Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Central Florida: 2014 Fiesta Bowl Champions

Central Florida, making its first appearance in a BCS bowl, posted a massive 52-42 upset victory over Big 12 champs Baylor in Wednesday night's Fiesta Bowl. The Knights (12-1), who were 17-point underdogs at kickoff (the largest margin ever overcome in a BCS bowl), posted 558 yards of total offense and overcame three first-half turnovers with a balanced attack.
UCF running back Storm Johnson ran for 124 yards and three touchdowns, while quarterback Blake Bortles contributed four scores of his own. Meanwhile, Baylor (11-2) looked sloppy throughout. The Bears were flagged 17 times for 135 yards, including a number of crucial penalties in pass coverage that kept UCF drives alive.
The Knights jumped on Baylor early, posting two quick Storm Johnson touchdowns to take an early 14-0 lead. Baylor got a touchdown late in the first quarter on a plunge by quarterback Bryce Petty, but Central Florida held a 14-7 lead after the first 15 minutes.
The second quarter was a mess of turnovers, blown coverages, and sloppy offense. After the teams exchanged punts, Baylor was stopped on fourth down at the UCF 33 yard line when Petty fumbled the snap.
Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles responded by throwing an interception three plays later, but Baylor could not capitalize. Bortles threw his second interception on the next play, and this time the Bears were not so magnanimous. Petty connected with Levi Norwood on a 30-yard touchdown, though the point after attempt failed. Storm Johnson fumbled the ball back to Baylor on the next play, the third consecutive UCF snap to end in a turnover. This time, however, the Bears were in the giving spirit: Petty threw an interception into the UCF end zone, and Bortles turned it into a 50-yard touchdown pass five plays later.
Baylor took over at its own 22, and embarked on an eight-play, 78-yard touchdown drive capped when Petty scrambled right, dove for the end zone, and took a hit from a UCF defender.
The score cut the UCF lead to one point with less than three minutes to go, but neither team was done. Two minutes later, Bortles hit Rannell Hall on a swing pass that the receiver took 34 yards for a touchdown, capping a nine-play, 83-yard drive. Baylor took the ball to the UCF 28 before time ran out, but a 45-yard field goal attempt missed. Despite three turnovers, Central Florida was up 28-20 at the half.
The teams exchanged punts to start the second half, but Baylor struck first. Petty ran in his third touchdown of the night from the goal line, then ran in the two-point conversion, to finish a 68-yard series and tie the game at 28. Bortles and the Knights responded with a touchdown drive of their own, with Bortles throwing to Breshad Perriman to restore the UCF lead. Six minutes later, Bortles ran for another score, extending the Knights' advantage to two touchdowns early in the fourth quarter.
Baylor was not going quietly, though. It took the Bears just four plays and 81 seconds to score again, highlighted by Petty's 28-yard completion to Clay Fuller to set up a Glasco Martin 9-yard touchdown run. But when Storm Johnson broke a 40-yard touchdown run just minutes later to restore UCF's two-possession lead, what little momentum Baylor held evaporated. Two penalties short circuited Baylor's next drive, the Bears were forced to punt, and Central Florida bled the clock below the 5:00 mark before kicking a field goal to go up 52-35. Baylor put together a late scoring drive to narrow the UCF margin, but it was too little, too late. Central Florida fielded the onside kick, and the upset was complete.
Box Score Hero: The Player of the Game has to be Bortles, who completed 20/31 attempts for 301 yards and three touchdowns. Bortles also ran eight times for 93 yards and a score. Johnson's 124 rushing yards cannot be ignored, though, nor can Rannell Hall'sfour catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
Rankings Ramifications: Baylor, which entered the game ranked No. 6, will plummet with the loss, while Central Florida could well move into the finakl Top 10. It's an incredible accomplishment for a program that only moved into FBS football in 1996 and did not join a BCS automatic qualifier conference until this season.
But Did They Cover? Baylor was a massive 17-point favorite. Sometimes, even Vegas gets it wrong.
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