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Knee-Jerk Reactions: Navy 34, UCF 30

The Mikey Keene era sunk on its maiden voyage

UCF RB Johnny Richardson
Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Mikey Keene era has begun, but not in the way fans wanted. The UCF Knights were outscored 17-0 in the fourth quarter en route to a 34-30 to the then winless Navy Midshipmen. It’s knee-jerk reaction time.

The Mike Keene era begins...with a thud

The game started with a bang as Keene found Brandon Johnson for a 15-yard touchdown on UCF’s first play of offense after forcing a Navy turnover. He ended up starting 3-3 for 72 yards with two touchdowns before simmering down.

It wasn’t supposed to start this way, but life is unpredictable. With Dillon Gabriel going down with a broken collarbone on the last play of UCF’s game against Louisville, it became the cliché “next man up” situation. The offensive production definitely missed their team captain, but this is the team’s new reality.

As expected, Gus Malzahn had Keene in more of a game management role where the run set up the pass. The problem with this philosophy was that the running game was unable to develop any consistency. Once Keene’s hot start settled down, his output was pedestrian. That’s not a surprise for a true freshman in his first start, but UCF’s offense has some concerns. On the good side, Keene didn’t make any critical mistakes outside of a lack of touch on his passes and having some timing issues that sometimes led to him throwing either too far ahead or behind receivers.

Two of UCF’s scoring drives were drives that started within the Navy 15 as a result of a turnover. Each drive was a single play score, but beyond that, it wasn’t good against a Navy team who has struggled so far this season.

Down, but not out

UCF was missing a number of players in key places. Starting running back Isaiah Bowser, top wide receiver Jaylon Robinson, and linebacker Tatum Bethune were all out. The offense had to get creative to make up for the loss. UCF ran end-around plays four times, one of them ended being a 16-yard touchdown run by Amari Johnson. The running game struggled to find consistency, but part of that is the Navy defense not heavily respecting UCF’s passing game until late in the game.

UCF WR Amari Johnson
Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On the defensive side, Bethune being out was largely negated by a decent game from his backup Eriq Gilyard. Gilyard finished second in tackles with 11. Bryson Armstrong lived up to his billing as a tackling machine, tallying a game-high 22 tackles, including 10 solo tackles. The defensive depth, or lack thereof, played a role in the fourth quarter as the Navy run game wore the defensive front down. UCF gave up 17 points in the fourth quarter alone.

The special teams were special for the wrong reasons

The special teams unit was nothing short of a disaster. Andrew Osteen had a punt blocked and recovered for a touchdown. Daniel Obarski had an extra point blocked. That’s eight points the special teams spotted Navy(be it by they scoring or UCF not scoring), which changed the complexion of the game. Osteen also shanked a punt for only 15 yards and led to another Midshipmen touchdown. That’s fifteen total points the special teams help give Navy. Prior to halftime, UCF ran a questionable fake field goal that needed a stroke of luck when Obarski’s foot touched out of bounds with one second left on the clock, which allowed them to kick a field goal as the first half expired. While the defense was gashed by the Navy running game, special teams botched it badly.

The Navy factor

Playing against the triple option is always unpredictable. You need your front seven to be on their game with assignments, containment and tackling. Unfortunately, UCF did not have it. Their containment was routinely breached, which led to a lot of chunk yardage plays. In a triple-option offense, the quarterback runs a lot of off-tackle and the pitchman runs further outside if the quarterback is turned back in by the outside containment. The containment man also needs to keep an eye on the pitchman so they don’t get into the second level. On too many occasions, the containment man played too far inside and runs went to the second level along the outside before anyone had a chance to make a play. UCF sold fully to the run. Much like the previous times UCF has played Navy, the Midshipmen were able to go over the top with the occasional pass and create some big plays. They were able to hit one 49-yard reception, which led to points. To add to it, the tackling has been a continual problem all season.

UCF DB Divaad Wilson
Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Stat Leaders

UCF: Mikey Keene: 16/26 for 178 yards, 2 TD, 1 Int
Navy: Tai Lavatai: 2/4 for 58 yards, 0 TD, 0 Int

UCF: Johnny Richardson: 11 carries for 59 yards, 0 TD
Navy: Carlinos Acie: 11 carries for 85 yards, 0 TD

UCF: Brandon Johnson: 4 catches for 79 yards, 2 TD
Navy: Chance Warren: 1 catch for 49 yards, 0 TD

Game Notes

  • UCF has had at least one passing and one rushing touchdown for 53 straight games. This streak leads the nation.
  • UCF leads the series 2-1
  • LB Bryson Armstrong’s 22 tackles is a career-high and second in school history(23 two times)
  • Punter Andrew Osteen now has 114 career punts, good for sixth in school history(Salerno).
  • Sorry it’s not my best, but I promise not to rage block you if you are critiquing the game.