With Three Games To Go, UVA Must ‘Finish The Fight’

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Fans on The Hill celebrate one of Virginia’s numerous first-half touchdowns against William & Mary earlier this season (Photo by John Markon).

Give Virginia’s coaching staff credit for its effort in a must-win game at North Carolina last Saturday night.

Not only did the Cavaliers snap a three-game road losing streak, but once again overcame the loss of another defensive starter, and the offense showed signs of life due to some smart self-analysis and adjustments. As a result, UVA sits atop the ACC’s Coastal Division standings at 4-2, a half game ahead of Pitt, which the Cavaliers defeated in the season opener.

All the Wahoos have to do now is finish the job.

Remember last season when Virginia was in contention for the Coastal, but lost its last two league games, both on the road, both in overtime, both with an unimaginative offense, at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech?

Now, it’s easy to understand why the Cavaliers’ mantra for the month of November has to be a spinoff of the Washington Nationals: “Finish the Fight.”

All that begins Saturday at 12:30 when Georgia Tech comes to town. The Yellow Jackets are 2-6 (with a win over Miami), but have struggled under the transition from longtime Tech coach Paul Johnson’s option offense to Geoff Collins’ more traditional styles. Certainly the personnel was recruited to play option offense, and doesn’t necessarily fit the new regime’s style of play.

Scott Stadium has been a house of horrors for Georgia Tech ever since the Yellow Jackets ruined Virginia’s 1990 season in an unforgettable, 41-38, heartbreaking defeat for the then-No. 1 Wahoos. Since that game, Georgia Tech is only 2-11 in Charlottesville.

UVA opens Saturday’s game as a 17-point favorite, and there’s a reason why. Bryce Perkins is back to his old self again.

After a scare at Louisville, when Perkins took a hit on his knee but came back to finish the game, the senior quarterback was magical last week in Chapel Hill. Not only did he set a UVA single-game, total offense record just shy of 500 yards, but he ran the football without fear, and picked UNC’s defense apart with a 30-of-39 passing performance.

In that game, a few good things happened for the Cavaliers:

  • The offensive line took another step forward in its protection of Perkins. He wasn’t in durress quite as much as he had been when he dropped back to pass.
  • During its weekly (since the bye week) self-scouting, Bronco Mendenhall realized that the offense had to produce at a higher level going forward if his team was to win the Coastal for the first time since the ACC went to divisional play in 2005. With that in mind, offensive coordinator Robert Anae designed some new wrinkles that seemed to give Carolina trouble.
  • The coaching staff also made a decision to give more playing time to those who had produced up to that point, and that’s one reason why wide receiver Terrell Jana made such an impact, hauling in a career-high 13 receptions for 146 yards.
  • Anae also got the tight ends re-involved in the offense, designing a terrific play for Tanner Cowley, where Cowley slipped behind UNC linebacker Chazz Surratt, forcing Surratt to make a decision. Go after Perkins or drop back to cover Cowley. Either poison Surratt chose was likely lethal. He chose to come after Perkins, who displayed perfect touch by lobbing the ball over the linebacker’s hands and safely into the mitts of Cowley in the end zone for a touchdown.

Afterward, Mendenhall gave Anae all the credit for coming up with that new wrinkle, even though he said that Anae wouldn’t take credit.

Another UVA tight end, Grant Misch, a redshirt freshman, also caught a touchdown pass in the game.

Perhaps the biggest factor on offense, though, was that Perkins was playing typical Bryce Perkins football, running (24 carries for 112 net yards), and passing (30-39, 378 yards).

Perkins’ 24 rushes tied for the second-most of his career, including 24 attempts at Virginia Tech last season. His most, 25, came at Indiana early last season. Among his 24 runs against Carolina, two went for touchdowns, including a 65-yarder on an RPO.

In terms of passing, Perkins threw for three TDs and no interceptions.

Mendenhall said the gameplan called for using Perkins a lot, and the QB didn’t disappoint.

As a result of his dynamic play, Perkins was named ACC Quarterback of the Week and national QB of the week by another national football organization.

He also became only the fifth quarterback in FBS football since 2000 to to pass for 350-plus yards, rush for 100-plus yards, throw for 3-plus touchdowns, and rush for 2-plus touchdowns against a Power 5 foe. Two of the other four are familiar names around ACC territory, in former Clemson QB Tajh Boyd and former Heisman winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville.

Georgia Tech’s defense, which is giving up 405 yards per game, must be wondering how in the world it is going to stop one of the nation’s most lethal quarterbacks for 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, the Jackets must also be concerned about how to slow down UVA’s pass rush, which is ranked No. 3 in the nation in sacking quarterbacks with 34 (the fifth-best in program history with three regular season games remaining).

Photo by Matt Riley, UVA Media Relations

Mendenhall said he and the staff learned some things toward the end of last season when the Cavaliers were in pursuit of the Coastal before they experienced a letdown.

“I think what we learned from the race a year ago in this setting was that ACC road games are hard to win,” the coach said. “They come down to last drives, they come down to overtime, they come down to critical stops, they come down to critical scores, which is just what we saw last week (at Louisville).

“So we haven’t applied those lessons perfectly, but we certainly have framed it correctly where we know what it’s going to take. And I would expect each of our ACC games remaining to be just like that.”

Fans are hoping that the staff also learned that it’s no time to be conservative on offense, to be less predictable in play-calling, and that nothing is wrong with being a little imaginative in that area just like the team was against South Carolina in the bowl victory, and even last weekend in Chapel Hill.

Finish the fight.

Comments

  1. Sam Smith says:

    Succinctly, perfectly put, Hooty. Ah, but will they listen?

© JerryRatcliffe.com | Email: info@jerryratcliffe.com | Charlottesville, VA 22911 | Site design by Augusta Free Press LLC