It wasn't pretty, but Arkansas State goes from 0-4 to a bowl win over UCF

What unfolded in the AutoNation Cure Bowl won't go into the archives under perfect performances. Arkansas State and UCF barely moved the ball on offense, committed way too many penalties and had no rhythm over the course of their four-hour game.

It was ugly, but the Red Wolves will live with ugly, because it ended with a 31-13 win on Saturday in Orlando, Florida, capping an improbable turnaround to what could have been a lost season. Arkansas State went 0-4 in nonconference play, including a loss to FCS Central Arkansas to cap a nightmare September.

But rolling off victories in eight of Arkansas State's final nine games had to feel particularly gratifying for third-year coach Blake Anderson, who won his first bowl game as a head coach.

Though both teams came into the game with stout defensive units, what unfolded went beyond the standard defensive struggle. That is because the teams combined for 26 penalties -- dangerously close to a bowl record -- which topped their combined 25 first downs. Arkansas State won with eight first downs, tied for the fewest by a winning team in a bowl game going back to 1996.

In perhaps the ugliest stat of them all, the teams combined for 41 yards rushing, the FBS record for fewest combined rush yards in a bowl game.

You get the point. Neither team played its best, but Arkansas State took advantage of some key UCF mistakes on special teams to take an early lead and was never seriously challenged. The Red Wolves blocked a punt and recovered it for a score, then scored another touchdown when UCF fumbled on a kickoff.

Though the Red Wolves struggled on offense, they had the most explosive player: receiver Kendall Sanders, who had a career-high three receiving touchdowns. It was a breakout performance: Sanders had three total touchdown receptions in his previous eight games combined.

For first-year UCF coach Scott Frost, the game marked a disappointing conclusion to what should still be considered a successful season. UCF went from winless in 2015 to a bowl team in 2016, though Frost must have expected a better performance in front of the hometown crowd at Camping World Stadium, just a short ride away from the UCF campus.

Frost even turned to veteran quarterback Justin Holman late to try to spark his team. But just like starter McKenzie Milton, Holman could not muster much to help the Knights.