By JOHN MARSHALL
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Joe Burrow watched the ball land in an opposing player’s hands and immediately gave chase. Locked in on preventing a pick six, LSU’s quarterback didn’t see Joey Connors, Central Florida’s 313-pound defensive lineman, bearing down on him.
With a thunderous, blindside collision , Burrow found himself flat on his back, woozy and wondering what happened.
Minutes later, after being helped to his feet, Burrow was back on the field, hitting receivers all over the field.
The nation’s longest winning streak was over. So was a second self-proclaimed national championship.
The LSU Tigers were Fiesta Bowl champions, thanks to their gritty junior quarterback.
Burrow shook off the big early hit to throw for 394 yards and four touchdowns, helping No. 11 LSU end No. 7 UCF’s 25-game winning streak with a 40-32 victory in the Fiesta Bowl on Tuesday.
“I didn’t really think about the hit too much after it happened,” said Burrow, who had a cut on his neck from the hit. “It hurt for a second, I got right up and went on to the next play.”
LSU (10-3, No. 11 CFP) started its first Fiesta Bowl without several key players on defense and fell into an early 11-point hole against the high-scoring Knights (12-1, No. 8 CFP).
The Tigers clawed back behind Burrow and a defensive front that made life difficult for UCF quarterback Darriel Mack Jr.
Burrow returned from the early blindside hit to pick apart UCF’s secondary, hitting 21 of 34 of passes, including two touchdowns to Justin Jefferson.
“It looked like the passing game we wanted,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “Joe was on the money.”
LSU sacked Mack five times and made him rush numerous throws, holding the nation’s third-best offense to 250 total yards — 295 below its average — while spoiling the Knights’ bid for a second straight self-proclaimed national title.
Taj McGowan scored on a 2-yard run and the Knights converted a 2-point conversion to pull UCF to within 40-32. After LSU recovered the onside kick, the Knights’ last-ditch attempt finished with a tipped interception, ending a run that started after a loss in the 2016 Cure Bowl.
“Obviously, everyone in the locker room is really upset,” UCF defensive lineman Mason Colubiale. “We haven’t lost a game since 2016.”
UCF declared itself national champions after finishing as the only undefeated FBS team a year ago. The Knights earned another shot at an undefeated season by staging a massive rally to beat Memphis in the American Athletic Conference title game.
But just like last year, UCF was on the outside looking in when the College Football Playoff final four was announced, adding to the boulder-sized chip on its shoulder and only a self-awarded national title in its reach.
The Speedy Knights got the Fiesta Bowl off to a fast start, going up 14-3 on Greg McCrae’s 25-yard TD run and Brandon Moore’s 93-yard interception return.
The Tigers roared back behind Burrow and their disruptive defensive front.
UCF sputtered offensively after its opening drive, but Mack hit Gabriel Davis on a 32-yard pass in the closing seconds to pull UCF to within 24-21 at halftime.
Burrow opened the second half with a 32-yard TD pass to Ja’Marr Chase, and Cole Tracy hit three field goals to put LSU up 40-24. Tracy’s final kick, the 97th of his career, broke the NCAA all-division record and ended the nation’s fourth-longest winning streak since 2000.
“Love the way they competed for four quarters, continued to fight with everything that they had. Believed. Played as a group,” UCF first-year coach Josh Huepel said. “Just weren’t good enough at the end.”
Even depleted, LSU’s defense proved to still be formidable and Burrow showed his grit after the big hit, giving LSU its first 10-win season since 2013.
UCF missed injured two-time AAC player of the year McKenzie Milton and had no answer for LSU’s passing game to lose for the first time in two years.
SO MANY PENALTIES
The first meeting between UCF and LSU was chippy from the start, including three first-half ejections. LSU consensus All-America safety Grant Delpit was among those ejected after being called for targeting in the second quarter.
UCF had a key penalty in the second quarter, when Randy Charlton was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the Knights stopped LSU on a third-and-6. That kept the Tigers’ drive alive and Burrow hit Justice for a TD that pulled LSU to within 14-10.
LSU had 14 penalties for 145 yards, LSU had 12 for 104 yards.
LSU: RB Nick Brossette is a senior, Clyde Edwards-Helaire is just a sophomore and Burrow will be back. Delpit also is a sophomore and most of the defense should be back. LSU opens the 2019 season against Georgia Southern on Aug. 31.
UCF: Most of the Knights’ offense skill players should be back, but they have four seniors on the two-deep offensive line roster. UCF also will have new pieces on defense next season, with nine seniors on the two-deep. UCF opens the 2019 season against Florida A&M on Aug. 31.