Knights to Square up against Tigers in 2017 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

Written by Brett Korpi
ATLANTA – When the final whistle is blown in the 2018 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day, history will be made. A victory for UCF (12-0) will mean the program has cemented its first-ever perfect season.

For Auburn (10-3), a victory over the unbeaten Knights will make the Tigers the first team ever to beat three teams with a 9-0 record or better in the same season.

Scott Frost, who is currently pulling double duty as he finishes off the season at UCF before taking over the program at his alma mater, Nebraska, knows how difficult it is to go undefeated having led the Cornhuskers as a quarterback to an unblemished mark in 1997.

“Well, it’s hard to go undefeated. It’s hard to have an undefeated regular season, much less win a Championship Game or Bowl game,” Frost said.

In 2011, Frost and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn coached against each other in the epic BCS National Championship game between Oregon and Auburn. Frost was an assistant for the Ducks, while Malzahn was the Tigers, offensive coordinator. Both schools were undefeated heading into the game. Frost and Malzahn have reminisced about the game.

“I was with Coach Malzahn last night, and we talked about it. A game we were both coaching in, where Auburn was undefeated, and Oregon was undefeated, and only one could come out of that, and they kicked a field goal at the end to beat us,” Frost said of the historic game.

“There’s not very many teams in the country that can run the table.”

For Frost and the Knights to finish off the undefeated season, they will be counting on their No.1 ranked scoring offense to light up the scoreboard against SEC team that is known for having a stout defense. It will be interesting to watch the two units clash as UCF did not score less than 31 points all year and the Tigers never gave up more than 28.

Quarterback McKenzie Milton has relied on his efficiency and versatility this year for the Knights. The sophomore has completed 69% of his passes for 3,795 yards, 35 touchdowns, and just nine interceptions while running for almost 500 yards and seven scores on the ground.

There are plenty of other weapons on the Knights offense, a unit that takes pride in the moniker “UCFast.” Running back Adrian Killins, who made waves ahead of the Peach Bowl when proclaimed Auburn is in for a “rude awakening,” is the Knights leading rusher with 762 yards and 11 total touchdowns. Otis Anderson is another rusher who can cause issues for any defense, has run for 459 yards this season and six total scores.

Milton has plenty of targets who can make big plays on the outside. Tre’Quan Smith is the leading receiver with 54 catches for 1,082 yards and 13 scores. Dedrick Snelson brings seven touchdowns and 656 yards with him to the Peach Bowl, while the Knights big tight end Jordan Akins has caught 30 passes for 459 yards and four touchdowns.

The Tigers defense is dealt the task of finding a way to put a stop to “UCFast.” As impossible as it may seem going up against an offense that has scored over 100 points the last two games, Auburn is a team that can compete against the toughest competition having upset two No. 1 teams in the final weeks of the regular season holding both Georgia and Alabama to under 20 points each.

Auburn ranks ninth in the country in points allowed per game averaging just 18 per contest, and 12th in yards per game limiting opponents to only 323 yards per game.

Defensive end Deshaun Davis leads the Tigers 115 total tackles and has shown an ability to get in the backfield with 6.5 tackles for loss. Fellow end Jeff Holland leads the team with nine sacks and will be looking to disrupt Milton.

The defensive backfield for Auburn has been stingy through the air allowing opponents only 185 passing yards per game. Carlton Davis had been the ball hawk for the unit breaking up 11 passes, however, will not play in the game due to an illness. Javaris Davis leads the team with two interceptions.

The Tigers will be looking to replace Davis with depth. Look for Jeremiah Dinson to play a pivotal role in the secondary for Auburn.

The front four of Auburn will look to cause problems for the UCF offensive line who will be playing without their left tackle, Aaron Evans.  Frost talked about how the Knights will try to prevent the Tigers from dominating up front in the absence of Evans.

“We have a couple different ways that we’re going to play and try to solve the issue there, and a couple different guys who can play. But these are guys that have been in football games, and I think are excited about the opportunity to play. Auburn’s front four, like I said, is as good as we’ve faced. So, I think the guys are excited for that, but they need to be physical. A couple of them are going to have to grow up fast and play well in roles that they haven’t really spent a lot of time in. So, let’s rock. Here we go.”

Auburn will need to try to keep up with UCF on the scoreboard if the speed of the Knights offense is as fast as Killins thinks.

Led by quarterback Jarrett Stidham the Auburn offense has been productive this season averaging 35.2 points this season. Stidham is in his first season under center for the Tigers after transferring from a JUCO; he previously spent a season at Baylor. The dual-threat quarterback can give defenses fits. He did not rely much on his legs this season but has the ability when needed. What Stidham relied on throughout the 2017 season was his efficiency completing 66% percent of his passes for 2,827 yards, 17 touchdowns, and just four interceptions.
Malzahn talked about the progress made by Stidham in his first year at Auburn. “Jarrett (Stidham), first of all, he’s a great leader. He came in this spring. He really won his teammates’ respect early. I think that’s really critical for a successful quarterback. Won the starting job. You saw him getting better and better throughout the year.”

Ryan Davis is Stidham’s top target catching 76 passes for 768 yards and five touchdowns. Darius Slayton is another threat with 574 yards receiving and five touchdowns of his own.

Running back Kerryon Johnson is the stud of the Auburn. Johnson, toted the ball 263 times for 1,320 yards and a whopping 17 touchdowns.

UCF defensive coordinator Erik Chinander knows what Johns is capable of, however, if UCF follows assignments they should be able to weather the storm.

“(Johnson) definitely presents a lot, a lot of issues, and I have nothing but the most respect for him. He’s a great football player. But we need to do our job, and if we can do our job, then we’re going to be happy at the end of the game.”

Though the Knights defense has struggled as of late giving up at least 40 points in their lasts two contests, they have some studs that can give specific areas of the Tigers offense problems.

One of those players in defensive leader Shaquem Griffin. The linebacker has become a star the last two seasons and can get after the quarterback. Auburn offensive line Austin Golson said Griffin is “the best pass rusher we will face this year.” It is an acknowledgment that Griffin, who is lost his last hand due to a congenital disability, is proud of.

“it means a lot obviously, and you know, Auburn has a really good O-Line, and it’s going to be a really fun experience come Monday. Just to get praise like that, it means a lot. It shows that I’m doing something right.”

As whole UCF is doing something right as they are the only undefeated team in the country, they have one giant task left, beat Auburn. However, the Tigers have made a name for themselves beating the unbeaten.

The 50th Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl kicks off from Mercedes-Benz Stadium at 12:30 PM in Atlanta, GA.

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