Fu­ture of Knights: With­out Mil­ton, it’s Mack’s team now

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Palm Beach (Sunday) - - SPORTS - By Matt Murschel Or­lando Sen­tinel

No. 9 UCF earned a 38-10 road win over ri­val USF Satur­day, ex­tend­ing the na­tion’s long­est win streak to 24 games and com­plet­ing back-to-back un­de­feated reg­u­lar-sea­son runs.

The win, how­ever, was over­shad­owed by McKen­zie Mil­ton’s ma­jor knee in­jury. Mil­ton had emer­gency surgery Fri­day night in Tampa, mul­ti­ple sources told the Or­lando Sen­tinel.

Check out the top three things we learned from the Knights’ bit­ter­sweet win:

1. This is Dar­riel Mack Jr.’s team now: While UCF of­fi­cials de­clined to com­ment on the ex­tent of Mil­ton’s in­jury, it’s clear he will not play again this sea­son.

Mack stepped in to help lead the Knights to a win over the Bulls af­ter Mil­ton was hurt in the sec­ond quar­ter.

“I’m ex­tremely proud of DJ [Mack]. Just the way that he came in, the poise he played with and took care of the foot­ball,” UCF coach Josh He­u­pel said. “He missed a cou­ple of things but then re­bounded and found a way to make some plays as well.

“It’s typ­i­cal of who he is and the way he’s prac­ticed in­side our pro­gram re­ally since the East Carolina game.”

Mack guided the of­fense, which scored 21 points dur­ing the sec­ond half to clinch the win.

He fin­ished 5-of-14 pass­ing for 81 yards while adding 51 yards on the ground.

He­u­pel said he is con­fi­dent his young backup can lead the Knights against Mem­phis next week in the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence ti­tle game.

“We’ll be ready to play,” He­u­pel said. “This is a team UCF quar­ter­back Dar­riel Mack Jr., left, is the

Knights’ new of­fen­sive leader fol­low­ing starter McKen­zie Mil­ton’s leg in­jury Fri­day. game and, again, ev­ery­one in that locker room is think­ing of McKen­zie at this time, but at the same time, we’ll push for­ward and be ready to play next week.”

Mack said he’ll con­tinue to do what he’s been do­ing all sea­son long.

“Stay ready as I al­ways do,” he said. “Just hav­ing the team on my back and we’re go­ing out there and play­ing for him [Mil­ton], play­ing for the rest of our school and play­ing for the city.”

Tail­back Greg McCrae in­sists this week’s prepa­ra­tions will be just like it is ev­ery week for the Knights.

“Noth­ing changes. We go out with the same men­tal­ity, the same ef­fort and just try­ing to go 1-0 ev­ery week,” McCrae said.

2. McCrae con­tin­ues to power the run­ning game: McCrae put to­gether a ca­reer-best night against USF Satur­day, rush­ing for a team-high 181 yards and a ca­reer-high three touch­downs while spark­ing the Knights’ of­fense.

UCF fin­ished with a sea­son-high 391 yards rush­ing against the Bulls, in­clud­ing McCrae’s third 100-yard rush­ing per­for­mance this sea­son.

“A great job by the Oline. They picked up a lot of blocks. The holes were there and I made a lot of great ad­just­ments,” McCrae said. “They just pro­vided re­ally big holes for me to run through.”

He­u­pel was pleased with McCrae’s per­for­mance.

“He just con­tin­ues to play and ex­e­cute and do the lit­tle things at such a high level,” He­u­pel said.

McCrae is 105 yards away from be­com­ing the first UCF 1,000-yard rusher since Storm John­son in 2013.

3. An­other big per­for­mance by the de­fense: Af­ter giv­ing up a sea­son-high 670 yards to Tem­ple on Nov. 1, UCF’s de­fense has clamped down on the op­po­si­tion, al­low­ing just 359 yards per game against Navy, Cincin­nati and USF.

The 309 yards the Knights al­lowed against the Bulls was the low­est to­tal since giv­ing up just 272 yards dur­ing a win over Pitts­burgh on Sept. 29.

“Just a suf­fo­cat­ing per­for­mance by them in both the run game and go­ing af­ter the quar­ter­back,” He­u­pel said of the group’s achieve­ment Satur­day.

UCF man­aged four sacks Satur­day against the Bulls, push­ing its sea­son to­tal to 25. The Knights also reg­is­tered an­other take­away, ex­tend­ing a streak of at least one turnover forced dur­ing the past 30 games, dat­ing back to 2016.

“On de­fense, we al­ways say we’ve got to bring the juice,” said line­backer Nate Evans, who fin­ished with a team-high 10 tack­les in­clud­ing a tackle for loss. “I’m just happy for all of us right now.”

AILEEN PERILLA/ OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

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