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UCF Knights

UCF QB Mack Jr. looking healthier than expected

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
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While Miami has finally settled on a starting QB, others throughout the state have more quarterback questions than answers as the 2019 season rapidly approaches. One of those schools is UCF, who’ve been plagued by injury in the position. However, a photo released from practice on Tuesday shows once-expected starter Darriel Mack Jr. walking into the stadium without a boot.

Knights247 reporter Jason Beede was the first to notice the bootless QB in a photo released by the team. He shared the picture on Twitter.

UCF fans are beginning to make hopeful assumptions that Mack Jr. may still be able to be the Knights signal-caller this season.

We reported last month that he suffered what’s been called “a non-football injury” and has not participated in training camp.

Mack took over as the replacement for injured starter and AAC player-of-the-year McKenzie Milton last November. That’s when Milton was injured horrifically in the first half of the rivalry game with USF. He managed the lead that UCF had built to a 38-10 win, which clinched a spot in the Championship game.

The following week, Mack heroically lead the Knights to a roaring second-half comeback over the Memphis Tigers. After trailing 38-21 at the break, Mack threw for 348 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 59 yards and four more scores in the 56-41 comeback win.

Mack was not nearly as successful in the Fiesta Bowl loss to LSU, where he completed just 11 – 30 for a puny 97 yards with one touchdown and one interception.  And, he had -3 yards rushing on 11 carries, as the Tigers repeatedly sacked him that day in Arizona.

His injury has left Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush as the likely option for the Knights. Wimbush left the Fighting Irish program as a graduate transfer and recently  landed at No. 64 on Pro Football Focus’ complete list of the top 130 quarterbacks in the country, making him one spot higher than the direct middle of the pack. 

PPF’s Cam Mellor had this to say about the QB

“No McKenzie Milton and no Darriel Mack lead way for former Notre Dame quarterback Wimbush to be the starter in Orlando for 2019. Wimbush played a great season in 2017 with the Fighting Irish but struggled a year ago before ultimately giving way to Ian Book in South Bend. In Josh Heupel’s offense, Wimbush should be able to use his strong arm and push the ball down the field well, up to those strong 2017 levels.”

Wimbush was a successful starter in South Bend in 2017. He threw for over 1,800 yards and rushed for over another 600 leading Notre Dame to a 10-2 record. He also set the Irish record for rushing TDs by a quarterback with 14 for that year.

The Knights also have a McKenzie Milton-like QB clone from Hawaii, again, in freshman undersized but speedy Dillon Gabriel. The 6’0 185lbs. Gabriel broke several of Milton and Marcus Mariota’s high school records in Hawaii, including most yards passing in a high school career.

But, with Mack looking healthier than expected, there could be a potential for him to reclaim his spot as QB1 as they start the season taking on FAMU. This certainly will aid in their efforts at an AAC “three-peat.”

Abbey is a native Floridan who grew up a fan of all Tampa Bay sports teams. She’s recently graduated from Florida State University with a degree in Media Communication Studies. In her time at FSU, she was an In-Game Host for the Basketball and Baseball teams, and reported for Seminole Sports Magazine, producing feature stories that appeared on Fox Sports Sun. She’s excited to share her perspective on all of Florida’s Football teams, especially the Seminoles.

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UCF Knights

Zemek- “UCF magic”only over for 2019

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I said Saturday morning after the loss to Cincinnati that there was a need to address both the short-term and long-term situations facing the UCF Knights. Saturday morning was the immediate autopsy of a game – and season – which got knocked off track.

This column is meant to address the much bigger picture surrounding UCF.

One sentiment voiced Friday night was that UCF’s run is over. UCF is no longer “a thing.” UCF is no longer relevant.

If any of those commentators or college football fans were talking about 2019 alone, they are correct. UCF has been damaged too greatly and has too flawed a team to realistically stay in the Group of Five “New Year’s Six” bowl chase. Boise State would have to lose twice. Cincinnati would have to lose twice. Memphis would have to lose twice… and even then, UCF wouldn’t be in the clear.

The Knights’ chances aren’t TECHNICALLY finished, but they literally need every possible break – not most, but all – to fall their way over the next two months. That isn’t realistic. The 2019 campaign has been thwarted, even if the AAC championship isn’t entirely out of reach.

If you want to say the UCF hype and magic are over this year, fine. I can certainly accept that.

If you are referring to any period of time beyond 2019, get lost.

This program isn’t going anywhere.

Can we stop for a moment and realize how much horrendous luck the Knights have endured? McKenzie Milton got hurt. Darriel Mack got hurt. UCF’s defense – as I noted Saturday morning – played more than well enough to beat Cincinnati on the road. The Knights’ defense doesn’t need to be spectacular; it needs to be solid, relative to what Josh Heupel expects from his offense.

In 2017 and 2018, UCF’s defensive effort at Cincinnati would easily have been strong enough to win, and win decisively. In 2019? Dillon Gabriel and his receivers, AND his offensive line, were not good enough in concert with each other. They all suffered their share of failures.

If one person or unit did well, the other units didn’t finish the play. With Milton or Mack in there, the odds of such a red-zone disaster would have decreased sharply.

Now imagine a 2020 season without quarterback injuries. All the speed Scott Frost and Josh Heupel have recruited into the program will still be there. UCF has a solid foundation. This program isn’t going anywhere… which leads us to the program which blazed a trail for UCF (and yet doesn’t want UCF to succeed, for obvious reasons).

