It’s safe to say that sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton’s starting role as the leader in the backfield is safe as the UCF Knights (1-0) showed no mercy in a 61-17 blowout against the FIU Panthers (0-1) Thursday night.
Carried by the career high performance of Milton, the Knights managed to rack up 587 total yards fueled by Milton’s 360 passing yards and four touchdown passes. Seven different players saw time in the end zone on Thursday night in UCF’s 2017 home and season opener.
“I give a lot of credit to the O-line for protecting [Milton],” coach Scott Frost said. “He wasn’t under much duress back there and when he was, he had easy lanes to escape. But really from McKenzie, there is a lot people questioning things with him and people are always critical of coaches and quarterbacks. I admire the kid for getting through what he got through last year. What you saw on the field today is what we have been seeing at practice for almost two years, and it carried over on to the field tonight.”
Leading the pack of scorers was redshirt junior wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith who totaled 72 yards and two touchdowns on three receptions. Right behind him was freshman wide receiver Gabriel Davis and senior tight end Jordan Akins. Davis totaled 53 yards and a touchdown on four receptions while Akins totaled 45 yards and a touchdown on two receptions.
“My coaches told me, basically, the offense runs off me,” Smith said. “[My teammates] feed off me. They are looking for me to make plays, so I am just doing it to the best of my ability to make plays.”
However, a strong passing game wasn’t the only strong point highlighted in UCF’s eye-opening victory.
Proving their arsenal was deep in depth, the Knights also saw four scores off the ground-and-pound game. Freshman running back Cordarrian Richardson scored in the third quarter off a 10-yard rush, bringing his game total to 24 yards on seven rushes. Sophomore running back Jawon Hamilton led the rushing core with 56 yards on 12 carries, also scoring a touchdown. Junior running back Taj McGowan ended with six yards and a touchdown on eight carries. Freshman running back Greg McCrae scored off a six-yard rush with just over two minutes to play, making the score 61-17.
But offense wasn’t the only way UCF showed the 2016 season wasn’t just a fluke and that 2017 could be a year to remember. The defense shined just as much as the offense did, forcing 10 three-and-outs. Holding the Panthers to just 335 total yards, the Knights also managed to force and recover two fumbles, as well as a lone interception.
“I thought the defense played well,” Frost said. “Really, if we hadn’t turned it over in the first half, then I think we would have gone into halftime sitting in a really good place defensively. We gave up one long play in the first half. We have to fix those things, but I think we played really hard on defense, stopped the majority of what they presented to us. Coach [Chinander] and his staff do a great job and when you get guys playing as hard as they have gotten those guys to play, good things are going to happen.”
The defense, led by junior inside linebacker Pat Jasinski and sophomore defensive lineman Trysten Hill, also managed to recover a safety after redshirt junior Mac Loudermilk trapped FIU at the one-yard line.
UCF also saw playing time by true-freshman quarterback Noah Vedral, giving UCF’s second-string quarterback some ample playing time. Vedral racked up 79 yards on 10-of-12 pass attempts.
FIU’s only scores came off a 51-yard rush by junior running back Napolean Maxwell, a 39-yard field goal by redshirt freshman Jose Borregales and a 75-yard pass from senior quarterback Alex McGough to senior wide receiver Thomas Owens.
The Knights will prepare for their next matchup against Memphis when the Tigers come to Spectrum Stadium on September 9, at 8 p.m. The game will also be aired on ESPNews.