No pregame fireworks necessary. Both the No. 11 LSU Tigers (9-3, SEC) and No. 8 UCF Knights (12-0, American) were straight hyped to kick this baby off. Bands loud, crowd loud, play loud. The whole package a New Year’s Day bowl game can bring. Say hello to the 2019 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.
If we weren’t sure how excited LSU would be to play a non-Power Five program that happens to be 25-0 throughout the course of the last two seasons, we found out on the opening kickoff.
Tiger running back and kick returner Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran the kick back 77-yards, putting the Bayou Bengals inside of the UCF 20-yard-line on the very first play. Inside of State Farm Stadium in Glendale, AZ, Tigers’ fans were in a frenzy.
Looking to take a quick 7-0 lead, the Knights’ defense did just enough to hold LSU to a field goal. On their subsequent first possession, UCF brought their own fireworks. Nothing new to Knights’ fans over the last two seasons. A handful of plays later, including a trick play, throwback pass from Marlon Williams to quarterback Darriel Mack, Jr. had UCF finding the end zone via running back Greg McCrae’s 25-yard scamper.
A 7-3 edge for UCF in a football game with only 4:04 ticking off the first quarter clock. Seemingly more excitement than the Cheez-It and Arizona Bowl’s that I covered just before the New Year combined in 4-minutes of action. Wow.
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow led the next Tiger drive deep inside of UCF territory. Miscommunication between Burrow and his wideout ended with a pick-six for the Knights. Brandon Moore’s 93-yard pick-six to the heezy started making UCF and their fans feel like an unstoppable force. Not so fast. On the return, LSU’s Burrow was absolutely tattooed by 6-foot-4 and 270-pound defensive tackle, Joey Connors.
Tigers’ Head Coach Ed Orgeron went berserk on the sidelines, yelling at the referees for a targeting call. When the play was analyzed, Burrow was clearly a defenseless player who was straight-up blasted. The hit left several cuts under the right ear of Mr. Burrow, but there was no helmet-to-helmet contact on the play. Thus, it was correctly called as not a targeting penalty. When assessed this penalty, players are immediately ejected from the game and escorted off the field to their respective locker rooms. Targeting was a theme in this one as almost a handful of players were ejected due to helmet-to-helmet contact, and one LSU defensive back was tossed for throwing a punch at an opposing UCF player during a minuscule scuffle. Not smart. None of the targeting calls were malicious in my eyes. The speed of the game created the hat-to-hat blows.
The interception bolstered UCF’s tally to 32-straight games with a turnover. To put that into perspective, the Indiana Hoosiers rank second in the country while collecting turnovers in 18-straight games. Amazing.
Down 14-3 at that point in the first quarter, LSU certainly didn’t panic. In fact, it fueled their proverbial fire. The Tigers looked settled and decided to use their big ugly’s up front on the offensive line to push around the Knights’ defense. It worked.
When asked if they were up and ready for the Fiesta Bowl, Coach Orgeron and the LSU contingent expressed that they were basically jacked up. This was their time to show it. If there wasn’t already enough motivation to get their hands on UCF based on the Knights’ national championship celebration after last year’s 34-27 victory over the then No. 7 Auburn Tigers in the Peach Bowl, LSU was still pissed off after losing to the Texas A&M Aggies, 74-72, in seven overtimes. A game that ended the Bayou Bengals’ regular-season.
Central Florida’s perfect 13-0 mark a year ago felt legitimized after beating a formidable SEC opponent (Auburn). The College Football Playoff Committee left them out of the four-team CFP altogether, so why wouldn’t they celebrate their success. I honestly didn’t mind what UCF did, but LSU took exception to the gesture.
The next series for LSU culminated in a Burrow’s dime to wide receiver Justin Jefferson for six. Now down just 14-10, LSU’s next drive ended with a Burrow’s strike to WR Derrick Dillon who raced away from Knights’ defenders to the heezy. With the score now 17-14 in favor of LSU, the Tigers started playing with a little swagger. After throwing the pick-six to Mr. Moore and getting destroyed by Connors, Joe showed the world his mental toughness and physical fortitude.
Unfortunately for LSU, you can never count out the Knights. Down 24-14 with the first half coming to a close, wide receiver Gabriel Davis came down with a gargantuan 32-yard TD catch with 4-ticks left on the clock. The fantastic throw from Mr. Mack landed like a baby from the sky right into Davis’ soft hands. In full stride, Mr. Davis plucked the pigskin in the back of the end zone. The bananas 2019 Fiesta Bowl had LSU taking a slight 24-21 edge at halftime.
Although the score indicated otherwise, LSU was in complete control of the Fiesta Bowl. They looked bigger, dominate, and faster on both the offensive and defensive lines. Secondarily, their skill position players were simply making more plays.
To start the second half, Burrow found freshman wideout Ja’Marr Chase who hauled in a difficult catch with both arms extended above his head. Running full speed down the left side of the field, Mr. Chase made the catch look easy. LSU was now in command with a 31-21 bulge early in the second half.
After that, a total of four field goals encapsulated all of the scoring until the tail end of this ridiculously entertaining contest. One by UCF, and three by LSU. The Tigers were in the driver’s seat with less than five minutes remaining in regulation, and a 40-24 lead.
With 2:24 left on the fourth quarter clock, the Knights had one last ditch effort to save their perfect season. A touchdown and successful two-point conversion had pulled them to within eight points of the Tigers, 40-32. After a great onside kick attempt by UCF, the Tigers’ Jefferson finally clutched the football to all but end the 2019 edition of the Fiesta Bowl.
Congrats to Coach Orgeron and the LSU Tigers on their 40-32 victory over the UCF Knights from the desert in Glendale. Another 10-win season for the Bayou Bengals, and a disappointing end to the Knights’ marvelous year.
Finishing 12-1 on the season, UCF has no reason to hang their heads. Plus, they now have a combined record of 25-1 in two seasons. Extraordinary.
That’s all from Glendale, ladies, and gentlemen. Until next year, have a fabulous New Year.
Key Player Statistics:
- LSU QB Joe Burrow finished 21-of-34 through the air for 394 yards and four touchdowns
- UCF QB Darriel Mack, Jr. finished just 11-of-30 for a mere 97 yards and one touchdown
- LSU RB Nick Brossette carried the pigskin 29 times for 117 yards
- UCF RB Greg McCrae toted the rock 10 times for 81 yards and a touchdown
- LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase plucked six Burrow passes for 93 yards and a score
- UCF WR Gabriel Davis hauled in three receptions for 59 yards and a trip to the house
Key Overall Stats:
- UCF had only 250 yards of total offense to LSU’s 555 yards — a big disparity
- Time of possession favored the Tigers in a huge way — 44:31 to just 15:29 for the Knights
- First down discrepancy — 32 for LSU to UCF’s 17
- UCF Head Coach Josh Heupel won a BCS National Championship as quarterback of the Oklahoma Sooners in 2000.
- Last season’s head man for UCF, Scott Frost, helped the 1997 Nebraska Cornhuskers at the quarterback position split a national title with the University of Michigan. This season, Coach Frost started his tenure as the Cornhuskers’ Head Coach.
- Central Florida quarterback McKenzie Milton suffered a gruesome right leg injury back on November 23rd. He was in the house for the game and is expected to make a full recovery. His impact was sorely missed by UCF in this tilt.