It had been 310 days since UCF quarterback Mikey Keene had thrown a pass in a college football game. That pass was a December 23rd game to close out the 2021 season as UCF beat Florida in a bowl game. Keene made the most of his return to action leading UCF to a thrilling 25-21 win over then-ranked Cincinnati. When starter John Rhys Plumlee got knocked out of the game on a run towards the Bearcats sideline, UCF coach Gus Malzahn called on Keene to come off the bench.
After playing true freshman Thomas Castellanos in four games, the Knight's coach had a plan to have the more experienced Keene available for up to four games on the back end of the schedule and possibly keep a redshirt season for both. On Saturday, it was not about saving a year of eligibility. It was more about saving a season for UCF. The Knights led 10-3 when Plumlee suffered a hit on a nine-yard run and left the game late in the second quarter. After a Cincinnati punt pinning UCF back at their own three, Keene came in and handed the ball off three times before a punt led to a Bearcats field goal to make it 10-6 at the end of the half.
When Keene headed to the locker room with his teammates he came across his head coach and said "Coach, I got you." Indeed he did and then proceeded to play his best half of football as Knight, despite not taking a snap in almost a year.
Keene went 15-for-21 for 176 yards. Despite two fumbles inside Cincinnati's red zone on running plays by running backs to start the second half, the second-year Knight was never fazed or rattled. He kept making plays and hitting the receiver to move the chains as his pass catchers made big catch after big catch.
Down 13-12 with 10:33 to play, Keene led UCF on a 13 play 77-yard drive that took almost six minutes off the clock. After an incomplete pass on the second play of the drive, UCF faced third-and-seven at its own 26 and Cincinnati sensed a stop and a UCF punt and perhaps the momentum would fully shift after they had grabbed the lead. But Keene made a big throw to Javon Baker, who made a sensational grab, for 12 yards to extend the drive. He then hit Ryan O'Keefe for 10 yards on a second and 10 at the Cincinnati 40. UCF went run-heavy the rest of the drive as Isaiah Bowser scored his 11th rushing touchdown with 4:36 left to give UCF an 18-13 lead.
Cincinnati scored in 92-seconds on seven plays going 75 yards to retake the lead 21-18 with 3:04 left.
With its season on the line, could Keene lead UCF for a game winning drive? If UCF loses, they fall to 5-3, 2-2 and would likely fall out of the race in the AAC. A win and the Knights control their destiny to get to the conference title game and stay alive for a New Year's Six bowl.
A shovel pass to Ryan O'Keefe gained a yard on first down. Then Keene hit Kobe Hudson for 18 and then O'Keefe again for 26 to the Cincinnati 30. After a two-yard loss on first down, Keene found Javon Baker for another big catch for 12 yards and a first down. Two plays later, RJ Harvey ran 17 yards for the game winning score and UCF's season is very much alive.
The Knights are back in the national polls and head to Memphis for another big game before an even bigger battle at Tulane the following week if they can beat the Tigers Saturday.
It was October 16, 2021 when Mikey Keene made his just his third start as a true freshman when UCF lost 56-21 at Cincinnati. The Knights went down 35-0 and Keene got picked off twice in the game. On this night, he savored the moment as his team celebrated a big win. Keene showed his emotion and memory of last year's game as he hugged coaches and teammates after this big win. In many ways, Mikey Keene saved a season...
Nuggets: Gus Malzahn has a nice quarterback room for this season and years to come. The Knights have three signal callers with at least nine career starts in Plumlee, Keene and Timmy McClain(USF transfer sitting out) and there is the talented freshman in Castellanos...Very few expected Florida to beat Georgia and they didn't, losing 42-20. After trailing 28-3, the Gators made it a one-possession game before Georgia pulled away for the three score win. Anthony Richardson's day was good and not great. He went 18-for-37 for 271 yards and a score. But he ran for 19 yards and was sacked three times. I am not criticizing Billy Napier because he needs time to build his roster. The game shows the gap between the two and there is no guarantee the Gators will close the gap. Florida could win its final four games and finish 8-4 and then a bowl. They could also lose two or three games as well...FSU did what they needed to do. The Noles beat Georgia Tech to snap a three game skid and move to 5-3 with a big game at Miami this week. Speaking of Miami............I got nothing after that 14-12 no touchdown four overtime win...I was flat out wrong in thinking Kentucky could hang with Tennessee. The Vols dominated on offense and their defense made Kentucky QB Will Levis look like a 7th round draft pick instead of a potential top overall pick...Tennessee at Georgia this week is a play-in game in some ways. If the winner of the game in Athens wins out in the regular season, it's hard to see that team not make the playoff even with a loss in the conference title game...A Sunday surprise came when the news broke of the Big XII extending its media deal with ESPN and FOX. The deal actually sees an increase in per school payout from the current deal. Many observers projected a drop of 50% in revenue with the departure of Texas and Oklahoma. The new deal will pay the 12 teams about $31.7M per season. The expanded college football is expected to at least double what current P5 leagues are getting(just over $100M). I have said that we can expect a fight among the SEC/BIg Ten and the remaining three P5 leagues about how new playoff money will be split. I do not think it will be an equal pie. But I still think Big XII teams can expect about $15-20M per school when you add CFB playoff money and NCAA Basketball Tournament money. I also think the new commissioner, Brett Yormark, will introduce a number of new revenue generating programs to add to the pot. I expect the total payout to be around $50-55M per school. Whether the Pac 12 can beat that doesn't matter. Most observers had the Big XII out of business when the Longhorns and Sooners announced their plans to move to the SEC. Instead, the league not only is surviving but may end up third in revenue ahead of the ACC and Pac 12. Think about this, it's likely UCF will be making more on their media and conference revenue deal than FSU and Miami in the next three years...
Final note: The original name of Candy Corn was...."Chicken Feed" back in the 1880s. Candy Corn became more connected with Halloween in the 1950s. Americans consume more than 40 million pounds of Candy Corn each year.