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Mikey Keene Starts Today. What Is He Up Against?

The freshman QB makes his first start against Navy

NCAA Football: Central Florida Spring Game
Mikey Keene during UCF’s Spring Game
Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

The Mikey Keene Era begins today. How long it will last depends on a number of factors, including when Dillon Gabriel returns from his clavicle injury. But it pays to look at the young freshman from Chandler, Arizona through what he’s done so far, and what freshman QBs have done for the UCF Knights in their first starts.

First, about Mikey:

The Mikey Keene File

Check out this breakdown of Mikey from our old friend Joe Broback:

  • He’s 5-11, 180 pounds, but resembles a McKenzie Milton clone, as you can see above. He is mobile, throws well on the run and is DEADLY accurate.
  • Graduated from Chandler High School in Chandler, Arizona, just a few miles southeast of downtown Phoenix and just south of Tempe.
  • His high school produced Brett Hundley, who went to UCLA and played for the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers, and Bryce Perkins, who set a new school record at Virginia for total offense in 2018 and led the Cavs to the ACC Championship Game in 2019. Perkins is now with the L.A. Rams.
  • In high school, he went 23-0 as a starter over his final two seasons. He led Chandler to a 13-0 record and a state title as a junior in 2019, and then they went 10-0 in 2020 in a COVID-adjusted year.
  • Former UCF (now Tennessee) QB coach Joey Halzle recruited him to UCF, and he elected to stay following Josh Heupel’s move to Knoxville and Gus Malzahn’s hiring.
  • Against Bethune-Cookman, in his first college action, Keene went 4/7 for 55 yards and this dime of a TD pass to Kaedin Robinson on 4th down:

We might see a fair amount of Joey Gatewood in run packages, but all indicatins are that this will be Keene’s show today.

What have true freshman UCF QBs done in their first starts?

It’s been a bit of a mixed bag, but we can go back into history and see some uneven but encouraging results:

Dillon Gabriel

7/19, 245 yards, 2 TDs in a 48-14 win at FAU in 2019

Dillon clearly looked nervous in his first start, but the rushing attack picked him up and got him through for a key road win.

McKenzie Milton

21/36, 260 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 6 fumbles (3 lost) in a 30-24 2OT loss to Maryland in 2016

Milton took the reins from Justin Holman, and in his first game, you could clearly see the wild horse-level talent he possessed. The six fumblers were an obvious problem, but he corrected that in a hurry. It was a classic case of a young, talented player sometimes trying to do too much. It worked out in the end, though.

Jeff Godfrey

15/24, 130 yards, 13 carries, 44 rushing yards in a 24-10 win at Buffalo in 2010

Godfrey captained the offense nicely after taking over for Rob Calabrese, who was largely ineffective in the Knights’ first two games and gave way to Godfrey off the bench in each of them. The freshman opened up a brand new dimension for Charlie Taaffe’s offense, and he would not relent the starting job the rest of the year, leading the Knights to an 11-3 mark, the Conference USA title, and their first-ever bowl win over Georgia in the Liberty Bowl.

A couple others to note:

  • Steven Moffett: 7/18, 46 yards, 1 INT in a 19-13 loss at Eastern Michigan in 2003
  • Daunte Culpepper: 254 yards passing in a 40-32 victory over FCS #5 Eastern Kentucky

So what should we expect?

Hard to say. Freshmen are freshman. But what we should do is revel in the good things, support through the bad (and there will be bad), and trust the process.

This is where I thank goodness for Gus Malzahn. When you’re a high school coach, you learn to do what you can with what you have. You can’t recruit better players — You can only work with the players who show up for try-outs. So you adjust your system to them and go play.

That applies here. Malzahn and his staff have had two weeks to prepare a game plan for Keene that he is comfortable with and can execute within the bounds of his current envelope. That alone gives UCF as good a chance to win today as they could have otherwise.