ORLANDO, Fla. – This is UCF vs. Maryland round two, and oh, how far they have come! When these two teams met in 2016 both were fledgling programs in transition – transitioning coaching staffs, schemes, recruit demographics and body types.
McKenzie Milton started under center for the first time in his collegiate career, fumbling the ball six times but keeping UCF competitive in a 30-24 overtime loss. He flashed promise and athleticism, but clearly had a ton of growing to do. It was, after all, an emergency decision to burn his redshirt in replacing the injured Justin Holman.
His stat line in that brutal loss went for three lost fumbles, completed 21-of-36 passes for two touchdowns and an interception, which by all means a decent performance, but one marred by a fair amount of mistakes from inexperience. He did lose three fumbles, but it could have been worse; McKenzie was actually credited for fumbling six times, UCF just fell on half of them.
“Was it six fumbles? Sweet, fancy Moses,” recalled Coach Frost.
“We watched the game from last year a bunch of times. I think overall as a team we played pretty well – well enough to win. We made too many mistakes and it cost us the ball game. We had fumbles on exchanges, we had tipped ball interceptions, McKenzie threw one backwards over his head for a fifteen-yard loss or something.”
This year McKenzie enters the game still in the afterglow of his last performance, a four-touchdown torching of FIU that stuck him with AAC Offensive Player of the Week for College Football’s opening weekend. He has a year of experience under his belt, countless tools around him and a better grasp on the playbook.
It would appear to be the perfect setup to take the sting from the raw wound of a tough-fought overtime loss. It would appear to be a path to redemption, especially with the consideration that Maryland will themselves be starting a true-freshman quarterback after their established starter went down with an early-season injury.
Poetic, no? Not to McKenzie. He’s stepped away from the macro view of his career for a scoped down, single game mentality.
“You can’t ever erase a loss, it was last year so I’m not really too worried about it,” said Milton “I’ve just got to take it one game at a time, so I’m not really dwelling on last year, I’m not looking at it like payback, I just want to be 1-0 at the end of this week.”
A season removed from the game, Milton’s growth parallels the transformation both teams have undergone.
“I think he’s kind of indicative of both teams right now,” UCF Head Coach Scott Frost said this week. “He’s a lot better player than he was when these two teams first squared off last year, but I think both teams as a whole are better than they were when UCF played Maryland last year. I expect a great competition and a whale of a game.”
UCF and Maryland are now both well along in their transitory phases, garnering attention on the national stage – an easy feat when you rank out as the NCAA’s number one and two scoring offenses.
Maryland is 2-0 and coming off a well-placed bye week, UCF is eager to truly begin the season after circumstance and will have fresh legs all around. Expect these evenly matched up-and-comers to put on a show on Saturday, but this time with established identities.