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So You’re Playing UCF In A Bowl Game...

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We reached out to the Knights’ last SEC opponent for some perspective.

NCAA Football: Peach Bowl-Auburn vs Central Florida Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

LSU’s Fiesta Bowl opponent, the Central Florida Knights, will ride into Glendale, Ariz. on a 25-game winning streak. One of those wins was a 34-27 win over then 7th-ranked Auburn in the 2018 Peach Bowl.

While the Knights have a new head coach, and will be without star quarterback McKenzie Milton on Jan. 1, it still seemed like a good idea to reach out to College and Magnolia’s Jack Condon to get some perspective.

How did Auburn lose this game, exactly?

If you want the Xs and Os answer, it was because our offensive line was awful, giving up five sacks, and producing nothing in the run game. McKenzie Milton didn’t have the best game throwing the ball, but he gashed Auburn with his legs, going for 116 yards and a touchdown on just 13 carries. UCF had a good game plan to clear out the middle of the field with their receivers going deep and to the boundary, and if Milton didn’t like what he saw, he just took off for 8-10 yards every time. Their actual tailbacks only had 21 carries for 66 yards. When Milton did go downfield, the Knight receivers made some fantastic catches. Both teams had about the same total yardage, but UCF did it in bursts and it seemed to carry the game emotionally when they’d hit the big play.

How much of the game was hangover from losing the SEC title game and then missing the playoffs?

If you want the non-Xs and Os answer to your first question, it was the fact that UCF wanted to be there so much more than Auburn did. So yeah, the letdown effect was real. It wasn’t just the players on the field, where Kerryon Johnson was still limited physically, and our best corner Carlton Davis didn’t play, but in the stands too. The UCF fans were packed in, and they were loud. They were excited for the opportunity, and they seized it against a team that didn’t really have any reason to get amped up. The Tigers were a Kerryon Johnson injury away from a likely playoff berth, but instead they were back in Atlanta against UCF in a no-win situation. You beat them, you were supposed to, and if you lose, everyone laughs at you.

UCF was able to limit Auburn’s rushing attack. How much of it was having Kerryon Johnson limited by injury?

I think we got to see a little confirmation this season about what goes on when you don’t have a healthy Kerryon Johnson in the backfield. Auburn’s offensive line was worse, that’s for sure, but with KJ back there this year, they’re probably still a pretty good rushing team. I think his effectiveness masked some of the issues that the line had last year. He was able to pick his spots and patiently wait for the holes to open up before attacking, and without him, the run game featured a totally different dynamic. Plus, we got to see more of the Jarrett Stidham holding the ball sackfest like we saw plenty this year. That affected the rushing numbers as well.

What was your impression of UCF’s overall talent level compared to better SEC squads?

They’re not that far behind, to be honest. Skill positions were fairly even, with the receivers making crazy plays at times, and Milton could’ve started for most SEC teams. In the trenches they were a little smaller, but the emotional boost helped in that regard, and the game plan worked as well, featuring Milton’s legs to get rushing yardage instead of having to push aside our big defensive front. With a couple of stars on each side of the ball, it masks deficiencies in other areas, and that’s what they had in that game with Milton and Griffin.

What was the most surprising thing about the Knights?

It’s not that they were faster than we expected (UCF fans and players were saying that Auburn hadn’t faced that speed), it’s just how athletic they were aside from that. The catches some receivers made, and the moves that Milton and the defensive front made to get to Stidham, they were just all very impressive. And watching Shaq Griffin make 12 tackles and 3.5 TFLs with just one hand was something else. He was outstanding.

If you had one piece of advice for LSU going into a game with UCF, what would it be?

Travel. Bring all of your fans. If I was a little surprised that UCF was more present in Atlanta than Auburn was last year, then I imagine they’ll be out in Arizona for what they think will be a second straight national championship. Try to care about this game more than we did.