Annapolis, Md. - UCF must have a special touch with freshman quarterbacks. There was McKenzie Milton, and then came Dillon Gabriel, and now Mikey Keene. Milton and Gabriel showed poise and accuracy not typical of freshman signal callers, and Keene should be placed in that category as well with today’s performance.
While the Knights did not come out on top versus Navy, there were many things to like about Keene’s performance. Here are Keene’s passing statistics:
16 of 26, 178 yards passing, two touchdowns, one interception.
A good first starting performance, especially with UCF only possessing the football for just over 20 minutes of the game with Navy’s triple-option attack grinding out the clock. Besides passing, Keene made other decisions to be happy about.
There are more details to attend to than passing the football. That’s actually where Keene did the most damage. Not forcing the football into coverage, checking down to receivers because Navy dropped eight defenders during passing plays, and making good overall decisions defined Keene on Saturday.
Audibiling at the line of scrimmage, throwing the football away when there was no other place to distribute the football, and taking off and gaining yardage when it presented the only scenario for a positive gain. In addition to the attributes listed above, Keene utilized each of those attributes, too. Saturday represented Keene’s first day on the job as UCF’s starting quarterback. That’s still not all he did outside of passing the football.
Keene made a decision and immediately distributed the football. No wasted time. No hesitation. That’s probably the biggest surprise. Most young signal callers wait for a receiver to come free before tossing the football in that receiver’s direction. Keene made passes before a receiver would even be looking for the football, such as Brandon Johnson’s corner route that resulted in a touchdown catch.
That corner route was a fabulous pass that left Keene’s hand before Johnson turned around to search for the football. That’s an NFL throw.
Job well done young man. Job well done.
Even when there was no place to go, or he missed a pass, Keene kept his cool. Not every play will be successful. It’s as if Keene knew there would be bumps in the road. He started red hot, but Navy decided to play coverage and give UCF more running lanes. Keene took that opportunity and did not force passes.
Instead, he kept handing the football to Johnny Richardson (11 carries for 59 yards, 5.4 average) instead of making throws against defensive looks predicated on limiting big passing plays. That’s the mark of a quarterback that’s already progressing beyond his freshman season. Here’s a great example.
With just under 14:00 minutes remaining in the game, Keene made an absolute strike to tight end Alec Holler by throwing a pass just over the linebacker but in front of the safety.
It’s as difficult a throw as a signal caller can make. Keene delivered an extremely accurate pass. One problem. Holler dropped a sure first down and it might have gone for 20 yards had he made a clean catch.
Keene’s body language stayed the same. No sulking or shaking of his head. Keene calmly looked to the sideline and waited for the next play call to be delivered. While many may not notice these moments, they do matter.
Players around Keene will notice if he’s flailing in any way, shape, or form. There was nothing to be concerned with because Keene stayed calm and moved forward. With Keene’s next-play mentality, he’s a capable signal caller that does not easily rattle. It’s quite remarkable for a true freshman quarterback.
Just one drive later, Keene proved his mental toughness yet again.
A great pass down the middle to Johnson, his favorite target on the day. This time, no receiver was open. Fortunately, Keene had time to step up in the pocket, keep his feet moving, and then fire a strike once Johnson broke free. When Johnson cleared into the middle of the field there was the football.
That’s the type of football IQ that every signal caller needs to win at the college level. As long as Keene continues to progress, he’s really going to be a good quarterback.
Much like the earlier portion of the game, Keene was really consistent with his overall technique and understanding of what the defense allowed him to do. He took quick-access throws to Ryan O’Keefe and Holler, kept the chains moving, and helped the Knights reach the red zone.
Perhaps the best part of the last drive would be Keene’s conviction with his passes. No hesitation. That’s quite unusual for a freshman. That statement will be something UCF fans get used to because Keene proved against Navy that he’s a capable quarterback when passing the football, as well as making good decisions even if that means handing off the football.
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