Posted January 02, 2014

Blake Bortles, UCF beat Baylor 52-42 in Fiesta Bowl to secure landmark BCS victory

Art Briles, Baylor Bears, George O'Leary, UCF Knights
Blake Bortles

Blake Bortles led UCF to a statement-making upset of Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. (Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Earlier this week, UCF running back Storm Johnson was asked if there was room in the state of Florida for a college football “Big Four.” Johnson offered a one-word answer — “yes” — and didn’t expand any further. Following a 52-42 victory over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, however, the Knights have certainly made their case.

UCF quarterback Blake Bortles went 20-of-31 for 301 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in Wednesday night’s triumph. He also added 93 rushing yards and a score on eight carries.

Bortles has come under the microscope a lot recently, as his NFL draft stock has become the subject of national speculation. Knights head coach George O’Leary deflected questions about his quarterback’s future ad nauseam in the days leading up to the Fiesta Bowl, but Bortles’ numbers speak for themselves. He finished his junior campaign with 3,581 passing yards and 25 touchdowns; he was able to run if needed, too, a skill he demonstrated with his zone read play against the Baylor defense.

He boasts the size and strength NFL scouts salivate over, but he’s also prone to making poor decisions — and the Fiesta Bowl proved no exception. Bortles put UCF ahead 35-28 on a pretty 10-yard strike to Breshad Perriman midway through the third quarter, but he also uncorked a pair of ugly picks. No matter what he ultimately decides, he’s already left his imprint on the program.

“Building chemistry on and off the field is what we strive on,” Bortles said. “Hopefully that will be my legacy at the end.”

Baylor entered this game as the heavy favorite, but it stumbled out of the gate. The only other time the Bears trailed at the end of the first half this season was at Oklahoma State on Nov. 23 — the Bears’ lone loss coming into the Fiesta Bowl. The Cowboys ran the ball 46 times in that 49-17 rout, wearing down the Baylor defense and making each offensive possession that much more critical. Against the Knights, the same script came into play.

During his ESPN interview at the half, Baylor coach Art Briles said his team “just needed to play cleaner and smoother.” Penalties and missed tackles plagued the Bears all night, and they dug into a hole from which they weren’t able to emerge.

If the Bears aren’t scoring, players look around for answers, as if a remote control isn’t working and there are no extra batteries in the house. The easy solution is to get up and change the channel, but athletes are often creatures of habit. When challenged with a threat to their routine, Baylor’s players seemed to lose their rhythm.

“It’s very frustrating,” Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon said afterward. “Not just speaking for our defense, but as a team as a whole. That’s very frustrating to have as many penalties as we had. We had 17. I don’t know very many ball clubs that can win with 17 penalties in one game. With a good team like that, I mean, what happened tonight is going to happen to you.”

UCF turned the ball over on three consecutive offensive plays (back-to-back interceptions by Bortles and a fumble by Johnson) in the first half, and the door was open for Baylor to seize control.

It couldn’t take advantage. A costly interception by Bears quarterback Bryce Petty in the red zone — only his third of the season — and a subsequent 50-yard touchdown pass from Bortles to Rannell Hall gave UCF a 21-13 lead. Later, Petty front-flipped into the end zone, and Baylor sliced the deficit to 21-20. The Knights responded with another long Hall touchdown, though, thanks to some impressive blocking from redshirt junior wide receiver Josh Reese.

On Dec. 31, O’Leary emphasized the importance of having “we guys” — not “me guys” — and Reese is a fine example of that. He had just four total receptions in the final four games of the regular season, and he didn’t record a catch against Baylor. It would’ve been very easy for him to disengage on blocks or become disinterested, but he kept fighting and allowed Hall to make his move.

“I always said you want us to throw you the ball you’ve got to be able to block,” O’Leary said. “Any time you see chunk plays in the run game, you usually have a receiver corps that’s blocking well downfield. I thought they did a great job of getting hands on people, they were on their feet. I thought the runners did a good job of utilizing them downfield as far as blockers were concerned.”

The second half brought more of the same. Baylor tied the score at 28 on Petty’s third rushing touchdown with 10:38 remaining in the third quarter, but a barrage of pass interference penalties put the Bears in a corner. They tried to claw their way out, but trailing by two scores with more than nine minutes to play, UCF generated a key defensive stop and was able to bleed the clock and seal the win.

O’Leary will get plenty of credit for building UCF to where it is today. To some extent, he deserves it. But that doesn’t overshadow some of the things that happened along the way.

The death of Ereck Plancher — to which a former player testified O’Leary was “yelling obscenities” at Plancher after he collapsed during practice on March 18, 2008 — immediately comes to mind. O’Leary’s comments that players today are soft and “it comes from too much parental babying” don’t sit quite right. That UCF had to win an appeal on a potential postseason ban after it was revealed former athletic director Keith Tribble and wide receivers coach David Kelly committed recruiting violations shouldn’t be forgotten. The bad and the ugly can’t be ignored when the good comes along. This isn’t the world of Machiavelli where the ends automatically justify the means.

