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Blake Bortles overcomes uneven half to lift UCF in Fiesta Bowl


UCF junior quarterback Blake Bortles wasn't quite as sharp as usual Wednesday night, but his performance still was good enough to lead the Knights to a shocking 52-42 victory over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.

Bortles, whose draft stock has skyrocketed this season, is awaiting feedback from the NFL Draft Advisory Board before he makes a decision on whether he will bypass his senior season.

Bortles (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) was 20 of 31 for 301 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in the upset of the Bears. His 64.5 completion percentage Wednesday was his third-lowest of the season. He also ran for a career-high 93 yards and a score on just eight carries.

Two of his touchdown passes -- both to Rannell Hall, who turned short passes into long TD receptions -- and both of his interceptions came in the first half, when Bortles was a bit shaky. He settled down in the second half; he missed his first two attempts of the half, then went 9 of 9 for 118 yards and a TD the rest of the way. His rushing touchdown also came in the second half.

Bortles guided UCF to 556 yards, the Knights' second-largest offensive output of the season. It was the most points surrendered by Baylor this season and the second-most yards.

He seemed bothered at times in the first half by Baylor's pass rush and delivered some off-balance throws. He was far more collected in the pocket in the second half and made some sharp throws.

Overall, his performance gave credence both to those who think he needs more seasoning -- in the game's first half, especially -- and to those who look at his tools and see a big upside and a future big-timer, as he showed with his mobility and accuracy in the second half.

Another UCF junior considering a jump to the NFL is junior tailback Storm Johnson (6-0, 215), who tore up Baylor's rush defense. Johnson had 124 yards and three TDs on 20 carries, including a nifty 40-yard TD run that gave UCF a 49-35 lead with 10:26 and basically sealed the victory. Johnson is a tough between-the-tackles runner who surprisingly ran away from Baylor tacklers all night.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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