Before there was UCF, there was Boise State.

The Broncos did what UCF did, only better. (This is not a negative commentary on UCF, just to make sure no one gets the wrong idea.) Boise State played elite non-conference opponents early in the season and defeated them. The Broncos put themselves in position to contend for the national title.

Remember: Boise State went unbeaten in 2009 and defeated a higher-ranked opponent – TCU – in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl than the opponent UCF defeated when the Knights handled Auburn in the 2018 Peach Bowl.

The Broncos also would have played in the 2011 Rose Bowl had their kicker not missed a chip shot at Nevada on the Friday after Thanksgiving. TCU took the spot Boise State relinquished.

UCF rose to a very great height in 2017, but Boise State rose higher in 2009.

That run for the Broncos 10 years ago was not the product of uninterrupted dominance.

In 2007, Boise State lost three times, once by 12 points to WAC champion Hawaii and once to East Carolina in a bowl game.

If people thought Boise State was “over” – not just in that particular year, but for the long haul – they were sadly mistaken.

The Broncos delivered unbeaten regular seasons in 2008 and 2009. They didn’t lose more than one game in the next four seasons after their 2007 stumble.

Will UCF be as dominant as that? No one knows. Just realize that UCF being “over” is a 2019-specific thing, not a long-term reality.

The Knights have stockpiled too much talent to be wished off the stage by college football elitists.

UCF will be back. Mark it down… but not this year.

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UCF Knights

UCF in unusual spot with second loss already

Bob Meyer-USA TODAY Sports

The UCF Knights have lost two games before the first Saturday of October. That is headline news. The Knights are part of a situation which can’t be neatly summarized in one column.

Let’s deal with the big picture later, in a separate piece For now, let’s focus on the Knights’ short-term reality, which is that they have no more margin for error and that they are no longer the favorite to win their own division, let alone the American Athletic Conference.

How did the Knights get here?

There are plenty of obvious and accurate answers, but they can be summarized in a simple sentence: Their biggest lapses and worst plays are coming at the wrong time.

No sport involves perfection, or even near-perfection. Great baseball hitters make an out two-thirds of the time. The best basketball shooters make less than half of their 3-point shots. Legendary quarterbacks will fail to complete 30 percent of their passes if not more.

It is slightly (maybe even moderately) overstated that athletes and teams have to be great under pressure. An underrated and more accurate truth about athletes and competition is that pressure doesn’t require greatness on a relentless, unceasing basis. The athlete who can merely avoid melting down under stress – who makes the basic, routine plays in pressure situations – often does more than enough to win.

Spectacular plays made under pressure will obviously win admiration from everyone in the room. If the game is big enough, they become written about and remembered for generations.

Yet, most games – even the big ones – involve situations in which the simpler ability to make the expected play is sufficient to achieve victory.

UCF did this in its run of two straight unbeaten seasons.

It has ceased to do this in its pair of losses in the Rust Belt, first to Pittsburgh and now to Cincinnati.

The worst and most irritating aspect of the Pittsburgh loss was that UCF became sloppy after grabbing a 31-21 lead. The Knights committed multiple personal-foul penalties on Pitt’s TD drive which sliced UCF’s 10-point lead down to three at 31-28. Later, UCF’s offside penalty on 4th and 5 prolonged Pitt’s winning touchdown drive.

UCF carried the run of play in the final three quarters, but horrendous timing on mistakes pierced the Knights’ armor.
It was much the same in Cincinnati on Friday.

The UCF defense played well enough to win. Cincinnati’s offense scored a modest 20 points, and even then, one of UC’s drives began at the Knights’ 19-yard line. In truth, UCF’s defense was responsible for only 13 points. It did as much as it could have hoped for.

A year ago, UCF bottled up Cincy’s offense. It did the same this season.

Last year, UCF blew out the Bearcats because the offense got out of its own way and made basic plays. This year, with the defense playing equally well against Cincinnati, the offense scored a touchdown on only one of six red-zone possessions. It didn’t score any points on multiple red-zone possessions. Field goals on those two scoreless trips could have made a huge difference.

This game was more than the red zone, however.

UCF was haunted and hounded by the reality that when Dillon Gabriel made a good throw, his receivers didn’t catch it. When the receiver got open down the field, Gabriel often failed to make a good or timely throw. On a lot of other plays, the UCF offensive line got demolished by Cincy’s excellent front seven.

In a sport where 11 men need to operate in concert with each other, UCF couldn’t get its offensive unit to function well together. Everyone fell short often enough to override the fact that some players did their jobs on individual plays. When certain players did their jobs, teammates did not… which ruined the end result.

UCF has wasted good-to-great defensive performances this season. It used to be that UCF giving up fewer than 30 points (in the Pitt loss, the Panthers scored 35, but a blocked punt accounted for seven of those points, meaning the UCF defense allowed only 28) was an automatic win.

Twice this year, UCF’s defense has allowed fewer than 30 points, and the Knights have still lost.

Are the injuries at quarterback a factor UCF could not control? Sure.

Yet, the litany of mistakes, the collection of red-zone failures, and the inability of passers and receivers to both do their jobs on the same play all wrecked the Knights.

This is their short-term reality. The bigger picture can be addressed another day.

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