2012 Beef O' Brady's - UCF vs Ball State

Posted Dec 21, 2012

2012-2013 Bowls - CFN's Preview & Prediction for the 2012 Beef O' Brady's St. Petersburg Preview

2012 Beef O'Brady's St. Pete

UCF 34, Ball State 17

- 2012-2013 CFN Bowl Central

- Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl Analysis & Breakdown

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - Blake Bortles is just one of the reasons why Central Florida feels good about its chances of being successful in the new-look Big East.

The red-shirt sophomore turned the Beef `O' Brady's Bowl into a personal showcase Friday night, throwing for three touchdowns and running for another to pace a 38-17 victory over Ball State in UCF's final game as a member of Conference USA - a league the Knights won twice in eight seasons.

``He's an outstanding player, and he scared me ... coming in with his feet and his ability to escape in the pocket and keep his eyes down the field and make plays,'' Ball State coach Pete Lembo said.

``He did that basically from the beginning of the game until the end when he came out,'' Lembo added. ``I can't believe that this guy's not going to be a pro prospect if he continues to develop the way he has. So I'm very, very impressed with him and obviously the supporting cast.''

Bortles directed a balanced attack that gained 494 yards total offense. UCF's defense did its part by holding the high-scoring Cardinals to their lowest point total of the season.

``Offensively, this is one of the best games we had all year,'' Bortles said. ``Everyone just really picked up and went, and that's why we won the way we did.''

Bortles threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns. The red-shirt sophomore also rushed for a career-high 80 yards and scored on a 6-yard run that helped UCF (10-4) build a 21-point halftime lead.

``I thought Blake did everything he needed to do by making the right decisions,'' UCF coach George O'Leary said. ``Basically, he made the right decisions that moved us down the field. He really showed tonight why he's our guy out there.''

Bortles tossed first-half TD passes of 7 and 5 yards to Latavius Murray, who also scored on a 2-yard run. J.J. Worton's 7-yard scoring reception made 35-10 late in the third quarter.

Ball State (9-4) was hoping to finish with at least 10 wins for the third time in school history, however its offense sputtered while being held 18 points below its season average. Keith Wenning threw a 7-yard TD pass to Willie Snead early in the second quarter, but the Cardinals didn't get into the end zone again until Snead scored on a 16-yard reception with 5 minutes remaining.

Bortles completed 22 of 33 passes without an interception to become UCF's first 3,000-yard passer since 2002. His three TD passes were a career-best and tied the Beef `O' Brady's Bowl record.

Wenning, meanwhile, was 22 of 34 for 217 yards and two TDs for Ball State, which had a six-game winning streak snapped before an announced crowd of 21,759.

The Cardinals were 3 for 9 on third-down conversions and finished with 288 yards, nearly 200 below their season average.

``Obviously, to stay on the field on third down is critical, and (there is) very little margin for error for our offense,'' Lembo said. ``It wasn't a horrible day offensively by any means, but not quite to the degree we needed to stay in the game.''

UCF, one of several schools joining the Big East next season, rebounded from an overtime loss in the Conference USA title game to finish with double-digit victories for the third time since stepping up to the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Knights also won 10 in 2007 and 2010, when they were Conference USA champions.

The Knights' loss to Tulsa in the Conference USA title game kept them close to home for the postseason. Instead of heading to the Liberty Bowl for the second time in three years, coach George O'Leary and his players settled for a 100-mile trek west from Orlando to Tropicana Field, the home of Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays.

O'Leary also brought his team to St. Petersburg in 2009, losing to Rutgers by three touchdowns. Friday night's victory improved the 66-year-old coach's record to 4-5 in bowl games, including a 2-3 mark with UCF.

Ball State's first bowl appearance since 2008 is the latest step in an impressive turnaround under Lembo, whose team suffered early losses to Clemson, Kent State and Northern Illinois before winning six straight down the stretch to put themselves into a position to fill the Big East's slot in the Beef `O' Brady's game because the league didn't have enough bowl-eligible teams to meet its commitment.

The Cardinals beat two teams from BCS conferences in the same season for the first time, defeating Indiana and South Florida in consecutive weeks. They had the MAC's second-most productive offense at 471.3 yards and 35 points per game and won four times by scoring the winning points in the final 2 minutes or overtime.

``It's not the way you kind of desire to go out as a senior, but I'm proud of my teammates for even getting us to the point,'' Ball State linebacker Travis Freeman said. ``The guys worked hard and trained hard all year round for this opportunity. We didn't seize it, but I'm proud of my teammates for what they've done.''

National Rankings
B   CF
22nd Total Offense 60tht
103rd Total Defense 45th
31st Scoring Offense 27th
89th Scoring Defense 29th
23rd Rushing Offense 45th
106th Run Defense 63rd
47th Passing Offense 70th
47th Passing Defense 42nd
69th Turnover Margin 16th
Position Rankings
relative to each other
5 Highest - 1 Lowest
B   U
3.5 Quarterbacks 3.5
4 RBs 4
3 Receivers 3.5
4 O Line 3.5
2 D Line 3
2 Linebackers 3.5
2 Secondary 3.5
4 Spec Teams 4
4 Coaching 4.5
Ball State (9-3) vs. UCF (9-4) Dec. 21, 7:30, ESPN

Here's The Deal … Ten-win seasons don't happen often in either Muncie or Orlando. Reaching that threshold in St. Petersburg would be a very big deal for both of these programs.

