Darriel Mack Jr.

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UCF gets off to fast start at Temple, but Owls lurking at halftime

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The Temple Owls opened a big home game with a touchdown drive, but the UCF Knights are the ones smiling at halftime with a 28-21 lead in Philadelphia.

Temple quarterback Anthony Russo tossed the first of his two first-half touchdowns to Randle Jones for a 32-yard score on the opening possession of the game, but UCF answered by scoring the next 21 points on their first four offensive series. That included a 48-yard touchdown run by Adrian Killins on the first snap of one drive and a 99-yard drive that needed just six plays to go end-to-end. UCF quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. passed for and run for a touchdown in the half.

Down 21-7, Temple did get a big offensive play to get back in the end zone when Russo found Branden Mack down the left sideline for a deep pass. After separating himself from his defender, Mack dashed down the sideline for a 75-yard strike.

Temple cut into the UCF leads a little more in the last minute of the half with a Jager Gardner extending the ball over the goal line. But UCF has the touchdown lead and will get the ball to start the second half.

What’s at stake in Philadelphia is sole possession of second place in the AAC East Division. Both teams are one game behind Cincinnati in the division. Cincinnati has already defeated the Knights and won’t face Temple until the next-to-last game of the season. Both teams have one loss in conference play and need to manage to keep pace with the Bearcats. This is especially true for UCF, who needs a little more help from Cincinnati’s opponents if they are to defend their conference championship.

No. 9 UCF remains undefeated but loss of QB Milton clouds outlook moving forward

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For the second straight year, No. 9 UCF (11-0, 8-0 AAC) will enter the AAC Championship Game without a loss on their record, putting them one win away from a likely trip to a New Years Six bowl game. The Knights finished off their regular season with a clean 11-0 record after securing a 38-10 win on the road against South Florida (7-5, 3-5 AAC) on Friday. The win, the 24th straight for the program, came at a price for UCF, however, as starting quarterback McKenzie Milton suffered what appeared to be a severe leg injury in the first half that required him to be carted off the field for further medical treatment.

Coming off the bench to lead the offense for UCF in the absence of Milton was Darriel Mack Jr., but the Knights could get by with the running game and a strong defensive effort to carry the load. Greg McRae rushed for 163 yards and three touchdowns to power UCF past the Bulls. As a team, UCF rushed for 325 yards. McCrae’s third touchdown run, a 31-yard run, essentially slammed the door shut on South Florida after Charlie Strong made a puzzling decision to punt away from the USF 43-yard line on 4th & 1 with USF trailing 24-10 in the fourth quarter. Four plays later came McCrae’s long touchdown run. UCF outscored South Florida 14-0 in the fourth quarter and 21-7 after halftime.

Milton’s injury was severe enough to prevent him from returning to the game, but there was no updated on his status moving forward. However, odds are he will not be available next week for the conference championship game. As such, how UCF fares without their MVP quarterback in the near future will be scrutinized heavily as UCF is sitting in position to not only compete for a chance to play in a big bowl game, but how this potentially impacts their standing in the eyes of the College Football Playoff selection committee should a few breaks open things up for UCF down the line. But in order for that to matter, UCF has one more game to win first.

South Florida played the entire game without Blake Barnett, who was banged up himself. That led the Bulls to split the duties between Chris Oladokun and Brett Kean, but neither was able to spark the South Florida offense against a determined UCF defensive effort. Running back Johnny Ford had 16 carries for 120 yards, but that was the highlight of the offense for the Bulls. South Florida was stooped twice on fourth downs, including one at the UCF three-yard line that was followed by a 97-yard UCF touchdown drive in the first half. Getting stuffed twice on fourth down may have led Strong to decide to settle for a field goal deep in UCF territory in the second quarter when a touchdown would have been much more important.

UCF will host Memphis in the AAC Championship Game next weekend in Orlando. The game is scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff on Saturday, Dec. 1. The game will be a rematch of last year’s AAC Championship Game, won by UCF by a score of 62-55 in double overtime, and an earlier regular season meeting this year in Memphis won by UCF 31-30. A win by UCF next week at home will likely send UCF back to a New Years Six bowl, which would make the Knights the first Group of Five team to make consecutive New Years Six bowl trips in the College Football Playoff era.

South Florida will slump their way into the postseason after ending the season on a five-game losing skid. But the Bulls have enough wins to go to a bowl game, which will be determined at a later time.

UCF started game at East Carolina without McKenzie Milton

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UCF starting quarterback McKenzie Milton did not start Saturday night’s road game at East Carolina, but the reason why is anybody’s guess at this point.

Milton did have a banged-up ankle after last week’s win at Memphis, but Milton has been shown on the sideline with his helmet, seemingly ready to go in at any moment. As of this point, with East Carolina and the Knights 3-3 in the second quarter, UCF head coach Josh Heupel has not sent in one of the top players in the AAC.

Darriel Mack Jr. started the game at quarterback for UCF, and he has looked shaky at times. He completed five of his first 10 passes for 26 yards and had trouble making a handoff on one play.

We’ll see if Milton gets a chance to come on the field and lead UCF to a win, which would be UCF’s 20th straight win. Maybe Heupel is trying to get a win without putting his MVP in harm’s way?