Perkins

Virginia’s quarterback Bryce Perkins slides into the end zone for a touchdown against Liberty during a game at Scott Stadium last season.

VIRGINIA CAVALIERS

COACH: Bronco Mendenhall, 16-22, fourth season at Virginia

2018 RECORD: 8-5, 4-4 ACC

POSTSEASON: beat South Carolina 28-0 in the Belk Bowl

» A LOOK BACK

It had been nearly a decade since Virginia enjoyed consecutive bowl appearances, but the wait appears to have been worth it with Mendenhall’s ability to transfer the culture on the Charlottesville campus. After making a bowl game in 2017, the Cavaliers took the next step forward with a winning season and a bowl victory to build momentum heading into this upcoming season.

The offense, which lacked identity in Mendenhall’s first two seasons at UVa, found itself with Bryce Perkins behind center. The dynamic quarterback was among the most productive players in the ACC with his dual-threat ability, and he helped the Cavaliers add explosiveness on that side of the ball with a steady running back (Jordan Ellis) and a reliable outside receiver (Olamide Zaccheaus).

With the offense taking flight, the defense continued to be the foundation of the Cavaliers’ success. UVa ranked in the top 50 in four major defensive categories, with the 16th-ranked passing defense highlighting the team’s play on that side of the ball. Juan Thornhill, an Altavista native who is now with the Kansas City Chiefs, became a stalwart at safety with his heady play and knack for being around the ball.

» LOOKING AHEAD

Perkins is back to lead the offense, and his presence alone will allow the new faces in the lineup to get acclimated to the Cavaliers’ scheme. That means getting the running back rotation set following Ellis’ graduation, and also establishing the go-to wide receivers who can be as productive and reliable as Zaccheaus.

“I've always been the biggest critic of myself. I'm definitely self-motivated to do better more so for personal reasons rather than having a lot of attention on me,” Perkins said at ACC media days. “I definitely want to be the best version of me I can. Last year gave me something to work on and gave me a platform to strive for this year, kind of overachieve on that. I'm just making sure that I'm all I can be for this team. I think what separates a good quarterback from great quarterback is the ability to win a championship. Having that as a motivation, just keep going.”

Defensively, the Cavaliers return three of the four starting linebackers, shutdown corner Bryce Hall, and interior lineman Eli Hanback. Those players will help bring along new faces on a unit that is expected to help UVa contend for the Coastal Division title.

“I think there is understanding what we did last year, trying to learn from our mistakes, then kind of put that behind us,” Hall said. “I think the more you kind of dwell on what you did in the past can make you complacent moving forward. With that in mind, we know what we're capable of doing. Now we're trying to be even better than we were a year ago.”

» WHO’S BACK?

• SKILL PLAYERS

QB Bryce Perkins (225-349 passing, 2,680 yards, 25 TD, 9 INT; 212 carries, 923 yards, 4.4 average, 9 TD)

WR/KR Joe Reed (25 catches, 465 yards, 18.6 average, 7 TD; 26 kick returns, 707 yards, 27.2 average, 1 TD)

WR Hasise Dubois (52 catches, 578 yards, 11.1 average, 5 TD)

• OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

LT Ryan Nelson

LG Chris Glaser

RG Dillon Reinkensmeyer

• DEFENSIVE LEADERS

CB Bryce Hall (62 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 2 INT, 21 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF)

ILB Jordan Mack (66 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 5 QBH)

ILB Zane Zandier (63 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 PBU, 3 QBH)

NT Eli Hanback (46 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 PBU, 2 QBH, 2 FR)

OLB Charles Snowden (61 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 INT, 9 PBU, 9 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF, 1 blocked kick)

FS Brenton Nelson (41 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 8 PBU)

• SPECIAL TEAMS

K Brian Delaney (12-16 FG, 46 long, 0 blocked; 25-25 PAT)

» WHO’S GONE?

• SKILL PLAYERS

RB Jordan Ellis (215 carries, 1,026 yardsm 4.8 average, 10 TD)

WR Olamide Zaccheaus (93 catches, 1,058 yards, 11.4 average, 9 TD)

TE Evan Butts (16 catches, 141 yards, 8.8 average, 2 TD)

• OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

LG R.J. Proctor

C Jake Fieler

RT Marcus Applefield

• DEFENSIVE LEADERS

S Juan Thornhill (98 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 6 INT, 7 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 blocked kick)

WLB Chris Peace (65 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 15 QBH, 2 FF)

CB Tim Harris (36 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 2 INT, 4 PBU)

• SPECIAL TEAMS

P Lester Coleman (51 punts, 41.8 average, 61 long, 6 TB, 13 FC, 20 I20, 9 50+, 0 blocked)

» WHOM TO FOLLOW

Doug Doughty, The Roanoke Times: @DoughtySports

Ron Counts, The (Charlottesville) Daily Progress: @Ron_CDPsports

Mike Barber, Richmond Times-Dispatch: @RTD_MikeBarber

Jerry Ratcliffe, JerryRatcliffe.com: @JerryRatcliffe

David Teel, The Daily Press: @DavidTeelAtDP

David Hall, The Virginian-Pilot: @DavidHallVP

Gene Wang, The Washington Post: @Gene_Wang

Taft Coghill Jr., The (Fredericksburg) Free-Lance Star: @TCoghillJr

UVa Football: @UVAFootball

» SCHEDULE

Aug. 31: at Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 6: William & Mary, 8 p.m.

Sept. 14: Florida State, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21: Old Dominion, TBD

Sept. 28: at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m.

Oct. 11: at Miami, 8 p.m.

Oct. 19: Duke, TBD

Oct. 26: at Louisville, TBD

Nov. 2: at North Carolina, TBD

Nov. 9: Georgia Tech, TBD

Nov. 23: Liberty, TBD

Nov. 29: Virginia Tech, TBD

» THE SERIES (home team in CAPS)

Virginia leads 1-0

Nov. 10, 2018: VIRGINIA 45, Liberty 24

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Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550. Follow him on Twitter: @DamienSordelett

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