Football hosts Liberty for Senior Day

Cavaliers play in Scott Stadium for last time this season

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Junior transfer quarterback Bryce Perkins is second in rushing for the Cavaliers on the season with an average of approximately 63 yards per game. 

Dorothy Wang | Cavalier Daily

Coming off a loss at home to Pittsburgh last week, Virginia looks to return to its winning ways at Scott Stadium as the Cavaliers host Liberty (4-4) Saturday. 

“After reviewing the film and just being very thorough about the analysis, the game was pretty simple in that Pitt won both sides of the line of scrimmage,” Coach Bronco Mendenhall said in Monday’s press conference. “That really was where the difference of the game emerged, especially in the second half, I believe.”

The Cavaliers (6-3, 4-2 ACC) fell to the Panthers (5-4, 4-1 ACC) 23-13, a game in which Pitt’s running back Darrin Hall dominated. He had 229 rushing yards alone, while Virginia had only 44 total rushing yards as a team. 

“Our run game can't just be Bryce [Perkins] on zone read pull and then quarterback scramble,” Mendenhall said. “That can't be the majority of the yards. That can be complementary, but it has to come off of run game execution off our core plays. Right now it's shifting in reverse order.”

So far this season, Virginia is averaging about 170 rushing yards per game with senior tailback Jordan Ellis leading the way with an average of approximately 81 rushing yards per game. Junior transfer quarterback Bryce Perkins is second in rushing for the Cavaliers with an average of approximately 63 yards per game. 

As a passer, Perkins completes 63.9 percent or his passes and is averaging roughly 205 passing yards per game. Perkins’ go-to target has been senior wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, who is the country’s only active player that has accumulated at least 2,000 career receiving yards and 500 career rushing yards. Junior wide receiver Hasise Dubois has also emerged as an option for Perkins, putting up an average of roughly 44 receiving yards a game. 

“We know that our offensive production as well as our team -- an opportunity to win is tied not exclusively, but has a lot to do with Bryce [Perkins] and Olamide,” Mendenhall said. “Those are our two most dynamic and productive offensive players. And so we just simply struggled to get on track, find rhythm, find momentum and assemble the continuity of a plan that got us the points and yield that we needed.”

Defensively, the Cavaliers have been led by standouts like senior outside linebacker Chris Peace and junior cornerback Bryce Hall. Peace has six sacks, which is the most by any linebacker in the ACC and the seventh-most by a linebacker in the nation. Hall has a team-high sixteen pass breakups, and he has also recorded two interceptions on the season. Senior safety Juan Thornhill has also been huge for the Cavaliers this season, with a team-high 56 tackles – including 40 solo tackles – and a team-high four interceptions. However, it remains to be seen whether he and a few other key players on Virginia’s defense will be healthy enough to play after picking up injuries in the Pittsburgh game. 

“We're anticipating Mandy Alonso being out, and so that's just short of the being confirmed, but anticipating that all others [Thornhill, Joey Blount] I would say are hopeful and have not been confirmed and been ruled in or out,” Mendenhall said.

Virginia’s defense — regardless of the condition it’s in — will face a Liberty team averaging 153.5 rushing yards, 323.9 passing yards and 477.4 total offensive yards. 

Junior running back Frankie Hickson leads the rushing game with an average of 84.8 rushing yards a game, and junior quarterback Stephen Calvert is putting up an average of 316 passing yards a game. Junior wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden has been Calvert’s go-to option, with 844 receiving yards on 51 receptions on the season. 

“What stands out is production,” Mendenhall said of the Flames. “Liberty is ninth nationally in throwing the football, I think 26th in scoring offense, and so the statistics jump out. Not hard to see on film that they have some talented players, a nice scheme design and are very clear about what their identity is and the speed in which they want to do it.”

While the Flames have been putting up some high numbers on offense, their opponents have been doing the same to them, putting up an average of 523.8 total offensive yards per game. Last week, Massachusetts recorded a whopping 777 yards on offense against Liberty in a game that went three overtimes. 

This is the first time that the Virginia and Liberty will meet in football, the start of a series between the two programs that will last 11 seasons. 

Saturday’s game is Senior Day for the Cavaliers, where 27 members of the team will be honored.

“They're everything,” Mendenhall said of the Senior Class. “They're the glue, the mortar, the things that have held things together. When some of the higher drama personalities want to go up and down, they just keep working. Then when there maybe a great win, they just keep working. When there is a tough loss, they just keep working.”

The game is scheduled for a 3 p.m. kickoff from Scott Stadium. After this week, the Cavaliers will hit the road to take on Georgia Tech and then close out the season with a road game against in-state rival Virginia Tech.

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