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The UCF Knights (2-1) open play in the American Athletic Conference heading on the road to Annapolis to take on the Navy Midshipman (0-3), with true freshman Mikey Keene as their starting quarterback.
While Navy hasn’t won a game yet, UCF head coach Gus Malzahn notes that they are improving while catching his team at a tough spot in the year.
“Saturday night, [Navy] they played a good [Houston Cougars] team. In fact, they played very good, matter of fact really good. You could tell that they used the off week to clean some things up,” stated Malzahn.
It’s safe to assume that UCF did the same over their recent bye week as well, but they’re facing a lot more adversity than the average team in college football right now. The challenges include preparing Keene for his first start, overcoming numerous injuries at other positions and preparing for Navy’s unique defensive and offensive schemes.
The Midshipmen run the triple-option offense. Fortunately for the Knights, senior linebacker Bryson Armstrong previously played at Kennesaw State under head coach Brian Bohannon who also ran the triple option. Based on that experience of facing it in practice, Armstrong served as a subject matter expert for his teammates during practice.
“We’re gonna have to be extremely disciplined,” said Armstrong. “We’ve worked hard on how to defeat a cut block. They’re going to be chopping at our [defense’s] legs all game. It’s important to know how to defeat that. We’re gonna have to be tough. They’re going to run the ball. They’re gonna keep running it down our throat and it’s our job to stop that. If we can take the run away, we should be successful.”
While coach Malzahn has stated that he’s hopeful to get center Matt Lee back, he also said that he’s looking for the rest of the players and coaches to step up their game to support Keene and players stepping in for others such as star running back Isaiah Bowser, who may not be healthy in time for Saturday’s contest.
With that caution in mind, wide receiver Ryan O’Keefe has certainly exclaimed confidence in his new quarterback under center.
“He surprised me. He can throw. He’s amazing,” said O’Keefe. “He can throw any type of ball you can ask him to throw. You’re going to see in the game — he can throw deep balls. He can make proper reads and he’s just very good back there in the pocket. Very poised.”
So with Navy trending upward as the least penalized team in the nation, UCF can hardly afford many mistakes in the 2021 AAC debut. A win here is certain to not only lift up the morale in the locker room after the tough Louisville loss but return hope to the fan base that there is still plenty of football and hope in the current season.