Different quarterback, same result.
After three seasons of harassing former Duke signal-caller Daniel Jones into numerous mistakes, the Cavaliers did the same thing to Quentin Harris and the Blue Devils' offense Saturday in Charlottesville, recording a pair of interceptions and five turnovers in a 48-14 victory that put them back in control of the Coastal Division.
Also, UVa helped its cause by turning a handful of red-zone trips into touchdowns, something it failed to do in its loss at Miami. The Wahoos' offense wasn't actually THAT much better than it was at Miami (4.4 yards per play in both games and more total yards at Miami), but the difference is that Virginia actually scored touchdowns in the red zone -- five of them -- and scored on seven of nine red-zone trips. The two pushes inside the 20 that didn't result in scores ended with interceptions -- one by Bryce Perkins when he was under pressure on the first drive and threw the ball behind his receiver, and one late in the game that was meaningless by backup Lindell Stone.
But the offense didn't need to be spectacular, because the defense was, hounding the Blue Devils into two picks and three fumbles, holding them to fewer than 200 yards until late in the game. It was a masterful job by that unit. Some more observations as UVa improved to 5-2 and 3-1 in the ACC:
It took a while for the Wahoos to get the scoring going, but once they did, they exploded for 17 points in the first quarter and 24 in the second. The 24 points in one quarter is fourth in program history. On third-and-4 on UVa's first scoring drive, Hasise Dubois made a really good 13-yard grab on the sideline, keeping the drive alive. The Cavaliers followed with a series of nice pass plays: another one to Dubois along the sideline, a play-action pass to tight end Tanner Cowley that was short but produced substantial yards after the catch, and a little out route to Joe Reed to make it the 5-yard line. From there, Perkins needed three carries to get the ball over the goal line as he showed his persistence, half-hurdling one defender and bulling over another right at the goal line. It wasn't as pretty as the highlight-reel hurdle over a Louisville defender last season, but it was still solid. Once that third down was converted on the Perkins-to-Dubois connection, the offense really got going with a nice sequence of plays, but don't forget that catch by the senior wideout to get it started. He has consistently shown excellent hands this season. He finished with four catches for 62 yards.
The first turnover happened on the next drive: an interception by safety Brenton Nelson. Virginia only sacked Harris once but seemed to harass him all day. This play was a perfect example as he was under heavy duress, had to go on the run, and ended up throwing into traffic. Nelson was the beneficiary of Harris' inaccuracy, as he showed great concentration and balance in first getting his hands under the pass near the ground, and second not letting his knees touch the turf as he took off for some extra yardage. UVa turned the pick into three points.
On the Blue Devils' next drive, they went for the first down on fourth-and-1 at their own 34 and were stymied, as Harris' rush went nowhere with Eli Hanback and Noah Taylor making the stop. UVa received its second straight short field and turned this one into a touchdown. This drive featured my favorite grab by Dubois that wasn't actually a catch. As impressive as his reception on the first scoring drive was, this one-handed wonder was better, but it turns out he came down with a toe on the line, so it was incomplete. However, he got a pass-interference call, and UVa got the ball on the 2. It took three tries -- again -- and Perkins got across the goal line to give UVa a 17-0 lead, but not before a review took place to see if he had fumbled. It was determined that he broke the plane of the goal line with the ball before it was knocked out of his hands. The rout was on.
Duke made it to midfield for the first time on its next drive, but Taylor made a terrific play for the team's second turnover. Mataeo Durant caught a pass behind the line of scrimmage, and Taylor went for the tackle, perfectly placing his hand on the ball as he made the hit to knock the ball free. Mandy Alonso secured possession.
UVa needed no help on its third turnover. On the first snap of the second half, Harris and running back Deon Jackson fumbled a handoff, and Charles Snowden pounced on the ball. UVa's offense again stalled, but did get a field goal off this mistake to go up 20-0.
Safety Chris Moore made a nice stop on Duke's next drive. The Blue Devils had a third-and-5, and Harris completed a pass to Noah Gray, but Moore tackled him short of the line to gain. Moore is seeing more time now with Bryce Hall out for the season. Safety De'Vante Cross took Hall's spot at corner, giving Moore more time in the secondary. The junior led the team with 12 tackles.
