It’s no secret Virginia’s offense runs through Bryce Perkins.
With most collegiate offenses relying heavily on the passing game and quarterback runs, a starting quarterback being their offense’s most important player isn’t surprising. What’s surprising about Perkins isn’t his role, but rather how well he performs in his spot given that each opposing defense knows they’re due for a steady diet of No. 3 all afternoon.
In his past three ACC games, Perkins has led the Cavaliers to a 3-0 record and he’s averaging 315.7 passing yards and 127.3 rushing yards per game. He’s scored 11 total touchdowns and thrown one interception during that span.
“I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do,” Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said after the Virginia Tech game. “There’s not a play he can’t make. I think Bryce Perkins changes the face of UVa football. This era certainly doesn’t happen without Bryce at quarterback.”
Perkins excelled in the Virginia Tech game. He tallied 475 of the team’s 492 yards, and he stepped up as a passer in the second half. Perkins rushed for 138 of his 164 rushing yards in the first 30 minutes before passing for 246 of his 311 passing yards in the final 30 minutes.
When he needed to step up as a passer, he did.
“He’s very dynamic,” said Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, who will coach against Perkins in the ACC Championship Game on Saturday night in Charlotte. “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.”
Clemson’s defense knows how to slow down opposing quarterbacks. In its past three ACC games, Clemson has held opposing quarterbacks to an average of 95.7 passing yards and 1.3 rushing yards per game.
Yes, the decimal point on the rushing stat is in the correct place. Clemson held its previous three opposing ACC quarterbacks to about three feet worth of productive rushing.
The Tigers haven’t allowed a passing or rushing touchdown to an opposing ACC quarterback since Florida State’s Alex Hornibrook tossed one in the second half of a 45-14 loss to the Tigers on Oct. 12. It’s been nearly two months since an ACC quarterback reached the end zone against Brent Venables’ defense.
Venables and the Tigers have played two nonconference games in that span, but those teams didn’t fare much better. South Carolina failed to score any touchdowns in a 38-3 defeat last weekend, and Wofford found the end zone just twice in a 59-14 loss. Its quarterback scored once.
Perkins finished second in ACC Player of the Year voting, however, and the Tigers haven’t faced a quarterback with Perkins’ skill set yet this year.
He needs to be electric for Virginia to stand a chance Saturday.
“Just seeing him play, it was Friday against Virginia Tech, it was really special to watch just because he’s such a dynamic player,” Clemson safety Tanner Muse said. “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.”
While Clemson hasn’t faced a quarterback with the same rushing and passing ability of Perkins this season, Perkins hasn’t faced a defense with nearly the team speed and talent that Clemson possesses.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne garner many of the headlines for the Tigers, but linebacker Isaiah Simmons might be the team’s most dangerous player.
The ACC Defensive Player of the Year leads the defense in snaps played with 578. He’s on the field the most, and he’s taken advantage of significant reps. Simmons has 84 tackles, including 14 tackles for loss, and seven sacks. He leads the team in all three statistical categories, and he’s a potential top 10 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Simmons and the Tigers have yet to allow a team to surpass 300 yards this season, and quarterbacks struggle mightily against Clemson’s ferocious defense.
Saturday poses a big test for Perkins, who is undoubtedly playing his best football of the season. The redshirt senior isn’t backing down from the challenge heading into the last ACC game of his career.
“Any time you get to play a great team like that, I think it brings the best out of everybody,” Perkins said. “The emotions and just the total effort that it takes to go out there and beat a team like that, it’s what college football is about.”