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Potent Quotables: What the Knights Said Following Their 45-14 Triumph Over Pitt

McKenzie Milton accounts for 6 touchdowns; defense turns in a season-best showing

UCF QB McKenzie Milton sports a Tre'Quan Smith jersey following the Knights' win Saturday over Pitt. (Photo: Brian Murphy)
UCF QB McKenzie Milton sports a Tre'Quan Smith jersey following the Knights' win Saturday over Pitt. (Photo: Brian Murphy)

McKenzie Milton tallied six touchdowns and the Knights racked up 568 yards of offense Saturday night versus the Pitt Panthers.

Ho-hum. Such a performance would be more eye-popping if Milton hadn't accounted for six TDs and if the Knights hadn't totaled almost as many yards versus Florida Atlantic just last week. Instead, the offense felt more solid than spectacular. Given Milton's missed connections to open deep targets in the first half, the 31-point margin of victory was actually merciful.

What did stand out was the defensive effort as UCF, which entered the contest allowing nearly 400 yards per game, held the Panthers to 272 total yards and just one offensive touchdown. Head coach Josh Heupel said this was "absolutely" the best his defense has played this season.

Here are the other highlights of what Heupel, running back Adrian Killins, quarterback McKenzie Milton, safety Richie Grant and linebacker Nate Evans told the media immediately after the victory.


Opening statement:

"Great team win. Love the way we played defensively. Tackled well. I thought our defensive line dominated the football game. We were pretty good on third downs and obviously created another turnover. Special teams was really solid except the one play (Pitt's 85-yard punt return touchdown in the first quarter). I thought (kicker) Matt Wright did a really good job of pinning the ball on kickoffs; that was an issue a week ago. Offensively, I thought we did a really good job of adjusting in the run game. Won a bunch of one-on-one situations. KZ played really, really well. He was locked in to what we were doing and escaped sometimes when the pocket broke down and made some plays out in space as well."

KZ racks up 6 TD's as #13 UCF Dominates Pitt

On whether this game was as tough and as physical as he expected

"Absolutely. [Pitt is] big, thick, physical on both sides of the line of scrimmage. From them, defensively, you know they are going to make it tough to run the football. You've got to win some one-on-ones on the outside, you've got to be willing to stretch the field vertically. We did that. Hit some shots, missed a couple, too. But at the end of the day on the offense side of the ball, I thought we handled the physicality in the run game really well and we did a really good job on the play-action boot stuff as well."

On what it means to beat a Power 5 team

"We're 1-0 this week. The outsiders are going to judge it as they may. I and our football team really do focus on the daily task at hand. We focus on one week at a time. I'm really proud; I told them in the locker room they are continuing to grow together. This is our first year together, but they're continuing to buy into what we're doing. We're being more detailed in how we prepare. That's allowing us to play better in all three phases out there.

"That's a football team that is from one of those other conferences, and we certainly handled our business today."

On Pitt using cramps to disrupt the flow of UCF's offense

"That's one way to try to defend it. I guess it didn't work well today.

On stopping Pitt's running game

"Our [first-team] defense played lights-out. Thirty-three rushes for 109 yards; we held them and dominated the line of scrimmage. That was a test for [UCF's defense] going into it. That was a challenge and our guys answered that challenge."

On WR Dredrick Snelson's status

"He tweaked something in the ballgame last week and for that reason, he didn't practice a bunch this week. He'll be healthy for next week, ready to go."

On UCF's offensive versatility

"We're versatile because we've got a lot of dynamic playmakers in skill spots. ... The guys out wide can make plays. You look at your slot receiver: Snelson's out and the other guys step up; Otis (Anderson) has a really nice day. Marlon (Williams) played well, and our backfield is versatile and deep. You saw at the end Greg (McCrae) and Bentavious (Thompson) get a bunch of runs and they did a fantastic job of pressing the hole, playing with great pad level, reading it and picking up yards.

On how special RB Adrian Killins is in the open field

"AK's a dynamic playmaker. Whether it's kick return, if he's a punt returner, if he's a running back, whether he's a wide receiver, he can play. He's versatile. He can do about anything you ask him to do, and he's electric when he's got the ball in his hands in space."

