense) is different, there's nothing we could've done about that anyway."
Malzahn will remain at Auburn through the bowl game, but his fast-paced spread offense hasn't been the same this season without quarterback Cam Newton on the controls. Newton, who won the Heisman Trophy last season, led Auburn to the nation's seventh-best total offense (499.2 yards per game) last season.
This season, Auburn has plummeted to 104th in the nation in total offense (328.2 yards per game). It was also seventh in scoring offense last season (41.2 points per game), but has fallen to 82nd this season (24.3 points per game).
With Dyer out of the game, Auburn becomes even less potent on offense. He's second in the Southeastern Conference in rushing this season with 1,242 yards.
Though U.Va. defensive coordinator Jim Reid insists Auburn running back Onterio McCalebb (532 rushing yards, 5.2 yards per carry) and quarterback Kiehl Frazier (272 rushing yards primarily out of the wildcat formation) are capable of picking up the slack, it's Malzahn's scheming that alarms linebacker LaRoy Reynolds.
"I think their ability to change formations, but make them look the same is the most confusing part," Reynolds said. "If you look at their formations, you might have two tight ends or a tight end with a running back, but the (tight end) might be split a certain way. You really have to look at it and say, 'OK, with this personnel, certain plays are going to come.' They disguise it all in a great way."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun