Louisville will start conference play this week with a road game against a Virginia team that is four points away from being undefeated. Virginia came into this season with a lot to replace on the offensive side of the ball and they’ve gotten mixed results from the new things they’re doing this year.
Kurt Benkert and his big arm led a pass heavy offense last year that liked to push the ball down the field as much as possible last season. With Benkert graduating, the staff looked to the JUCO ranks to find his replacement. Bryce Perkins transferred in and the offense has completely flipped through three games. The Hoos run the ball much more than they pass and Perkins is a big factor in that.
Perkins is a dual threat quarterback who doesn’t have blazing speed but has plenty to get into the open field and take a run all the way to the endzone. Perkins is averaging 14 carries per game but this past weekend against Ohio, he didn’t keep the ball very many times on option plays and he got the ball out of his hand quickly on passing plays. That helped him avoid scrambling out of the pocket like he did a bit in their first two games. His mobility and ability to make people miss will be a big issue for a Louisville defense that has not been able to get the quarterback to the ground much this year.
From a passing standpoint, Perkins really impressed me against Ohio last weekend. He connected on 83% of his passes for 379 yards and 3 touchdowns. He hit guys on quick screens and hitches as well as touch passes on the sideline. One negative in the game was that he wasn’t decisive enough when his first read wasn’t there. He took a bad sack and he ended up bailing out too quickly a time or two. Louisville has to make him uncomfortable because he showed last week that he’s an accurate passer when he has the time.
The running back spot has benefited the most from the addition of Perkins. As we saw with the Louisville running backs behind Lamar Jackson, the attention he received helped open up holes for the backs. Jordan Ellis has enjoyed a very good start to the season after only averaging 3.9 yards per carry last year. He’s up to 7.45 to start this year and a couple of his long runs have gone untouched into the endzone. Ellis is a bowling ball type of back with solid speed and size. He probably won’t run away from the guys in UofL’s secondary but he can definitely break a chunk run here or there.
The group of receivers for the Hoos has been much better this season that I expected, personally. I’ll eat my crow for hyping up Andre Levrone and Doni Dowling last season only to see them do nothing in the game. This year, Virginia has replaced them pretty well with Hasise Dubois and Joe Reed. Neither are downfield threats like the guys they’ve replaced but they are reliable options in the short passing attack. Reed has really good speed but hasn’t been able to do much outside of being a good return man. Teams have spread the ball around against UofL so far, so he could break out this weekend.
The guy that Louisville really needs to worry about outside is Olimide Zaccheaus. That sentence has been true for a few years now but UVA is using him exclusively as a receiver now and he has rewarded that decision by averaging 121 yards per game which is 8th in the country. Coming off of a game where he had 247 yards receiving, Louisville will have to find a way to scheme around stopping him from getting the ball. Zaccheaus is the type of player that can take a short pass and turn it into a 70+ yard touchdown. He can make people miss in the open field and he can run through ankle tackles. His play making ability has to be accounted for.
Virginia’s offensive line has been pretty good so far, but you can see the issues that they have with the transition to a mobile quarterback. Perkins has a habit of holding onto the ball too long and the line just isn’t used to having to hold their blocks for that long. Overall, I think they’ve done a good job of creating a pocket for Perkins to stand tall in. I also think they’ve done really well to create big holes for the running game. These guys weren’t recruited to run read option stuff or to protect a mobile quarterback but they’ve done well to block in space and to get to their assigned blocks on run plays.