On safety Richie Grant's knack for being a ballhawk

"Well, hopefully he continues that trend. He does a good job. There was pressure on the quarterback; he's throwing back across his body. Richie, I think, pattern reads it and is able to cut it from a deep single safety spot. He's as mature of a player on the third level that we have, just in our secondary. He's becoming a great team leader. He works extremely hard every day and he prepares in a great way. That lends itself to being in the right position at the right time."

On the stadium atmosphere

Atmosphere was really good. Student body was probably a little smart; they showed up right before kickoff instead of being out there an hour beforehand. They were probably having some fun tailgating in the Mall area. Great atmosphere. It's been electric every time we've walked into that stadium. Our players appreciate what are fans buying in to and the energy that they create. We're really thankful that this city is taking ownership of this team and liking the product that they see. Hoping we continue to see that as we go through the season."

On how UCF's talent compares to that of a Power 5 team

"This league, you watch it week in and week out, they win football games against other Power 6 teams. It's not made up. A bunch of these teams were in Power 6 leagues before the change in college football a few years ago. This is really good football. I thought that when I was on the outside; I think it when I'm in the inside. You better line up and come to play every single week in this league."

On how UCF has been taking care of business every week

"The thing I appreciate about our players is they are continuing to buy in to the way to prepare and the way to go play. I've said this since I've gotten here and went out for spring ball: When you throw the ball out there, they love competing and playing. We have a loose, relaxed, energetic atmosphere. If you're in our hotel lobby on Friday night, guys are having fun when they're at dinner. Same on Saturday.

"But when we get into our pregame motivational, they're focused and they're ready to go handle their business. Week from week, you might be a little bit different emotionally, but the way you prepare and the way you compete can never be different. ... It was a little bit business-like from them today, but we have great expectations and want to go play one play at a time."


On his 64-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter

"... Playing with McKenzie is kind of like playing backyard football. I know what he's going to do before he does it and he knows what I'm going to do before I do it. We've been playing together so long, it's getting easier to us each and every game, and we're starting to learn the game more. McKenzie is a phenomenal quarterback, phenomenal leader, phenomenal person, so playing ball with him is amazing."

On how dangerous he can be when he gets into the open field

"I'm very dangerous. If you just give me a crease, I can just take it the distance."

On how satisfying it was for him to finally have a couple of long-distance gains

"It was very satisfying. It's been a while since I've been out in the open field to see green grass. Tonight was a great game for us as a team. It was a great team win. Defense played a phenomenal game. Special teams did a great job except for the one punt return. On offense, we had our ups and downs, but in all three phases of the game, there's improvement. We're just going to get better from here.

On if its frustrating for him to go a long time without turning in a big play

"It's never frustrating, not at all. I might show it, but it's never frustrating. I don't expect to get a big run every time I touch the ball. I just want to get positive yards and not negative. ... The offense, we're doing really good right now and, like I said, we have room for improvement. This is just a stepping stone from here."

On if he thought all of Pitt's cramping issues were real

"I think a few of them were real cramps, but I also think some of them were fake because I've seen FAU do some of them and I've seen other teams in colleges football, watching TV, they did it as well. Whatever they've got to do to slow us down, they've got to do it, but we got the win, so that's all that matters."

On how he reacts when he sees opponents trying to slow the pace by faking an injury

"It's actually frustrating because sometimes we know they're faking. When it's real, it's real. It slows down our tempo but it don't slow us down from getting in the end zone. We just let it go by and live to see the next play."

On what it means to blow out an ACC team

"I just see them as another football team. Conference, it also means something, but they play football just like we do. They put on their pads just like we do, and they do the same Xs and Os as us. So, beating Pitt was just another game that we had on our schedule. We're just going to get better from here."

On how using multiple running backs instead of just one bellcow runner makes this offense stronger

"Bentavious Thompson, Taj McGowan, Greg McCrae, our running back room, I think we're phenomenal. We can do a lot of things. ... Having depth in any phase of the ball, it's good for your team because in college football, it's a long stretch and you're going to need guys healthy and those fresh legs. We've got a lot of backs that can do different things ..."


