Rapid Reaction: Fiesta Bowl everything LSU wanted in win vs. UCF
The Fiesta Bowl was everything for LSU that college football programs hope a bowl game will be.
It was a satisfying end to the current season and an encouraging tone-setter for the next.
The victory validated the things that led to LSU’s postseason berth and revealed abilities that might produce strengths next season that weren’t necessarily strengths this season.
The No. 11 Tigers’ 40-32 victory against No. 8 and previously undefeated UCF was far from perfect, but it gave short-handed LSU its 10th victory of the season.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire showed that even though there are two highly regarded running back recruits on their way to bolster LSU’s running game, he’s not about to be squeezed out of the picture for next season.
Joe Burrow showed that his first full season as a college starting quarterback – in the SEC no less – has accelerated his development and suggested he might be significantly better next season.
Justin Jefferson showed why he was one of the most improved players on the team this season. His fellow wide receivers – most notably freshman Ja’Marr Chase – showed that there’s still hope for an underachieving group to become the ballyhooed group it was supposed to be.
Jefferson couldn’t snag what should have been a fourth-quarter touchdown, forcing LSU to settle for a field goal. But overall he showed by he has been the Tigers’ top receiver this season. He also stepped in for injured Jonathan Giles as the punt returner and had a muff that led to a third-quarter field goal for UCF.
While the LSU offense showed some of its best balance of the season – despite an inconsistent performance by the line – the defense battled minus half a dozen key players who were lost to NFL defections, injuries and disciplinary action.
The Tigers already were missing cornerbacks Greedy Williams, Kristian Fulton and Kelvin Joseph and defensive linemen Ed Alexander, Breiden Fehoko, Neil Farrell, Davin Cotton, Nelson Jenkins and Travez Moore.
Plus linebacker Jacob Phillips sat out the first half for a targeting penalty in the regular-season finale against Texas A&M and star safety Grant Delpit was ejected for targeting in the second quarter.
The defense showed occasional signs of the short-handedness, but overall help up quite well under the circumstances.
The offense helped it out quite a bit with a huge time of possession edge, keeping the players who were out there relatively fresh and limiting the number of opportunities the Knights had to exploit the vulnerabilities in the secondary.
LSU kept UCF out of the end zone in the second half and one of the field goals was the gift from Jefferson, after which the Tigers stiffened from their own 20.
But the biggest story of the game was Burrow, who shook off a pick six and a brutal shot he took during the return to throw for four touchdowns.
Another significant storyline was that senior Nick Brossette surpassed 1,000 rushing yards in his senior season after seeing minimal action in his first three seasons.
LSU led 24-21 at halftime after Burrow threw thee first-half touchdown passes and the Tigers extended the lead when Burrow and Chase teamed for their score on the first possession of the third quarter.
Each team made a field goal, leaving the Tigers with a 34-24 lead after three quarters.
LSU’s Cole Tracy added a third field goal on the first possession of the fourth quarter and, despite allowing a late TD and 2-point conversion, the Tigers were launched into the offseason feeling like 2019 could be special.