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COLUMN: Bryce Perkins to pose problems for IU defense in home opener


Then-sophomore defensive back Andre Brown Jr. defends against Purdue at the Old Oaken Bucket game Nov. 27, 2017 in West Lafayette, Indiana. IU's defense will take on junior quarterback Bryce Perkins and the Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium. Ty Vinson Buy Photos

For IU to reach a bowl game this season, certain things, such as a 3-0 nonconference record, are required.

This was considered a reasonable expectation for IU entering the season. But, suddenly the arrival of the Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium looks likely to cause the Hoosiers more problems than anticipated.

The potential predicaments are centered around Bryce Perkins, Virginia’s junior quarterback who can carve up defenses in both the passing and running games. 

Perkins’ college career began with a two-year hiatus. He redshirted the 2015 season at Arizona State before being sidelined in 2016 after suffering a fracture in his neck. The injury nearly ended his football career, but after transferring to spend the 2017 season at Arizona Western Community College, where he led the Matadors to the National Junior College Athletic Association Championship game, Perkins signed with Virginia last December. 

He made his Cavalier debut last weekend in a 42-13 win against Richmond, and his two-fold ability at quarterback should quicken the pace of IU Coach Tom Allen’s heart, as well as moisten his palms.

IU’s defensive performance against Florida International was subpar. The three takeaways forced by the Hoosiers masked lackluster showings from the defensive line and linebacking groups, something Allen called attention to earlier this week.

“I think it was a combination of those two groups that, to me, didn't play to the standard that we want here to be able to secure the gaps and play with discipline,” Allen said. “I just felt like we didn't play with the discipline of our fundamental fits that you have to do.”

Even IU’s secondary, the strength of the defensive unit, was at fault for blown assignments and miscues. Junior defensive back A’Shon Riggins, an experienced player amidst the changing landscape of the IU defense, committed three penalties himself.

Beyond the missed assignments, Allen said he was disappointed in IU’s defensive fits, the way in which defensive linemen and linebackers filled their designed spots on each play, during the FIU win.

“I felt like there were too many,” Allen said. “I know we got a lot of new faces and I get that, that’s part of the growth.”

IU got away with those mistakes because it was playing a Conference USA opponent, but Perkins will punish the Hoosiers if given the opportunity.

Perkins is an absolute unit. 

At 6-foot, 3-inches tall and weighing 210 pounds, he’s not an easy player to tackle and can be an evasive runner in the middle of the field.

He also represents a dramatic shift from what Virginia’s offense looked like last season against IU with former quarterback Kurt Benkert. A one-dimensional quarterback, Benkert focused solely on the Virginia passing attack while running back Jordan Ellis led the Cavaliers with more than 800 rushing yards.

Now, Virginia has Perkins, a mobile threat at quarterback, a long-serving and a capable running back in Ellis and a go-to wide receiver in senior Olamide Zaccheaus, who set a Virginia single-season record for receptions last season with 85.

All three players led the Cavaliers in their respective categories last weekend, each posting more than 100 yards passing, rushing or receiving. 

What’s more? Perkins became the first Virginia quarterback since 2009 to rush for at least 100 yards.

“Very impressed with their offense,” Allen said. “So now you mix an explosive offense with a very stingy defense, and they’re always consistent and very effective on special teams.”

Florida International recorded three scoring drives of 10 plays or more against the Hoosier defense. If IU’s defense plays like that against Virginia, the drives likely won’t last that long before one of Perkins, Ellis or Zaccheaus races into the end zone.

Allen said the Hoosiers have a lot of respect for Perkins, but it remains to be seen if they can stop him.


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