LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson makes a touchdown catch in the first quarter.

LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson makes a touchdown catch in the first quarter.

Over 50,000 fans watch LSU hold on for 40-32 victory

University of Central Florida entered the 2019 Fiesta Bowl with a 25-game winning streak and a feeling of being neglected for not gaining a spot in the College Football Playoffs as one of the final four undefeated teams.

But, LSU held on for a 40-32 victory over UCF Jan. 1 at State Farm Stadium, ending the Knights’ 25-game winning streak in the New Year’s Day bowl game.

“Obviously, everyone in the locker room is really upset because we haven’t lost a game since 2016. The sophomore class hasn’t even lost a game since they’ve been here,” UCF tight end Michael Colubiale said. “It is the first time losing. This program’s come so far. I’m just really excited to watch as a fan for the future. I think this place is just getting started. I think this is going to be a regular appearance in a New Year’s Day bowl, and I’m so proud to attend this school and play for this program.”

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow passed for 394 yards and four touchdowns and running back Nick Brossette rushed for 117 yards as the Tigers held off a late UCF push for the victory. LSU finished the season 10-3.

“First off, I want to congratulate our football team and our coaching staff, it has been a tremendous year. We came out west for a business trip, also to enjoy it. Our guys were in curfew every night because of the leadership of these guys here. We had good practices,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said. “But you know what? I do want to compliment Central Florida. They had an excellent football team. They were well-coached. What a heck of a football game.”

Orgeron said his team was excited to be invited to Glendale.

“We are glad to be Fiesta Bowl champs and I want to thank the Fiesta Bowl people for their tremendous hospitality, tremendous facilities,” Orgeron said. “One of the best bowls I’ve ever been to. And if you all invite us back, we plan to come on back.”

The UCF offense struggled without its regular starting quarterback, junior McKenzie Milton, who suffered a severe knee injury in the last game of the regular season. In his place, redshirt freshman Darriel Mack Jr. could only muster up 97 passing yards and had trouble escaping the LSU pass rush, being sacked five times with two coming from LSU defensive end Rashard Lawrence

Lawrence was named Fiesta Bowl Defensive Most Valuable Player.

“Last month and toward the back end of the season, I have really been working on my pass rush and just trying to have a good get-off,” Lawrence said. “So today they kind of got me isolated with some one-on-one situations, and I took advantage of it.”

After LSU scored on a 24-yard field goal by Cole Tracey two minutes into the game, UCF took the first lead of the game on a 25-yard rushing touchdown by running back Greg McCrae two minutes later.

The Knights extended their lead to 14-3 when Brandon Moore stepped in front of  a Burrow pass at the UCF 7-yard-line and raced 93 yards for a pick-six with just over six minutes left in the first quarter.

On the interception, Burrow was leveled by UCF lineman Joey Connors, who unloaded a devastating block. The LSU quarterback didn’t see the block coming at all and was clearly shaken up on the play.

Orgeron was visibly upset after the play, arguing with the referees.

“I thought it was targeting. It looked like targeting. I thought it should have been called targeting,” Orgeron said.

Burrow took time to get back up, but said he was fine after the hit.

“The only thing I’m going to say about it is the only reason I didn’t get up in one second is because I got the wind knocked out of me, and I would have got up immediately if that didn’t happen,” Burrow said.

Mack went deep to Gabriel Davis for a 32-yard touchdown with four seconds left in the first half, giving UCF hope, down just 24-21.

UCF came in with the nation’s third-best offense and was held to 250 total yards. The Knights had averaged 545 yards per game on the regular season. LSU topped that Tuesday, accruing 555 total yards. McCrae led UCF with 81 rushing yards and a touchdown.

“I thought that happened with the penalty early in the football game, where we stopped them and they’re in a punting situation, where we give them a new set of downs,” UCF head coach Josh Heupel said. “There’s a bunch of plays in this game. There’s always a handful of plays that you look back on that are really impactful. But you got to move on from it.”

LSU won its 50th bowl game, improving to 26-23-1 in the postseason and became just the second SEC team to win in the Fiesta Bowl after Tennessee in January 1999.

Heupel said his team missed numerous chances to pull out the victory.

“Were there opportunities in this football game that we missed, that we didn’t take advantage of? Absolutely. I think that’s what’s special about this game, though. I mean, you only get one opportunity to walk out on the field,” Heupel said. “(LSU) has great coaches on the other side. I’m talking about in this ball game, but I’m talking about in every game. They’ve got 85 guys with scholarships.”

Ha added that his team now has to rebound from ots first loss in over a year and rebound heading into next season.

“One of the things that’s been missed and it’s been missed — not missed by me but I haven’t been able to talk about it because we’re in such a grind of just the season and moving on to the next week, trying to keep kids focused — is all of the national championship talk and banter with our program from last season,” Heupel said. “What gets lost, to me, as much as anything, is how special it is for a group of individuals to come together collectively and go out there and have one 60-minute clock for 25 straight weeks and find a way to be good enough to go get a win. I think it says a lot about the character that’s in our locker room. It says a lot about the leadership, the toughness, mentally and physically, be able to handle that and to go and play football for that amount of time and find a way to win.”

LSU is now 9-0 following a loss under third-year coach Orgeron, winning in the Fiesta Bowl after a seven-overtime defeat at Texas A&M on Nov. 24.

“We have a tradition to uphold,” Orgeron said. “We blocked out the (dire preseason prediction) noise, but it galvanized our team. We should have been 11-1 in some cases,” referring to losses to Florida and A&M. “We’re going to learn from that next year.