All that noted, however, it was the “we guys” who got the Knights to 12-1 and clinched the school’s first-ever BCS win. They’re the reason UCF has a case for the Big Three in Florida expanding into a Big Four. And in the new-look College Football Playoff system, the “we guys” might be UCF’s best chance to remain in the national conversation for years to come.

Said O’Leary: “I’ve always deflected everything to the players. You know, players win football games. Coaches just get them in the right direction.”

28 comments
Darrell1
Darrell1

Oh, OU is up on Alabama 31-17 at the half. So I guess Alabama, a double-digit favorite, must be choking!


Look, things like that happen in bowl games. Baylor gets ripped for it, while Alabama will (if the result holds) get a free pass. That's the nature of college football fans.


BTW, at least two of the Baylor PI penalties, while maybe *technically* correct, were really no more than incidental contact and should not have been called. One was on the drive that made it 42-28 on a Baylor linebacker, and the other was on the drive that wrapped up the game and made it 49-35. The second one was declined, but it should never have been flagged in the first place. Say what you will, but by being so aggressive, the refs basically took Baylor out the game in the second half. If that's the way you want to see a game called, so lopsidedly that it seriously impacts the game, you're different than me. If you got that kind of penalty-calling result in a basketball game, people would be upset about it.


Now, that's not to say that Baylor lost because of the refs. That would not be true, as Baylor's defense was awful all around and the offense, although it played reasonably well, made a HUGE momentum-turning mistake (the Petty interception). UCF richly deserved the win, and I hope they get a little credit now. But most likely college football fans will just say, "They only beat BAYLOR."!

slickwilly
slickwilly

Well, so much for that much improved Baylor defense I guess. Good game by Bortles though.

Oldtimeduffer
Oldtimeduffer

What's the "Big 4" in Florida that they're talking about?  Florida State, UCF, and who else??

JaguarJoel
JaguarJoel

What a gutless performance by Baylor--the LITTLE-12 CHAMP!  It will be a cold day in hell when I ever invest in another Big-12 team.  This was a C. Florida team that beat Houston by 5, Temple by 3, S. Flor by 3, and SMU by 4.  Baylor showed a complete lack of interest in playing, and their coaches deserve universal condemnation.  And their QB sucked big-time--a Heisman candidate?  Don't make me puke!

Baldeagle
Baldeagle

Looks like a bad bowl year for the BIG 12 and not surprising. Teams from top to bottom put all the emphasis on scoring tons of points and little on defense.

ScottKent
ScottKent

Once again UCF proved it is capable of playing up/down to the exact level of the competition. I love my school, but some day they need to realize how good they are and just play like it every game. 

GoalieLax
GoalieLax

You still want to tell me there's a Power 5?  The American/Big East has as many BCS wins as the Big XII

KurtAlexander
KurtAlexander

Coach O'Leary is correct - players today are too soft and helicopter parents are to blame.  Suck it up, buttercup; it's football, not tiddlywinks.


HarshRealities
HarshRealities

UCF will probably still not get any respect from the pollsters. Their only blemish all year was a 3 point loss to top 10 team South Carolina. The pollsters will probably rank Baylor ahead of UCF and jump Louisville over UCF even though UCF beat Louisville this year.

WHO*IS*ESPN
WHO*IS*ESPN

Sure, Bortles made some picks.  I wouldn't take teddy, johnny in the first round either. They BOTH play wreckless

JEPD
JEPD

Can't resist pointing out that the South Carolina Gamecocks beat UCF in a game which at the time seemed like another of Spurrier's occasional peculiar no-shows (like losing to Tennessee!).  In retrospect, that game showed what Bortles and company were really about.  And Baylor, actually, never proved quite the same.

Chessmaster
Chessmaster

No excuse for the Bears choking on this game... they had every advantage going in. It was both teams' BCS bowl premiere, so can't blame jitters. Big 12 refs let BU get away with secondary mugging all season, but not tonight. This was a real shocker, so full congrats to the Knights.

Darrell1
Darrell1

It certainly isn't the only or even the main reason Baylor lost the game, but a contributing factor was the officiating, especially in the second half. Baylor: SEVENTEEN penalties for 135 yards, Central Florida, 4 for 40. It got so bad in the second half that the refs were basically not allowing Baylor to play pass defense.


All that said, Baylor's defense SUCKED, and Central Florida played a great game offensively. But it would have been nice to have seen a little more fair officiating.

yehonala04
yehonala04

Congrats to the Knights; FLORIDA -ATHOLEETS !!!

danboz11
danboz11

@KurtAlexander And yet the players of today would dominate, without a question your romanticized players of yesterday.  Nothing quite like yelling at a player for dying.

