UCF streak dies in loss to LSU, but message will still resonate

Burrow hangs tough, tosses four TDs in LSU win (2:08)

Joe Burrow perseveres through a physical game and throws four touchdowns in LSU's 40-32 Fiesta Bowl win over UCF. (2:08)

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- What a run it was.

Even in defeat on Tuesday at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, UCF helped push for change in college football, standing toe-to-toe with LSU before falling 40-32 at State Farm Stadium.

The loss snapped the Knights' 25-game winning streak and denied the American Athletic Conference champion a second straight perfect season.

There will be no claims of a national title in Orlando this year, no celebrating a postseason win over the SEC a year after the Knights upset Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. But when a Group of 5 team someday joins the postseason party to determine a champion, it can thank the UCF teams of 2017 and '18 for their contributions.

LSU, in winning its first top-tier bowl game since 2007 and securing a 10-win season for the first time since 2013, was too strong on Tuesday, even without a handful of starters on defense. The 11th-ranked Tigers wore on No. 8 UCF, which led 14-3 early and trailed 24-21 at the half, with a strong running game after halftime and a defensive front that overpowered the Knights to the tune of five sacks.

And without star QB McKenzie Milton, knocked out in November with a severe leg injury, UCF could not find the counterpunch that had helped carry it to past comebacks.

The Knights, after a pair of three-and-out series to start the second half, missed a major opportunity to strike late in the third quarter as Gabriel Davis dropped a sure 75-yard touchdown, then again when QB Darriel Mack missed Davis open in the end zone after LSU muffed a punt in the red zone.

Milton, who has already endured multiple surgeries, may return in 2019. UCF coaches remain hopeful. But will he ever be the same QB who finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2017 and looked on track for a better finish as a junior before the injury?

It's easy to wonder whether the magic expired on Tuesday for UCF, which is scheduled to face Stanford and Pitt in September next season.

The Knights (12-1) appeared intent to send a message about their toughness from the start in Glendale. UCF held LSU out of the end zone after a 77-yard kickoff return by Clyde Edwards-Helaire to open the game and answered with a quick touchdown.

Brandon Moore then returned an interception of Joe Burrow 93 yards for a touchdown as UCF defensive tackle Joey Connors crushed the LSU quarterback with a giant block.

But Burrow, the Ohio State transfer who proved his durability in leading LSU to three regular-season wins over teams ranked in the top 10, dusted himself off and threw four touchdowns -- three in the first half.

The opening half was marred by three ejections. Officials tossed LSU cornerback Terrence Alexander for throwing a punch after the Tigers recovered a Mack fumble. Targeting calls then finished the seasons of UCF safety Kyle Gibson and LSU safety Grant Delpit, a first-team All-American.

The ejections further depleted an LSU secondary that was already without both starting corners as All-American Greedy Williams opted to skip the bowl game to ready for the NFL draft and Kristian Fulton continued to recover from surgery.

It mattered little in the second half, though, as the Tigers took control with their advantage in the trenches.

The streak died in Arizona. But it will long hold meaning for UCF and its contemporaries.