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UCF’s Gus Malzahn: Knights have ‘rallied’ around freshman QB Mikey Keene

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 9/29/2021 Jason Beede, Orlando Sentinel
Although freshman Mikey Keene was listed as the No. 2 quarterback on the UCF depth chart, he had been preparing as if he were the starter, according to coach Gus Malzahn. © Willie J. Allen Jr/Orlando Sentinel Although freshman Mikey Keene was listed as the No. 2 quarterback on the UCF depth chart, he had been preparing as if he were the starter, according to coach Gus Malzahn.

UCF practiced Sunday night with true freshman Mikey Keene serving as the starting quarterback for the first time following Dillon Gabriel’s collarbone injury, coach Gus Malzahn said Monday.

Although Keene was the No. 2 quarterback behind Gabriel, he had been preparing as if he were the starter for moments like this, Malzahn explained.

“He’s gotten almost equal reps,” Malzahn said. “Early in fall camp, early in the season, you want to give your 2′s a lot of reps and we’ve done that. That’s really beneficial now.”

At Chandler High School in Arizona, Keene led his team to back-to-back state championships while posting a 23-0 record as the starter. In 2020, Keene threw for 2,069 yards and 22 touchdowns with just two interceptions. Chandler finished ranked No. 5 overall in the country, according to MaxPreps.com.

While he won a lot in high school and has looked good in practice, Malzahn understands there will be bumps in the road as Keene continues to adjust to college football.

“The fact he’s a true freshman, there’s gonna be some learning things,” Malzahn said. “Probably be a few growing pains.”

“Everyone around him and coaches — myself included — we’ve got to raise our level to help him,” Malzahn added. “We’re confident we can do that.”

One part of helping Keene is making sure he understands UCF’s playbook. Malzahn said quarterbacks coach G.J. Kinne already is aware of what the freshman quarterback “feels comfortable with,” in large part because he already had won the No. 2 spot.

Keene didn’t miss a beat when he entered the Week 2 game vs. Bethune-Cookman, throwing a 30-yard touchdown pass to Kaedin Robinson.

“Going into these first three games, he’s one play away from playing,” Malzahn said. “So communicating with him, narrowing things down to what he feels comfortable with ... that’s what we’re going to do moving forward.”

Malzahn shared what he likes about Keene and his ability.

“He’s a very intelligent young man,” Malzahn said. “He can process things. He’s very good with protections. He’s very good with coverage recognition. I think we’re in good hands.”

Malzahn said it was “very helpful” for Keene to play some vs. Bethune-Cookman while continuing to express confidence in his new starting quarterback.

“The thing about Mikey is he’s done a very good job operating the offense at practice,” Malzahn said. “For us to have three more practices in an off-week, [we] give him a chance to just feel what it feels like. He’s still a true freshman. Our team has rallied around him. That will definitely help.”

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Jason Beede at jbeede@orlandosentinel.com or follow him on Twitter at @therealBeede.

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