Friday, November 23, 2018

Schaible: UCF's dominant performance marred by Milton's injury

Photo Credit: Julio Aguilar- Getty Images

By: Brian Schaible
Twitter: @SBNationReports

Going into this weekend, there wasn’t a more polarizing team in college football than the UCF Knights. 
While their schedule was repeatedly scrutinized, all they did was win. 
When they defeated Auburn in the Peach Bowl, fans were quick to dismiss the victory by saying the Tigers weren’t giving their all. Really? 
And when they blew out Pittsburgh earlier this year, that win was also slammed as if they beat up on another cupcake. Next Saturday, the Panthers take on the second-ranked Clemson Tigers for the ACC championship. 
When UCF took the field at Raymond James Stadium on Friday afternoon, there was a buzz in the air. A beautiful day for football in Tampa in front of the largest crowd ever in the series. 
Last year, UCF pulled out a wild 49-42 victory with a kickoff return touchdown in the closing seconds. 
The fans were certainly ready for another War on I-4. But with any war, there are casualties. 
And as the Knights headed back to Orlando, they found themselves leaving without their leader, McKenzie Milton. 
UCF won its 24th consecutive game, 38-10 over USF, but this one felt mostly bittersweet. 
It was third-and-seven, Milton ran outside the pocket and attempted to race to the sticks. USF cornerback Mazzi Wilkins went low for the tackle and collided with Milton’s knee. 
While some UCF fans may disagree, it wasn’t dirty. It was unfortunate, but it was football. 
The severity of the injury is still unknown but you knew from the moment he went down, his season was over. 
As I’m writing this story, we know he’s undergoing surgery at Tampa General Hospital. 
Wilkins tweeted after the game, “I want to send my prayers to McKenzie Milton. You are a baller and I wish you a speedy recovery.” 
Suddenly chants of “We want Bama” or even analyzing UCF’s chances (or lack thereof) to make the College Football Playoff now seem trivial. 
UCF will now take on Memphis for the chance at another championship....The American Athletic Conference Championship. 
This will also determine whether or not the Knights advance to a New Year’s Six Bowl Game. 
If UCF wins its next two games, I don’t think they will be hanging another National Championship banner. They made their point and if the playoff system ever changes is entirely out of their hands. 
However, I do think it’s time for all of college football to rally around this team. You don’t have to acknowledge them as “National Champions” to recognize their accomplishments. 
If this is the end of the winning streak, what a ride it has been.After the game, Milton’s replacement Darriel Mack talked about being called into action. 
“It was real difficult just to see him go down. Him being our guy. Very, very emotional for me,” Mack said. “I’m always around him so just seeing that it kind of hurts my heart. I’m just praying for him, hoping he’s okay.” 
How will Mack approach this week? 
“Just staying ready like I always do. Just having the team on my back. Going out there playing for him, playing for the rest of the school and playing for the city.” 
UCF Head Coach Josh Heupel on his reaction to losing his star quarterback. 
“They care about MacKenzie, like truly love him. And not just MacKenzie, they love one another. They care deeply about one another,” Heupel said. “At the same time, when he was carted off our guys flipped the switch and said we’ve got a game to play. We’ve got a job to do and let’s go do it at a high level. I’m really proud of them.” 
Running back Greg McCrae has 181 yards rushing in the Knights’ victory. He talked about trying to keep it together following McKenzie’s injury. 
“We just came together you know for him because that’s what he’d want us to do,” McCrae said. “He’d want us to play for him. D.J. did a great job coming in. Things like that unfortunately happen. He came in, stepped up and played a pivotal role in this game.”