Liberty senior linebacker Brandon Tillmon distinctly remembers how watching film and trying to simulate Bryce Perkins didn’t do the Virginia quarterback justice when the Flames played the Cavaliers last season in Charlottesville.
Film couldn’t depict Perkins’ strength and ability to shed arm tackles. Simulating what the redshirt senior does on the practice field paled in comparison to his speed and ability to make accurate throws on the run.
The Flames return the majority of the defensive players who got an up-close look at the elusive quarterback last season, and that experience aided the unit’s preparation for one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s most dynamic players heading into today’s noon matchup at Scott Stadium.
“It’s definitely beneficial because sometimes film doesn’t do justice,” Tillmon said earlier this week. “Being able to already have a game under your belt of being able to play against him and know what he likes to do and how he is, it’s definitely beneficial.”
Perkins, in his second season with the Cavaliers, is undoubtedly the focal point of the offense.
He and Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts are the only two quarterbacks in the nation to throw for more than 2,400 yards and rush for more than 450 yards. Perkins leads the ACC and is 14th in the nation with 2,932 yards of total offense.
“The quarterback’s the best we’ve faced all year. I don’t know who will receive the player of the year in the ACC, but I would be shocked if he’s not in the discussion,” Flames coach Hugh Freeze said earlier this week. “Perkins, I think, probably 80% of the offense goes through him. Most every pass is a designed draw — whether it’s designed that way or not, which they do a good job of designing it that way — but it’s very difficult to contain him. We’re going to have to play extremely well defensively, not only against their run game, pass game, but every play being a possible draw for him. He’s that talented.”
Perkins has been electric this season, with the exception of the Cavaliers’ 35-20 loss at Notre Dame on Sept. 28. He was sacked eight times and finished with minus-29 yards rushing. His 334 yards passing yards were a result of a double-digit deficit.
That game, though, provides a blueprint of what can be done to limit his effectiveness.
“To contain him, really you have to have a few people on him at a time,” Flames redshirt senior rover Elijah Benton said. “You can’t let him escape the pocket because he can use his athleticism to hurt us and he can extend plays and he can get down the field. We just have to really be able to contain him, keep him inside the pocket, and then on the back end we have to stay in coverage.”
Liberty was unable to contain Perkins last season. He threw for 168 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 89 yards and two more scores in the 45-24 triumph over the Flames.
LU trailed 31-24 midway through the third quarter before turning it over on downs deep in its territory, and Perkins scored three plays later on a 9-yard run to open the floodgates over the final 22 minutes.
“Our defensive scheme is quite different than last year’s,” Freeze said after Thursday’s practice. “They know that he’s difficult to contain, and I don’t think it took us telling them that to get their attention. I think that’s one of the reasons the prep has been good.”
Perkins has the ability to bounce runs outside if containment breaks down, but Tillmon noticed a tell that he hopes the Flames can utilize throughout Saturday’s matchup.
“From what we’ve seen on film when he does pull it down and run, he likes to go into the interior A and B gaps,” the linebacker noted. “We’re going to do what we can gameplan-wise to be able to contain him in the pocket and just rely on our linebackers and secondary just to be able to trigger whenever he does try to take off. We’re basically going to try to keep him in the pocket as much as we can, because, although he can throw, we’d rather him try to beat us with his arm rather than his legs.”
UVa is 10-1 since the beginning of last season in games Perkins rushes for at least one touchdown. The running ability opens up ample one-on-one opportunities for the UVa wide receivers, and Perkins’ development throwing the ball has been accelerated this season.
He has thrown for 2,439 yards and 13 touchdowns on 227-of-350 passing, and 125 of his completions have resulted in first downs.
“From a defensive point of view, you have to be more mindful because when he’s running now, it’s not just really running to gain yards; it’s running to extend the play,” Benton said. “He has his eyes downfield, so you have to stay in coverage or else he can get an explosive play on you.”
Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.