Both teams came into this game with a bit of disappointment. Auburn had
everything in front of them. Coming off convincing victories of a pair of #1
teams at the team in Georgia and Alabama, all they had to do was beat the
Bulldogs again and they were in the college playoffs. And today, they would
be in Pasadena getting ready to play the Oklahoma Sooners in the Rose Bowl
for a return trip to Mercedes Benz Stadium at the National Championship
But, UGA had other ideas and derailed the Tigers plans, landing them
outside the playoffs at #7, but still in a New Year's Day game.
Central Florida (their media department says to not call them that) felt
they had a gripe with a 12-0 record. But, they got snubbed from the playoffs
and lost their head coach, Scott Frost, as a result to Nebraska.
Nonetheless, the Knights and their fan base seem thrilled to be playing in
the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and have every intention of remaining undefeated
as their media info lauds "The Perfect Season."
Frost told the Huskers that they would have to wait a bit for him to stay
with his team to finish the job while Gus Malzahn parlayed interest
from Arkansas to get a nice extension at Auburn.
The question was a David and Goliath story. Did the Knights played anyone
on the level of Auburn? The schedule suggests not, littered with the likes
of FIU, Maryland, Cincinnati, East Carolina and Austin Peay. Whereas, the
Tigers have faced off against a tough SEC West schedule with just a pair of
losses to LSU and Clemson. For Auburn, there was little to be gained. A win
would only mean that it was a mismatch against a lower level team. For
Central Florida, a win would justify their arguments that they should have
been included in the playoffs with an unbeaten record.
And, in the end, maybe it was that motivation that was the difference. I
got the feeling as the game progressed that UCF seemed much more into the
game than Auburn did. This did not resemble the same Tiger team that took
down UGA and Bama. That's to take away nothing from the Knights and what
they have accomplished this season.
The game started off as a defensive struggle for both teams with each
looking tentative starting with three and outs before a short 35 yard punt
gave the Knights great field position at midfield. That advantage was
squandered when QB McKenzie Milton fumbled, recovered by AU
Deshaun Davis. The turnover turned into three points with Daniel
Carlson putting it through the uprights from 25.
Carlson missed his next try from 53 yards but Matthew Wright
looked good from 33 to tie the game at three.
The tide started to turn on a huge mistake by Jason Stidham as
AJ Wooten forced the ball loose with Trysten Hill scooping it up
and returning it 36 yards to the 21. Milton escaped a near sack and sprinted
straight ahead to the end zone for an 18 yard TD and the Knights' first lead
10-3. Auburn later got three more with a 46 yarder to pull to within four
but UCF quickly got those points back driving the ball downfield 42 yards on
six plays in just 38 seconds. Wright put them back up by seven, 13-6 at the
Two key factors drove the outcome of the first half. Auburn continually
made things hard for themselves with 3-20, 6 penalties for 46 with half that
for CSU. Starting field position was another. The Tigers began their drives
at their 22, the UCFf49, their 19, 28, 10 and 9 while the Knights drives
began at their 35, 49, 20, 36, the Auburn 21, 50, and 30.
The sleeping Tigers awakened for a 14 point third quarter burst to take a
20-13 lead sparked by a 72 yard Noah Igbinoghene kickoff return
followed by a Will Hastings TD catch. Overall, Igbinoghene set a new
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Record for most kickoff return yards with 174 yards
on 6 returns.
The continued the momentum when Kerryon Johnson punched it
in from the four for the seven point advantage.
But the Tigers couldn't sustain their offense while the Knights
persevered and tied it at 13 when Otis Anderson caught a pass at the
15 and bullied his way across the goal line to tie the game again at
UCF's defense shined as they sacked Stidham for a sixth time and on their
next drive, Milton bought some time until he found Dredrick Snelson
in the back of the end zone for a go ahead score of 27-20.
The Knights poured on the pressure when Chequan Burkett picked off
Stidham for the first time and took it to the house extending the lead to
14. Auburn got the it to within one score but couldn't make it happen.
After the game, Malzahn cited the fact that they were outgained on the
ground 169-90 as one of the biggest reasons for the loss. "The main stat
that was disappointing for me. I think it was 44 rushes for 90 yards, and
that was very disappointing."
UCF completes the season with a perfect 13-0 record, the only team in the
nation to have a perfect season and the first team since Florida State in
2014 to finish the season undefeated.
In the end, UCF's mantra was that they were the real national
champions with that undefeated record. "I
said on the podium, you can go ahead and cancel the playoffs; I'm not
changing my mind," said Milton, who was named offensive MVP (16-35, 242
yards, 2 touchdowns). UCF linebacker
took home the honor of being named defensive MVP (12 total tackles including
3.5 TFL, and 1.5 sacks).
"Auburn is a great team. I'm not taking anything away from them," said
Frost. "I give them a ton of credit. But these guys deserve everything they
get, and they deserve more credit from the Committee than what they got."