WHO*IS*ESPN
WHO*IS*ESPN

@JEPD What do you mean TN? They are awesome. They beat not one but TWO junior college teams and then there's .....um

Darrell1
Darrell1

@Chessmaster I also think you're being overly harsh. Baylor didn't really choke. They got outplayed, especially their defense. A choke is if a team coughs up a big lead or something. Baylor never even led in this game. And favorites don't always win in big games. Arizona State was a double-digit favorite who lost, too. Did they choke? If anything, the pressure in this game was much less on Central Florida. The Knights were a big underdog that nothing much was expected of. They proved people underestimated them. Good for them. We knew their QB was a big-time talent, as he's being talked about as a top-5 NFL draft pick. That gave them a chance right there.


The Bears took a big step this year. But they weren't really very good outside of Waco all year long. This game showed them they still have a ways to go, but we'll see if Briles will still be there to see if they can get to the next step. Winning the Big 12 was HUGE. But they aren't quite a national player yet. Defense was better this year but games down the stretch showed it still isn't top-tier.


Darrell1
Darrell1

@Chessmaster Knights played a great game and deserved to win. But cmon. The officiating was ridiculously one-sided. It got so bad in the second half that all the Knights had to do was throw the ball up in the air and they were guaranteed either a completion or a pass interference penalty.


Now, I think the calls were legit at first, but as the game went on the refs got overly critical, and by the late third/early fourth quarter, they were flagging Bears defenders for even incidental contact. On the other hand, I don't think the Knights got a single pass interference call all night. I think the Bears' defense finally just gave up.

GuyColangelo
GuyColangelo

@Darrell1 Get off the officiating butt hurt. Re-watch all 17 penalties and tell me ONE that was NOT a penalty!

FestivusChris
FestivusChris

@Darrell1 The officiating was fine. There were two instances in the game where I thought it sucked; once for Baylor (a PI that was soft), and then once for UCF (two holds when Brice made his 'Flying Wallenda' into the endzone, not called). Other than that, it was legit. Evidently, this is Baylor's M.O.

James C
James C

@danboz11 @KurtAlexander If you gave the great players of years gone by (even 15-20 years ago), the same access to advancements in strength, conditioning, and nutrition that players of this generation get, they would still be great players on par with the great players of today. 


The only reason great players of today might be better than many of the great players of yesteryear is because of training advances. You see many of the elite players of today that largely resemble greats of previous years, thus they are compared to them. 


The example I still love is Jerry Rice. If you gave Jerry Rice the same access to conditioning, nutrition, and strength training that today's players have, he would still be the greatest receiver ever? Why?  He knew how to work his butt off. That is the mentality that is missing in too many of today's athletes. It is also why you see such a difference between elite players today and very good players. The Elite players have the Jerry Rice work ethic, plus the access to great advancements, and great God given ability. Good and really good player either maximize their limited talent level, or don't have the same work ethic even if they have the same talent level. 

GuyColangelo
GuyColangelo

@danboz11 @KurtAlexander Mentally, dude. Mentally, they are softer. I believe this. Of course they are physically stronger with more emphasis on strength and conditioning, but no way are they mentally stronger today, which makes a hug difference.

FredFlintsone
FredFlintsone

@WHO*IS*ESPN @JEPD Thats right I agree  the Northern Minnesota  sisters of mercy  school of violin football program counts 

Misterdave75
Misterdave75

@Darrell1 @Chessmaster It was one sided, you are absolutely right. Because one team was committing the fouls. These weren't ticky tacky borderline pass interference calls, there were "hand with a fist full of jersey every one in the stadium sees it" calls. I still can't figure out why there were doing it. Half the time the defender hadn't even been beat and they were grabbing full on jersey. Just baffling.

James C
James C

@Darrell1 @Chessmaster The calls were not one sided. Baylor has serious issues with discipline and it showed last night. I watched the vast majority of the game, and every flag I saw called on Baylor was a legit call. Baylor plays reckless and they were actually officiated by an officials crew that calls the game the way the NCAA wants it called. 


The simple fact is Baylor's defense did not legally make the plays they had to make. Several of the penalties were STUPID penalties where they were in position to make a stop and grabbed the receiver while the throw was in the air, despite not needing to. Simply put, they panicked when the rusk didn't drop the QB and it killed them. 


Baylor had a very nice season, but they HAVE TO learn to play legal pass defense. I watched several Baylor games this season, and I was waiting for them to play officials who call PI the way the NCAA intends it to be called. Watching the other Bowl games worked by Big 12 crews, I will add this. Baylor got screwed by Big 12 officiating all season. The loose nature of PI calls in the Big 12 is what killed Baylor last night. They got away with it all season, and when it came to the biggest stage they had to play with an officiating crew that actually calls the plays the way the NCAA wants them to be called. 

ScottKent
ScottKent

@Darrell1 @Chessmaster Late in the game in the endzone...UCF got an interference call on them. SEC refs are what got Baylor...SEC likes to play wide opne and at full speed, tugging jerseys of receivers is a no-no there.

Ari1966
Ari1966

@GuyColangelo @Darrell1 Couldn't agree with you more.  Even the commentators said the BU fans can boo all they want but the calls were correct.  If anything, the officials missed a holding penalty on Brice's touchdown, so ease up there Darrell.  BU were convinced (and most pundits too) that they were going to roll UCF.