FORT LAUDERDALE, FL— The No. 9 Florida Gators are well aware of who they’re facing in Bryce Perkins. Dynamic, special and dynamic again were just a few of the adverbs Gators defensive players used to describe the Virginia Cavaliers quarterback.
“It's always important to watch out for the quarterback when you play a dude like that because out of nowhere he just tucks the ball and runs,” says corner Marco Wilson.
Perkins is the epitome of a dual-threat. He’s in the Top 40 in the country for passing, having completed 64% of his passes for 3,215 yards, 18-11 touchdown to interception ratio. But its his versatility that can prove fatal. He’s added 745 yards on the ground with 11 rushing touchdowns. Perkins at quarterback has 102 more rushes than the next closest rusher, tailback Wayne Taulapapa. He’s responsible for 3,960 yards of total offense, 8th in the nation and 78% of the Cavs offense.
"The scout team quarterback has been running all over the place trying to make it realistic for the game,” reveals Wilson.
That scout team quarterback is none other than early enrollee Anthony Richardson. The Gainesville native was able to practice with the team while they were still in town and ran the scout team to give the defense a look at Bryce Perkins type plays.
“It was nice when we were in Gainesville when Anthony Richardson came in and really didn't know a whole lot on our offense but was able to go be a scout team quarterback for a week. To get a guy that could run around and give looks,” explains head coach Dan Mullen.
As nice as the Richardson addition was and provided assistance, there is still little that can emulate the defensive confoundment created with a versatile duel threat quarterback. The Florida defense has found success when putting all of their attention—all 11 hats as they say—onto one player. It helped them shut down guys like running back D’Andre Swift and Cam Akers. But this isn’t just a running back. This is a guy that can hurt you in multiple ways, a test that the Gators haven’t had to face this season.
“He creates an 11-on-11 game because of the style in which they play, which what that does is creates an extra gap defensively for you to fill because like if the quarterback is a non-runner or a non-factor, then it's really 11-on-10 and you can play with an extra guy in coverage and things like that, whereas when it's 11-on-11 you have an extra gap to fill so you've got to play it a little differently. You've also got to understand relative to the call how you rush, because there's six rush lanes so if you have four guys rushing, you've got to collapse the pocket outside in to keep the guy in the pocket. And then the thing on the pass plays is as you distribute—because the guys are going down the field, a guy that is athletic like that, if he makes a guy miss and can get out in space, now you have an athlete with the ball in his hand in space. So that becomes an issue.
"But I think the biggest thing that Perkins has done is been able to complete some vertical throws down the field. Honestly against Clemson, they really could have scored the first two possessions of the game and maybe could have changed it a little bit there.”
That 11th guy is crucial not just to contain plays, but to be in place for when the play falls apart. That’s what is the cause to pause for the Gators coaching staff.
Says Mullen, “the scariest one is the plays that he makes after the play has broken down. You know, to sit there and say, okay, we stop the run or we stop the pass and all of a sudden he made somebody miss, he scrambled around, he got out of the pocket, he broke contain, and now you have a guy that is a great athlete in the open field making plays happen.”
Grantham’s defense features the aggressive pass rush which will have to mind the back end as well this week, so as to keep any secondary plays from developing. But as BUCK Jon Greenard explains, it also means those pass rushers—which will include Jabari Zuniga back from injury—have to play with cognitive discipline.
“Anytime as a pass rusher speaking, when you playing a guy like that, he’s kinda like, anything you do he’s gonna do the opposite. So you can be the guy around he edge, he’s gonna go right up under you. You can be the guy inside, he’s gonna go around you. So having guys on the D-line as a whole that understand how we wanna rush this guy, how we wanna attack this guy is gonna be huge for us. It changes up things a little bit but how you still can’t change a game too much. You gotta make him adjust to you, not adjust to him.”
So how do you stop someone that has been virtually unstoppable this season? You can’t, admits Mullen. You just try to slow him down.
“You've got to be sound. You've got to be disciplined. You've got to understand he's going to make plays, and you just have to limit the amount that he can make.”