ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Quarterback Blake Bortles accounted for 350 yards and four touchdowns and Latavius Murray scored three touchdowns to help Central Florida to a 38-17 Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl victory over Ball State on Friday at Tropicana Field.
The victory gave UCF (10-4, 7-1 in Conference USA) its third 10-win season in the last six. The Knights also improved to 2-3 in bowl games.
Ball State (9-4, 6-2 in the Mid-American Conference) has lost all six of its bowl games.
Bortles' three passing touchdowns equaled a career best, and the redshirt sophomore ran for a career-high and team-leading 79 yards. He became the second player to throw for three TDs in the five-year history of the bowl. South Florida's Matt Grothe threw three in the inaugural game played in 2008.
The Knights came into the game averaging 35.2 points, which was 27th in the country. They lived up to their end of the bargain on the scoreboard in scoring 30-plus points for the 10th time this season.
UCF also made its mark on defense. The Cardinals entered the bowl averaging 35.0 points and 471.3 yards per game, but could not get into any rhythm. The Knights recorded five sacks and held Ball State to 286 yards.
Playing a little more than 100 miles from UCF's Orlando campus, the Knights took charge of the game early.
Bortles accounted for 242 yards and three touchdowns as UCF took a 28-7 halftime lead. His five-yard touchdown pass with five seconds remaining capped the scoring from the opening 30 minutes. The score was set up by Bortles' 45-yard completion to Breshad Perriman that brought the ball to the Cardinals' 18.
Prior to that drive, Ball State had a chance to come away with at least three points and whittle UCF's lead to 21-10. However, the Knights' Thomas Niles sacked Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning for an 11-yard loss on third down. Steven Schott then shanked a 35-yard field goal attempt to the right.
Murray scored two of his three first-half touchdowns in the first quarter, including a seven-yard reception that capped an impressive opening drive. The 13-play, 78-yard drive milked 7:33 off the clock.
Less than four minutes later, Murray had a two-yard touchdown run, giving the Knights a 13-0 lead following a blocked extra point. UCF piled up 11 first downs and 160 yards of offense in the opening 15 minutes.
After running only eight plays in the opening quarter, Ball State responded with an 82-yard drive that was capped by Wenning's seven-yard touchdown pass to Willie Snead. However, UCF had an answer of its own. Bortles' six-yard touchdown run and ensuing two-point conversion pass to Dontravius Floyd made it 21-7 with 5:50 left in the half.
NOTES: Murray's first-half touchdown run was his 15th on the ground this season, which is good for second on UCF's single-season chart. The senior also extended his touchdown streak to nine games....The bowl marked UCF coach George O'Leary's 200th game as head coach.....Wenning suffered an ankle injury against Ohio on Nov. 14 and missed the regular-season finale against Miami (Ohio) the following week.