Cross had a good game, too, in place of Hall. Cross had two breakups, and I don't remember him getting beat on any big passes. Sometimes the less you notice a defensive back, the better. Of course, Duke rarely made a significant play on offense, but Nick Grant and Antonio Clary were the closest defenders on Harris' two touchdown passes.
Virginia executed a nice reverse on its next drive, with Perkins handing off to Billy Kemp on a jet sweep from under center, and then Kemp flipped the ball to Tavares Kelly, who was speeding by. Kelly took off around the end with Perkins blocking, sort of, and Kelly had a crease to go all the way but was tripped up and gained 17 yards. I enjoyed seeing Perkins be a gamer and block, or at least get in the way so that he could help out Kelly.
Two plays later, I thought my eyes were lying to me when Perkins again lined up under center, and Wayne Taulapapa took a handoff with big back Jamari Peacock blocking for him. Taulapapa powered his way to the goal line for his first touchdown of the game. It was a sight for sore eyes for UVa fans, who have been begging for Perkins to line up under center and just hand the ball off in short-yardage situations, and that's what UVa did. Kudos to offensive coordinator Robert Anae for making that adjustment.
Duke finally put together a touchdown drive to make it 27-7, but then the Devils kicked to Reed for some reason! And of course, the shifty speedster took it 95 yards to the house to make it 34-7. By the numbers: Reed has five kick return TDs in his career, which is tied for ninth all time in FBS and tied for third in ACC history. Reed is the only player in FBS history to have at least 2,700 kick return yards with an average of at least 28 yards per return. He had 179 all-purpose yards in the game, taking him over 4,000 for his career, the ninth Cavalier to hit that mark. He is simply amazing.
Turnover four happened on Duke's next possession, when Jordan Mack came around the end to sack Harris, dislodging the ball at the same time. Hanback fell on the ball, even though he said he thought about trying to pick it up and score. Mack must love facing Duke. He got his career started with a bang in 2016 when he famously sacked Jones with a bone-crunching hit in the end zone. Perkins followed this turnover with his third score of the game, which was definitely his easiest as he carried it around the left end.
The fifth and final turnover came on Duke's next drive, as Harris threw a pass right to safety Joey Blount. Now some fun with numbers for the defense: Virginia has 12 picks in its five-game winning streak against Duke. Complete domination. And for the first time since 1995, UVa has held each of its first seven opponents under 400 yards. The Blue Devils finished with 250. Stout.
There was some semblance of a run game. I've already touched on this some, but after the fifth turnover, Taulapapa closed out the third quarter with a 31-yard run, and on the first play of the fourth quarter, he tallied his second TD of the contest on a nine-yard run. He finished with 14 carries for 77 yards (5.5 ypc). UVa finished with 154 rushing yards (3.8 ypc) after putting up just four and 74 against Notre Dame and Miami, respectively. The offensive line also did a pretty good job of protecting Perkins, allowing two sacks after Notre Dame got eight and Miami five. Everything was working Saturday, but a running game with running backs (not just the QB) that is effective will always take pressure off of Perkins.
The crowd went over 50,000 for the second time this season, landing at 52,847. I was skeptical even one game, except the Virginia Tech meeting, would go over 50,000 in attendance this year, but I was wrong, with Florida State getting around 58,000 and now fans showing up Saturday. UVa fans have done a nice job recognizing and responding to the higher level of play we've been witnessing over the past one and a half to two seasons.
Virginia went through a rough six quarters from the second half of the Notre Dame game through the Miami contest. But the defense held firm throughout most of that time, and the offense found itself a bit Saturday, increased its efficiency and effectiveness in the red zone, and the Cavaliers did what they needed to do to get back atop the division. It was a strong win over a Duke team that had looked pretty dang good for most of the season. Now, let's hope Virginia can take this momentum on the road when it faces an improved Louisville team and snag its sixth win of the season to become bowl eligible.