Written by Ernie Casanova
ORLANDO, FL — With a fabulous conclusion to last season in Atlanta after winning the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, the UCF Knights came into their first home game looking to make a statement. With the returning phenom of a quarterback in McKenzie Milton, he gives the team a much more promising look. It was a stacked house in Spectrum Stadium as fans were ready to see up close and personal how the new head coach, Josh Heupel, will have his squad performing each and every week. The Knights convincingly defeated the South Carolina State Bulldogs by a score of 38-0. but it wasn’t always pretty offensively as Knights fans had quite to worry about early on.
It was a very slow start for Milton, who was poised to come out and put on an air raid of a show as a heavy favorite against the Bulldogs. On the second play of the game, Milton quickly scared the spectators with what was deemed an interception, only for it to be overturned. Two plays later with a false start penalty in the mix, he throws an obvious forced pass into coverage that actually winds up being intercepted by Bulldogs’ CB Alex Brown. The silence that was present amongst the crowd was powerful, and the worry slowly began to boil.
Two drives later, after an Adrian Killins Jr three yard rushing touchdown put the Knights on the board, Milton begins to lead the team down the field for another possession. He throws yet another interception that is picked off by Bulldogs SS Chris Adams as the drive lasted only four plays and eyebrows are just raising everywhere. People are wondering just what is going on with the superstar quarterback who threw only nine total interceptions last year? After Killins Jr scores another touchdown on the ground and K Matthew Wright converts a field goal to make it 17-0 halfway through the second quarter, Milton throws yet another interception and it was time for a change.
“Some of our rhythm was a little bit off,” stated Coach Heupel after the game. “We had the false start; we got in some negative situations. Things that we didn’t do in week one that we certainly did. Our penalties – we had way too many of them, so we got in some negative situations. We were down in the zone; we’re forced into throwing the ball a little bit because of the box and didn’t make the play. That’s why we had to kick the one time. The turnovers, some decision making and us being on the same page – a bunch of things we can correct. The good news is we get a chance to go back to work.”
The Knights began to run and pound the ball on the ground as that was the only aspect of their offense that was working at the time. The Knights have an exclusive field of running backs that can contribute, and together they totaled four touchdowns and 300 yards if you deduct 16 from Milton himself. “We’ve got a deep pool of backs, all of them a little bit different in their skills sets but they have a lot of similar traits at the same time,” states Heupel. Killins Jr picked up the first two touchdowns and finished with 89 yards on eight attempts, while Greg McCrae racked up 62 yards on 5 rushes. McCrae and Otis Anderson were responsible for the other two rushing touchdowns, as Anderson finished with 42 yards on eight carries.
The Bulldogs couldn’t capitalize on the mistakes they created for Milton and quickly got buried by the running game. Starting quarterback Tyrece Nick couldn’t convert on many of his throws, as he was forced to rush the ball 22 times. He went 5-13 through the air with 54 yards and lead the team in rushing with 78 yards. Six receptions were made by six different receivers and none of them topped 30 yards. The Bulldogs were picked off three times, as Nick was responsible for one while backup Dewann Ford threw two in relief. The Bulldogs finished with 257 yards of offense while the Knights had a remarkable 566-yard outing. It was a bad outing for South Carolina State and it didn’t get any easier as the night went on.
As the Knights started to develop a lead with the assistance from their backfield, Milton steadied his hand on the mistakes and completed all of the necessary throws to carry the team the rest of the way. He finished with an average joe stat line of 21-39 for 243 yards with one touchdown and those three picks. He started to connect with WR Gabriel Davis throughout the course of the game, and Davis flourished with nine receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown reception. “I’m just happy I had a good game,” said Davis. “I felt like we could have done some better things on offense though. We started off real slow. A 100-yard game is nice, but I’d like to see us do better on offense as a whole.” With the defense getting some crucial stops and the running game in motions, Harris was the silent hero. WR Dedrick Snelson came in behind Harris with 45 yards on five catches.
As for Milton’s struggles, he’s not going to lose sleep over it. “I just didn’t get in a great rhythm,” he states. “I missed some easy throws. SC State made some good plays too. We’ll watch the film tomorrow and hopefully bounce back next week.”
UCF (2-0) takes on North Carolina (0-2) next week who surprisingly got dismantled by East Carolina on Saturday. SCSU (0-2) will face off against NC Central (1-0) next week as well.