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Q&A with Black and Gold Banneret on FSU quarterback McKenzie Milton

SB Nation’s UCF team site co-editor Eric Lopez breaks down former UCF QB McKenzie Milton

NCAA Football: Peach Bowl-Auburn vs Central Florida Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, Florida State got a huge boost in the transfer market when former Central Florida quarterback McKenzie Milton signed with the Seminoles.

Milton accumulated 8,683 yards and 72 touchdowns passing as well as 20 scores on the ground during his three seasons with UCF. He is a two-time AAC Offensive Player of the Year, and led the Knights to a perfect 13-0 record in 2017.

To gain some extra insight into Milton’s transfer, we sat down with Eric Lopez, a writer and co-editor for Black and Gold Banneret (our SB Nation UCF affiliate).

Here’s what he had to say on Milton’s career at UCF and what FSU should expect from the senior transfer quarterback.

Austin Cox: How high was the level of trust UCF fans and coaches had in McKenzie during his 23-game winning streak as a starter?

Eric Lopez: 100%. During that time, no UCF quarterback played at higher level in program history than Milton and his status within the program became legendary. Keep in mind UCF’s has produced quarterbacks like Daunte Culpepper and Blake Bortles who ended up playing in the NFL and yet many Knight fans would take Milton as their greatest quarterback of all-time.

AC: In Tallahassee, we have heard a lot about Milton’s intangibles, his personality, and his leadership off the field. Can you expound on that from a UCF perspective?

EL: Many of his McKenzie’s teammates have told me about how he is a leader. He is a guy that also helps other quarterbacks. The other quarterbacks on the roster were tight with Milton. That’s a big benefit in my opinion for Jordan Travis, Chuba Purdy, and others, is that he will be like a de facto coach. He will help them get better.

He is not a guy that is about himself. He wants to compete and win. He will help those around him get better in any way. I think Travis and Purdy will be better quarterbacks for it with the competition and having access to pick McKenzie’s mind.

AC: In terms of on the field, what were Milton’s biggest strengths and weaknesses as a quarterback?

EL: Prior to his injury. His biggest strength was being able to adlib on plays. Able to move out of the pocket to buy extra time to make plays with his arm and his legs. He is able to make a subtle move in the pocket to avoid the rush. He also able to make reads very quickly as he ran one of fastest offenses in the country. Very smart.

If he had a weakness, people would say his size but he tends to overcome that with his movement. His completion percentage went down in 2018 compared to 2017 as the offense under Josh Heupel depended on more deep vertical throws than under Scott Frost.

AC: How much did having a quarterback like Milton help ease the coaching transition from Scott Frost to Josh Heupel?

EL: It was huge. Heupel leaned on Milton and adapted to some of things Milton suggested to him during the transition. It made the transition from Frost to Heupel more smoother than it may have been had it been a different quarterback.

AC: How much of a factor was Dillon Gabriel’s progression in McKenzie’s decision to transfer?

EL: Big. One thing is important to say. McKenzie Milton help recruit Gabriel to come to UCF. They are both from Hawaii. They are like brothers. Milton has helped Dillon in the last 2 years almost like a de facto coach. Milton saw that UCF was Gabriel’s team now and that it would be best for him to move on as Gabriel has played at high level in his past 2 seasons as starter. There is not a bigger Dillon Gabriel fan than McKenzie Milton.

AC: Considering coach Norvell has already mentioned that Milton will be an asset as a teammate to the younger quarterbacks on Florida State’s roster, what has Gabriel said before in regards to how Milton has helped him progress as a player?

EL: Gabriel gives ton of credit to McKenzie taking him under his wing and helping him with any questions he has especially as a freshman as he went into some ups-and-downs which Milton could relate to as he went through similar growing pains in his freshman season.

AC: What were your thoughts on Milton’s farewell video?

EL: It was a great idea and move by all involved. Milton has meant a lot to the program with everything that has happened with him. It was going to be an emotional reaction when he announced he was leaving. I thought it was well-handled and classy. It shows no hard feelings by anyone. It also allowed him to explain why is he deciding to move on.

AC: When an undefeated UCF might have been a little underrated in the CFP Rankings in 2017 and 2018, what did Milton have to say about that?

EL: Milton is super competitive. You ask him. UCF is the National Champion and was the best team in 2017. Here is an example on what he said about Notre Dame. He has confidence in his ability and in his team. He will fight for his team and will bring that to FSU.

AC: Projecting to FSU, how concerned are you about Milton’s injury moving forward and his ability to recapture his level of play prior to his injury?

EL: I have concerns. I do not have to tell you the issues the Noles have had on the offensive line that has gone back to 2016 when Deondre Francois was getting beat up on a weekly basis. That’s my biggest concern- can Milton get protection? I wonder where his mobility will be compared to pre-injury. I have no questions about his IQ and arm. I worry about his body holding up if the Noles do not protect him.

AC: Milton’s scrambling and running abilities have been a huge part of his game in the past. If he is limited with his legs in 2021 how much will that alter his effectiveness in your mind?

EL: That is a great question that we all will wonder up until we see him on the field. I wrote for the site and have said on our podcast that Milton will be the best passer on the Seminoles roster. He can be effective and I think Norvell having seen him up close with Memphis in those UCF-Memphis games tells me he will be effective even if his running abilities are not at the level that it was prior to the injury.

AC: In the past few years, we have seen other transfer quarterbacks come in and immediately help turn around a program. If FSU improves this offseason around him, do you think Milton can come in and have a huge effect on the Noles’ record in 2021?

EL: Yes. I think his impact can be similar to what D’Eriq King had in Miami if Norvell and his staff can upgrade the roster, especially in the offense line. I am not saying the Seminoles will be a top-ten team. I still think that is a few years away but I think Milton can help start the process of the program moving back into the right direction and competing on the field. He will also make Travis and Purdy better quarterbacks for being in that quarterback room. They should be able to pick his brain on things.

AC: What was the biggest compliment you have heard a teammate or coach say about Milton during his time at UCF?

EL: When UCF beat Norvell and Memphis in the 2018 AAC title game, starting quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. was starting the week after Milton’s horrific injury occurred in Tampa. Mack had Milton on face time and along with his teammates made sure Milton got to experience the celebration on the field even though he could not be there in person. All his UCF teammates will be rooting for him to succeed at FSU.

I will never forget in 2016 what head coach Scott Frost said on post-game when Milton was struggling as a freshman and some media and some in the fan base were suggesting Milton should be benched. He said that Milton was the future of the program, he is a winner and will win a lot of games for this program. He was proven to be 100% correct.