Unbroken growth. Two-six-eight-nine.
For the Virginia football team, 2019 has continued what Bronco Mendenhall calls unbroken growth for the program. For the fourth straight season, the Hoos already have won more games than the year before, moving from two wins in year one to six wins in year two to eight wins in year three to nine wins so far this season. And, they picked up a title with the ACC’s Coastal Division Championship too.
That’s led to a magical, winning atmosphere this season and record-breaking support from students while more and more fans have returned to Scott Stadium. Plus, the Cavaliers are in the ACC Championship Game for the first time as a date with Clemson looms on Saturday night in Charlotte.
Much of that winning and energy can be owed to Virginia’s quarterback, Bryce Perkins. Mendenhall has mentioned frequently how Perkins helped accelerate the program’s growth. That included some lofty praise after the Hoos snapped their losing streak to rival Virginia Tech last week, a win that vaulted them into the conference title game.
“I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do. There’s not a play he can’t make. I think Bryce Perkins changes the face of UVA football,” Mendenhall said. “This era certainly doesn’t happen without Bryce at quarterback. I’ll also say I’m not so sure what happens without Robert Anae coaching him. … The points don’t just manifest accidentally. Bryce has been used really well and he’s responded really well and he’s been coached really well and developed within two years from how he arrived. I’m really impressed with the job [our staff] has done and the steady progress he’s made.”
Perkins put together a sensational game against the Hokies. He finished with 311 passing yards and 164 rushing yards, the third time this season that he’s gone for 200+ and 100+ in the same game. He’s done that five times in his career, which is tied for the most in the nation with Louisiana Monroe’s Caleb Evans since the start of the 2018 season.
The 165 rushing yards set a new career high and added to his program record for 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback with seven. With two rushing touchdowns, including a career-long 67-yard run, he has tallied 11 this season to pass Bob Davis and Shawn Moore for No. 2 all-time in program history for single-season rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.
Overall, he accounted for 475 of the team’s 492 yards.
Perkins, who did all of that following a hospitalized bout with tonsillitis, was named ACC Quarterback of the Week on Monday after the win.
That continued a late-season stretch of impressive play. For the month of November, Perkins was the only player in the nation with over 1,000 passing yards and 400 rushing yards. In four wins, he finished with 1,146 passing yards and 412 rushing yards to go along with 7 passing touchdowns (just 1 interception) and 6 rushing touchdowns.
Perkins currently averages 57.25 rushing yards per game and 245.8 passing yards per game. He certainly has Clemson’s attention. The Tigers watched the UVA-VT game and came away impressed with Perkins’ play.
“Yeah, I think he’s a fantastic player, dual-threat guy, can really make stuff happen with his legs and also his arm, just being able to bring that dynamic to the game,” Clemson safety Tanner Muse said. “Really tough for any defense. Just seeing him play, it was Friday against Virginia Tech, it was really special to watch just because he’s such a dynamic player. He did a great job executing their plan. It will be really tough to stop him, but we’re going to give it our best shot. Look forward to it Saturday.”
Perkins’ mobility could come in handy against Clemson, in order to post more points than previous opponents. The Tigers come into this game outscoring their last seven opponents 353 to 61.
Perkins is one of three players in the nation to pass for 2,900+ yards and rush for 600+ yards so far, this season. He is ranked No. 1 in the ACC and 13th in the nation with 3,636 yards of total offense. He has also contributed to 27 (16 passing, 11 rushing) of Virginia’s touchdowns this season, which is more than half of the team’s total amount.
Now, he’s facing the best defense Virginia has seen. Clemson is No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense and No. 2 in total defense. Of course, the Tigers have yet to face a quarterback exactly like Perkins this season either. It is difficult to draw comparisons on how their defense will cover him.
“He’s very dynamic” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Just seems like he comes up with the big play when he needs to have it. They’re passing the ball for 260 plus yards a game. Just a guy that can beat you with his feet and his arm. Going to be a handful for us. Everything is going to go through him. They do a great job schematically to make sure he’s equipped with answers. Just going to be a great competitor to have to find a way to beat.”
Sabre Editor Kris Wright contributed to this report.