Bryce Perkins threw two touchdown passes, De'Vante Cross had two interceptions on his birthday weekend, and a trio of Cavaliers scored their first career touchdowns as Virginia took care of business against Liberty, 55-27, on Saturday at Scott Stadium.
Oh, and linebacker Charles Snowden had a 24-yard catch-and-run.
For me, this game was all about how the team looked coming off the bye as it heads into the Black Friday showdown against Virginia Tech. The 'Hoos were a little rough and rusty against a spunky Flames team looking to reach bowl eligibility for the first time in its history, but overall, UVa did what it needed to do to beat Liberty and had fun doing it, and now it can focus fully on Tech week.
UVa hit a rough patch late in the first quarter that lasted into the second quarter, but then it took over in the second half to put the game away. Everyone seemed to stay healthy, too, with linebacker Jordan Mack coming off of the field in the fourth quarter. He was spotted looking OK on the sideline later, though.
Perkins played a little too long for my liking and took too many hits. I thought the coaches could've taken him out once Virginia had the ball up 45-24, but he stayed on for one more drive, which ended with the Cavaliers hitting a field goal. Perkins ran the ball a lot but had just 30 yards and one score, getting sacked three times. Eventually, in the second half, he started handing the ball off more to his backs, which was great to see. Perkins did most of his damage through the air, finishing 18 of 30 for 199 yards and two touchdowns, one to Terrell Jana (his first score in 2019, which is odd when you think about how on fire he's been) and one to Joe Reed. Jana led the receivers with four catches for 56 yards, Billy Kemp had another solid game with four receptions for 42 yards, and Hasise Dubois got back on the board with a pair of grabs for 31 yards after getting shut out against Georgia Tech. Perkins and Brennan Armstrong spread the wealth around, with 10 players catching at least one pass.
Why is Perkins still in? #GoHoos— Aaron Perryman (@hooamp) November 23, 2019
Thank you, #UVa, for just HANDING IT TO A RB multiple times in a row. Stop running Perkins today. He doesn't need to take the hits, and we know the magic he is capable of. We need to work on our running attack elsewhere. #GoHoos— Aaron Perryman (@hooamp) November 23, 2019
Armstrong relieved Perkins on the next drive and hit true freshman Dontayvion Wicks on a nice, 44-yard catch-and-run TD down the sideline. It was Wicks' first career score, and he was the third Cavalier to notch that personal accomplishment in the game. Early in the fourth quarter, PK Kier ran for a 4-yard touchdown following his 38-yard run that set up the offense inside the 5. And in the second quarter, Lamont Atkins recorded a 3-yard touchdown run to make it 17-14 and give Virginia the lead for good. Kier finished with 82 yards, and Atkins had 61, as both got a lot of work with Wayne Tualapapa a little banged up. Mike Hollins also had 27 yards and scored his second career rushing touchdown.
First TD for Dontayvion Wicks! #GoHoos— Aaron Perryman (@hooamp) November 23, 2019
One of the highlights of the game occurred on Virginia's first drive of the second half. The Cavaliers faced a fourth-and-9 at the Liberty 31-yard line. They set up for the field goal, then morphed into an offensive formation. Armstrong took the snap and found Snowden down the middle of the field for 24 yards. After the game, Bronco Mendenhall said despite his lobbying, he doesn't see Snowden becoming a receiving star.
Little-used freshman Seneca Milledge was also a bright spot on kick returns, taking four for 130 yards (32.5 per return). Mendenhall acknowledged in the postgame Milledge was slowed by an injury in the preseason.
Cornerback Heskin Smith was solid in coverage, breaking up a few passes -- and he also led the team with eight tackles -- and Cross also made a really nice play in addition to his two picks when he knocked the ball out of receiver Damian King's hands on a crossing route. The completion would've given the Flames a first down, but instead, they had to punt from their own 1, and it only got to the 15, setting up UVa with absurdly good field position. Other solid performers on defense included Mack with a half-sack and five tackles, Aaron Faumui with 2.5 tackles for losses and 1.5 sacks, Nick Jackson and Eli Hanback with a half-sack each, and Mandy Alonso with one tackle for loss.
Couple nice plays in a row by Heskin Smith covering Gandy-Golden. #GoHoos— Aaron Perryman (@hooamp) November 23, 2019
Safety Chris Moore and wideout Chuck Davis, who hasn't seen much time this season, were out for disciplinary reasons. Mendenhall said time will tell whether they play against Tech. Moore would be a big loss for a secondary that's obviously already hurting from several season-ending injuries. Against Liberty, Cross went back to safety with Moore out and Smith started the corner opposite Nick Grant.
The offense looks as good as it has looked in a while, and it needs to be. Virginia Tech crushed Pittsburgh 28-0 for its second straight shutout of an ACC team. After some stumbles early in the season, the 'Hoos have now scored at least 33 points in three straight games. The Tech defense is peaking, so every ounce that can be squeezed out of this offense is needed. It sickens me to say it, but the Lunch Pail Defense is going to be foaming at the mouth for that 16th consecutive win over Virginia and to send out Bud Foster with another strong performance over its arch rival.
The offense must be on point against the Hokies because the defense continues to struggle. Liberty was up 14-10 in the second quarter and driving before Cross snagged his first pick on a really bad pass by Buckshot Calvert. Cross returned the pick 52 yards to the Liberty 42. It was the turning point of the game and allowed UVa to get back on track. But the defense allowed 392 yards and too many chunk plays. The tackling was suspect. The kick coverage team was also lacking at times.
Virginia is going to a bowl for a third straight season and just secured its second consecutive eight-win campaign. That's all nice and good, but with the way Tech has been playing, Virginia's outing against Liberty -- allowing 27 points and being down 14-10 midway through the second quarter -- doesn't inspire confidence. I hope I'm wrong. I want nothing more than for the 'Hoos to make me eat my words.
Another eight-win season won't bring the warm and fuzzies like it did in 2018, if it comes with a side helping of another loss to the nemesis from Southwest Virginia and another chance at a Coastal title denied.
Time to buckle up your chin straps extra tight, dig deep down inside and pull out something special, boys. It's officially Tech week.
When standing at the foot of a mountain, you can dread the climb, or you can hunger for the thrill of reaching the summit.— Hoos Place (@HoosPlace) November 24, 2019
Hoos face a mountain this week. Why choose any attitude other than embracing the opportunity and moment?
Let's do this. #GoHoos #BeatTech https://t.co/CUnp4xDu4E