SOUTH BEND, Ind. — As the rest of the offense huddled Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium in preparation for a 1st-and-10 from the Fighting Irish’s 16-yard line, wide receivers Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois stood off to the side and in position at the line of scrimmage.
They knew what was coming and what they had to do. For Dubois, an entire offseason of preparation came down to that moment.
“If I go out there and be more physical than the guy across from me, then I’ve done my job,” Dubois said heading into the season opener at Pittsburgh.
That’s exactly what he did to give the Cavaliers a 17-14 halftime lead. Dubois lifted his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame off the ground and showed off his timing as he outleaped the defender in man-to-man coverage, plucking the ball out of the air and getting a foot inbounds.
“We saw that they played press a lot, but when they pressed, they weren’t very physical,” Dubois said. “So, we had to be physical with them, get open and attack the ball.”
Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins delivered a beautiful ball on the touchdown pass to Dubois, but it wasn’t the prettiest of the duo’s connections on the drive. Four plays earlier, Perkins delivered a pass to Dubois in stride down the seam. It went for 39 yards and moved the ball to Notre Dame’s 33.
Virginia’s offense dried up in the second half, but Saturday’s loss still featured potentially career-altering performances by the leaders in the Cavaliers’ wide receivers’ room. Dubois needed less than a half to set his career high in receiving yards. He finished with nine grabs for 143 yards.
Reed rewrote his personal record book for the third time this season. In the season opener at Pittsburgh, he tied his career high with seven receptions. A few weeks later against Florida State, he broke it with eight. On Saturday, he broke it again with nine catches for 107 yards and a touchdown.
Neither performance surprised Perkins.
“I’ve known these guys for two years. I know what they can do, and I have all the trust in them,” Perkins said. “I know if the ball is in the air, they’re going to make a play on it.”
Reed leads the team in catches (32) and receiving touchdowns (four). He’s second in yards with 322. Dubois leads the way in yards with 354 and trails only Reed with 25 grabs and two touchdowns. In the interest of replacing last season’s go-to receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, they’re filling what may be the most vital role in Virginia’s pursuit of a third-straight bowl bid.
“We like our receivers and they played, as a unit, to a level we expected,” Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “The stage was not too big for them. They made critical catches, they made contested catches and they did a nice job.”
When pressed about his performance, Dubois simply echoed Perkins’ sentiments.
“It’s basically what we put in every day in and out. It’s not just a fluke experience,” Dubois said. “I guess our preparation just came in and it showed on the field.”
The Cavaliers came up on the short end of the scoreboard on Saturday, but they sent a message on national television that their passing game is led by a pair of legitimate playmakers. They’ll have another chance to prove it in two weeks in Miami against one of the ACC’s best cornerbacks in Trajan Bandy.