MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Mikey Keene passed for 219 yards and three touchdowns, and RJ Harvey rushed for 151 yards and a score to lead No. 25 UCF to a 35-28 win over Memphis on Saturday.
UCF (7-2, 4-1 AAC) handed Memphis (4-5, 2-4) its fourth consecutive loss, the Tigers’ longest losing streak since 2013.
Keene was pressed into his first start of the season after quarterback John Rhys Plumlee sustained a possible concussion in last weekend’s upset of nationally-ranked Cincinnati.
“I haven’t been playing consistently for a little bit, but nonetheless we prevailed,” Keene said. “I’ve been preparing like I was the starter, but it’s always a little bit different coming out there. We had to fight through and that’s what championship teams do.”
Keene rallied the Knights, who were held scoreless in the third quarter, by tossing two fourth-quarter touchdowns. The first was a 13-yard pass to Kobe Hudson early in the fourth quarter for a 28-21 UCF lead.
Hudson’s second TD reception came after the Knights stopped the Tigers on downs at the UCF 39 in the closing minutes of the third quarter. Keene added his third TD pass — and second of the quarter —- with 4:58 left by finding Javon Baker on a perfect strike to the left corner of the end zone for a 35-21 advantage.
“Mikey stepped in and handled himself like a champ like we thought he would,” said UCF coach Gus Malzahn.
Malzahn said Plumlee, an Ole Miss transfer, could have played, but hadn’t practiced much until late in the week.
“I just felt real strong that we needed to go with Mikey and give (Plumlee) a little more time,” Malzahn said. “It was just a gut instinct.”
Keene, who completed 22 of 28 passes, was aided by a UCF defense that ranks No. 1 nationally in red-zone defense. The Knights held Memphis scoreless on three trips inside the UCF 10-yard line in the first half.
UCF tight end Alec Holler came up with what Malzahn described as the play of the game in the closing minutes. Holler caught a short screen pass with 2:45 to go on third and 9 from the UCF 27 and made a determined run to get the first down, somersaulting at the end of play.
Quarterback Seth Henigan passed for 284 yards and a touchdown to lead Memphis, but was intercepted twice. Henigan also led the Tigers with 69 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Harvey capped UCF’s opening drive with a 22-yard touchdown run, turning a busted play into a score by reversing field and breaking a tackle before reaching the end zone. He set up another TD with a 61-yard run.