No. 11 LSU topped No. 8 UCF 40-32 on Tuesday in the Fiesta Bowl to improve its record to 10-3 on the season and break the Knights’ 25-game winning streak dating back to the start of the 2017 campaign. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow had the best game of his career, going 21 of 34 for 394 yards passing and four touchdowns for an offense that racked up 555 yards and averaged 6.5 yards per play against the overmatched Knights defense.
UCF QB Darriel Mack was under duress all afternoon, managing just 97 passing yards on the day. Running back Greg McCrae was the centerpiece of the Knights offense with 81 yards and one score, and Taj McGowan scored from 2 yards out with under three minutes to play to give coach Josh Heupel’s crew a chance. In the end, LSU recovered a late onside kick and drained the clock down to 47 seconds before punting and holding off UCF.
What did we learn in the Fiesta Bowl?
1. Burrow hype train is rollin’: With a defense that was so depleted, Burrow knew coming in that this game was his, and he’d have to take it over. He did just that, posting the best performance of his career with all eyes on him. This wasn’t your ordinary performance. He got absolutely rocked in the first quarter while trying to prevent a pick six, got destroyed on a targeting call later in the first half and never missed a beat. In fact, he only got better.
Burrow posted just the eighth 300-yard passing game this decade for LSU, and he became the first Tigers QB to throw for 300 yards and four touchdowns since Matt Mauck in 2003. What does it mean moving forward? It means the Burrow hype train is going to get rolling for a full nine months. Yes, it was UCF’s defense, and that’s the unquestioned weakness of the AAC champs. But Burrow made NFL throw after NFL throw en route to the historic performance.
LSU having a real quarterback — one who can actually be a difference maker — is new ground for a Tigers team that always seems to be in need of one. We won’t know how much of Burrow’s performance was due to the competition until next fall. But until then, he’s driving his own hype train — and LSU into an offseason of hype.
2. The Tigers defense had a whale of a day: We chronicled the problems facing coach Ed Orgeron’s crew heading into the game, including the absence of defensive back Greedy Williams and injury to Kristian Fulton. But it got much, much worse. Two more defensive lineman — in addition to the three who weren’t available — didn’t dress out for the game, defensive back Terrance Alexander was ejected in the first half for throwing a punch and defensive back Grant Delpit (one of the best defensive players in the country) was popped for targeting just a few minutes later.
With converted wide receivers playing cornerback, no depth along the defensive line and enough in-game turmoil to fill the Grand Canyon, the Tigers allowed just 250 yards and forced incompletions on Mack’s final 11 passing attempts of the game.
Don’t let the fact that UCF was playing with its backup quarterback distract you from the performance. This was one of the most impressive defensive performances of the season from any team in the country based on the circumstances before and during the game.
3. UCF got exposed: Sure, the game got a little sketchy late, and UCF did get out to a hot start with a quick touchdown and a pick six. But despite missing the wake up call early, LSU owned this game for about 50 of its 60 minutes. This while playing with a pared down roster against a team that, even without its best offensive weapon, has as much team speed and is as creative offensively as any team in the country.
What you saw was LSU — a true power — using its depth to win a big game. Meanwhile, one UCF injury wrecked everything. If UCF wants to chirp about how great it is and how much it can hang with the big boys, it needs to pop on a replay of this game and realize what true college football powers look like. They’re deep and they adjust on the fly. Those are two things that UCF proved they didn’t have in the game.
Burrow was picking the Knights secondary apart, and defensive coordinator Randy Shannon knew that he couldn’t bring heat and put his defensive backs on islands because it would make matters worse. On a day that LSU was down to its third-team secondary, UCF’s starters were the ones who couldn’t hang.
Now imagine UCF having to play a similar game seven more times in one season. The Knights would have no chance to run the table and would rarely even come close. Imagine UCF having to play a full-strength Alabama — the best SEC team as opposed to the fourth-best — in a College Football Playoff semifinal. Tuesday showed the difference between the Power Five and the the Group of Five.
4. UCF shouldn’t let the loss damper a great season: UCF become one of the more divisive teams in the country after claiming the 2017 national championship from a computer system that also awarded it to Notre Dame in 2012 and Oklahoma State in 2011. Its never-ending bravado, Disney World parades and sign on the facade of Spectrum Stadium made the program a lighting rod within the college football world. Maybe, just maybe, that set the expectation a bit too high.
UCF went undefeated in the regular season, won the AAC and will finish in or around the top 10 in the final AP Top 25 for the second straight season — its first under first-time coach Josh Heupel. All of that while not only having the target on its back but making it brighter throughout the year due to self-created buzz.
That’s incredibly impressive, and it solidifies UCF as the class of the Group of Five. That might not be enough for fans who bought into the hype a bit too much, but it certainly should be satisfactory enough to enjoy and relish what was a phenomenal season.
CBS Sports was with you the entire way Tuesday updating this story with the latest scores, analysis and highlights from the 2019 Fiesta Bowl. If you are unable to view the updates below, please click here.
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