CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Virginia used an offensive explosion to knock off North Carolina on Saturday night and pick up a crucial ACC Coastal Division victory. The Cavaliers scored at will against the Tar Heels and surpassed 500 yards of offense with the win.
The victory gives Virginia control of its destiny the rest of the way, with all three final regular season games coming at home.
UVa relied heavily on quick out routes, slants and curls to move the ball effectively against UNC. Terrell Jana caught five passes for 44 yards on Virginia’s second drive, which ended with a touchdown.
“He just knows his assignment so well, and he creates separation, and he’s so easy to work with,” Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins said.
Virginia kept finding Jana throughout the half. He recorded a career-high nine receptions for 81 yards in the first 30 minutes and finished the game with 13 receptions for 146 yards.
“It means the world to me, especially to get the win,” Jana said. “Playing good in a game is fun and all, but that drive home is miserable when you lose.”
The short passes helped open up a few deeper patterns, including a 40-yard pass to Hasise Dubois later in the first half.
The Cavaliers effectively abandoned designed runs, relying mostly on the arm of Perkins to lead the way. The plan worked. Virginia threw for 203 yards and a touchdown in the first half and finished the game with just under 400 passing yards.
Perkins looked like the best version of himself Saturday.
He threw for 378 yards and three touchdowns on 30-of-39 passing and added 112 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He broke off a 65-yard touchdown run within the first 35 seconds of the second half, and he looked explosive all night.
He’s one of only three players to ever tally 490 yards of total offense against UNC. Duke’s Daniel Jones and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson were the other two. Both are now starting NFL quarterbacks.
Offensive coordinator Robert Anae put Perkins in positions to succeed with creative play calling that kept UNC’s offense off balance.
Perkins missed a few open passes, but overall, he played fantastically. He threw the ball well and on time, and he made plays with his legs. The redshirt senior willed his team to its biggest win of the season.
Virginia started the season with Bryce Hall, Jordan Mack and Brenton Nelson playing important roles in the defense. Hall suffered a season-ending injury against Miami. Mack missed the first half against UNC for a targeting penalty against Louisville. Nelson missed Saturday’s game with an injury and will miss the rest of the season, according to Mendenhall.
“He’s been playing all year with it, and we’ve been managing it the best we can, and it finally became unmanageable,” Mendenhall said of Nelson’s injury.
Every college football team deals with injuries, but the Cavaliers’ defense has been depleted by them the past few weeks.
Redshirt freshman cornerback Jaylon Baker was thrust onto the field, and he was burned early in the fourth quarter. Dyami Brown beat him inside and broke a tackle as he took a quick slant route 57 yards into Virginia territory. UNC added a field goal on the drive.
Later in the first half, Brown broke a De’Vante Cross tackle and turned a quick curl route into a 47-yard touchdown reception. Brown found the end zone again in the first half on a 34-yard post route down the middle of the field. He hurt UVa all night, tallying six receptions for 202 yards and three touchdowns.
UVa’s defense did shut out the Tar Heels in the fourth quarter, however.
Briggs step up
Jowon Briggs recorded his first career sack on the first play from scrimmage, and the true freshman nose tackle put up fantastic numbers. He ended the game with four tackles and one sack, helping create a strong push from the center of the defensive line.
Virginia’s special teams weren’t at their best Saturday. Brian Delaney knocked the opening kick out of bounds, there was a subpar snap on Delaney’s 21-yard field goal in the first half and Joe Reed only averaged 19 yards per kickoff return.
This is only the second time in the history of the matchup that both teams scored at least 30 points. Virginia won the other game 44-40 in 1973. This was the 124th meeting between the schools.
The win makes Virginia bowl eligible for the third consecutive season.