Following a 20-16 loss to Indiana last weekend, Virginia felt frustrated that it let a potential win slip away with poor plays and poor execution on the road. No one, perhaps, took that view to heart more than senior receiver Olamide Zaccheaus.
Zaccheaus said the following on the radio after the loss:
“I don’t think the conditions are an excuse for how we were executing, specifically myself. We weren’t making routine plays, routine blocks, myself included. A lot of things stem from me. I’m a captain on this team, I’ve got to be making routine plays and being a spark for our offense and our whole team.”
The old saying, of course, goes that actions speak louder than words. Zaccheaus had that covered and then some on Saturday in a 45-31 win against Ohio.
In a game moved to Vanderbilt due to weather concerns, Zaccheaus delivered a bounce-back performance for the ages with an outing that continued to put his name all over the UVA record books. He finished with two touchdowns on nine catches for 247 yards that set not only a new career high, but a new single-game program record as well. Zaccheaus surpassed the previous single game mark held for the past 44 years by Ken Shelton, who tallied 241 against William & Mary in 1974. He also became the first player to log more than 200 receiving yards since Dontrelle Inman had 239 against Duke in 2010.
This is the second time in three games that the St. Joseph’s Prep product has reached the 100-yard plateau. That makes him one of 10 players with four or more 100-yard receiving games in his career. He’s one of just seven players to post multiple 100-yard receiving games in the same season for two separate seasons, joining a well known group with Germane Crowell, Kris Burd, Herman Moore, Billy McMullen, Terrence Wilkins, and Patrick Jeffers.
Already the only player in program history with two catches of 80 yards or more, Zaccheaus put another one on the board in the first three minutes. He caught a simple out pattern from Bryce Perkins and eluded the tackle before sprinting up the sideline with a block from Hasise Dubois to score an 86-yard touchdown. That is the longest reception of his career. It marks the third straight season that Zaccheaus has scored an 80+ yard touchdown following an 82-yard catch against Central Michigan in 2016 and an 81-yarder against UNC in 2017. Of the 21 receptions covering that distance in program history, he now owns three of them.
“The first play, we ran an out-breaking route and we knew they were going to come out in man for the most part,” Zaccheaus said. “We got the look that we’ve been expecting all week. I caught the ball and made one miss. That was the whole objective this week was to make one miss. Has had a great block for me down the sideline and when I got back to the sideline, I figured out [Jordan Ellis] picked up the blitz, which allowed Bryce to throw the ball to me so it was a team effort all around.”
For good measure, Zaccheaus also put the game away for good with a 77-yard touchdown with 6:01 remaining in the game. This time, he ran a comeback route, caught the ball, and turned inside away from the original pursuit. Zaccheaus then hit turbo to sprint through a gap between three Ohio players and pulled away to the second long touchdown play. The only other player in school history with two touchdown catches of 75 yards or more is the previously mentioned Herman Moore, who had an 83-yarder against NC State in 1990 and a 75-yarder against Clemson in 1989. Zaccheaus has now doubled that with four.
“Biggest play of the game was the third down at the end where it looks like if they have a chance to stop us there, you know, who knows in terms of maybe not a win, but it’s even closer,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Yards after the catch were critical and it looked a lot like the play in the first half.”
The senior receiver is now the single-game record holder for yards with 247, the single-season record holder for receptions with 85 last year, and the career-record holder for 75+ yard touchdown catches. He’s moving up on other career charts too. He has 177 career receptions, a record held by McMullen (210). He has 2,058 career yards; only McMullen and Moore are in the 2,500-yard club at UVA with 2,978 and 2,504 respectively.
Beyond all the numbers, however, is the fact that Zaccheaus along with other team leaders stepped forward and produced in one of the most important games of the year. Plus, they did it after some sub-par numbers the week prior.
In addition to the big receiving day from Zaccheaus, UVA also got a career day from senior running back Jordan Ellis. He posted new career highs with 171 rushing yards and three touchdowns. He’s the first player to run for three touchdowns since Kevin Parks punched it in three times against William & Mary in 2011. Throw in the best passing day of his short career for Perkins too. He completed 25 of 30 passes for 379 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
Defensively, linebacker Chris Peace recorded 1.5 sacks among six tackles and Juan Thornhill ended up with nine tackles. In the previous two games, Peace had yet to notch a sack and Thornhill had accumulated just eight tackles.
In a nutshell, that means all three team captains and two of the other most visible players on the roster all came through with either career performances or season-best outings in what many outside observers considered a ‘must win’ game to maximize the team’s bowl chances. For the ongoing rebuilding effort under way with Mendenhall, that’s a potentially significant little footnote for the season if the Hoos indeed make it to back-to-back bowls for the first time since 2004 and 2005. Of course, those same players and others will have to continue to lead the way in the weeks to come to make that happen.