Fiesta Bowl Game Prep - Keys to the Game

Baylor and UCF meet up in Arizona to determine the winner of the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day. What are the keys to a Baylor victory and a school record 12th win?

Keys to the Game

1. Special Teams – If there is one big advantage that UCF has in this game with Baylor, it is in that other third of football. Central Florida has the 18th ranked Special Teams unit in the country according to FootballOutsiders.com compared to a lowly ranking of 90th for the Bears.

Effeciency Category Baylor UCF Effeciency Category
Specal Teams Overall 90 18 Specal Teams Overall
Field Goal 82 116 Opp Field Goal
Punt Return 88 93 Punts
Kickoff Return 39 1 Kicks
Punts 98 82 Punt Retun
Kicks 65 35 Kickoff return
Opp Field Goal 18 18 Field Goal

There is a huge gap in terms of how the Knights defend their punts and kickoffs when compared to the Bears. Baylor has the 4th worst punt return defense in the country, allowing 17.55 yards per punt. Yes, they have not allowed a lot of returns (just 11, tied for 9th fewest in the country) but they have not done a good job at all when asked to tackle a punt returner. Central Florida has more been steady on all of their returns and defense of returns, ranking in the 30s in all four of the categories.

This is the one area where Baylor has to step up and match what the Knights are doing. JJ Worton on punt returns and Rannell Hall on kick returns is an explosive duo. The Bears cannot give a very good UCF offense an even shorter field to work with.

2. Successful runs on 1st down – The UCF defense has done an outstanding job on first down rushing attempts all year. Of the 174 rushing plays on first down, they are only allowing a 3.55 yards per carry average and have given up just 23 rushes for more than 10 yards (13.22%). Compare that to what the Bears do on rushing plays (5.90 rushing yards per rush on 280 attempts with 67 rushes for more than 10 yards which is 23.93% of rushes) and this should be a key indicator to watch. Baylor has to be successful on first down running the ball to setup the rest of their passing attack. The Baylor play-action pass is one of the most effective and devastating things in college football. Without successful first down rushes though, it takes a big step back.

3. Win the big plays – If there is something that Central Florida does do exceptionally well on defense, it is its stubborn refusal to give up big plays. Central Florida plays a very soft bend-don't-break defense which puts the offense in a position to pretty much work its way down the field without making too many mistakes.

Big Plays Baylor Offense Rank UCF Defense Rank
10+ Yards 257 5 157 24
20+ Yards 103 2 48 31
30+ Yards 53 1 19 23
40+ Yards 36 1 9 20
50+ Yards 19 1 3 12

The Knights have given up 100 fewer 10+ yard plays from scrimmage than Baylor has gained on the year. As you can see, the Bears are elite in terms of their big-plays. In fact, they have that high of a rank even with 1 fewer game than most of the teams around them on the list. Central Florida does have the same 12 game schedule giving them a benefit on the defensive end, but this is still a very good defense at keeping the ball in front of them. With Tevin Reese back to expand the defensive back field and keep the safeties from creeping towards the line of scrimmage, Baylor needs its early season big plays back.

UCF isn't a bad big play offense, but they are not elite either ranking just 53rd in plays 10 or more yards. In fact, they are right around the Top 40 for big plays up to 50+ yards. This is a slightly above average, but worse than what you would expect from a Top 20 offense with a premier quarterback and running back. But these raw numbers do not account for the slower tempo that the Knights play. Defensively, Baylor is slightly worse than UCF in terms of limiting big plays, ranking 10th in plays over 10 yards, but falling into the 50s and 60s when you move the yardage up a bit.

4. Get to Bortles – Any quarterback can become very good and accurate when given plenty of time to read the defense, set his feet and make a throw. If you give a quarterback the caliber of Bortles that time and comfort though, watch out. The Central Florida offensive line has allowed a sack just 22 times. When considering that the Knights attempted 373 passes, that works out to just 5.90% of plays that sacks were allowed. Baylor was a bit better defensively getting a sack on 7.58% of passing plays. But sacks only tell part of the story. What about quarterback pressures?

Baylor had 53 quarterback hurries in addition to their 31 sacks. So on the 409 passing attempts against the Bears, they had a hurry or sack on 20.54% of them. On the flip side, Central Florida allowed just 22 quarterback hurries in addition to the 22 sacks, which is just 10.19% of the passing plays were negatively impacted by the defense. That is a tremendous job by an experienced and talented offensive line.

Baylor's defensive is built to play with a lead and attack the passer leaving their secondary in tough situations. The Bear pass rushers have to get to Bortles and not give him easy throws deep. We saw this strategy work extremely well in most games, but saw it bite the Bears defense in the butt against Oklahoma State.

5. Don't play like the favorite – One of the things that always seem to define Art Briles and his teams is the ubiquitous "chip on the shoulder". Well, it is hard to have a big chip on your shoulder when you are favored by more than two touchdowns and enter the game. You can hear the Bears try and grasp for anything to give them that chippy edge they have carried all year. They haven't proven anything yet, not ranked to start the year, 6th place Big 12 team in the preseason, etc, etc. The Bears will hopefully use that and come out on fire and get one of those big early leads that defined their early season success and get their school record 12th win.


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