Knights Turn to Redshirt Freshman Darriel Mack Jr. as UCF Readies For AAC Title Game
By Alan Zlotorzynski, Senior Editor // November 26, 2018
UCF has won 12 straight games over Memphis
ABOVE VIDEO: Darriel Mack Jr. stepped in for Heisman Trophy hopeful McKenzie Milton who suffered a serious knee injury Friday against South Florida at Raymond James Stadium. The Knights won 38-10.
ORLANDO, FLORIDA– The family of UCF star quarterback McKenzie Milton released a statement Saturday night following his serious knee injury on Friday and subsequent surgery on Saturday.
The statement was tweeted out by the UCF Football team which thanked Knights fans for their prayers and support. The statement went on to say that Milton’s surgery was successful and he is recovering well.
The gruesome injury occurred Friday against South Florida at Raymond James Stadium in the annual rivalry game known as “The War on I-4,” a game the Knights won 38-10.
The win was the Knights’ 24th straight, setting up a rematch of last year’s thrilling American Athletic Conference Championship game against the Memphis Tigers.
The teams combined for nearly 1,500 yards of offense with UCF contributing 726 of them.
Starting at QB, McKenzie Milton accounted for 77 percent of the Knights offense, as he passed for 494 yards and five touchdowns. Milton rushed for another 68-yards and added a rushing score.
This year, Milton has 2,663 passing yards with 25 touchdowns and he has 307 more on the ground with nine rushing scores. Those numbers account for 51 percent of the Knights yards and 56 percent of their touchdowns.
ABOVE VIDEO: Last year, the 12th-ranked Knights captured the American Athletic Conference championship as they defeated No. 16 Memphis 62-55 in double overtime. It was the Knights’ third American crown in the past five years.
Aside from Milton’s health and without sounding insensitive to the current situation, the AAC Championship game is slated to be played on Saturday and Knights fans have two big questions.
How will UCF replace Milton’s numbers and do the Knights still have a remote chance to make the College Football Playoffs?
Let’s be clear here, the Knights were a longshot to get into the playoff with Milton, so how they play against Memphis on Saturday will determine their fate. With that in mind, the Knights are likely playing for a shot at a New Years Six Bowl Game, not the College Football Playoff.
The Knights placement at No. 9 in the rankings released last Tuesday was the highest spot by a team outside of the traditional Power 5 conferences in the history of the CFP.
However, Bill Hancock, Executive Director of the playoff committee said on ESPN Saturday that Milton’s injury will be considered.
“First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers are with McKenzie Milton and his family,” Hancock told ESPN.
“I do understand that some people want to talk football tonight. So pivoting to that, the committee does consider injuries that may have affected a team’s performance during the season. Obviously, UCF continued to play well after McKenzie left the ballgame. The committee also does not project what might happen next week. They only evaluate what has happened to this point in the season.”
Long answer short, win Saturday and the Knights are back in a New Years Six Bowl although they aren’t nearly as attractive to bowl committees without Milton.
Ironically, thanks to a good season by another Sunshine State school and if the Knights win on Saturday a very attractive matchup could be on the horizon.
The potential of seeing UCF take on the Florida Gators in either Atlanta, in the Peach Bowl, or in Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl, overshadows a Knights team without a potential Heisman candidate in Milton and one that plays in the Group of 5 instead of the Power 5.
The Gators pounded a down-and-out Florida State team 41-14 on Saturday allowing UF to finish 9-3 and become a likely SEC representative in a New Years Six Bowl Game.
The Gators and Knights have met twice with Florida winning both times in Gainesville. UF won 42-0 in 2006 and 58-27 in 1999.
As for replacing Milton, we got a glimpse of perhaps how UCF may try to do that after their junior quarterback was injured on Friday.
The Knights will lean heavily on their experienced offensive line to wear down opposing front sevens and open holes as they did for senior running back Greg McCrae on Friday who rushed for 181-yards and three touchdowns in the win.
Under center, it will be redshirt freshman quarterback Darriel Mack Jr.
At 6-foot-3 and 230-pounds, Mack is bigger than Milton (5-11, 185 pounds) and he is a dual-threat quarterback that can be electrifying when he takes off with the football.
In UCF’s season-opening win over UConn, Mack had one carry, a 70-yard touchdown run.
Mack was 5-for-14 and 81 passing yards against USF on Friday and he also ran for 51 yards.
Most of Mack’s appearances came in relief of Milton after UCF had games well in hand, but he did start the 37-10 win over East Carolina. In that contest, Mack passed for just 69 yards but he ran for 120 yards and a touchdown.
ABOVE VIDEO: The top 6 plays in the 38-10 win over USF in the War-On-I4.
If Saturday’s game against Memphis is anything like last season’s contest Mack will need to put up a lot of yards for the Knights.
Memphis rallied from double digits twice before leading 31-24 at halftime. Behind Milton, the Knights fought back to win 62-55 in overtime. Memphis knows that this could be their best shot to win in Orlando and beat UCF for the first time since 1990.
The Tigers have dropped 12 straight to the Knights and are winless in six trips to Orlando.
Back in October, Memphis nearly ended the Knights winning streak as they led UCF 17-7 after the first quarter and 30-17 at halftime.
However, defensive coordinator Randy Shannon’s defense didn’t allow another point the rest of the game as UCF outscored Memphis 14-0 in the second half for a 31-30 win.
The title game is set for Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET at Spectrum Stadium with TV coverage on ABC.
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