The “HIsman” Trophy campaign for UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton is alive and well after Friday night’s 56-36 win over FAU.
In the victory, the nation-leading 16th in a row for the Knights, Milton completed 21 of his 32 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 81 yards and three touchdowns. That came out to a total of 387 yards and six scores.
“I was really proud of the way he played,” UCF coach Josh Heupel said. “He played fantastic. [He’s a] great leader, great energy, really calm… He brings that to the huddle before we head out to the next series, which is really important.”
Friday’s big game came after a disappointing first-half effort against South Carolina State back on Sept. 8. In that half, he threw three interceptions and later went on to finish the game with just one touchdown. UCF had last week off after Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina, which delayed the junior’s chance to bounce back. He more than redeemed himself against the Owls, looking the part of a Heisman candidate as he helped the Knights to their 16th straight game of scoring 30-plus points.
“I said earlier in the week the best thing about football is getting to flip the page and play the next game,” Milton said. “That’s what we did. We took it one play at a time and when things got a little shaky, we didn’t flinch. I thought that was a big test of character for our team.”
In three games this season, the Hawaii native has put up some big numbers. In the passing game, he has a completion percentage of 64.1, 895 yards and nine touchdowns to three interceptions. On the ground, he has 147 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries, which is good for a mark of 6.4 yards per carry.
Part of that success is coming from the ability to spread the ball around. With touchdowns to three different receivers on Friday, six different players have found the end zone this season. Having a talented receiving corps led by Tre Nixon, Dredrick Snelson and Gabe Davis has helped Milton, but a recently-underutilized veteran came through with a huge night on Friday. Tight end Michael Colubiale, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA this offseason due to missing 2015 with an injury, caught a team-high six passes for 84 yards.
“Thank God for that sixth year, huh?” Milton said after the game. “I told him on the sideline he’s gonna have a chance to play in the NFL next year because he got that year. He’s such a big weapon for us in the run game and the pass game. He’s a wide receiver playing tight end; he’s a stud athlete. He’s a great guy to have in the locker room. I love that guy to death.”
No matter who Milton is spreading the ball around to— it was six different receivers on Friday— he has shown an ability to get hot and take over a game. It is something he did plenty of times in 2017 and he did it again against FAU, putting up three touchdowns in the third quarter after the Knights led by just four points at halftime.
“He’s lights-out when he gets in a groove,” Colubiale said. “What really helps him the most is he feels comfortable in the pocket with our offensive line protecting him. But when he’s in that groove and in that mood, he’s going to play lights-out.”
Per the oddsmakers at Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, Milton’s Heisman Trophy odds were at 25-to-1 after three weeks of the season. That has him tied with Stanford running back Bryce Love for the sixth-best odds. Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is the current favorite at 7-to-4.
Milton finished eighth in Heisman voting last year, joining quarterback Daunte Culpepper (sixth in 1998) and running back Kevin Smith (eighth in 2007) as the only players in program history to finish in the top ten. Back in June, UCF launched the “HIsman” campaign for its quarterback, playing off his Hawaiian background. The effort came with a Milton-specific website: MiltonForHIsman.KZ.
He will look to add to his impressive numbers, and help the Knights to their 17th consecutive win, next Saturday when Pittsburgh comes to Spectrum Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.