UVA offense picks up slack with stellar play back-to-back weeks

uva footballThe nadir for the UVA offense was the 311-yard effort in a 28-21 loss at Louisville two weeks ago.

There had been the nine points on six possessions inside the 30 in the loss at Miami at Week 6. And the six sacks in the third quarter, two of them strip sacks that led to 14 Notre Dame points, in a 35-20 loss in South Bend.

The season-low 244 yards against one-win ODU way back in mid-September comes to mind, sure.

But, no, the egg laid at Louisville was the one that really stung.

The 2019 season seemed to be coming off its rails.

Credit to coach Bronco Mendenhall, offensive coordinator Robert Anae and their guys. They’ve sucked it up and gotten better.

It starts up front. In Saturday’s 33-28 win over Georgia Tech, Bryce Perkins was sacked just two times, and it wouldn’t be out of bounds to call both coverage sacks.

Given time in the pocket, Perkins was 24-for-35 passing for 258 yards, and the senior went over the 100-yard mark on the ground for the second straight week, gaining 106 yards on 21 runs.

“It’s offensive line improvement. That’s allowed Bryce to run more effectively, to have more protection, to throw more effectively,” Mendenhall said. “Our offensive front has trended upwards for about the last six weeks. It’s been incremental, it’s been slow, it’s been sometimes less visible to the outside world, but I’ve seen it. That’s the biggest difference, which then has allowed Bryce to be who he really is as he has also become healthier.”

Perkins put up big numbers a week after throwing for 378 yards and adding 112 on the ground in the 38-31 win at North Carolina.

The offense, which had been averaging 345.3 yards per game through its first eight games in 2019, put up 517 yards against the Tar Heels, and 413 yards against Georgia Tech.

And it couldn’t have come at a better time. The UVA D has been banged up a bit of late, and it’s showing in the numbers. After giving up 281.5 yards per game through its first eight games this season, the ‘Hoos gave up 539 yards to UNC last week, and Georgia Tech gained 372 yards on Saturday, a season-high for the Yellow Jackets.

The defense’s struggles on Saturday translated into the UVA offense starting four of its first six possessions trailing Georgia Tech on the scoreboard.

Another fun stat: the game was a one-score game in either direction for all 11 offensive possessions.

That means pressure to execute, which the ‘Hoos were able to do consistently, and for the second straight game, without committing a turnover.

“The progress of our offense in general has increased, and it makes everybody else feel good. We’ve picked up a physical nature, and it showed in these last two weeks,” Perkins said.

The strong play up front has allowed Perkins to look more like the 2018 Perkins throwing the ball. Over his past two games, he has completed 54 of his 74 pass attempts, which works out to a 73.0 percent completion rate, for 636 yards and four touchdowns, without an interception.

A key the past two weeks has been the play of junior wideout Terrell Jana, who had 13 catches for 172 yards total his first two years at UVA, and 31 catches for 332 yards through eight games in 2019.

The past two weeks for Jana: 22 catches on 28 targets, 254 yards.

The key to the turnaround the past two weeks, to Jana: “I think just trusting the process.”

“We went through a tough road stint. But coming home like this and getting the big win on the road last week is all just added motivation,” Jana said. “Then seeing the defense is banged up too, we have to lean on offense a bit more. We have to make some plays and put some points on the board. Early on the defense was keeping teams to under 20 points. Now we are seeing our responsibility, and we are rising to the occasion.”

Story by Chris Graham

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