LSU set for Fiesta Bowl matchup against undefeated UCF

Kyle Riviere
Linebacker Devin White could be playing in his final game as he leads a depleted Tiger defense against a potent UCF offense. Photo by Chris Parent.

For the first time ever, LSU will be playing in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day, and they'll have a chance to become the first team to beat Central Florida in more than two years.

This is the Tigers' first major bowl game appearance since the 2012 BCS Championship Game, and it comes with the opportunity to win 10 games for the first time since 2013. It's also a chance to end the Knights' 25-game winning streak, which is the best in the country.

The eighth-ranked Knights went a perfect 13-0 last season. That included a 34-27 Peach Bowl victory over No. 7 Auburn.

This season, they have followed it up with a 12-0 campaign.

LSU will certainly have their hands full with Central Florida's offense. The Knights come into the game averaging 44 points per game.

They did lose starting quarterback McKenzie Milton to a serious knee injury late in the year. He had put up nearly 3,000 yards of total offense and 34 touchdowns.

However, backup Darriel Mack, Jr. stepped up beautifully in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game against Memphis. He went 19-27 for 348 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 59 yards and four scores.

His performance led to a 56-point explosion by the Central Florida offense in a comeback win.

They will be facing an LSU defense that will begin the game down five starters.

Starting linebacker Jacob Phillips will be suspended for the first half due to a targeting penalty he received during overtime of the loss to Texas A&M. Sophomore Patrick Queen is expected to take his place.

Defensive lineman Breiden Fehoko will miss his fourth straight game after undergoing surgery for a torn biceps.

Also on the injury front, starting cornerback Kristen Fulton will miss his third straight game after undergoing ankle surgery.

With the secondary already thin, top cornerback and Thorpe Award finalist Greedy Williams won't be available. He decided to skip the game in order to prepare himself for the upcoming NFL Draft.

Defensive lineman Ed Alexander also decided to skip the game to get ready for the draft.

Minus their top two cornerbacks, the Tigers will face the 29th-ranked passing attack in the country.

They have three receivers in Tre Nixon, Dredrick Snelson and Gabriel Davis that have at least 562 yards receiving. Davis leads them with 756 yards and six touchdowns.

But the Knights' running game has been even more potent. Their rushing attack ranks fifth in the country, churning out 277 yards per game.

In addition to quarterback runs, they have a 1,000-yard running back in Greg McCrae. He has 1,101 yards and nine touchdowns this year.

LSU has struggled against spread-style offenses that feature mobile quarterbacks. They gave up 201 yards rushing against Mississippi State and another 234 to Texas A&M.

In the one game Phillips missed this season, LSU gave up 215 yards rushing in a loss to Florida.

But fortunately for the Tigers, their rushing attack may be able to chew up some yards against the Knights.

Central Florida ranks just 117th in stopping the run. They give up 227 yards per game. In their last outing against Memphis, they gave up a whopping 401 yards on the ground.

LSU's rushing attack hasn't been as productive as in past years with the absence of NFL running backs like Jeremy Hill, Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice, but they still average a solid 177 yards per game.

Nick Brossette has rushed for 922 yards and 14 touchdowns, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire has chipped in with 626 yards and seven scores. Even quarterback Joe Burrow has become a big factor on the ground, rushing for 375 yards and seven touchdowns.

This will be the eighth ranked team LSU has faced this year, and it will be the fifth time they have faced a team in the top 10. They are 3-1 against those teams so far this year.