On Killins' sentiment that playing with you is like playing backyard football

"I feel the same way with him in the backfield. The check-down route I threw to him, before the play, I told him, 'AK, go win,' because I knew they were going to drop out and play soft. I knew he was going to be one-on-one with the [middle linebacker]. Any time you get him the ball, he's going to go bust one. ... The guys that I've got in our arsenal, it makes me look a lot better than I actually am."

On if he's satisfied with his performance

"No, not at all. I thought we left some points out there. I thought I made some poor throws. Thought there was a few where I didn't follow through on my throws all the way. 18-for-34, that's about 52 percent; there's definitely room for improvement, whether it's being on the same page as the receivers or it's just getting the ball to a position where they can catch it.

On spreading the ball around to different receivers

"They were playing us [man-to-man]. If teams want to do that, we're all for it. I think we match up with any team in the country at the skill positions in man coverage, so if teams want to do that, load the box, then we'll do that."

On what a 17-game win streak means for UCF

"I think it means a lot for our program, from where we've come from. I think UCF is going to be very good for the long haul. You look at the campus, you look at the way the coaches have been recruiting, there's not a better place to be in Florida.

On passing Blake Bortles on UCF's passing touchdowns and all-time touchdowns lists

"It's cool. ... I look up to Blake. He's a legend here, obviously. Any time my name is in the same sentence as him, that's kind of big."

On how this team holds itself to a higher standard than last season

"I think any time you step on the field, you want to improve. Whether it's going from this game to Monday's practice, you've always got to find an edge. If you get complacent, that's when you get nipped in the bud in college football, week in and week out. You see Syracuse giving Clemson a close game today; it's week in and week out. You can get beat any day, so you've just always got to be better than yesterday."


On his interception

"It was a good call. I knew where [the quarterback] wanted to go with it, so I kind of just played back a little bit and when I saw him let it go, I just broke on it."

On how much pride he takes in being a ballhawk

"I love it because I know my team needs it. Every time we get a turnover, I know it's points for our offense. We've got a quick-scoring offense, so every time we get a turnover, I know we're going to score.

On how turnovers have led directly to 42 points for UCF's offense

"I knew it was coming. I said it: We get a turnover, they score."

On stopping Pitt's run game

"After the FAU game, we looked at our mistakes and we had a lot of mistakes. We wanted to put that behind us, start over fresh. Came out last Monday (in practice) and just worked on everything we needed to work on. Tackling, obviously, was number one. We knew the concern this week would be Pitt and their run game, so we just wanted to prove that we could stop the run."

On how much turnovers fire up the defense

"We love it. We all ball-hungry, so anybody gets a turnover, you know you're going to get your head slapped a couple times. Might get in the concussion protocol if you get it slapped too much, but we love it because we know that's what we can do. When a guy does it, it's what we expect."

On if there is any extra motivation when they face a Power 5 opponent

To be honest, every opponent is just an opponent on our schedule. We don't really look too much into how big the opponent; we just want to go 1-0 every week."

On if he ever tells the offense to slow down so that the defense can get more rest

"In my head. I'd never say that out loud. Out loud, score as fast as you can, man. Put points on the board."

On how he has become more of a leader

"The leadership role kind of started back in the spring. Actually, Tre Neal was one of the big reasons why I wanted to step up in a leadership role. ... He told me I need to voice my opinion more with the team, with the defense. It kind of started back then and when he left, I was really forced in to being a vocal guy on the field and off the field. I think I've been doing a pretty good job."


On the defense getting three sacks in the game after recording just four for the season

"Well, first off, I just want to give a shout-out to [defensive coordinator Randy Shannon]; they gave us the game plan, we executed it and we came away with the sacks."

On if anything he saw from Pitt surprised the defense

"No, sir. Nothing at all. We've seen a lot of their stuff on film. They gave away a lot of keys. We were able to communicate with each other and that's how we made some good plays."

On if we haven't seen the defense's best yet

"You haven't seen our best; we always have room for improvement. We're just going to keep getting in the film room, getting corrections made."

On if this was the best game the defense has had in terms of tackling

"Yes, sir. This week in practice, we worked on tackling and it came out in the game. It showed. We had improvement, but like I said, we always have room for improvement."