LSU became the one to break UCF’s 25-game winning streak, holding off the Knights for a 40-32 win that proved to be one of the more insane games of the bowl season.
Jacoby Stevens intercepted Darriel Mack near midfield off a tipped ball that allowed the Tigers to kneel the clock out. Central Florida had found a way to get a touchdown and two-point to cut a late LSU lead to eight with just over two minutes left in the game. Foster Moreau was able to recover an onside kick that got a spectacular UCF bounce, but the offense failed to get the first down and run the clock out, punting it down inside the 15.
Joe Burrow played the best game of his career, completing 21 of 34 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns. Overall, the Tigers finished with 555 yards of offense and averaged 6.5 yards per play, although they struggled to put the game away in the second half despite a massive time-of-possession advantage. Central Florida struggled to gain even a single first down, aside from penalty, until their final two drives. LSU’s defense, for its part, held the Knights to just 250 yards of total offense and 4.1 yards per play.
LSU’s offense struggled through the first quarter, with Burrow throwing a 93-yard pick six that included a brutal hit to Burrow that somehow went uncalled. There was also a frustrating field goal that came after a 77-yard kickoff return by Clyde Edwards-Helaire to open the game.
But Burrow rebounded to hit seven of his next eight throws, with touchdowns of 22 yards to Jefferson and 49 yards to Derrick Dillon. The Tigers appeared to be taking control of things after the break when Jefferson muffed a punt that allowed UCF to keep the game within two scores in the third quarter. In the end, the ball-control strategy worked, with LSU owning the ball for nearly 45 minutes.
Nick Brossette led the way on the ground for LSU with 117 yards — getting him past the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Ja’Marr Chase led all players with six catches for 93 yards and one of Burrow’s four touchdown passes.
Officiating was an atrocity in what was an extremely chippy game. Three players ejected; two for targeting AFTER Burrow was lit up with no call, plus LSU corner Terrence Alexander ejected for throwing a punch. Overall, 22 penalties were called, with a host of notable no-calls. ACC referees somehow manage to make SEC officials look nearly competent. Nearly.
Defensively, Rashard Lawrence led the way with four tackles for loss and two sacks, although he suffered an injury late — on a play that was set up by a horrible no-call on an obvious intentional grounding play by Mack. LSU sacked Mack five times overall, and Devin White also forced a fumble in the first half that helped the Tigers take control of the game early.
With a host of injured players, plus two huge ejections — including Grant Delpit, on an inadvertent head-to-head hit where a UCF receiver was essentially swung into his head — LSU persevered and gutted out a huge win that should see them finish in the top 10 for the first time in eight years. An ugly win, but against a strong UCF team that was the only way this one was ever happening.
Now, let’s carry that momentum into the offseason and set up an even bigger 2019!