McKenzie Milton Dominant as UCF Beats Auburn in 2018 Peach Bowl

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2018

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 01:  McKenzie Milton #10 of the UCF Knights runs on his way to scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against the Auburn Tigers during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 1, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Central Florida completed a perfect 13-0 season under head coach Scott Frost with a 34-27 victory over Auburn in the 2018 Peach Bowl on Monday. 

Auburn had a chance to tie the score on its final possession following a Matthew Wright missed field goal, but quarterback Jarrett Stidham's off-balance throw as he was being pressured was intercepted by Antwan Collier in the end zone.  

ESPN CollegeFootball @ESPNCFB

Perfect season ✅ https://t.co/7L2SQCcXD4

Frost, who is leaving the Knights for the same job at Nebraska, went out on the highest possible note. He took over a team two years ago that had just finished an 0-12 season. It will end the 2017 campaign as the only undefeated FBS program in the country. 

Quarterback McKenzie Milton was outstanding the second half for Central Florida with 212 of his 242 passing yards and two touchdowns. 

Chequan Burkett made the big play of the game when he picked off Stidham and returned it 45 yards to the house to give Central Florida a two-score lead with 5:56 remaining in regulation. 

Per ESPN Stats & Info, the Knights pulled off the biggest upset by point spread this bowl season: 

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

.@UCF_Football upsets Auburn to finish as the only unbeaten team in FBS! The Knights (+10.5 points) are the biggest underdog to win a bowl game this season.

Central Florida entered Monday tied for 94th in the FBS with an average of 1.75 sacks per game. It blew by that total in the first half, with Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports offering this assessment:

Pat Forde @YahooForde

Five first-half sacks for UCF. Impressive pressure aided by a QB who holds the ball a long time.

"They've got a lot of speed," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn told reporters leading up to the game. "They're very impressive. Anytime you're undefeated, that's a very, very special thing, so they've got everything going for them. I promise you we'll take 'em serious."

That speed caused Auburn's offensive line and Stidham many problems all day, including on the final play that resulted in an interception. The Tigers quarterback was sacked six times as he went 28-of-43 for 331 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. 

Shaquem Griffin was named MVP of the Peach Bowl after recording 12 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and coming off the edge on the play that led to Stidham's final interception. 

Despite trailing 13-6 at halftime, Auburn had a decided statistical advantage. It held the ball for 21 minutes and ran 15 more plays (47-32) than Central Florida before intermission. 

Justin Ferguson @JFergusonAU

HALFTIME: UCF 13, Auburn 6. Jarrett Stidham's fumble and McKenzie Milton's running are the difference. https://t.co/UplJKD6mQz https://t.co/fRuI2R9rpw

The Knights offense was one-dimensional during that first half because Milton couldn't attack Auburn's secondary with his arm. He seemingly went through a halftime transformation, as he dominated in the second half to finish with 358 total yards.

Per Josh Vitale of the Opelika-Auburn News, Milton did more damage on the ground in the first half against Auburn's defense than any quarterback had in an entire game this season:

Josh Vitale @AUBlog

The most rushing yards Auburn had allowed to an opposing quarterback entering today was 82 on 18 carries (Jalen Hurts). McKenzie Milton has 83 on seven carries at halftime of the Peach Bowl. Just 11 off his career-high.

The Tigers wasted no time getting back on track in the third quarter. Noah Igbinoghene gave them outstanding field position with a 72-yard kickoff return. Stidham found Will Hastings for a 26-yard touchdown catch two plays later.

Kerryon Johnson, who was held in check with 71 yards on 22 carries, helped give Auburn a 20-13 lead on its next possession with a four-yard touchdown run. 

Yet just as the Tigers appeared to have turned the tide, Central Florida fought back. Milton's 12-yard touchdown pass to Otis Anderson helped tie the score heading into the fourth quarter. 

The Knights defense tightened things up by forcing Auburn into three three-and-outs and Burkett's interception on the next four drives after Johnson's touchdown. 

Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley was impressed with what Frost's team was able to do against the SEC West champions:

Todd Gurley II @TG3II

UCF so lit right now🔥🔥

Leading 27-20 with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Central Florida gave Auburn an opening when Matthew Wright's 25-yard field goal was blocked. Burkett's pick-six came three plays later to swing momentum back to the Knights. 

ESPN's Chris Low noted Central Florida may have felt some extra motivation for the Peach Bowl because the game was being played on the same day as the start of the College Football Playoff:

Chris Low @ClowESPN

Think this bowl game means something to @UCF_Football? Knights putting it on a team that beat two of the teams that will play later today in the College Football Playoff.

The Knights never got serious consideration for the playoff, despite their perfect record. They finished 12th in the final rankings released last month behind six teams with at least two losses, proving it's nearly impossible for a team outside of a Power Five conference to crack the Top 10. 

Everyone associated with Central Florida treated this game with the intensity of a playoff matchup. The program sent a message to the rest of the nation. Forget the rankings: The Knights are on the short list of great FBS teams in 2017. 

Aaron Torres of The Athletic pointed out the degree of difficulty for Frost over the past month since he was hired by Nebraska:

Aaron Torres @Aaron_Torres

Scott Frost, who spent the last six weeks recruiting for and building another football program, used his spare time to put together a game-plan for Central Florida (CENTRAL FLORIDA!!) to beat a Top 10 Auburn. Just crazy. Enjoy Nebraska fans. Your next coach is a rock star

Albert Breer of The MMQB noted what Frost's ability as a coach means as he prepares to leave for his new job:

Albert Breer @AlbertBreer

Why has the Big 10 gotten so much better? Easy. Coaches. And based on what UCF is doing right now, there's another awfully good one coming.

Though it would be fun for the sport if Frost stayed at Central Florida to see how high he could take the program, there's not a better way for him to end his brief two-year stint. 

It also makes it easier for the Knights that Frost has left the program in excellent shape for Josh Heupel to officially take over now that the season has come to an end. 


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.