ORLANDO - What will UCF be getting with Mikey Keene, the true freshman quarterback? Now that he’s the expected starter, per UCF Head Coach Gus Malzahn, there will be some definitive differences between Keene and quarterback Dillon Gabriel.
He’s played a little bit for the Knights, but the majority of Keene’s film comes from when he was at the high school level. Below will be a breakdown of what he does well, and areas that need attention. As for his time at UCF, there is a small sample size to consider.
Keene’s current UCF passing stats read like this: four for seven passing for 55 yards and one touchdown. He looked comfortable within the pocket and the moment did not appear too big for him. That was Bethune-Cookman, however, and it was a blowout. Against Navy, Keene will trot onto the field in the first quarter. That’s completely different. That leads to learning more about Keene from his prep playing days.
After watching several different game highlights of this young quarterback, Keene’s high school film showed promise in multiple areas. Before going into detail about Keene, the following would be a YouTube podcast as well as a traditional podcast that can be listened to in addition to this article about Keene. It's a further examination with thoughts about Keene prior to coming to UCF, as well as some thoughts about how they will translate to the college game he’s now involved with.
Deep Ball Touch
This is a category that some high school quarterbacks do well with, but rarely do it by way of different types of passes. Keene displayed the ability to loft a deep pass into the arms of a waiting wide receiver, and he proved he could throw a ‘level two’ pass, one with just a little bit of arch, but also provided enough zip to reach the intended target before being leveled by a safety.
This takes natural intelligence to know when to throw a level two pass; it also needs timing to further allow the intended target an extra step before the safety becomes involved in the play. Keene’s ability to release a pass while in rhythm with his teammate was quite frankly good for a high school player. Now he needs those same types of talents to be utilized for the Knights.
Being able to throw seam passes to the slot receiver down the middle of the field, for instance, will be a part of the type of passes that Keene needs to make. It’s difficult and risky, no question. The chance for a 20 or 30-yard gain would be the reason for the risk. Ball placement needs to be over the linebackers and right before the safeties.
All aspects of the throw will need to be considered. How well Keene looks off the safety to the side of the slot receiver, the accuracy of the pass, the timing of his footwork, and the velocity of the pass itself all come into the equation.
These types of bang-bang plays make football unique and also make it complex. Keene will need to figure out those plays or defenses will crowd the line of scrimmage and take away easy-access passes and screens. Fortunately, Keene’s ability to understand what’s taking place near him proved to be advanced for his age, and it will help him with any type of throw.
Simply put, Keene feels pressure much better than one might expect. He knew when to step inside the pocket and then cut back laterally to one side of the field, and Keene also understood how to just step up in the pocket and throw the football.
Either way, Keene’s quick feet and natural feel allowed him to make plays many other high school quarterbacks would not even comprehend at that stage, let alone know how to complete the play properly.
While Scrambling, Eyes Down the Field
From all the categories listed here, this one would be the most surprising. When a defensive lineman breaks through the line of scrimmage, it can be difficult to avoid him while also looking down the field for open targets.
Keene actually did that during his prep career. Further, he did so while moving away from pressure but keeping a balanced base for his footwork so that he could still throw the football accurately.
He’s been well coached to this point, and he’s someone that absorbed that information and put it to good use.
Keene’s quickness and change of direction skills allowed him to make plays in space, and occasionally churn out yardage by running into a defender. Now, the UCF coaching staff will not want Keene taking additional shots to any part of his body with any upcoming games. With that said, there’s an alternative.
Slide young man, slide.
Keene’s natural instincts should help him learn when to get down and out of harm’s way. He’s a really good decision maker with the football. Now let’s see how he adjusts to playing against big-time athletes in college when he decides to run the football.
There is one physical concern moving forward with Keene. It’s one many should expect with a college freshman.
Sheer Arm Strength
Keene should be considered more of a rhythm passer than a power passer like Buffalo Bills signal caller Josh Allen. What Keene provides would be exceptional timing and anticipation.
Can he absolutely rip it to the sidelines? Possibly. Just have not seen him unleash an all-out line drive pass during a deep out pattern. That’s the particular throw that quarterbacks need to be measured by due to its distance and need to be on a line. The need for that is rare to begin with, and it’s not a play that UCF or many other college programs use much. It’s a high risk pass.
For now, it’s likely best to coniser Keene’s arm strength as moderate. He’s still getting stronger. As a freshman in college, his arm strength will likely improve with even better technique and the ability to lift weights within UCF’s strength and conditioning program.
He’s just not very big. Much like Gabriel, Keene’s frame resembles a shortstop in baseball or point guard in basketball. That’s not necessarily a good thing when it comes to taking hits, so UCF will need to monitor how often Keene operates read-option plays or any other type of running play.
Reading Zone Coverages
As for Keene’s ability to read zone coverages, he seemed to be in sync with what was happening at the high school level, but this is college football. Few teams operate a complex defensive scheme at the high school level because it’s just not feasible with the majority of high school players. Now at UCF, Keene must adjust because college defenses will present a completely new set of challenges.
Now that teams such as Navy know that he’s going to be the man behind center, one can be assured that every type of unusual zone defense will be explored by the Midshipmen defensive coaching staff as a potential option to use against the Knights.
The objective will be to create confusion and eventually turnovers. It’s easier to throw against zone when a quarterback is experienced. When he’s learning on the job like Keene, a college quarterback will see plenty of zone coverage in an attempt to get some easy interceptions. Time will tell if this is an area that Keene avoids or not.
Will Keene be a first-time starter that throws for 300 yards against Navy? Likely not. Will he be able to lead UCF to victory? That’s definitely possible. Keep in mind that the UCF coaching staff really likes what this young man can do, and it’s why he earned the No. 2 quarterback position during fall camp.
There will be more information about Keene and him leading the Knights tomorrow, as he will be aided by another quarterback on the UCF roster. A deeper look at how UCF handles a one-two punch with the quarterback position will be the discussion piece for The Daily Night podcast on Thursday, and it will be inside the lead story for Inside The Knights on Thursday morning.
For UCF insights, college football news, and recruiting information go to: The Daily Knight podcast; it will be found on iTunes and Spotify. For Twitter, @fbscout_florida and @UCF_FanNation, as well as my YouTube Channel and Instagram page. Like and Subscribe!