In a game that was supposed to be driven by offense, it’s been UCF’s defense that has taken control in Atlanta. The undefeated Knights have sacked Jarrett Stidham five times, forced one fumble, and held Auburn out of the end zone, claiming a 13-6 lead at the midpoint of the Peach Bowl.
Auburn created the first break of the game by forcing a fumble at midfield, recovered by the Tigers’ Deshaun Davis. He was ruled down upon hopping on the lose pigskin at the Auburn 49, but replays showed Davis possessed the ball while still live with an ocean of green turf the only thing between he and the end zone. However, the play was not reviewable and, instead of a likely touchdown, Auburn was forced to settle for a 25-yard Daniel Carlson field goal after failing to convert a 3rd-and-4 at the UCF 8-yard line.
Carlson missed a 53-yard try to open the second quarter, and UCF answered with a field goal of its own, a 33-yard Matthew Wright boot to tie the game at 3-3 with 11:15 left in the first half.
Another fumble created the next break in the game, this time by Auburn. Stidham was forced into a fumble by UCF’s A.J. Wooten, which the Knights’ Tre Neal recovered and returned 36 yards to the Auburn 21. McKenzie Milton produced the first touchdown of 2018 two plays later on a 18-yard rush, putting UCF on top 10-3 with 8:51 left in the first half.
UCF had a great opportunity to push its lead to 14 points when Otis Anderson broke free in the Auburn secondary, but Milton’s 3rd-and-8 pass was just out of his reach and the Knights punted. Auburn took over at its own 9 with 4:54 before halftime and methodically moved to the UCF 21 with under a minute left, but Stidham was sacked on 3rd-and-10 and Carlson converted 46-yard field goal.
UCF answered by moving 42 yards in five plays, setting up a 45-yard Wright field goal as time expired to push the lead back to a touchdown.
When he wasn’t under duress, Stidham was effective throwing the ball. He completed 16-of-21 passes for 140 yards, and Kerryon Johnson rushed 15 times for 59 yards.
Milton was off-target throughout the half. He came into the game trailing only Baker Mayfield as the nation’s most-efficient quarterback, but hit just 3-of-17 passes for 30 yards, though he did lead all players with 83 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.
Auburn will receive to open the second half.