ORLANDO - As the UCF Football team prepares for Navy this next Saturday, Monday’s press conference with Head Coach Gus Malzahn provided injury news, as well as wide receiver Ryan O’Keefe providing praise about new starting quarterback Mikey Keene, and linebacker Bryson Armstrong discussing what it’s like to prepare for Navy, amongst several topics.
Starting with Coach Malzahn, perhaps the most important data point from the entire press conference would be him mentioning that starting center Matthew Lee practiced Sunday. Losing a center to injury can be difficult no matter when it happens. Losing a center and then the starting quarterback is lost to injury and the next signal caller will be a freshman, that’s an entirely different level of concern.
Assuming Lee can play against the Midshipmen, he will be an extra layer of protection for Keene because he can set protections and aid the young quarterback with what he’s seeing from Navy’s fronts, shifts, and overall defensive looks prior to the snap, as well as between each offensive series on the sideline.
As for O’Keefe, he certainly praised Keene and his overall understanding of the offense, as well as his ability to make all the throws. From a team perspective, O’Keefe also made it clear what it meant to start American Athletic Conference play.
As for Bryson Armstrong, he played against an option attack similar to Navy each day in practice while he was a player for Kennesaw State. He discussed what it’s like to battle against cut blocks, something that’s common when faced with a triple-option offensive attack like Navy. He also mentioned the importance of conference play moving forward:
**To reiterate Coach Malzahn’s relief, which was obvious based on his body language, it’s a very important factor to see Lee come back into the lineup. He’s not only an outstanding football player, he’s also a player at one of the most critical positions on the football field; that’s highlighted more with a true freshman catching his snaps this next Saturday.
**Continuing with commentary regarding Keene, O’Keefe made it extremely clear that he has the utmost respect for Keene’s ability to not only handle the offense, but handle each type of throw.
That’s quite frankly shocking.
Most young quarterbacks need refinement with at least one of short passes, intermediate passes or deep passes. Of special note, O’Keefe lit up when discussing how Keene could throw the football down the field quite well.
**Going back to Coach Malzahn, he really heaped praise towards Navy Head Football Coach Ken Niumatalolo. Considering Coach Malzahn’s history as a play caller and someone that utilizes various forms of option football himself, the run-pass option (RPO) in particular, it was not surprising to hear Coach Malzahn mention that he’s spoken with Coach Niumatalolo multiple times in the past. College coaches often call one another to learn about schemes, plays and overall concepts.
**Coach Malzahn commented about the importance of properly preparing for Navy’s option attack, and that started with the scout team offense preparing the defense.
**The one really concerning point that Coach Malzahn mentioned would be his “Week to week” comment, made multiple times, regarding every injured player not named Lee. Sometimes college coaches are coy about injury news to hold an advantage. Fair enough. It’s just that UCF had a plethora of injuries, and if all or any number of the injured Knights miss Navy (or more than one game) it will be difficult to play at a high level.
Losing players such as running back Isaiah Bowser and/or wide receiver Jaylon Robinson and/or defensive tackle Ricky Barber would be bad enough, but the injury list is simply quite extensive beyond those three players.
Let us all hope that Coach Malzahn just wants to keep the injury news to himself and the UCF Football team to prevent Navy’s coaching staff from knowing what’s coming next.
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