Gus Malzahn Slaps Cam Newton Comparison on New UCF QB KJ Jefferson

    Talk about pressure. UCF head coach Gus Malzahn has been impressed with transfer QB KJ Jefferson, comparing him to a former NFL MVP.

    Following a challenging 6-7 inaugural Big 12 campaign in 2023, Gus Malzahn and the UFC Knights are gearing up for a bounce-back season — and Arkansas transfer QB KJ Jefferson is a big reason why.

    UCF’s Gus Malzahn Compares QB KJ Jefferson to Former NFL MVP, No. 1 Overall Pick

    At 6’3″ and 247 pounds, Jefferson is a tall task to bring down on the move, and that’s without taking into account his natural mobility. Throw in a rocket arm that set Razorback records for career completions (626), passing yards (7,911), passing touchdowns (67), and total touchdowns (88), and you have the makings of an elite dual-threat.

    When Malzahn courted the QB and ultimately landed his commitment, many fans and analysts had one former collegiate star on their minds: Cam Newton. The comparison is easy to make due to Jefferson’s size and playstyle and his fit with the coach who helped Newton to his otherworldly season.

    At Big 12 Media Days, Malzahn stoked the flames, saying, “Physically, he’s the closest thing to Cam that I’ve had. He’s like a running back; he throws a great deep ball. We’re a run/play-action team with an emphasis on throwing the ball vertically down the field.

    “I actually recruited him coming out of high school some, and that’s when we took Bo Nix. So we knew each other, and then when he went into the portal, I mean, he was our guy, so we are blessed to have him.”

    In 2010, Malzahn worked with Newton as the offensive coordinator and QBs coach at Auburn. In his lone season with the program, the 6’6″, 250-pound genetic lottery winner completed 66.1% of his passes for 2,854 yards, 30 TDs, and just seven INTs, adding another 1,473 yards and 20 TDs on 264 carries.

    Not only did Newton’s performance secure him a Heisman Trophy, but it culminated in a national championship victory over Oregon.

    Can Jefferson mimic that success in his final collegiate season with UCF? Highly unlikely, considering there is — and will only ever be — one Cam Newton, but he doesn’t have to.

    Malzahn’s offensive system is built for a dual-threat QB, which we know Jefferson is. John Rhys Plumlee, UCF’s 2022-23 starter, threw for almost 5,000 yards and rushed for over 1,300 yards in his two seasons under center.

    Jefferson raved about the scheme at Media Days. “It plays to my strengths. I’m able to create explosives with my legs, and also I can pass the ball downfield,” he said. “Just having a coach like coach Malzahn, who’s an offensive-minded guy and loves to play to his guys’ strengths, is exactly what I needed.”

    But more than that, the offense is built to run over defenses, as the Knight averaged 228.2 rushing yards per game in 2023, the fourth-best mark in the FBS.

    Projecting Jefferson’s success isn’t difficult, especially with 1,000-yard RBs RJ Harvey and Peny Boone sharing the backfield with him. To extenuate that point, conference media representatives tabbed Jefferson as the Preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year.

    Malzahn will need the QB to reach his potential to return the program to its nine-win ways in his first two years at the helm. Jefferson joined the Razorbacks as a four-star recruit in the 2019 class and took the starting reigns in 2021.

    He became Arkansas’ second-ever three-time captain, starting 36 games over his last three seasons. Yet, the team slowly declined record-wise over that span, going 9-4, 7-6, and 4-8. Jefferson missed two games last season due to hyperextending his left knee, which hampered his rushing ability when he returned.

    To add insult to injury, the offensive line conceded 47 sacks on the year, the fifth-most in the nation. And if the seeds of transferring weren’t already spouting, they blossomed once Arkansas fired offensive coordinator Dan Enos, hired Bobby Petrino, and added Boise State transfer QB Taylen Green.

    As a result, Jefferson entered the portal as a redshirt senior and chose UCF as his final collegiate stop. Why the Knights?

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    “The people and the coaching staff [Malzahn has] put around the guys,” Jefferson explained. “Also, just being able to bond with my teammates on a visit, and those guys just welcomed me with open arms. I just felt like it was a family-oriented program and a program that’s on the rise.”

    With Jefferson’s arrival and Malzahn’s guidance, UCF is poised to rebound in 2024 and contribute significantly to the conference’s lauded parity.

    College Football Network has you covered with the latest news and analysis, rankings, transfer portal information, top 10 returning players, the 2024 college football season schedule, and much more!

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