Takes a lickin’, keeps on throwin’
GLENDALE, Ariz. — A hush fell over State Farm Stadium early Tuesday during the Fiesta Bowl.
It looked like a no-warning, blind-side collision that would cost somebody a lot of their insurance deductible.
Somebody like LSU quarterback Joe Burrow.
He wasn’t moving on the turf as one Central Florida player taunted him and another was running the other way with his gift-wrapped interception for a touchdown that looked to be sparking another UCF hot foot to the Southeastern Conference.
LSU trainers rushed out. Head coach Ed Orgeron begged for a targeting call. Burrow was just sprawled there, bleeding from a scrape on his neck
“The only reason I didn’t get up in one second is because I got the wind knocked out of me,” Burrow said.
“Tough as nails,” Orgeron said of his quarterback.
It was a false alarm — which basically put an end to the nation’s longest winning streak at 25 games.
Burrow got up off the deck to throw for 394 yards and an LSU-bowl record-tying four touchdowns as the Tigers recovered to beat UCF 40-32.
There was more. Nick Brossette ran for 117 yards and a young LSU receiving corps came of age as Burrow connected on 21 of 34 passes. Tigers heartthrob Cole Tracy kicked four field goals to become the NCAA’s all-time leader and the Tigers defense came up with a work-around for its depleted secondary.
But Burrow, the bowl’s offensive MVP while sporting a nasty scrape on his neck afterwards from his scary encounter, seemed to sum it up.
“A lot of guts,” Orgeron said. “Grit. We talk about grit … we talk about grit all the time. Our guys have grit. They practice with grit. They block out the noise. A lot of adversity.”
If it wasn’t always a thing of beauty, it capped a 10-3 season — the first double-digit win year since 2013 — for a team that predicted to finish fifth in the SEC West.
“We played some good football this year, and it is a tribute to our football team and our players,” Orgeron said.
The Tigers had to tough this one out with a defense that was missing five starters before two more, including All-American safety Grant Delpit were ejected in the first half.
But they responded with 555 yards of offense, which allowed them to play keep away — and keep its defense out of harm’s way — against the high-powered Knights (12-1), who managed 250.
“Score touchdowns,” Burrow answered what he thought after the pick six and the hit that flattened him as the Knights took a 14-3 lead. “Complete passes. I didn’t really think about the hit too much after I got up. Hurt for a second. I got right up and went on to the next play.”
The Tigers took control by scoring on their next three possessions, all off Burrow’s arm as he tossed touchdowns of 22 and 33 yards to Justin Jefferson and 49 yards to Derrick Dillon.
“At the beginning of the game, they were kind of sitting on our short routes so we had to start throwing it deep,” said Burrow, who was 2 of 6 before the massive hit and 19 of 28 after it. “We hit a couple and then we got them to back off. So that opened up the underneath game. We were clicking on all cylinders in the passing game today.”
LSU opened a 24-14 lead before the Knights scored just before halftime to cut it back to three while getting the ball to start the second half.
But LSU, despite the shallow ranks in the secondary, didn’t allow UCF a first down in the third quarter — the Knights scored without one with a field goal after Jefferson’s muffed punt.
“Look at the DBs that we didn’t have in the game,” Orgeron said. “There was going to be no excuses. We’re going to put 11 men on the field and fight like Tigers.”
No matter how deep they had to dig to get a quorum in the secondary, the Tigers seemed to have the answer.
“We blitzed a lot today,” Orgeron said. “We had a lot of pressure on the quarterback. We played some cover 2 when we needed to. He made up some of the coverages. I thought he did a tremendous job calling the game.”
Defensive end Rashard Lawrence was named the defensive MVP after recording two sacks and two other tackles for losses.
“I feel like we did some new stuff. Big man over there,” All-American linebacker and Butkus Award winner Devin White said. “Big man over there (Lawrence) finally got to the ball, to the quarterback. That was new. He had two sacks in the game. He won defensive MVP, well deserved.”
UCF, meanwhile, lost for the first time in 26 games.
“Today we weren’t good enough to find a way to win the ball game,” UCF head coach Josh Heupel said.