50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff: What Does An Improved Bryce Perkins Look Like?

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Bryce Perkins set single season records at Virginia in 2018.
“I’m obsessed with just trying to be a better version of myself,” Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins said. ~ Kris Wright

After years of quarterback instability, the Virginia football program finally established some continuity at the position. Kurt Benkert started the first two seasons of the Bronco Mendenhall era and, now, Bryce Perkins is about to become the second multi-year starter of this coaching staff’s tenure.

As a reminder, the last time UVA had two quarterbacks start for two years each in succession came approximately 15 years ago. Matt Schaub started the majority of games in 2002 and 2003, while Marques Hagans started the majority of games in 2004 and 2005.

If you take the three quarterbacks before him that were clearly entrenched as starters in back-to-back seasons, all of them came back with better numbers the following year. Schaub threw for 2,976 yards on 68.9% passing with 28 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in 2002 over 14 games. In just 11 games the next year, he threw for 2,952 yards on 69.7% passing with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2003.

Hagans threw for 2,024 yards on 62.8% passing with 9 touchdowns and 5 interceptions in 2003 and followed it up with 2,492 yards on 62.1% passing with 15 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2004. Benkert threw for 2,552 yards on 56.2% passing with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2016 and then followed it up with 3,207 yards on 58.5% passing with 25 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in 2017.

Perkins will try to match that feat this season. The “50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series continues.

7 – What does an improved Bryce Perkins look like?

When Perkins came to Virginia, he arrived from Arizona Western Community College where he had gone to revive his football career. That route became a necessity due to a neck injury suffered at Arizona State where he never played in a game and missed the entire 2016 season. At AWCC, Perkins helped the Matadors reach the NJCAA Championship Game where they lost to finish 9-1. In those 10 games, Perkins threw for 1,311 yards and 7 touchdowns on 63.3% passing. He also rushed for 353 yards and 4 touchdowns.

That showing helped Perkins land at UVA, which needed another quarterback to bridge the gap between Benkert and future recruits. While Perkins quickly won over his teammates and coaches with his athleticism and quarterback skills, no one really knew exactly what kind of production he would create at the Power 5 level. Really good, it turns out.

Perkins tallied 2,680 passing yards on 64.5% passing with 25 touchdowns and just 9 interceptions. He rushed for 923 yards and 9 touchdowns on 212 carries. He was one of just two players in the nation with 2,600+ passing yards and 900+ rushing yards – the other was Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray of Oklahoma. Perkins led the ACC with 206 points responsible for (No. 13 in the nation) and set the Virginia single season records for total offense (3,603 yards) and touchdowns responsible for (34). His completion percentage ranked third all-time in a single season at UVA and his passing touchdowns tied for No. 2 in program history for a single season.

Along the way, he hurdled some guys, completed 15 straight passes in a game, and helped his team win the program’s first bowl game in 13 years.

“I think the thing that we know more is just the capability of our quarterback,” Mendenhall said. “The other parts we had anticipated and I think we knew going into our opener last year. What we really didn’t know was how our quarterback would play. Now, after a year’s worth of experience, we are much clearer what he’s capable of. Hopefully the way we use him, when and how we use him, will be more appropriate even than it was a year ago knowing what he’s capable of. I think that’s the big difference. We weren’t so sure about our quarterback a year ago. We’re much more sure not only about our starter, but our backup, and that’s a good place to be in.”

While those numbers were impressive and the results were the best the program had seen in years, Perkins wants to do more. The statistical improvement of Schaub, Hagans, and Benkert as second-year starters above give a little hint as to why. With more experience under his belt to draw from, Perkins thinks he can do better. He said that information gives him a baseline for what he needs to do to get there again or what he needs to exceed for the team to improve.

“I’m obsessed with just trying to be a better version of myself,” Perkins said. “Whatever it may be, whether it’s film, whether it’s on the field running or throwing, just trying to look at what I did and what do I need to do to improve that. Every day, going out there and trying something new that will help me be more successful on the field. … Just trying to build on the last rep and build on the last season so I can improve for this season.”

