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Knights at the Roundtable: The Keene Era Begins

The BGB Staff talks Mikey Keene and UCF’s upcoming game against Navy.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 11 Bethune-Cookman at UCF Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Each week during the football season, a few staff contributors will answer five questions regarding the upcoming game ahead. It’s a way to get the staff to come together as well as the rest of Knights Nation, to see if they agree or disagree with the crew at BGB.

In our fourth roundtable of the football season, Jeff Sharon, Jeremy Brener, Eric Lopez, Bryson Turner and Andrew Gluchov take their seats at the roundtable to answer questions about the UCF Knights and their matchup with the Navy Midshipmen.

1) Freshman Mikey Keene is set to make his first career start. What are your expectations of him heading into Navy?

Jeff Sharon (@Jeff_Sharon): Well, Mikey is a freshman. So I don’t think it’s fair to place expectations on him. Remember McKenzie Milton’s first start in his freshman year? I’ll remind you:

You just never know what you’re going to get, and nothing we see Saturday will be an iron-clad indication of how Mikey’s career will go. There will be great moments and not-so-great moments. Give the kid space to learn how to be great.

Jeremy Brener (@JeremyBrener): I have high expectations. Keene dominated at the high school level, going undefeated in his junior and senior year. Winning is woven into UCF tradition, and Keene knows how to win. The flashes he showed during the Bethune-Cookman game were real, and I’m excited to see more.

Eric Lopez (@EricLopezELO): I really do not have high or low expectations on Keene. I am more interested how Gus calls the game with Keene and how confident does he have on Keene in his first start on the road at Navy.

Bryson Turner (@itsBrysonTurner): I’m glad we got to see a preview of what Keene is capable of during the Bethune-Cookman game. It certainly gives me a bit of comfort since I’m sure no one expected to see Keene in a game again until either late in a blowout or as soon as next season. That said, UCF is back with a true freshman at quarterback and all of the vulnerabilities that come with it. So while I think Keene has excellent playing ability and will be able keep the UCF offense running while Gabriel recovers, just remember he is still a true freshman and might make a mistake or two.

Andrew Gluchov (@StatBoyDrew): This is a great opportunity for Keene to get his feet wet. This isn’t a good Navy team, so it offers a lower pressure situation. Mikey is going to need the next couple of games to work on developing chemistry with his receivers ahead of that big Cincinnati game. He has all the tools to be very successful. He has shown in his limited time in the spring and against Bethune-Cookman to have enough pocket presence to not try to be a hero. UCF is going to need the running game to keep Keene from having to carry this team.

2) If UCF wins this game, which Knight(s) will be the reason why?

Jeff: Gus Malzahn. One thing I love about Gus’ philosophy is that he’s an expert at adapting his system to his personnel. That comes with being a high school coach, where you have the kids you have and it’s up to you to figure out how to put them into a position to succeed. We are in that exact situation right now with a freshman QB. I have faith in Gus’ ability to craft a game plan that will maximize UCF’s chances for winning, style points be damned.

Jeremy: Navy hasn’t scored more than 20 points in any of their three games this year. If Keene and the offense can generate three touchdowns, it could be enough to get the job done. Could there be jitters for his first collegiate start? Absolutely. But Keene is a winner, and if UCF wins this game, it’s because he’s leading the rally.

Eric: UCF Run defense. If they control Navy running game and keep them around 3 yards per carry. UCF will win going away.

Bryson: Travis Williams and the rushing defense. One of the Knights’ only defensive strengths all season has been defending against the rushing attack, having allowed the 6th-least rushing yards in the FBS so far this season. The Triple Option is the definition of a ground-and-pound offense that is essentially a war of attrition against defenses. The Knights lineman and linebackers cannot get worn down into leaving spaces for Navy rushers, or it will cost them. This is still the same coach and offensive style that’s netted Navy two 11-win seasons in 2015 and 2019.

So, as long as Williams plans effectively and the lineman and linebackers execute like they have all season and not wear themselves out, then the Midshipman will have to wait one more week for their first 2021 win.

Andrew: Navy, running the triple option, has always relied on a strong running quarterback. They had Malcolm Perry and Keenan Reynolds, among others. There is no star this year and it has severely hampered the offensive production. The linebackers are going to have to step up and make plays. Bryson Armstrong has a strong knack for being around the ball and will need to continue to do so. Tatum Bethune is going to have to shake off the missed tackles that have dogged him this season. If the linebackers wrap properly, Navy is going to really struggle.

3) What is one of the Knights’ weaknesses that could be exposed against Navy?

Jeff: Rush defense. It’s not that UCF’s run defense has been bad throughout the year - it’s hasn’t. But Louisville schemed the hell out of that game two weeks ago to the tune of 191 yards and a 5.2 yards-per-rush average. And nobody schemes how to run better than Navy.

Jeremy: The defense’s conditioning. That was the chink in their armor two weeks ago against Louisville when Malik Cunningham ran all over the defense. The triple option is fast-paced and forces the defense to be making physical plays on every down. If UCF can’t do that, they could be on upset alert.

Eric: Defense line on outside vs run. Does Navy have success on edges?

Bryson: Having a true freshman quarterback making his first collegiate start on the road (especially far from Florida). Even a talented quarterback like Dillon Gabriel experienced this during his freshman season in 2019. That season, all seven of Gabriel’s interceptions and 17 of the 21 times he was sacked came on the road. If I were Navy DC Brian Newberry, I’d be telling my lineman and linebackers to not let Keene get comfortable in the pocket and force him into mistakes that he will be vulnerable to making at this stage of his career. Out of 130 total FBS teams, the Midshipmen are 113th in points allowed. So, if the Midshipmen can exploit this, then they just might have a chance.

Andrew: Quarterback is the glaring weakness. While it’s possible Isaiah Bowser doesn't play Saturday, UCF has shown to have a very capable stable of running backs behind him. Mikey Keene does not have as strong a group behind him. I expect to see Joey Gatewood running from time to time, but he’s probably not going to throw the ball. I’d like him to so that defenses don’t crash the box whenever he’s on the field.

4) Score prediction?

Jeff: UCF 24, Navy 13

Jeremy: UCF 30, Navy 13

Eric: UCF 31, Navy 10

Bryson: UCF 28, Navy 17

Andrew: UCF 35, Navy 10