TAMPA, Fla. -- UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton seriously injured his right leg on a scramble in the second quarter of Friday's 38-10 win over USF, a devastating blow to a team that has now won 24 straight games.
Coach Josh Heupel had no specific update on Milton's condition after the game, only saying the quarterback was in the hospital with a "traumatic" injury.
Milton underwent surgery Friday to repair his knee and other "internal issues," according to his father, Mark.
With Milton out, UCF's players told one another they would play for him.
"It was heartbreaking because McKenzie Milton is a great person. It wasn't about McKenzie Milton the football player; it's him as a person," said running back Greg McCrae, who rushed for 181 yards and three touchdowns. "Seeing that happen to him, it was devastating to the whole team, so we all rallied around that and tried to use that as our motivation to play for him, to play for [No.] 10."
Milton was hurt after he tucked the ball and ran on a third-down play. A crowd of USF defenders met him, and he took a hit to his knee. His leg twisted and bent at an awkward angle. Milton stayed down, and the Raymond James Stadium crowd looked on in stunned silence as a cart was brought out immediately.
Heupel came over and told Milton he loved him. Darriel Mack, the backup quarterback charged with taking over the UCF offense, told Milton that everything would be all right. The two shared a moment together that was captured in a photo UCF shared on its Twitter feed. Mack described it as "very, very emotional for me."
my brother 🖤 i love you dawg and this one for you ‼️ https://t.co/9YO7HRb5Ms— Darriel Mack Jr ™ (@DJMactastic1) November 24, 2018
This was for you1️⃣0️⃣ love you big bro❗️ pic.twitter.com/MHmtxTGk7m— Marlon Williams (@TheReall__6) November 24, 2018
"KZ's a great guy, and everything's going to be OK with him," Mack said after the game. "I was just letting him know he was going to be OK."
It wasn't just Heupel and Mack. The entire UCF bench emptied and knelt beside Milton as emergency personnel worked on him. The USF team took the field as well in a show of support.
Milton's leg was immobilized before he was placed on the cart and taken to the locker room, with teammates coming up to him to pat his arm or shoulder pad.
"It breaks your heart for a kid that's worked so hard to go out there and compete, loves his brothers and plays for them," Heupel said.
"Prayers out to my brother ... shake back 10," read the tweet.
Milton is the unquestioned leader on a UCF team that finished its second straight undefeated regular season. Heading into the USF game, Milton had thrown for 2,577 yards and 24 touchdowns in nine starts while rushing for 291 yards and nine touchdowns.
"McKenzie, that's everybody's backbone," linebacker Nate Evans said. "He uplifts everybody. To see him go down, we knew we had to play the game for McKenzie. We came out and played a good game. I'm proud of us."
Milton threw a touchdown pass in the first quarter to help give UCF an early lead. Since the start of last season, Milton has been responsible for 79 total touchdowns, most among FBS players in that span. His play is one of the biggest reasons why UCF has scored at least 30 points in 24 straight games and has drawn so much attention in the College Football Playoff debate.
The Knights moved to No. 9 in the CFP rankings released Tuesday. It is the highest spot by a Group of 5 member in the history of the CFP.
CFP director Bill Hancock said Milton's injury would be factored into the team's ranking.
"First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers are with McKenzie Milton and his family," Hancock told ESPN. "I do understand that some people want to talk football tonight. So pivoting to that, the committee does consider injuries that may have affected a team's performance during the season. Obviously, UCF continued to play well after McKenzie left the ballgame. The committee also does not project what might happen next week. They only evaluate what has happened to this point in the season."
The Knights have an opportunity to go back to a New Year's Six game, but first they have to beat Memphis in the American championship game on Dec. 1.
To do that, UCF must rely on Mack, who went 5-for-14 for 81 yards against USF and added 51 yards rushing. Mack previously had started one game this season, against East Carolina in place of Milton, so he has game experience.
And his teammates have his back.
"I told him at halftime, 'DJ, we got you bro,'" center Jordan Johnson said.
After USF closed to 17-10 in the third quarter, Mack helped lead a touchdown drive that ended with a 39-yard run from McCrae. After the game, the Knights celebrated a second straight win in their rivalry game with USF and another unbeaten season despite losing their team leader.
"Our team is very strong-minded," Mack said. "We've been battling adversity all year, so it was just another form today in what happened, and we took it on the chin, rallied together and stayed close to each other at all times, and we knew we had to go get the victory."