End third quarter: Auburn and UCF tied 20-20. The latest Auburn drive ended disastrously, as Jarrett Stidham was sacked for the sixth time today. The impending Auburn punt will give the ball back to a UCF offense that seems to be finally soaring.
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McKenzie Melton finds Otis Anderson for a 12-yard touchdown pass. Game tied 20-20, 1:30 3rd quarter: Don't look now, but Melton is in a rhythm. After a slow start, the UCF quarterback went 4-for-4 for 62 yards and a touchdown. What looked like a low-scoring affair could very well turn into a shootout down the stretch.
Kerryon Johnson takes it in on a 4-yard rushing touchdown. Auburn leads UCF 20-13, 7:55 3rd quarter: Auburn has had all the momentum in the third quarter, and the Tigers made sure they made the most of their second drive of the second half. This drive was highlighted by several big plays in the passing game from Stidham to a number of receivers, including Darius Slayton and Chandler Cox. The Tigers may have been sleepwalking earlier, but they're clearly wide awake now.
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Jarrett Stidham finds Will Hastings on a 26-yard touchdown pass. The game is tied 13-13, 14:05 3rd quarter: Stidham's pass to Hastings was a beauty, but a lot of credit for the scoring drive should go to Noah Igbinoghene. Igbinoghene ran the opening kick of the second half 72 yards to the UCF 26, giving Auburn its best starting field position of the day. This time, the Tigers took full advantage.
The bad news is the Auburn offense looked incredibly stagnant in the first half. The good news is thanks to its defense, the Tigers only trail by seven points.
The most glaring issue for the Auburn offense in the first half has been its total lack of running room. The Tigers only have two runs of 10 yards or more and boast a paltry 1.7 yards per carry at the half.
To make matters worse, Jarrett Stidham has struggled mightily in the pocket today. While his offensive line has had some issues, Stidham has reverted to some bad tendencies in the pocket, specifically waiting too long for something to develop. Not all of the five times he's been sacked were his fault, but his play today definitely has room for improvement.
The Auburn defense has done what it should have been expected to do today, but one missed opportunity may linger. Deshaun Davis picked up a UCF fumble back in the first quarter, but the officials ruled him down about recovering the football. Looking at it live, it appeared Davis should not have been called down, in which Davis would have been able to waltz to the end zone for a touchdown. On a day when the offense is struggling, defensive scores mean so, so much.
Matthew Wright's 45-yard field goal is good. UCF leads Auburn 13-6 at halftime: UCF decided it wasn't content with a four-point lead at the half, instead using the last few seconds of the quarter to put together a six-play, 42-yard drive that ended in Wright's kick.
Daniel Carlson's 46-yard field goal is good. Auburn trails UCF 10-6, 0:45 2nd quarter: Carlson's field goal cut into UCF's lead, but it was a disappointing end to a promising 15-play, 62-yard drive. On the play prior to Carlson's kick, Jarrett Stidham was sacked for the fifth time in the first half alone. The offensive line has struggled to surpress the UCF pass rush and have had no ability to open holes in the run game.
McKenzie Milton scores on an 18-yard touchdown run. UCF leads Auburn 10-3, 8:51 2nd quarter: The drive ended with a big run up the middle by Milton, but it all began with a fumble by Jarrett Stidham that may loom large. Auburn had a nice drive going before the turnover by Stidham, who has now fumbled in four straight games.
Matthew Wright's 33-yard field goal is good. UCF and Auburn now tied 3-3, 11:11 2nd quarter: The Knights looked destined to drive down the field for the first collegiate touchdown of 2018, but the Auburn defense stood tall when it had to. The Tigers' defense locked down tight on 3rd-and-11, forcing Milton to fire the ball out of bounds.
End 1Q: Auburn leads UCF 3-0: It was a first quarter of offensive action fit for New Year's Day, as both teams were sluggish and unable to get moving. Auburn's passing game has been by far its biggest asset, but three sacks through the first 15 minutes have hampered some scoring opportunities. The UCF offense has been able to get very little on the Tigers' defense, which means Auburn could really do some damage with just a couple of scores.
Daniel Carlson's 25-yard field goal is good. Auburn leads UCF 3-0, 7:01 1st quarter: The Tigers' second drive of the game saw their offense get into a rhythm. After getting the ball thanks to Deshaun Davis' fumble recovery, Auburn was able to move down the field with some well-timed passes, including a big third-down conversion caught by Nate Craig-Myers. The drive's quest for seven points ended when Jarrett Stidham was forced to fire the ball out of the end zone after being rushed by a UCF defender. Pay attention to if the Knights continue to get after Stidham going forward.
About the game
Auburn's lineup for today's contest:
This is Auburn’s fifth appearance in the Peach Bowl and its first since 2011, when the Tigers topped Virginia 43-24. The Tigers are 4-1 all-time in the bowl. Auburn will be playing in its 42nd bowl game in school history and enters the game with a 23-16-2 overall record.
TV Channel: ESPN
Crew: Dave Flemming (play-by-play), Brock Huard (commentary), Allison Williams (sideline)
What to watch
Auburn rushing attack vs UCF front seven - Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson will assuredly want to get the bad taste out of his mouth after a lackluster showing in the SEC Championship Game, a game in which Johnson played through injury. The good news is Johnson is facing a Knights defense that’s mediocre against the run, surrendering just under 166 yards per contest.
Auburn defensive backs vs UCF passing game - The Knights have wielded a top-tier passing attack all season and sit seventh in the country with 339.3 passing yards per game. UCF is led by Sophomore quarterback Mckenzie Milton, who has thrown for 3,795 yards and 35 passing touchdowns this season. Senior Auburn defensive back Tray Matthews will get a good test to end his collegiate career, as it’s a sure bet UCF will do its best to sling the ball all over the field.
Auburn coaches vs UCF coaches - UCF head coach Scott Frost surprised many when he decided to stick around and coach the Peach Bowl after being named the new head coach at Nebraska, his alma mater. His staying makes one thing clear -- he and his players want nothing more than to end the Frost era with an undefeated season. It will be important for Gus Malzahn’s players to show up ready for the task if the Tigers want to end the season with one more win.
Keep an eye on Auburn’s defense on third downs. The Knights have moved the chains when it mattered all season, converting on 46 percent of their third downs (12th in the country). Also, ball control will be crucial for Auburn. The Tigers had two costly fumbles in their SEC Championship Game, and the Knights’ defense has caused 29 turnovers this season.
What’s on the line
An Auburn victory would give the Tigers their second bowl win since 2012 and 11 wins this season, their highest mark since the team won 12 games in Gus Malzahn’s first season as head coach. Auburn getting the upper hand on New Year’s Day would also be a jolt for the SEC, which enters the day 1-3 in bowl games.
A win for UCF, meanwhile, would give the Knights their first undefeated season in program history just two years after the team went 0-12.