Matt Murschel: How much has UCF QB John Rhys Plumlee improved since returning from injury?

UCF quarterback John Rhys Plumlee’s performance has risen since he returned to the lineup after recovering from a right knee injury.

During the past four games, the fifth-year senior has improved with each start, and his performance has escalated as his knee grows stronger.

In those four starts, Plumlee has completed 55 of 107 passes (51%) for 986 yards with 8 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He’s also rushed for 168 yards on 34 carries (4.94 average) with 3 touchdowns and a

In leading UCF to its 45-3 win over then-No. 15 Oklahoma State last weekend, he set season-highs in passing yards (299) and rushing attempts (14) and his passer rating (255.6) was the second-highest of his career.

“You can see he’s getting healthier and it changes the dynamics — not just our offense but our whole team,” said coach Gus Malzahn.

Plumlee’s touch on deep passes (20-plus yards) also has improved.

He completed 6 of 7 for 250 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys.

“He threw the best deep balls that he’s had since we’ve been here in practice and it carried over in the game,” said Malzahn.

Said offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw, a former quarterback: “When you’re throwing as a quarterback, you throw with your lower body more than you do with your upper body. You don’t just throw with one arm. You throw with your hips, shoulders and legs.

“Your knees are torqued constantly, so you can see the progression as he continues to heal and get better and better and better.”

Plumlee and the Knights’ next challenge is this Saturday at Texas Tech (5-5, 4-3 Big 12), with the Red Raiders coming off a 16-13 win against then-No. 19 Kansas.

Who plays center this week?

Injuries continue to force the coaching staff to make weekly adjustments to the offensive line.

Bula Schmidt missed the game against the Cowboys with an apparent foot injury, shifting fifth-year senior Lokahi Pauole from guard to center. He’d only taken seven career snaps there.

“That’s the fourth center we’ve had this year,” said Malzahn. “I don’t know if we’ve ever gotten to the third center with the first group, so this is a unique year.”

Added Hinshaw: “He did a good job at center with his IDs and the calls and everything because that goes into playing center. You’ve got to be the quarterback of the offensive line.”

Malzahn said redshirt freshman center Caden Kitler, who missed the last five games with an undisclosed injury, is nearly 100% and should be in the mix for the spot this week.

The coaching staff also isn’t against keeping Pauole at center.

“Every week, we’re looking for the best five [offensive linemen] that we can put out there,” said Hinshaw. “And we concluded that Lokahi at center would be our best opportunity to do that.”

Can safety Demari Henderson become a full-time starter?

Henderson had a standout game in UCF’s victory against Oklahoma State as he recovered a forced fumble and intercepted two passes by the Cowboys.

This was his third fumble recovery of the season and the first career interception for the sophomore.

A Sanford Seminole High standout, Henderson was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week.

“He’s coming into his own,” said defensive coordinator Addison Williams. “Back in fall camp he was working himself into a starter and then injured himself, but he’s come back and hit the ground running.”

Henderson has appeared in seven games, starting the last four at safety for the Knights and registering 14 total tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 passes defended and a forced fumble.

Pro Football Focus has him as the highest-graded defensive back on the team (79.2) and graded seventh (76.6) among safeties in the Big 12.

“The thing about Demari is that every game is still kind of new to him because he’s still young and hasn’t played much ball until this season,” said Williams. “But as the season goes and as his career goes, he has a chance to be a really good player.”