With Dillon Gabriel's Injury, Knights Move Forward at Quarterback

Who’s the next starting quarterback for UCF? The Knights are now in a transition phase at the all-important quarterback position.
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ORLANDO - With a starting quarterback injury there are always big questions about the next man to step behind center. That’s no different for UCF Football. Head Coach Gus Malzahn and his staff must make some tough decisions moving forward.

No team will just replace quarterback Dillon Gabriel. He's a big-time player. The Hawaiian signal caller posted the following to his Instagram account:

Coach Malzahn will likely choose between two quarterbacks for the starting job. Inside The Knights takes a look at each of these two young men, but keep in mind there's no dead set plan of action.

Moving forward, the question will be if Coach Malzahn and Co-Offensive Coordinator/Quarterback Coach GJ Kinne feel comfortable with one specific signal caller taking the snaps, or if a two-quarterback system could be utilized? We will come back to that question a little later. First, time to look at each player.

The No. 2 quarterback coming out of fall camp would be a true freshman. With UCF’s history of freshman quarterbacks, perhaps there’s another transition to a freshman quarterback in the works.

Mikey Keene, UCF

Mikey Keene, Quarterback, UCF

Mikey Keene

Vitals: 5’11”, 180 pounds

Hometown: Chandler (Ariz) High School

Class: Freshman

Keene is a mobile quarterback that often moves his team down the field by way of moving in and out of the pocket. His ability to escape pressure and create more time to find a receiver is one of his biggest strengths. If one would attempt to define Keene’s game based on past UCF signal callers, there’s a recent player that comes to mind.

That player would be McKenzie Milton. During his time at UCF, few college quarterbacks found more ways to create passing lanes and extend plays than Milton. His dynamic ability may not be copied by any one player, although Keene does find nifty ways to get the football to an intended target. Keene played during the Bethune-Cookman game.

Keene went four of seven for 55 yards and one touchdown towards the end of the 63-14 blowout of the Wildcats. More importantly, Keene looked very comfortable for a true freshman.

The other likely option is a player with slightly more experience, but a different playing style.

Joey Gatewood, Quarterback, UCF

Joey Gatewood, Quarterback, UCF

Joey Gatewood

Vitals: 6’5, 221 pounds

Hometown: Jacksonville (Fla.) Bartram Trail - Auburn/Kentucky

Class: Junior

If you want a true dual-threat quarterback behind center, Gatewood provides an excellent option. He played against Bethune-Cookman and against Louisville. Both times his physical ability was utilized to run the football, and for good reason.

Built with the look of an NFL wide receiver or flex tight end, Gatewood is a physical specimen that can run over or around a defensive player even with his exceptional size. More importantly, Gatewood’s penchant for contact makes him a threat to run the football in a way most signal callers would not accept.

Gatewood will happily tote the football during a quarterback lead draw, trap, or isolation running play. There are other examples of power running plays Gatewood will do well with as well, but the key point is that Gatewood will pound a defense between the tackles much the same way a 225 pound running back would. He’s a load for a linebacker to bring down or defensive lineman to bring down.

That physical style of play opens opportunities for other players to make big plays in the running game and the passing game. This is why Gatewood is the ideal starter, assuming he’s ready for that role.

Here’s The Daily Knight podcast defining Keene and Gatewood, plus what’s needed from each player if they are going to make it happen for the Knights. YouTube video and traditional podcast can be found here:

If Gatewood continues to progress as a passer and makes good post-snap reads, he is the likely starter. Because there’s no evidence that Gatewood is truly ready for that role, time will tell. That’s the one area that needs to be seen before Coach Malzahn and his staff go all-in with Gatewood as the starter. There is one more possible scenario, as mentioned towards the beginning of this article.

Adapting to Each Quarterback, and Perhaps a Two-Quarterback System

Many teams adapt to situational football. That’s true even at quarterback. Can the Knights find a way, at least for the next game or two, to play Keene and Gatewood?

This scenario would allow the entire UCF offensive coaching staff to monitor each player during live action. It’s intriguing. How well these two inexperienced quarterbacks make the transition to being comfortable as a starting quarterback must first be evaluated during practice, but games will be the ultimate barometer for naming a long-term starting signal caller.

Final Thoughts

Inside The Knights will continue to monitor the quarterback situation, as well as how it impacts the other positions for the Knights. Remember, there were several key injuries from the Louisville game.

How long a player like Jaylon Robinson is out or plays with an injury impacts quarterback play. Robinson missed part of the Louisville game with an undisclosed injury. His talent will be missed if he must sit out. Remember this play?

When a wide receiver can make a catch like that, on national television, on fourth down, his presence on the field will most definitely impact the next quarterback(s) behind center.

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!

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