This is what happens when you let Blake Bortles do whatever he wants
JAN 02, 2014 1:50a ET
Most of America met Blake Bortles for the first time Wednesday night.
They met all of the Knights who thumped Baylor, 52-42, in the Fiesta Bowl.
Out of the American Athletic Conference came No. 15 Central Florida to frustrate and, for large stretches, dominate No. 6 Baylor, earning its first BCS bowl victory.
“Nobody gave us much of a shot tonight,” Bortles said in his on-field TV interview after the game, and he had that pretty much right.
Baylor was favored by 16.5 points in Las Vegas, and most college football fans, save for the Floridians and the diehards, were probably in this group prior to UCF’s win:
Guilty. I knew nothing of UCF. I knew nothing of Blake Bortles. As a result, I thought Baylor would blow them out. Boy, was I wrong...— brandon harrison (@brandharrison) January 2, 2014
Instead, Bortles went 20 of 31 for 301 yards and three touchdowns (two interceptions), adding 93 yards rushing and another TD.
It wasn’t necessarily surprising Bortles had the aerial success that he did – he eclipsed 300 yards four other times this season, while completing 64.5 percent of his passes and earning the AAC’s Offensive Player of the Year honors (beating out Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater) – but Baylor couldn’t have foreseen the production Bortles created with his legs.
His second-highest rushing total in 2013 was 63 yards against Temple, and that was on a night when he ran 11 times for a 5.7-yard average. His 93 yards against the Bears came on just eight carries (11.6 per attempt), via unscripted dashes and an occasional designed draw.
By the time Baylor was almost out of breath in the fourth quarter, conceding the night to UCF and piling on more penalty yards for good measure, Bortles had converted the newly acclimated. These were the sentiments echoing off the Internet’s walls and, I presume, in offline corners of the country too:
Ballin’ Bortles. America, let’s make that stick.
It wasn’t just the QB, of course. Johnson churned out 124 yards and three TDs on 20 carries, ripping through seam after seam in Baylor’s defense. Hall brought down four balls for 113 yards and two scores, while four other UCF receivers averaged more than 10 yards per catch.
Central Florida ranked 20th in yards per play this season (6.48) entering the Fiesta Bowl, their dangerous offensive capabilities defined well before arriving in Glendale, so an output of the nature we saw against Baylor wasn’t an accident. What is a bit surprising is that it came against Baylor.
For all the criticism Big 12 defenses take based on their raw numbers being obliterated by the conference’s up-tempo offenses, Baylor was very strong defensively in 2013 on a per-play basis, ranking fourth in the nation in yards per attempt (4.53).
This wasn’t a gimmick team that sprinted its way into the Fiesta Bowl, a one-hand juggernaut jimmied up by a system coach. No, the Bears were good across the board.
For one night, though, good teams can play fairly terribly, and that seems to be the case in this instance. We’d be remiss to not credit UCF’s offensive line – including the McCray twins, Jordan and Justin, both seniors and first-team All-AAC selections this season – which continuously created plush pockets for Bortles and huge wedges for Johnson to run through.
Along with that O-line play, UCF’s defense (Terrance Plummer had 14 tackles and 0.5 sacks, earning defensive MVP honors) and Baylor’s desire to give the Knights many free yards (135, in fact, on 17 penalties), the Fiesta Bowl didn’t even feel like the 10-point game that it was.
It felt like Bortles’ coronation of sorts, his night to run where he pleased and throw into massive windows and make a general statement that NFL teams ought to consider him very early in the NFL Draft should the junior now leave school.
For now, he gets to party in one of these:
Teddy Mitrosilis writes and edits college football for FOXSports.com. Follow him on Twitter and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.