Fiesta Bowl Game Prep Part 1

The Big 12 Champion Baylor Bears travel to the dessert of Arizona to face the American Athletic Conference Champion Central Florida at the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day. Let's go over the ins and outs of the matchup between these two conference champions.

The Baylor Bears and Central Florida Knights will meet in Phoenix, Arizona with matching 11-1 records and conference championship titles, the first for both schools in their current conferences. Both are also led by star quarterbacks that lead very good offenses that can put up points.

MEDIA INFORMATION
Date Wed., Jan. 1 | 7:30 p.m. CT
Location Glendale, Ariz.| University of Phoenix Stadium
TV ESPN
Radio ESPN Central Texas | Sirius 113 | XM 194
Online Audio Listen Online
Live Stats Gametracker
Gameday Info Gameday Central
Game Notes
Baylor Notes | UCF Notes
Twitter @BUFootball

Analytical Breakdown

FEI Rank

7

23

F/+ Rank

7

24

S&P+ Rank

3

29

GE Rank

3

8

Sagarin

5

38

Massey

6

23

RealTime RPI

5

14

Average

5.14

22.71

The Knights are much more highly respected by the AP and Coaches Poll voters than they are the analytical rankings we see above. By most, they are just around a fringe Top 25 team, rather than the Top 15 team they are ranked at. Sagarin and Massey are extremely low on the Knights, mainly due to their soft schedule. Sagarin ranks them as having the 91st most difficult schedule, compared to 61st for the Bears. The American Athletic Conference, in its first year of existence, did not do the Knights any favors.


Offense

ADVANTAGE


Defense

S&P+

2

69
Play Efficiency

5

88
Rushing S&P+

15

108
Passing S&P+

2

63
Drive Efficiency

2

48
FEI

12

42
First Down Rate

6

74
Available Yards

8

35
Average

6.5

65.86

As we have seen through the entire schedule, not many defenses have been able to matchup to what the Bears are putting out there when they have the ball. Baylor dominates this matchup quite handily, and it might be even worse than this with the return of Tevin Reese. Before the senior wide receiver's wrist injury against Oklahoma, the Bears were 1st or 2nd in pretty much every one of these categories. Now, that is probably a byproduct of the light schedule to start the year, but there is no doubt the Bears offense was much more dangerous with Reese.

The Knights defense has been a weak spot all year, though they have played well in their toughest games. They are mainly hurt the lackadaisical efforts against middling offenses like Temple and Penn State. However, against the two best offenses they faced (South Carolina and Louisville) they allowed only 63 points between the two. They also went 1-1 in those games, with their biggest win of the year coming against Louisville on the road.

The Knights do have a solid rush defense when looking at traditional metrics. They allow just 116.5 yards per game, which is 13th best in the country. Their 3.86 yards per carry is solid as well (37th in the nation) and they don't allow a ton of touchdowns on the ground either (17 – 45th in the nation). However, all of those numbers are skewed by the terrible rushing attacks the Knights have faced. Here are the rankings for rushing yards per game for the UCF opponents: 107, 122, 59, 30, 95, 81, 121, 94, 82, 99, 120, 119. Only one offense in the Top 50, and only two higher than 80th. That is an average of 94.08. So, is the UCF rushing defense good even though they have not faced really any good rushing attack all years, or are they simply untested?


Defense

ADVANTAGE


Offense

S&P+

15

12
Play Efficiency

23

12
Rushing S&P+

26

10
Passing S&P+

29

15
Drive Efficiency

13

14
FEI

19

21
First Down Rate

9

23
Available Yards

16

5
Average

18.75

14

By every one of these metrics, this is the best offense the Bears will have seen all year. The UCF attack is a very balanced attack in pretty much every sense. They have a solid passing attack and they run the ball very efficiently when they do put it on the ground. The Knights have 6 receivers with more than 20 catches, but none of them have more than 53 or even 773 yards. Their quarterback, Blake Bortles, gets the ball out to his targets and very rarely focuses on just one or even two guys. They have called 427 rushing plays versus 373 passing plays. This is a truly balanced offensive attack that leans on its two stars; QB Blake Bortles and RB Storm Johnson.

Baylor has struggled a bit when playing a balanced offensive attack. The Bears thrive when they force the offense to be one-dimensional, either by their choice or what the game dictates. That is why they have been phenomenal when given a large lead, or on 4th and short when the offense feels it needs to run the ball.

UCF will give the Bears no such advantage, at least to start the game. They are a 50/50 offense. In the first half, they have run 212 rushing plays to 208 passing plays. When the game is close, they will try and keep the defense off-balance.

What do the Knights want to do?

The Knights are what you would call a classical spread offense, or at least what most people think of when they see a "spread" attack. They play predominantly with a single back or even no back offense, quarterback in the shotgun and multiple wide receivers. Their passing attack tends to be more horizontal than vertical, with WR screens and hitches comprising a large percentage of their passing routes. However, the Knights are not an up-tempo team. In fact, they are rather methodical with their offense, taking their time and working down the field.

Central Florida will show a variety of looks on offense, and use a motion man either from the backfield or across the formation a lot. They use this look to also generate a jet-sweep play, or as simply a distraction to keep the off-side defender from crashing down on the running back. They will also get Bortles moving around in the pocket as well, as he is good on bootlegs and has enough athleticism and speed to be a running threat. Most of the time though, Storm Johnson will get the ball out of the traditional zone-read looks that Baylor fans are used to seeing.

Defensively, the Knights run a physical bump and run defense that puts a lot of pressure on its secondary. They run a traditional 4-3 front, with one of their linebackers looking much more like a safety. Strangely, they only have 1 senior starter on the whole defense, but are loaded with 6 juniors, so they have quite a bit of experienced players. One thing to keep an eye on is the departure of their defensive coordinator Jim Fleming to be the head coach at Rhode Island. They have hired a new coordinator (Paul Ferraro) but he will not be a coach for the Fiesta Bowl it appears.


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