The Beef ‘O' Brady's Bowl might as well be the Rose Bowl as far as Ball State is concerned. This is a program that's 0-5 all-time in bowl games, and was one of just two bowl-eligible schools to get passed over in 2011. Plus, the Cardinals target this part of Florida in recruiting, and have a lot of alums living in the state. Getting up for this game will not be an issue.

In two years, Pete Lembo has done a solid job in Muncie, gradually getting Ball State back to where it was when Brady Hoke left the MAC for San Diego State. The Cardinals do a lot of things well on both sides of the ball, though the offense has been the driver for success. After dropping back-to-back games to Kent State and Northern Illinois, who are 23-3 combined, Ball State finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak.

UCF's final year as a member of Conference USA did not end with a league championship, but it does include a bowl trip, which looked for a time to be out of reach. The Knights are staring down the barrel of NCAA sanctions that include a one-year postseason ban, but an appeal staved off the penalty until at least January. The East Division champs, who are headed to the Big East in 2013, will make the short, 90-minute trip west to conclude the 2012 campaign.

UCF was so close to achieving so much more this season. Three of its losses were by no more than six points, including two to eventual Conference USA champ Tulsa. The Knights fell to the Golden Hurricane—on the road—in two of the last three games of the regular season. It became a barrier to the Liberty Bowl and to the program's third league title since 2007 under head coach George O'Leary.

Players to Watch: Who'll be taking snaps for Ball State in this game?

The Cardinals have a terrific quarterback, Second Team All-MAC junior Keith Wenning, who has accounted for 25 touchdowns this year. However, he's recovering from a small fracture in his ankle that cost him the regular season finale. And it remains unknown whether he'll be available to play. While Kelly Page is a seasoned veteran, he suffered a concussion in the win over Miami U. Ball State needs someone to get the ball in the hands of exciting all-star receivers Willie Snead and Jamill Smith in order to free up space for 1,000-yard back Jahwan Edwards.

UCF is not the kind of D a quarterback wants to face at less than full strength.

The Knights are an experienced unit that leads Conference USA in total defense and pass efficiency defense. They're smart, fundamentally-sound and get to the ball in a hurry. O'Leary relies on playmakers at each level, ranging from DE Troy Davis and LB Jonathan Davis to defensive backs Kemal Ishmael and A.J. Bouye. Obvious third-and-long situations must be avoided at all costs, which will compel Lembo to ride Edwards on first down to take some heat off whichever quarterback winds up taking snaps.

The Knights boast a backfield capable of competing with Edwards and Wenning, assuming he dresses.

Sophomore QB Blake Bortles and senior RB Latavius Murray were named second and first team all-conference, respectively. Bortles is a steady distributor, throwing a pick in just one game since Sept. 15. Murray is a 6-3, 222-pound thoroughbred, with a touchdown in eight straight games and an eye on playing in the NFL. Ball State is pliable on defense, ranking 102nd nationally. However, the Cardinals could get some advanced scouting from FS Jarrett Swaby, whose first three years were spent as a member of UCF.

Ball State will win if … Wenning is Wenning - and playing.

Not only is No. 10 the Cardinals most valuable player, but Page would have a difficult time sustaining drives against the UCF defense. When Wenning is making connections and moving the chains, the offense becomes extremely difficult to stop. It's Ball State's balance that opponents have struggled to handle throughout the 2012 season. However, if Wenning is unable to go, or is a sitting duck in the pocket, it's going to allow UCF defensive coordinator Jim Fleming to pinch up his athletic and safeties closer to the line to stop Edwards.

UCF will win if …Murray rumbles for at least 100 yards on the ground.

The Knights need a strong running game to be successful. Bortles is solid, but he's not quite the kind of quarterback who's going to put a team on his back and carry it. Murray, on the other hand is that kind of player. When the senior was on a tear in the middle of the year, UCF was unstoppable. However, in the two losses to Tulsa, he could only manage 131 yards on 43 carries. That's average of slightly more than three yards a carry isn't going to cut it against a Ball State team that's already beaten another Sunshine State team this fall, South Florida.

What Will Happen: There's not a ton separating UCF and Ball State. The uncertainty surrounding Wenning's ankle could wind up being the difference.

The Cardinals need to be at maximum capability to beat a veteran Knights team, but that doesn't appear as if it'll be the case. Even if Wenning does play, how much rust will he have to shake off? UCF has the better defense by a considerable margin, and a backfield that'll put a dent in a mediocre Ball State D. It'll be close throughout and highly competitive. But when the Cards need to convert late, the Knights will put a spoke in their wheels to preserve the win.

CFN Prediction: UCF 37 … Ball State 27
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) UCF -7 O/U: 61.5 

St. Petersburg Bowl History
2011 Marshall 20, FIU 10
2010 Louisville 31, Southern Miss 28
2009 Rutgers 45, UCF 24
2008 South Florida 41, Memphis 14