DOUGHERTY: In Perkins, Mendenhall has found his ‘Thor-terback’

The junior college transfer can light it up running and passing as the Cavaliers’ starting quarterback

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Bryce Perknis will replace Kurt Benkert (pictured) this upcoming season.

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

Succeeding as a college football coach often involves finding the right players to fit the system — those with special characteristics that help them thrive in different roles.

Since his incredible days at BYU, Virginia Coach Bronco Mendenhall has achieved great success by developing quarterbacks that fit his ideal vision. In preparation for his third season at the helm, Mendenhall set out to look for the right quarterback to fit his system.

As Mendenhall said before, he wants a “Thor-terback.”

In essence, Mendenhall has been searching for a bruising signal caller — a dual-threat that is hard to bring down on the run and can pick apart secondaries with the deep ball. While Kurt Benkert played admirably as the first quarterback of the Mendenhall era, he was more of a traditional pocket passer who didn’t have much of a gear for speed. With a more deeply-rooted system in place, Mendenhall had the opportunity to finally find his ideal quarterback.

Enter Bryce Perkins.

Much like Benkert, Perkins comes in as a well-traveled veteran in the college game. Following a severe neck injury as a quarterback at Arizona State, Perkins looked to revitalize his career at a junior college, Arizona Western, where he led the Matadors to the NJCAA title game in 2017.

The Queen Creek, Ariz. native has the look of a potential game-changer for the Cavaliers in his two remaining years of eligibility. At six-foot-three and 216 pounds, Perkins possesses size similar to that of Benkert — but his agility sets him apart. As the brother of New York Giants running back Paul Perkins, the Cavaliers’ new quarterback has the genes to revamp the team’s lackluster running game.

Where Benkert was hesitant to take off and run, Perkins will not back down from making plays with his legs. He rushed 69 times for an average of 5.1 yards per carry, using both his big body and elusiveness to blow past defenders. His highlight film also shows his great awareness of pocket pressure — knowing just when to pull himself out of the pocket to avoid a sack.

Compared with the past two years, Mendenhall will be able to open his playbook even wider with Perkins’ ability to run. He will likely use many more designed runs and option plays to deceive defenses — something Virginia fans got a glimpse of last season with a package of running pays for sophomore quarterback De’Vante Cross. Mendenhall will likely also utilize Perkins near the goal line, using his big body to plug through the teeth of defenses along with senior running back Jordan Ellis.

Perkins’ presence can immediately elevate a running game that struggled mightily in 2017. Virginia ranked an abysmal No. 127 out of 129 teams in the FBS with only 93.5 yards per game on the ground, with inconsistent play from Ellis and the offensive line making life extremely hard for Benkert and the passing attack.

Inserting Perkins gives the Cavaliers the means to develop a diverse rushing attack, where Perkins can stretch defenses laterally and Ellis can bruise through the middle. His talents can go a long way in making Virginia’s offense less predictable.  

How well Perkins can replace Benkert’s solid passing numbers is where uncertainty lies. In his year at Arizona Western, Perkins passed for 131.1 yards per game, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions — not exactly gaudy numbers. Despite the interceptions, he did display solid accuracy, completing 63.3 percent of his passes.

Where Perkins can really shine as a passer is serving up deep balls. He possesses a rocket arm and his tape shows he’s not afraid to take shots downfield. He especially shows great accuracy on fade routes, getting the ball out of his hands quickly and placing it exceptionally well.

Perkins has the potential to be a daunting dual-threat quarterback in Mendenhall’s offense. Opposing defenses will undoubtedly have to respect the run against him, opening up passing options downfield for explosive plays — especially with speedy senior receiver Olamide Zaccheaus. When pass rush breaks a play up, Perkins can use his legs to escape pressure and accelerate downfield.

For an offense that went stagnant in the second half of last year due to an ineffective running game, Perkins can be the antidote for Mendenhall’s plan of attack. Mendenhall will have to do some reworking of his playbook to fit Perkins’ skill set — but for a team needing versatility from its quarterback, these will be welcomed changes. 

Whether Perkins will take his team’s confidence in stride and keep the starting job through the spring and summer practices remains to be seen. For now, though, his presence has brought buzz back to the Virginia football program as fans eagerly await to see his potential.

And for Mendenhall, he gets to once again mold a Thor-terback into a superhero on the field.

Alec Dougherty is a Sports editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached by email at a.dougherty@cavalierdaily.com or on Twitter at @aduggs96. 

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