FORT LAUDERDALE — There’s one sure tell that Florida’s defense is facing a quarterback unlike any other it’s seen this season in Monday night’s Orange Bowl.
Virginia’s Bryce Perkins leads the Cavaliers in rushing and has carried the ball 102 times more than starting tailback Wayne Taulapapa.
And here’s another tell: he’s also thrown for 3,215 yards and 18 touchdowns.
The Gators went against eventual Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow of LSU earlier this season. But this guy, Perkins, is different — and maybe the most dangerous quarterback they’ve encountered this season because of his ability to generate explosive plays with both his arm and his legs.
“I don’t think they’ve seen anybody who has the capability of Bryce,” UVA wide receiver Hasise Dubois said Saturday. “He’s just electric at all phases of football. Blitzing him, you think he’s corralled and everything and he breaks out, and now you have to worry about the DBs coming up to tackle him and you have wide receivers wide open down the field.
“I always tell people, the play’s never over for Bryce. He’s always bound to break a tackle. I feel as if Florida is in for a lot they haven’t gone against anyone like him.”
No, they haven’t.
Perkins is the sprinting, passing, touchdown-making definition of a dual-threat quarterback.
And he pretty much is the Virginia offense. When he’s making plays, the Cavs usually fly up and down the field. When he struggles, the offense stalls.
“He’s the guy who makes their offense go,” senior middle linebacker David Reese said.
His numbers — 3,960 total yards and 29 touchdowns — say a lot.
His tape tells it all.
“He’s a dynamic athlete," UF senior rush end Jon Greenard said. “I’ve watched a good amount of film on him. He’s really fast, makes good decisions, knows when to tuck and run with it.
“He’s their guy, he’s going to make plays when he needs to. Even times when he might not be called on, he’s going to make something happen. We’ve got to execute on the pass rush and make sure we stay in our lanes and try to contain him. That’s the goal and the game plan.”
Because Perkins has so many electric plays with his legs, the national perception probably is that he’s a run-first, pass-second quarterback. Actually, it’s the opposite Virginia offensive coordinator Robert Anae said.
“The first thing is how he throws the ball,” Anae said. “Without that skill set, someone else is sitting here right now. The second skill set he has, when it’s not there, pump that thing and either take off running or find someone else to dish the ball to.
“He has two really good skill sets once the ball is being snapped. One, having the arm to throw it. Two, having the legs to create.”
With 213 carries on the season, Perkins obviously has a package of designed quarterback runs going into every game. But the majority of his big plays in the running game have come when he’s been pressured and found a way to escape the pocket and put himself in the open field. Once he’s there, there’s a chance he’s going to take it the distance.
“It’s always important to watch out for that when you play a dude like that,” cornerback Marco Wilson said. “You might be covering and he just tucks the ball and runs. We’ve been practicing that a lot, the scout team quarterbacks running all over the place and trying to make it realistic for the game.
“We’ve got to be ready for that. He’s pretty dynamic. He can run the ball and also throw it.”
The Gators, who are fifth in the nation in sacks with 46, will try to put steady pressure on Perkins. They know they have to be smart about it and make sure they try and contain him in the pocket, rather than rushing in recklessly.
“Any time the quarterback’s a runner it’s 11 on 11, so you have to account for an extra gap in the run fits,” UF defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “And then in the passing game when you’re rushing guys, if you rush four, there’s actually six rush lanes, so therefore you have to be able to collapse the pocket and cover six rush lanes with four guys.
“If you’re playing coverage, eventually you’ve got to get the guy on the ground. (Perkins) can extend plays, he can break tackles, he’s a strong runner, he’s got speed. We have to be aware of all of that and account for it in your gameplan. If you’re rushing four, you have to collapse the pocket outside in to keep him in the pocket.
“On pass plays, a guy that is athletic like that, if he makes a guy miss and can get into space, now you have an athlete with the ball in his hands out in space.”
And that can end in the end zone, with a touchdown for Perkins and the Cavs.
Who: Florida (10-2) vs. Virginia (9-4)
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens