For the second consecutive season, the #7 UCF Knights finished with an undefeated regular season. Also for another year, the Knights have drawn an SEC opponent in a New Year’s Six Bowl. However, this season will be a bit different without junior quarterback McKenzie Milton leading the Knights. Redshirt freshman Darriel Mack Jr. is coming off of a six-touchdown performance in the AAC conference championship.
The #11 LSU Tigers look to put an end to the 25 game win streak of the Knights from Central Florida. Having already faced the toughest schedule in college football, LSU is down to their last challenge and one win away from finishing with 10 on the season.
Paths To Glendale, Arizona
Both teams took two completely different paths to reach this bowl game. For LSU, they’ve had to swim through the shark-infested waters of the SEC West. Even more impressive is that LSU was able to do so with a first-time starter at quarterback in Joe Burrow. That didn’t stop the Tigers momentum as they beat three teams that were ranked within the top ten.
Offensively, the Tigers stuck to the ground game behind Nick Brossette and his 14 rushing touchdowns. Sophomore receiver Justin Jefferson led the team in receptions, touchdowns, and yards. Defensively, the Tigers remained as advertised with one of the best units in the country. Led by linebacker Devin White, that decided to play in the bowl game although he will forego his senior season entering the NFL Draft. For the Fiesta Bowl, LSU will be without All-SEC cornerback Greedy Williams.
The UCF Knights entered the 2018 season riding high off of the previous undefeated season but without former coach Scott Frost. New head coach Josh Heupel had his work cut out following his predecessor and succeeded even while losing his leader in Milton. After only beating the Memphis Tigers by a point in the regular season, the Knights secured another AAC championship beating them by 15 in a rematch.
The UCF offense has scored 35 points or more points in all but one game this season. In their high powered offense where the passing game receives all the credit, the Knights running backs have rushed for over 2,000 yards. Former walk-on running back Greg McCrea is averaging over nine yards a carry and has 1,100 yards rushing to add to his nine touchdowns. Adrian Killins is a change of pace back to the offense and has four touchdowns rushing as well as receiving.
Keys To The Game
- UCF WRs vs. LSU DBs It’s no secret that LSU loves man coverage and trusts their cornerbacks against any wideouts in the country. The issue with that is the Tigers will be without both starting cornerbacks as Williams sits out and Kristian Fulton recovers from an ankle injury. That means Stanford graduate transfer Terrence Alexander and sophomore Kary Vincent Jr. will start. In addition to that, the Tigers are also without freshman cornerback Kelvin Joseph, due to suspension. That fares well for UCF’s trio of receivers in Dredrick Snelson, Gabriel Davis, and Tre Nixon.
- UCF Offense vs. Grant Delpit There is an argument that the best player on LSU’s defense is sophomore safety, Grant Delpit. The safety leads the defense in sacks, interceptions and pass deflections. He is also second on the team in tackles for loss and is the defense’s best weapon. On any given play Delpit has the ability to either be rushing off the edge, in coverage or playing deep centerfield.
- UCF Defense vs. LSU Offense The LSU Tigers will try to slow down the UCF offense by running the ball with Brossette behind that offensive line. It will be up to Richie Grant and Titus Davis to keep the points to a minimum. As the season has gone on the LSU offense has progressed to where the Tigers are scoring with some of the best teams in the country.
The Tigers have plenty of noise around their program with some of the suspensions and players looking ahead to the NFL Draft. However, that shouldn’t be enough to deter the Tigers from beating the Knights with a backup quarterback against their talented defense. Arguably the best linebacker in college football is still playing and his ability to run sideline to sideline against UCF’s tempo offense is a major plus. The LSU offense has to stay ahead of the chains and use their advantage in the trenches to lean on the UCF defense. We’ve all seen the UCF magic in recent years but I believe the Tigers put that to an end in the Fiesta Bowl.