Analysis: UCF faces questions at quarterback after John Rhys Plumlee’s injury

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The injury to quarterback John Rhys Plumlee in last week’s Boise State victory has forced UCF to turn to backup Timmy McClain for the next several games.

The redshirt sophomore is no stranger to the spotlight, appearing as a true freshman in 12 games (9 starts) for USF. This will be his first start since he faced UCF in the season finale on Nov. 26, 2021, at the Bounce House.

McClain entered the transfer portal a few weeks into fall camp last year before returning home and playing for the Knights.

For the 6-foot-1, 195-pound lefty, the focus over the past 13 months has been on becoming a well-rounded quarterback.

“In his past, he’s add-libbed a lot and did that when he first arrived in the spring,” said offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw. “He’s done a very good job in fall camp of grinding through the details of playing quarterback.

“Where he was in the spring, he wasn’t ready. He just wasn’t. He has worked all summer and all fall to put himself in a position where the off-the-field stuff that he’s been doing and his attention to detail has gotten much better.”

Added coach Gus Malzahn: “He started his freshman year at another school and has that experience too; it won’t be a shock to the system. I’m confident that he’ll play at a high level.”

McClain appeared late in UCF’s 56-6 win over Kent State on Aug. 31, replacing Plumlee in the fourth quarter. He led the Knights to back-to-back touchdown drives, finishing 3 of 5 for 53 passing yards while adding 22 rushing yards on two carries.

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What can you expect from McClain?

A dual-threat, McClain has always utilized his arm and an elusiveness with his legs.

He completed 55% (145 of 262) of his passes for 1,888 yards with 5 touchdowns and 8 interceptions his freshman season at USF. Most of those were intermediary passes (0-20 yards), where he completed 63% (98 of 155) for 1,272 passing yards with 3 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.

McClain rushed for 239 yards with 4 touchdowns on 123 carries with most of those yards coming on scrambles. He was pressured 137 times and sacked 23 times, per Pro Football Focus.

“He is a very accurate quarterback down the field,” Hinshaw said. “He has sat in the pocket and done a very good job of going through his progressions and has improved tremendously from January until now in understanding where to go with the football.”

Linebacker Walter Yates III, who faced McClain during spring and fall camps, recalled his performance in one scrimmage.

“He just showed out,” said Yates. “It’s how he can stretch out plays, so you have to go 11 on 11 out there. Tim’s got a little sauce to him. He’s got a little flavor.”

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How will the team rally around McClain?

Perhaps the most significant adjustment could come in the huddle, where McClain must assume a more prominent leadership role.

Hinshaw doesn’t believe there should be any issues regarding his quarterback finding his voice.

“I’ve had some quiet quarterbacks and some very vocal quarterbacks; the bottom line is you have got to lead first by example and how you play,” said Hinshaw. “Then you have got to be able to communicate with your offensive line and your teammates about what we have to do offensively and then again with the situational football that we have that happens during the game.”

“It’s a great opportunity for Timmy,” added Malzahn.

Team chemistry shouldn’t be an issue even with a change at quarterback, according to 5th-year senior offensive lineman Lokahi Pauole.

“The six captains will lead the team and make sure that no matter what happens and what situations we’re in, that we stay through it and we stay the course,” said Pauole. “We’re still a championship team, whether it’s John Rhys or Timmy in the backfield.”

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Does UCF change its offense for McClain?

UCF leads the nation in total offense (626 yards) and rushing offense (323 yards) and is 27th in pass offense (303 yards) through the first two games under Plumlee’s guidance.

A change at quarterback, however, doesn’t necessarily mean the Knights will overhaul or limit what they’ll do offensively. The plan is to play to McClain’s strengths.

“When you’re a high school coach, you have got what you got and the good high school coaches, they take what they got and build around their strengths,” said Malzahn. “We will have the same system no matter who our quarterback is moving forward, but we may do some things differently than JRP did.

“We watched every clip of his [McClain] scrimmages in the spring just to get a feel at what he’s good at, so you build around that.”

Who steps into the backup role?

McClain’s promotion means the backup role is open and the job will be Dylan Rizk’s for the immediate future.

Rizk has impressed coaches since he arrived on campus in January as a true freshman.

“I’m excited for him,” said Malzahn. “Dylan’s a very talented young man.”

Added Hinshaw: “Dylan has not gotten … you don’t get as many reps in practice. Your No. 3 quarterback doesn’t get as many reps and you try to get him in to be ready in case you get to that situation. … The bottom line is we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to get those guys ready when it’s their time.”

Email Matt Murschel at or follow him on Twitter at @osmattmurschel.