Along the way the Tigers had their bumps in the road, but in the end they got the job done. That's the way this team has played all season and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said that he couldn't be happier for his guys after the way they played, holding the Hokies scoreless in two red zone opportunities early that wound up being the difference in the game.
"We're the number one scoring defense in the country and I think we proved tonight that the title really is valid for us," Chizik said. "Even when you get the ball down there inside the 20 and threaten to score our guys put their backs to the wall and they play red zone defense. That's kind of been our trigger all year. People have moved the ball on us some, but when it gets down to scoring points people are having a difficult time getting in the endzone. That's what we did tonight and it was a fitting end to the whole year."
Carlos Rogers makes a strong tackle against the Hokies Monday night.
Despite Virginia Tech quarterback Bryan Randall throwing for 299 yards in a losing effort, the Tiger defense did exactly what it set out to do against the Hokies and that was stop the run. Virginia Tech rushed for a total of just 76 yards on the night with the longest coming from Randall, a 21 yard run that gave him a team-high 45 on the night. Chizik said the performance was exactly what he hoped for against a tough team like Virginia Tech.
"We were trying to be sound on all of our run game fits," Chizik said. "That was our major objective, to somehow stop their running game with the tailback and the quarterback. In these bowl games you have such a long time off you try to get too fancy. We didn't try to get too fancy. We just tried to play our defense and let our kids run to the football.
"We've got talented kids and we played a lot of base defense. We blitzed when we had to. Sometimes it was effective and sometimes it wasn't. That's a great football team and to hold them to 13 points, they scored a couple there at the end, but to hold them to 13 points if you would have asked me before the game if I would have taken that I would have told you every time and I'll take it again."
Jay Ratliff holds a fans' sign that tells it like it is.
Spearheading the Auburn attack on defense as the duo of Carlos Rogers and Junior Rosegreen. Two of Auburn's most veteran players, they were solid on a night when they were tested to the limits by a quick Hokie offense. Rosegreen had one of Auburn's two interceptions on the night and set up the second of John Vaughn's three field goals. Rogers, although he didn't make any spectacular plays against the pass, was dominating against the run and had several big hits. Chizik said that the two are an example of what is right about the 2004 championship Tigers.
"They both had great football games tonight," Chizik said of Rogers and Rosegreen. "It's so fitting for both of them. We're going to miss those guys so much and what they mean to this program, just all of our guys. We've got a Godly group of kids and God has looked down on us and had favor on us. It's the finest group of young men I've ever been around, starting with the Carlos' and Juniors'. God has got favor on those guys and has favor on all of us. I'm just pleased to be a part of it.
"It's just so satisfying that I can't even tell you," he added on finishing out the season undefeated. "We're worn out. We're tired. We're a tired football team and with good reason because they played hard for 13 games. They fought their way right down to the very end on everything and I'm just so exhausted and so elated that it ended up this way for these kids because they deserve it. They deserve national championship written on their wring."
The game wasn't flawless on defense though as twice the Tigers gave up touchdown passes, the second coming on an 80-yard pass with just over two minutes left and Auburn holding onto a 10-point lead. Chizik said that safety Will Herring just made a mistake, but in the end it didn't matter and will be something to build off going into the 2005 season.
"I just think it was kind of a careless mistake on that thing," Chizik said. "We were trying to stay back and keep everything in front of us and we bit on, I think it was a curl and go. We bit on that thing, which is a no-no in two-minute defense. That was disappointing, but overall I think we played well most of the night. We'll look back on some of those things and have something to work on for next year and have some good points to illustrate with, but we won the Sugar Bowl. I don't care how you win it. We're 13-0 and I don't care how you go 13-0. It's just a beautiful thing and I'm just going to enjoy the heck out of it."