Can the UVA offensive line allow new QB Bryce Perkins to shine?

uva footballHow good is Bryce Perkins, the newly-anointed UVA starting quarterback? Beware the possible trick question, because we may not find out right away.

Perkins, a dynamic dual-threat quarterback, has nice weapons at the skill position at his disposal, Olamide Zaccheaus and Jordan Ellis in the backfield, Joe Reed at wideout, Evan Butts at tight end.

But if he is going to be able to use them, Perkins, a 6’3”, 215-pound rising junior, will need help from the guys up front that hasn’t been there at Virginia for the longest time.

Actually, I’m wrong there. For a four-game stretch last fall, the O line was a strength for the 2017 UVA team, clearing the way for a running game that averaged 155.5 yards per game and 4.0 yards per carry, keying the ‘Hoos to wins at Boise State and UNC in that stretch.

But then, the clock struck midnight, midway through the season, with Virginia at 5-1. Injuries decimated the line in the second half of the season, and the run game suffered most noticeably, as the Cavaliers were able to put up just 67.8 yards per game and 2.6 yards per rush down the stretch, and quarterback Kurt Benkert was sacked 19 times in the final six regular-season games, as UVA limped home to a 1-5 finish.

Then came the Military Bowl, which saw Virginia gain just 10 yards on 17 attempts, allowed Benkert to be sacked on his first dropback and then perform under duress the rest of the afternoon, in a dispiriting 49-7 loss to Navy.

Enter Perkins, who led his juco team to the national-championship game, completing 63.3 percent of his passes and stretching the field on the perimeter on read-options, averaging 5.1 yards per rush, after transferring out of Arizona State, where he had been one of the nation’s top QB recruits.

On paper, Perkins is a perfect fit for Virginia offensive coordinator Robert Anae’s system, which runs at its best with a quarterback taking snaps in the shotgun, flanked by tailbacks on either side, forcing opponents to be prepared for handoffs to either back, the quarterback faking the handoff and running around the end, the QB having a run-pass option in the flat, or dropping back to pass from the protection of the pocket.

Benkert, for all his skill as a quarterback, was not the type of quarterback to make defenses respect him as a possible runner on the perimeter, meaning Anae had to go with a skimmed-down playbook.

Perkins, when healthy, and operating behind a decent working O line, theoretically opens up the entirety of the Anae offense, and should impact the anemic running game of the past couple of years.

But, that’s assuming that the O line can block, and as elemental as that sounds, I’m not sure you can assume anything.

You look at the roster coming out of the spring, and first thing you notice is, it’s young: one true freshman, three redshirt freshmen, four sophomores, two juniors.

There’s size – averaging 297.5 pounds – but you’re talking about guys who are just a year or two into their development physically and also in terms of their football IQ at the college level.

And they didn’t come to Charlottesville with the greatest of pedigree – averaging 2.6 stars on the five-star Rivals rating scale.

They’re going to have to grow, literally and otherwise, or Perkins won’t be running read-options so much as he is running for his life.

Column by Chris Graham

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