What might a better version of Perkins look like? Some of it is in the statistics. Fewer interceptions and fumbles, more yards and touchdowns. More wins. Those are fairly obvious and it’s not unimaginable that he could better his numbers.

In the first six games, Perkins threw for 1,217 yards on 99-of-158 passing (62.7%) with 11 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He rushed for 402 yards and 3 touchdowns on 97 carries. That averages out to 202.8 yards passing, 67.0 yards rushing, and 2.3 total touchdowns (1.2 interceptions) in those games. In the last seven games, he threw for 1,463 yards on 126-of-191 passing (66.0%) with 14 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He rushed for 521 yards and 6 touchdowns on 115 carries. That averages out to 209.0 yards passing, 74.4 yards rushing, and 2.9 total touchdowns (0.29 interceptions) in those games.

If you took the second half’s averages across 13 games, he’d be around 2,717 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions with 967 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing on the year. That would beat his numbers from a year ago and while those gains are small statistically, Perkins was by and large a better quarterback the second half of the year.

The improvement in some more subtle areas may be where minimal gains become much larger, though. Perkins did a better job of understanding when to take a sack and when not to at times later in the year – “close to the red zone, can’t have that [deep sack] – you’ve just got to throw the ball out of bounds,” he says. He spent the offseason focused on improving his reads before and after the snap in order to speed up his decisions and delivery time – “I definitely worked on seeing the field more and understanding pre- and post-snap reads at a higher level so I can be quick and decisive with my delivery,” Perkins said.

Understanding coverages better and getting the ball into better position against those coverages could lead to more production simply because it puts his teammates in better position to be successful. If yards after the catch go up or if the team gets better in the red zone because Perkins is more decisive, those areas alone could boost scoring and statistics overall.

“I think I’m quicker with my reads and more decisive as far as who to go and when to go to it,” Perkins said. “I think I’m seeing the field better so I think delivering the ball to the receivers at a timely fashion will be better just because we don’t have to wait. I assume, we’ll get a lot of man so those man throws are going to become very important. That’s an area I improved on.”

That’s all talk about numbers and subtle improvements, though. The bottom line business is really what many people are interested in and Coach Mendenhall told Perkins so. Great quarterbacks lead their teams to championships. The Cavaliers are favored to win the ACC Coastal Division for the first time. Delivering a division championship with more overall league wins than last year’s 4-4 finish is the ultimate goal. That would produce a crack at an overall ACC title too.

So, yes, Perkins looks better in practice this preseason than a year ago. Yes, the Hoos also have a better idea of what he can do in live game action now. The Cavaliers saw his improvement in the second half of the year and how he bounced back from a tough loss at Virginia Tech with a great game in the Belk Bowl win against South Carolina too.

Still, none of that amounts to proven results on the field in 2019. The first test comes against Pittsburgh, the team that knocked UVA out of Coastal contention a year ago. Perkins threw for just 1 touchdown and finished with -7 rushing yards s due to taking some bad sacks in that game. He had no rushing touchdowns either.

“It really remains to be seen,” Mendenhall said. “The command of the offense certainly appears to be at a higher level. Ultimately though, we all know it’s results-oriented business, and great quarterbacks win championships. So getting to a bowl game and winning is not a championship, but it’s a significant step in the right direction for our program. The very best quarterbacks lead their teams to championships. Outcome is going to determine where he’s grown. Making the critical play at the critical time in a critical game, that’s what the best guys do at that position. So hopefully Bryce has advanced to that part and that point, and we won’t know until we play.”

Perkins welcomes the challenge.

“You’ve just got to know it comes with the position,” Perkins said. “That’s why the great ones stand out and the average ones kind of wither out somewhere else, speaking about it in the league. I’ll never forget Coach Mendenhall, he said to me the best quarterbacks win championships. So can you win a championship? That’s what separates the great QBs from the not great ones, the ability to somehow no matter where the team is or how they’re playing to have the ability to make them think they’re not out of the game. I think Tom Brady is one of the greatest examples of that. Regardless of the talent around him, he finds a way to win. That’s what great quarterbacks do.”

50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff
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