Knights turn to backup Timmy McClain
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: The Knights enter a highly contested game that results in an awful injury. To our quarterback. That occurs on a running play. He’s wearing the number “10” on his chest.
On Saturday night, in a hard-fought contest against the Broncos from Boise State, UCF walked away with an 18-16 win in Idaho, but it came with some heavy casualties as starting quarterback John Rhys Plumlee took a nasty hit late in the fourth quarter, on the game-winning drive for the Knights. “JRP” kept the ball himself and was attempting to slide near the sideline when his leg was caught under him and bent in an awkward position. Plus, he was hit in the head by a defender in what seemed to be a clear targeting penalty that was never called. He was able to finish the drive but was very clearly in pain and was helped off the field after the game ended.
While we all hope that the injuries he sustained are superficial and that JRP is back on his feet as quickly as possible, we have to remember, however unfortunately, that we’ve been here before.
2018. Tampa, Florida. Raymond James Stadium. The War on I-4. UCF starting quarterback, McKenzie Milton takes off and goes down. The resulting tackle leaves KZ’s knee injured and effectively ends his UCF playing career. No need to elaborate further, as we all know the rest of the story. But keep in mind that the injury happened at a time when spirits were high and UCF still had a lot to play for in the season. The UCF-South Florida rivalry hung in the balance. A conference championship game was coming up. Another chance to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game was within reach. UCF looked to its backup quarterback to fill the shoes of the injured starter.
A (mostly) untested Darriel Mack Jr. led the Knights through a conference championship and into the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl that year. Nobody realistically expected him to have to lead the team, but in the game of football, anything can happen, as we saw on Saturday night.
So, UCF will now look to Timmy McClain, the South Florida transfer (yes, he’s a former “cow”) and redshirt sophomore, to lead the team while JRP heals. Ironically enough, in a season that will have UCF facing a former quarterback of their own, in Oklahoma starting quarterback, Dillion Gabriel, later this season, UCF has faced Timmy in the past, back when he wore green and gold. As a true freshman, in Orlando, McClain showed flashes of greatness in a tough 17-13 win for UCF in Orlando, Head Coach Gus Malzahn’s first season as UCF Head Coach. Yes, Gus has coached AGAINST Timmy in the past. We’ve come full circle. In that contest, Timmy willed the 2-10 Bulls to a close game against the Knights, with not much help from his teammates around him, I might add. I was on hand to witness that game and Timmy’s performance firsthand. Many Knights’ fans has positive things to say about him at the time, and lamented the fact that we may have to play him in the future! Check out some highlights from that game:
This is also eerily similar to a quarterback scenario that UCF found itself facing back in 2021 after then-UCF starting QB Dillon Gabriel went down late in the 4th quarter of a tough game on the road against Louisville. Gabriel suffered a fractured collarbone which ended his season in only the third game of the 2021 season (No, I won’t ask if this sounds familiar again, don’t worry — I think you get the point). Gabriel later transferred to Oklahoma (via UCLA first — it’s a long story, don’t ask). His injury was highly unexpected (as most injuries are) and Gus and the Knights were forced to turn to true freshman backup, Mikey Keene, to pick up the pieces and move forward. The backup turned starter was able to do just that, leading the team all the way to victories over TIMMY (playing for the Bulls — stop me if your head is spinning) -AND- a Gasparilla Bowl victory over the Florida Gators.
Former UCF Head Coach George O’Leary used to say that the next quarterback is only “an ankle away” from needing to play. Ankle, knee, it doesn’t matter, as this is where we’re at. So, what can we expect from Timmy? Well, that remains to be seen, however, he possesses many attributes that can help the Knights pick right up where they left off in Boise. Unlike, some of our prior backups who have been called upon to lead us, Timmy has substantial starting experience. In a Sunday evening press conference, Offensive Coordinator Darrin Hinshaw talked about Timmy’s ability at ad-lib and make plays out of nothing. Hinshaw mentioned that he is an accurate downfield passer, something Gus echoed on Monday. While some may not call him a true “dual-threat” quarterback, don’t be fooled. Timmy can and will hurt you with his legs if given the chance. He has a powerful arm and can sling the rock too. Oh, and did I mention that he’ll also have receivers like Baker, Hudson, and Townsend around him? How about a stacked running back room, too? All tools that Timmy will no doubt rely on in the coming week(s).
I expect Malzahn and Hinshaw to have Timmy and the UCF offense ready to roll when the team takes the field on Saturday to host Villanova. Hinshaw has been working with all the quarterbacks this offseason to learn the offense and hone their skills. I feel better knowing that we have Hinshaw (a former UCF quarterback, himself) leading Timmy and the offense. He’s a “hands-on,” no-nonsense OC, who expects his players to execute.
Don’t expect a lot of razzle-dazzle from the quarterback position this week. So nobody panic this Saturday. I say this, of course, knowing fully well that I am the biggest panic-er of us all. As the saying goes, “Do as I say, not as a I do!” I fully expect the Knights to rely on a HEAVY dose of running the ball against an FCS opponent. Hinshaw and the offense will use this game as a tune-up and to get Timmy in sync with the offense with valuable reps before going on the road to open Big 12 play against Kansas State. They will save the playbook for them. A vanilla offense is on the menu for Saturday’s game!
But regardless, I have faith in Timmy and you should too. He transferred to UCF to play high-level football and wanted to win the starting job. In short, Timmy came here to win. I have zero doubts that he will step up, big time, and fully embrace this opportunity to showcase his talents. As they say, “Next man up.” The team is still loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and we have a ton left to play for. Let’s go get it.
Coach Malzahn provided an update Monday morning confirming what many expected — that JRP will be out for at least next week, likely more. He does expect him to return during the season, which is great news, but is currently unsure of a timeline at this point. McClain will take the starting role in the meantime and we’ll all wait and hope for quick recovery for John Rhys Plumlee.