North Carolina Wanted Bryce Perkins To Beat Them Throwing The Ball: So, He Did

Bryce Perkins high-steps to a touchdown as he outruns UNC’s Patrice Rene to the goal line in the first period of Virginia’s 2018 win.
(Photo Courtesy John Markon)

By Jerry Ratcliffe

After studying Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins all week in preparation for the big ACC Coastal Division showdown Saturday night in Chapel Hill, Tar Heels coach Mack Brown felt like he knew what Carolina would have to do to win.

Perkins delivered a performance for the ages, posting a UVA school-record 490 yards of total offense to lead the Cavaliers to a 38-31 victory.

“[Perkins] had not been as good a thrower as he was a runner, so we felt like we had to make him throw the ball to win the game, and he did,” Brown said.

And, man, did he ever.

The senior quarterback was 30 of 39 passing for 378 yards and three touchdowns (no interceptions) while picking apart the Tar Heels. He connected with Terrell Jana 13 times for 146 yards, and Hasise Dubois and Joe Reed six times each (Dubois for 97 yards and a score, Reed for 55). Then there were two more TD passes to tight ends, including Grant Misch’s first career catch.

Brown believed that Perkins was clearly the difference in the game. UNC’s defense couldn’t stop the Virginia quarterback either passing or running (112 net yards on 24 carries, for two touchdowns).

“You can’t give up a drive in two minutes and six seconds just before the half and then you give up a 65-yard run to start the second half, so that was a 14-point swing,” Brown said. “It killed us tonight.”

After Carolina took a 17-10 lead late in the first half, Perkins engineered a 78-yard drive with near perfection of the two-minute drill and tied the game at the break. He was 9 for 13 on that march, which was pass only.

Offensive coordinator Robert Anae had to have been proud of Perkins’ abilities under pressure.

“We work the two-minute [drill] faithfully,” Perkins said after leading the Cavaliers to a 6-3 record and sole possession of first place in the Coastal. “The plays were dialed up to perfection. I was sticking with cues, what I’m seeing and what I’m reading.

“When we play fast, it feels good. Scoring just before the half and getting the ball back (to start the second half), we knew if we could calm down (on the first half’s last possession) just go shot, shot, shot, 5-yard plays, that we were going to be efficient.”

The other play Mack mentioned was Perkins’ 65-yard run on the second play of the third quarter that boosted the Cavaliers into the lead, 24-17.

“Hasise (Dubois) did a great job blocking,” Perkins said. “He’s the one that kind of made the final block that sprung me loose. It was a draw play, and I was trying to get to the (left) side because I knew [defenders] were coming from the right side.

“When Hasise made made that block, there was nobody there, so I decided to cut up field. I looked out there and nothing was there, so I went upfield and everybody did a good job of targeting their blocks and execution.”

Once Perkins got to the sideline, he tip-toed a few steps in order to stay in bounds, then turned on the jets and was gone.

As documented on this website the day before the game, North Carolina entered the weekend as one of the worst defenses in the nation in defending against a running quarterback. Perkins took full advantage.

“Coach [Jason] Beck (UVA’s quarterbacks coach) told me that this could be the game where I break 100 [yards],” Perkins said. I was trusting blocks and reading the blocks and hitting the holes as fast as I could. I felt healthy and I still feel healthy. I’m looking to the next games. This is Virginia football.”

The Cavaliers play only home games to finish the regular season, hosting Georgia Tech (2-6), followed by a bye week, then hosting nonconference Liberty (6-3), and closing against rival Virginia Tech (5-3).

UVA was well aware of the significance of Saturday night’s game, perhaps the most important game of the Bronco Mendenhall era because all of the Cavaliers goals were still alive in the ninth week of the season.

“Really significant,” Perkins said. “We know, no matter what happens with anybody else, that it’s on us to win out and we don’t have to rely on anyone else losing games. We have to play with that mentality. We’re not done yet. We have two more ACC games.”

UVA didn’t waste an opportunity to celebrate in its locker room underneath Keenan Stadium after the game.

“We were excited, jumping around, especially considering our past [three] road games, not playing as well as we should,” Perkins said. “Coming here for a must-win game, an emotional game, winning in this fashion with guys going down, other guys stepping up and making plays. This ‘brotherhood’ is amazing.”

UVA had dropped three straight road games at Notre Dame, at Miami, and at Louisville, after holding leads in all of them. The Miami loss was particularly disturbing because the Cavaliers had six trips inside the Hurricanes’ red zone and the only thing they had to show for it was three measley field goals.

Fans were complaining about offensive coordinator Robert Anae’s play calling being too conservative and unimaginative. Mendenhall said after UVA’s win over Carolina that the coaches had recognized the offensive shortcomings and had to perform at a higher level to finish the season, particularly the trip to Chapel HIll.

Wahoo fans would have preferred that analysis come earlier in the season, but better late than never.

Anae’s game plan for the Tar Heels included some new wrinkles, including a faster tempo and some new plays, including a nifty pass play down on the goal line that forced Carolina linebacker Chase Surratt (a former quarterback) into choosing whether to come after Perkins or stay with tight end Tanner Cowley headed to the end zone. No matter what poison he decided on, the Cavaliers were probably going to score a touchdown.

“I was reading Surratt,” Perkins said. “Was he going to play me or was he going to go for it. He stepped up because I had a touchdown run previously, so he was probably concerned about that. I knew Tanner was going to keep going and I just had to slip (the ball) to him. [Cowley] did a great job in executing.”

Perkins praised his tight ends for being smart and faster than the average player at that position, that they know how to read and run routes, going back to Evan Butts the previous few years.

“[Tight ends] do all their work in the shadows, for them to get the ball and score both times, it was great. It seems like in this offense when the tight ends get the ball it’s for a big play,a key play.”

The short passing game on slants and quick outs was sharp, particularly for Jana, who had a career night.

“No matter what, every game, Jana is one of the smartest players on our offense,” Perkins said. “Everywhere, slot, outside, he was in the backfield today. He knows his assignments so well and creates seperation, so it’s easy tow work with. This is all year long. His target-to-completion perfecentage would be pretty high because he does his job so well.”

As a result, Perkins not only broke the UVA single-game, total offense mark, but enjoyed the longest run of his career. He finished with three passing TDs and two more rushing, the third time with at least wo of each in the same game.

He also surpassed 300+ passing yards for the second time this season and the third time of his career, while passing for 200+ and rushing for 100+ yards in the game, the fourth time in program history a UVA quarterback has achieved those numers. Perkins has three of those to his credit, while Bob Davis was the first in 1965 vs. Georgia Tech.

If Perkins can continue to pile up impressive numbers, this could be a memorable Virginia season.

As Mack Brown said, “We didn’t stop him on the run or the pass. Their best player is one of the best players in the country and when you go into a game like this, you’ve got to stop him.”

Easier said than done.


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