Sophomore quarterback Dillon Gabriel said he only saw redshirt senior quarterback McKenzie Milton once prior to spending the quarantine period apart.
When the two quarterbacks reunited months later, Gabriel immediately noticed a change in his teammate’s appearance.
“He was a whole different dude,” Gabriel said. “I mean, you know, he started to get some traps, started to get some muscles on him and started to look back like the old K.Z. So, I know it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”
With no spring season, social distancing and overall less preparation time, the UCF offense has had to put their game-face on and make some changes faster than usual.
What happened in 2019?
Last season, the Knights offense put up a total of 564 points on the scoreboard and averaged 43.38 points per game, according to ucfknights.com. They finished the season with a 10-3 record and undefeated at the Bounce House.
The Knights gained 3,249 rushing yards resulting in 34 touchdowns in 2019, according to ucfknights.com. Some of the players responsible are Otis Anderson, Adrian Killins Jr. and Bentavious Thompson.
Anderson is a senior running back and wide receiver from Jacksonville, Florida. As stated on ucfknights.com, he played in all 13 games, gained 740 yards and scored five touchdowns by the end of the season. He is 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs 174 pounds.
Killins Jr. is a running back from Daytona Beach, Florida. He declared for the NFL 2020 Draft following his senior season in 2019 and was signed as a free agent by the Philadelphia Eagles. During his last season as a Knight, he played in 12 games, gained 647 yards and scored seven touchdowns according to UCF Athletics.
Thompson, a redshirt-sophomore running back from Miami, Florida, played all 13 games last season. According to ucfknights.com, He had 623 rushing yards and eight touchdowns during that time.
Gabe Davis, Tre Nixon and Marlon Williams led the UCF football receiving game, according to ESPN. Davis, who declared for the NFL 2020 Draft and was selected in the fourth round by the Buffalo Bills, led the team with 1,241 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns according to UCF Athletics.
Nixon, a redshirt junior wide receiver out of Viera, Florida, had 830 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, according to UCF Athletics. He weighs 180 pounds and is 6 feet 2 inches tall.
According to UCF Athletics, Williams is a junior from Mobile, Alabama and scored six touchdowns with 717 receiving yards in the 2019 season.
The rushing and receiving numbers put on the board were made possible by the quarterback staff. Gabriel led the quarterbacks with 3,653 passing yards and 29 touchdowns according to UCF Athletics. Darriel Mack Jr., a redshirt junior from Norfolk, Virginia, had 219 passing yards and four touchdowns as the backup quarterback according to UCF Athletics.
The new faces of offense
New coaches and players bring new talent and faces to the Black and Gold offense. In January 2020, UCF football announced via twitter the new coaches and new roles coming to its offensive unit.
Alex Golesh was named co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach. Golesh spent four seasons as recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach for Iowa State University prior to coming to UCF, according to UCF football's coaching staff roster.
Anthony Tucker is a familiar face on the coaching staff. He came to UCF December of 2017 as the running backs coach. According to ucfknights.com, Tucker became the passing game coordinator during the summer of 2019, and in January 2020 he was promoted to co-offensive coordinator.
The quarterbacks got a new coach in January 2020 when Joey Halzle was promoted from offensive quality control assistant. Halzle joined the UCF coaching staff before the 2019 season, according to ucfknights.com.
After UCF football officially announced the 2020 recruiting class, the offensive unit grew deeper. More players joined the 2020 recruits as time went on and the original 25 signed players, announced by Heupel in February, turned into a total of 39 new players, according to ucfknights.com.
Eighteen of the 39-member recruiting class belong to the offensive unit, according to the ucfknights.com.
New players on the roster means the competition for playing time is growing, the coaching staff has more options and player development increases.
“I’ve been really pleased with the young talent we have in that room,” Tucker said. “I think, you know, the future looks bright. The future might be now.”
Heupel said in a press conference Monday that this season’s offensive line is looking to have multiple guys in different positions.
“I do think we’ve developed a lot of depth and the flexibility to have moving parts in our front five guys,” Heupel said.
In a Sept. 1 press conference, Heupel said that 312-pound redshirt junior Cole Schneider, who is on the watchlist for the Outland Trophy that goes to college football’s best interior offensive lineman, has gotten work at the center position. He also said 335-pound redshirt junior Samuel Jackson can play at any position on the line.
Schneider and Jackson spearhead a group of returning offensive linemen that also include redshirt junior Parker Boudreaux, redshirt sophomore Edward Collins, senior Brett Bell, sophomore Lokahi Pauole and Josh McMullen returns after being redshirted last season, making him a redshirt senior.
What to look out for in 2020
As the season begins in less than a week, Gabriel is confident in the team’s ability to perform well and correct the mistakes made last year.
“I just feel really good about the way we play together, you know, feeling out the receivers, just being able to go out there with the squad you’ve played with, it feels a lot different.” Gabriel said.
While practicing, players split into multiple teams that allow different people to practice positions they aren’t comfortable with, said. The goal is to maintain the health of each individual, but if at any moment, a player opts out of the season or contracts COVID-19, the team needs to be able to adjust.
With a shorter season, the Knights are scheduled to play nine games starting with Georgia Tech on Sep. 19 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Milton’s career was thought to be over when his right leg was seriously injured, the first goal was make sure he could at least keep his leg, head coach Josh Heupel said. He said that Milton “continues to defy the odds” as he gets through rehab and makes his way back to the field. As the season progresses, the only thing the Knights can do is enjoy each day and control what they can control, Heupel said.
“The strength that it takes to navigate a rehab like he’s been going through, that’s something I think the players inside of our program see and recognize,” Heupel said. “Through their ups and downs during the course of a day, a week, it’s something they can point to, to stay the course.”