McKenzie Milton didn’t finish the third quarter of Saturday’s game against Temple.
But it wasn’t because of an injury he suffered or because he got benched. The sophomore helped Central Florida build a comfortable lead so the Knights could insert freshman quarterback Noah Vedral into the game.
Milton led the Knights, who are ranked No. 14 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, to a 45-19 victory against Temple (5-6, 3-4 American Athletic Conference) at Lincoln Financial Field.
“Milton’s a terrific player,” redshirt-senior defensive lineman Sharif Finch said. “And he’s very quick. He’s faster than people would think. He’s very fast and he’s a great decision maker. So give him all of the credit in the world. He’s one of the best in the conference and he showed it here today.”
Last season when Temple played Central Florida, Milton tucked the ball to run more than he did on Saturday and played timidly, sophomore defensive back Linwood Crump said. Milton finished the contest last season completing 13-of-22 passes for 210 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in Temple’s 26-25 victory.
Since last season, Milton’s pocket awareness has improved.
Crump said some of his teammates on the sideline talked about how Milton read Temple’s defensive fronts. Milton extended plays with his feet several times when the pocket collapsed and made the correct reads against Temple’s secondary.
Midway through the second quarter, Temple had an opportunity to end Central Florida’s drive on third-and-13. The Owls had Central Florida’s receivers covered.
Instead of forcing a throw, Milton escaped for 15-yards up the middle to set up first-and-goal. He dumped a pass to freshman wide receiver Otis Anderson on the next play for a 9-yard touchdown, which gave Central Florida a double-digit lead.
“When [Milton] sees green grass, he’s able to take off and he got the first down on that one,” defensive coordinator Taver Johnson said. “It’s just a technique thing and the fundamental thing of filling those lanes.”
Milton finished the game completing 16-of-23 passes for 208 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed the ball for 23 yards and a touchdown on six attempts.
During his weekly press conference on Tuesday, coach Geoff Collins talked about how Temple has previously struggled with dual-threat quarterbacks.
Geoff Collins' press conference following Temple's 45-19 loss to Central Florida. https://t.co/zIcJsrBwWf
— Temple News Sports (@TTN_Sports) November 18, 2017
University of Notre Dame junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush ran for 106 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries in his team’s 49-16 win against Temple on Sept. 2. South Florida senior quarterback Quinton Flowers rushed for 59 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries in the Bulls’ 43-7 victory against Temple on Sept. 21.
Johnson said Temple used a spy against Milton, but the Owls also mixed in other packages throughout the game.
The Knights’ offense also surprised Temple, Finch said.
Central Florida ran a read-option play where Milton faked a handoff to Anderson and freshman wideout Marlon Williams went out for a pass. Then Milton rolled to the left and hit Williams for an 8-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
“His pocket presence is what makes him and allows him to play really well on his feet because he’ll feel the pressure up the middle and just run outside,” said redshirt-senior defensive lineman Jullian Taylor, who had a game-high 10 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. “He’ll see the middle wide open and just run up the middle and get a first down himself.”
Temple needs to beat Tulsa next week in Oklahoma to gain bowl eligibility. The team has one more dual-threat quarterback in its way.
Golden Hurricane sophomore quarterback Chad President is third on his team in rushing yards with 394 and has nine rushing touchdowns. He also has two games this season where he’s rushed for 130 yards or more.
“It’ll mean the world to us, getting that extra game and win a bowl game,” Finch said. “We haven’t won a bowl game the last three years. We won the championship but didn’t win the bowl game, so we still have a lot to play for.”