Previewing UCF vs. LSU in the Fiesta Bowl: Date, Time, Spread, How to Watch

    Who: No. 8 UCF (12-0) vs. No. 11 LSU (9-3) What: PlayStation Fiesta Bowl When: 1 p.m. ET, Tuesday, January 1 Where: State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

    December 28, 2018

    Who: No. 8 UCF (12-0) vs. No. 11 LSU (9-3)

    What: PlayStation Fiesta Bowl

    When: 1 p.m. ET, Tuesday, January 1

    Where: State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

    Spread: LSU -7.5

    How to watch: ESPN

    There’s potentially a national championship on the line on New Year’s Day – or at least one might be claimed by UCF if the Knights win the Fiesta Bowl to cap off their second straight undefeated season. UCF claimed a national championship after going 13-0 and beating Auburn in the Peach Bowl last season.

    After getting left out of the College Football Playoff and not being seriously considered for the four-team playoff, as seen by UCF’s No. 8 ranking in the final CFP rankings, a bowl game against another SEC team is a huge opportunity for the Knights in regards to their national perception.

    LSU was ranked No. 3 in the playoff selection committee’s initial 2018 rankings, and the Tigers represent a caliber of opponent that the Knights haven’t played in their non-conference games or in AAC play.

    After UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton, who finished sixth in this season’s Heisman Trophy voting, suffered a serious leg injury against South Florida on November 23, UCF has relied on backup Darriel Mack Jr.

    After struggling against the Bulls, Mack was 19-of-27 passing for 348 yards and two touchdowns, along with 59 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground in UCF’s 56-41 win over Memphis in the AAC Championship. The Knights could use a similar performance out of Mack in order to cap off what would be a historic two-year run of 26 wins and zero losses.

    However, LSU’s 14th-ranked defense, according to Football Outsiders’ S&P+ rankings, will be the best that UCF has faced this season. If you take out LSU’s 74-72, seven-overtime loss at Texas A&M in Week 13, then LSU’s points allowed per game average drops to 16.1.

    The Tigers have a plus-12 turnover margin this season, which ranks seventh nationally, and opponents convert on third down just 35 percent of the time.

    However, LSU will be without cornerbacks Greedy Williams, Kristian Fulton and Kelvin Joseph, linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson, and defensive linemen Ed Alexander and Breiden Fehoko for injury and NFL draft reasons. Williams was one of three First Team All-SEC defenders, along with linebacker Devin White and safety Grant Delpit on the Tigers’ defense.

    So neither UCF’s high-powered offense or LSU’s talented defense will be at its peak form without Milton and the host of Tiger defenders who won’t play in the Fiesta Bowl.

    We’ve already addressed the history on the line for UCF – back-to-back undefeated seasons with two different head coaches despite losing its star quarterback late in the second season.

    For LSU, a Fiesta Bowl win would represent the school’s first 10-win season since 2013. A loss would mean the Tigers’ fifth straight season with eight or nine wins, and the third consecutive year with four losses.

    A victory would also continue LSU’s recent success in bowl games. While the program is 25-23-1 all-time in bowl games, it’s 14-7 since the ’90s. A Fiesta Bowl win would cap off Coach Ed Orgeron’s best season as a head coach and the Tigers’ 2018 campaign would provide optimism for the future of the program.

     

    Here’s a look at some of the statistical strengths and players to watch for both teams.

    UCF

    Offense

    Points per game: 44.2 (5th)

    Rushing yards per game: 276 (5th)

    Passing yards per game: 268 (29th)

    Third down conversion percentage: 51.2% (4th)

    Fourth down conversion percentage: 63.1% (22nd)

    Red zone conversion percentage: 89.4% (20th)

    Plays from scrimmage of at least 10 yards: 228 (7th)

    Defense

    Points allowed per game: 21.3 (24th)

    Passing yards allowed per game: 196 (33rd)

    Turnover margin: +14 (3rd)

    Opponent fourth down conversion percentage: 41.38% (19th)

    Opponent red zone conversion percentage: 74.3% (13th)

    Players to watch

    QB Darriel Mack Jr. – 522 passing yards, 57.1%, 2 TD; 340 rushing yards, 5.9 avg., 6 rushing TD

    RB Greg McCrae – 1,101 rushing yards, 9.0 avg., 9 TD

    WR Gabriel Davis – 50 receptions, 756 receiving yards, 6 TD

    DB Richie Grant – 101 total tackles, three passes defended, six INT, two forced fumbles

    DL Titus Davis – 59 total tackles, 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles

    LSU

    Offense

    Rushing yards allowed per game: 139 (37th)

    Field goal kicking: 25-of-29 (86.2%) (14th)

    Fourth down conversion percentage: 72.7% (4th)

    Red zone conversion percentage: 89.0% (23rd)

    Defense

    Points allowed per game: 20.9 (23rd)

    Turnover margin: +12 (7th)

    Opponent third down conversion percentage: 34.9% (32nd)

    Players to watch

    QB Joe Burrow – 2,500 passing yards, 57.4%, 12 TD, 4 INT

    RB Nick Brossette – 922 rushing yards, 14 TD

    WR Justin Jefferson – 50 receptions, 788 receiving yards, 4 TD

    LB Devin White – 115 total tackles, 3.0 sacks, five passes defended, two forced fumbles

    S Grant Delpit – 73 total tackles, 5.0 sacks, nine passes defended, five INT

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