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Taking Down Goliath: How UCF can exploit LSU's weaknesses in the Fiesta Bowl

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With both teams missing key players, game planning will be at a premium for both head coaches.

AAC Championship - Memphis v Central Florida Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Co-Reigning national champion Central Florida will take on the Tigers of LSU in a Fiesta Bowl showdown on New Year’s Day. Prevented from partaking in the monopolistic playoff despite an undefeated record for the second straight season, everything is on the line for the Knights in this glorified exhibition game. Defeat the Bengals of Baton Rouge and the beating of the playoff expansion drum grow louder. Lose and pundits everywhere say you were a mirage, and rightfully kept out of the playoff.

So for the sake of the G5 and to further upset the apple cart, let’s create a game plan to beat LSU. Here’s three ways to do it-

Attack the left side of the LSU line with movement pre- and post-snap

Several trends stick out in the Tigers' losses, the most glaring of which is the rate at which they gave up sacks. The LSU offensive line averaged over 5 sacks a game in losses to Florida, Alabama, and Texas A&M, while averaging fewer than two sacks allowed in all other games. In fact LSU gave up almost half of their total season sacks in those three games -- 16 out of 33 total on the season. Getting pressure on the quarterback as a key to victory is too cliche, so let’s look at how the Knights can create pressure.

In their losses, the left side of the Tigers' offensive line was exploited as the left guard and tackle were routinely outplayed. LT Saahdiq Charles particularly struggled against speed rushes in these games, while the LG combo of Adrian Magee and Garrett Brumfield struggled against bull rushers.

Similarly, communication and identification of blitzes created issues. Florida shows a blitz on 3rd down with man across the field and no safety help. They walk up LB Vosean Joseph to overload the left side of the line. This shouldn’t be an issue with six protectors (five linemen and the RB) blocking six rushers IF the offense identifies the protection slide to the quarterback’s left where there are now FOUR potential rushers to the left.

The line makes no slide call, leaving four rushers on three blockers to the left side. To make matters worse, Florida adds in a zone blitz by bailing out LB David Reese to bracket cover the slot with the safety, and use DE Jachai Polite as a robber to take away the slot cross. RB Clyde Edwards-Harris does his best taking the inside man, but the LB is still left as a free rusher and forces Joe Burrow out of the pocket before being sacked.

Texas A&M utilized twists and stunts in their OT classic to close the regular season. In this instance, the DE spins inside to occupy the guard and bring the tackle inside while the DT twisted to the outside and got the sack.

Keep Joe Burrow in the pocket

Joe Burrow was a 3-star dual threat quarterback coming out of high school before signing with Ohio State. After seeing sparingly little time, he took a grad transfer to LSU and has brought his running capabilities with him to Baton Rouge. Not particularly fast or nimble, Burrow and OC Steve Ensminger pick their times on when to run. Burrow is a threat to pull it on the read option and pick up big runs.

Similarly, he’s not afraid to pull the ball down and scramble for the first down or big chunks of yards.

LSU is going to get their yards on the ground, the offense is centered around that. The key has to be to make them earn it through their running backs getting between the tackles. If Burrow is ripping off 15 and 20 yard keepers and scrambles, it will not only serve to keep the chains moving but demoralize a defense when he breaks those runs for first downs.

Take shots down the field

LSU will be without both starting CB’s Greedy Williams and Kristian Fulton. Florida was able to attack the secondary off play-action, while Texas A&M continued using corner patterns. Both teams attacked with the slot and in both instances, it’s CB Kary Vincent Jr. tracking back on the receiver.

UCF has shown a willingness to throw this route, using the outside receiver to run a shallow route and pull the corner in while releasing the slot to a corner route behind the cornerback-

They’ve also shown a willingness to take shots down the field with new QB Darriel Mack, as evidenced in his six quarters of play with the first string offensive unit.

With LSU down two corners, not to mention DT Ed Alexander sitting out for the draft as well, UCF should find time and space to attack the deep corners of the secondary.

Conclusions

Will UCF be able to slow down the Tiger run game? How will Darriel Mack look with a month to prepare as the starter of the offense? Will the SEC speed mythos stifle the Knights' outside runs, while the bulk of the defensive line congests the interior? How will the Knights handle stud LB Devin White? There will be a lot of questions for UCF to answer, but you don’t luck into winning 25 straight games. Expect Josh Heupel and company to be prepared to answer these questions to ring in the new year.