Auburn dropped the season finale in the Peach Bowl 34-27 to the UCF Knights at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta today. With the defeat, the Tigers finish the 2017-18 season at 10-4, while UCF completes a 13-0 perfect season under Scott Frost.
With the return of a healthy Kerryon Johnson on offense, the outlook was poised to be much better than the Tigers’ first game at the new stadium in Atlanta, where an injured Johnson lowered Auburn’s chances to beat Georgia in the SEC Championship. Today, he wasn’t very effective, and the Tiger offense sputtered at times while the defense proved unable to contain UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton.
Auburn scored first on a Daniel Carlson field goal that followed a fumble from Milton, and took a 3-0 lead into the second quarter. UCF answered on a short kick of its own early in the period, and then Milton put the first touchdown on the board with an 18-yard touchdown run midway through the quarter. Milton utilized his legs, scrambling on a couple plays for big yardage and confusing the Auburn defense.
Carlson tacked on his second field goal of the day later in the quarter, but the Knights capped the first half with a 45-yard Matthew Wright kick as time expired to take a 13-6 lead into the intermission.
As the third quarter began, Auburn’s offense woke up. Noah Igbinoghene returned the second-half kickoff 72 yards to the UCF 26, and then two plays later, Jarrett Stidham hit Will Hastings for a 26-yard touchdown to tie the game at 13-13. After stopping UCF, Auburn got the ball back at their own 18, and immediately went back to work. A 29-yard completion to Darius Slayton kept the drive alive, and Kerryon Johnson scored he Tigers’ second touchdown of the afternoon five plays later from four yards out to give Auburn a 20-13 advantage.
Then UCF went to work. With the Tigers containing Milton’s scrambling ability after halftime, Milton began to trust his receivers more. He threw into double coverage time and again, but his receivers made play after play and the absence of Carlton Davis became a bigger and bigger problem. Otis Anderson scored on a 12-yard screen pass to tie the game, and Milton hit Dedrick Snelson from eight yards away on a scramble to give UCF the edge back at 27-20.
With six minutes left and down a touchdown, Jarrett Stidham threw a pick-six to Chequan Burkett, who returned it for the score from 45 yards away to put UCF up 34-20. After that, Auburn quickly went 89 yards in six plays for a touchdown to cut the lead in half, but a last gasp drive fell short as Stidham was intercepted in the end zone with :33 to play.
Stidham was sacked six times in the loss, but went 28-43 for 331 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions. He became just the second Auburn quarterback to throw for over 3,000 yards in a single season. Kerryon Johnson scored a touchdown and had 71 yards rushing on 22 carries, while Will Hastings had one of his best days as a Tiger with six catches for 117 yards and a score.
McKenzie Milton went 16-35 for 242 yards and two passing touchdowns, while running for 116 yards and a score as well. With the loss, Gus Malzahn’s bowl record now stands as 1-4, with the lone win being the Birmingham Bowl over Memphis.