Bryce Perkins Channeling His Inner Superman

Bryce Perkins leaps for first-down yardage in the first period against Duke (Photo by John Markon).

By Jerry Ratcliffe

If Bryce Perkins is guilty of commiting a football sin, it is certainly a forgiveable one: trying to do too much.

In a candid moment on Monday, the Virginia quarterback bared his soul and made a couple of serious confessions.

“I’ve got to do a better job of being smarter and not always trying to be Superman and make the Superman plays,” Perkins said. “I need to improve on the stupid turnovers. A lot of those are stupid turnovers, trying to do too much, unforced errors.”

Anyone who follows UVA football already knew that but also understood it to some degree.

Perkins tries to do too much because he has to. If he doesn’t, who else will for goodness sakes? He’s a platinum record rock star surrounded by a garage band. Maybe that’s a little harsh. Virginia isn’t totally bereft of talent on offense. There are some worthy receivers, and it’s impossible to determine the quality of the running backs because there’s rarely any running lanes open.

The offensive line is inexperienced and trying its darnedest to punch holes in the defense. It’s just not there yet, and thusly the running game is in shambles. The passing game is good when Perkins isn’t running for his life, thus perhaps forcing some passes he shouldn’t, leading to almost as many interceptions this year _ eight in eight games _ as all of last season (nine in 13 games).

No Wahoo is surprised when they learn that Virginia is No. 118 in the country (out of 130 FBS teams) in protecting the quarterback, allowing an average of 3.25 sacks per game. Ouch!

There was a moment during Saturday’s rain-soaked game in Louisville when a Cardinals pass rusher broke through the line and Perkins went down in a heap as Wahoo Nation held its collective breath. Everyone knew that if Perkins was done, so was Virginia.

He was helped off the field, and just like last November at Georgia Tech, when things looked dark and everyone figured Perkins was through, he sucked it up on the sidelines and came back in the next series.

On Monday, Coach Bronco Mendenhall said that Perkins will play at North Carolina on Saturday night in a game that could possibly decide the ACC’s Coastal Division.

“He’ll play, I just don’t know at what percentage, but it will be close to 100,” Mendenhall said. “Just the reason I say that without talking to the trainers is how he finished the [Louisville] game. He was mobile. He was active. Certainly there was pain and some limitations.”

In the 28-21 loss, when Virginia had a slim but possible chance to send the game into overtime on the last series, Perkins was 24 of 41 for 233 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted once, yeah one of those “stupid plays” he was talking about.

He was also sacked four times, making it 26 sacks in eight games compared to 31 all of last season.

When the question came up Monday about how he was feeling after taking so many hits two days earlier, Perkins surprised media to some degree with his reply.

“Not too bad,” the QB said. “I definitely thought I was going to feel worse the day after (Sunday). About the knee, no swelling.”

That was good news. Perkins had taken a hit on his right knee in training camp in August and wore a brace on that knee up until the Miami game a few weeks ago. Saturday’s hit was almost identical to the previous hit on his knee in how a defender got thrown into his leg.

“The pain was on the opposite side [of the same knee],” Perkins said. “As I got to the sideline and was moving around, it felt better. I thought that was just adrenaline and the next day it would hurt worse, but the next day it wasn’t too bad.”

Even though he took the lick on the same knee, Perkins said that he’s not planning on going back to the knee brace (which restricts movement), at least not as of this past Monday. However, he said he would monitor the situation as the week goes, especially after he tests it by planting it and after he runs full speed.

Mendenhall pointed out that when Perkins went down, then returned, it impacted the game plan because he decided to restrict the number of designed running plays for his quarterback. Part of UVA’s game plan was to run the football against one of the weaker run defenses in the country, and to use Perkins a lot.

The QB was fine with that, anything the coaches want, anything to help the team win. Still, he admitted that because of the heat he has been attracting from opposing defenses that he escaped the rush as the pocket collapsed a little more than he should have. He believes he could have stayed in longer and not taken off as quickly.

Still, when you’re getting hit relentlessly, there’s a self preservation mode that kicks in at some point, especially when you know the team is relying heavily on your performance.

Again, part of the problem, a major portion to be exact, is the O-Line’s inability to protect Perkins in the first place, something that Mendenhall has acknowledged for quite some time.

“Certainly I think just by simple volume of times Bryce has been in the pocked maybe under duress and the urgency of then tring to do too much,” Mendenhall said in response to how those shortcomings have impacted everything from play-calling to turnovers. “I think you want your quarterback to lead. You want him to push the envelope and make aggressive decisions.

“I think it’s been contributed to our struggles at the offensive front, which I see as getting better. In that game I saw one sack that was offensive line related. The others are really quarterback decision related or timing.”

Mendenhall said one of the obvious answers is the running game, which has yet come to fruition.

“In reality, under our current personnel and scheme, the quarterback run has to be a part of that to help not only the production, but also controlling more of the flow of the game,” the coach said.

With the running game presently off the rails, that means Perkins has to focus on the pass. He believes he’s a better passer this season, only his second in FBS football. He is seeing the field better, reading defenses better in his opinion.

“I definitely think I have improved as far as just the passing game, but I need to improve on the stupid turnovers,” he said. “Just eliminate those.”

He said his knee hasn’t impacted his throwing ability, although it did earlier in the season with the brace. Now, he said, it’s fine.

“There are no excuses now for interceptions expect mental mistakes on my part,” Perkins said.

The question is that with so much at stake this Saturday night in Keenan Stadium, can Virginia afford for Perkins to tuck in his cape? Our guess is a big, fat no.

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