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For the first time in two years, UCF has lost a football game.
Joe Burrow helped No. 11 LSU win the 2019 Fiesta Bowl 40-32 over the previously undefeated Knights at State Farm Stadium on Tuesday. Burrow threw four touchdown passes as the Tigers (10-3) earned their first 10-win season since 2013.
No. 8 UCF had a 25-game winning streak heading into the day but couldn’t keep it going despite 81 rushing yards and a touchdown from Greg McCrae. The Knights had a chance to tie on the final drive, but an interception by freshman quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. helped seal the win for LSU.
UCF had claimed its own “championship” a year ago after finishing 13-0, but it can’t do that this year.
Joe Burrow, Returning Depth Make LSU a Top Contender in 2019
LSU has spent nearly a decade looking for a quality quarterback, and it appears the Tigers found one in Joe Burrow.
The Ohio State transfer did get roughed up. He took a big block after his interception in the first quarter and then a hit to the head after a pass in the second. The latter play led to an ejection of defensive back Kyle Gibson for targeting.
But he showed impressive resolve to continually get back up and compete at a high level.
Bruce Feldman @BruceFeldmanCFB
So impressed by Joe Burrow’s toughness and GRIT. Since taking that brutal shot on a Pick-6, he’s gone 7-of-8 while still hanging in there for some hits and has led #LSU back from a 14-3 hole to 17-14 lead. #Stud https://t.co/mRlyVKKFbu
The quarterback finished 21-of-34 for 394 yards, four scores and one pick, and he made some incredible throws to his receivers, including this 22-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Justin Jefferson:
Bleacher Report CFB @BR_CFB
After taking a brutal hit, Joe Burrow responds with a TD on the 💵
Burrow had problems with consistency during the regular season, and he made just 12 touchdown passes in the entire campaign. However, that could be expected from a player who lacked starting experienced before 2018.
He got better as the year progressed, totaling six touchdowns in the seven-overtime loss to Texas A&M in the regular-season finale and looking dominant at times against UCF on New Year’s Day. After a full year in the program, Burrow has a chance to take another big step and potentially be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC.
Meanwhile, the Tigers are clearly more than just one person, and their depth was clear during the Fiesta Bowl.
LSU was missing several key starters on defense because of injury or other reasons, including star cornerback Greedy Williams as he prepares for April’s NFL draft. That number expanded as the game continued:
David Pollack @davidpollack47
LSU about to be down 8 defensive starters now with that targeting call.
And there goes #10. LSU now receives a win as long as they lose by less than 7 points. #FiestaBowl
The unit remained effective as the backups did their job drive after drive, however, and LSU should have confidence in a longer list of players.
With underclassmen throughout the roster, quality running backs ready to take over for Nick Brossette—like Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Lanard Fournette—plus a potentially elite quarterback in Burrow, LSU should enter 2019 with high expectations. The SEC West won’t get any easier, but this group could pose a threat to Alabama next season.
UCF Shows It Deserves More Respect Even in Loss
Few teams have created as much divisiveness among fans and analysts over the past two years as UCF.
Some felt the Knights deserved a shot at the national championship in each of the past two seasons after finishing with undefeated records, while others don’t believe they played a tough enough schedule to justify inclusion in the College Football Playoff.
The reality is that after two bowl games against quality opponents (the Knights beat No. 7 Auburn last year), the squad showed it at least deserves more respect.
This bowl game was an uphill battle. UCF was playing without starting quarterback McKenzie Milton, the AAC Offensive Player of the Year the last two seasons. The junior finished in the top 10 of Heisman Trophy voting in each of the past two years but suffered a knee injury in November that ended his campaign.
Many believed the loss of Milton was devastating enough for UCF to lose to Memphis in the AAC title game, although Mack Jr. did enough to lead his squad to a come-from-behind victory.
Unfortunately, the freshman backup wasn’t experienced enough to match up with LSU, and it showed. Mack finished 11-of-30 for 97 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Despite Mack’s struggles, the rest of the team played well enough to remain competitive against an opponent that spent part of the year inside the Top Five.
Brandon Moore’s huge pick-six in the first quarter helped the Knights take an early 14-3 lead:
The squad kept the score close at halftime thanks to this impressive throw and catch:
Though UCF faded in the second half, it played better against LSU than many SEC teams did this season, including the Georgia Bulldogs, who lost to the Tigers by 20 points. The Knights are an elite team that can compete with virtually anyone in the country.
Whether the playoffs are expanded or remain with four teams, the committee needs to take squads like this more seriously.