Shortly after winning the Belk Bowl and earning Virginia its first bowl victory since 2005, quarterback Bryce Perkins raised the bar.
“This is the first step toward making big strides,” Perkins said. “Next year we want the Coastal Division — and the ACC championship.”
That would mean knocking off perennial ACC power Clemson, which has won four straight conference titles.
For now though, the Cavaliers (8-5) will have to settle for savoring a 28-0 victory over South Carolina in the Belk Bowl, a win that snapped the longest bowl drought in the ACC.
Perkins threw three touchdown passes to Olamide Zaccheaus, the game’s Most Outstanding Player, and Virginia’s 14th-ranked pass defense dominated a South Carolina team that had averaged more than 38 points over its previous five games.
Perkins completed 22 of 31 passes for 208 yards and ran for 81 yards. Zaccheaus had 12 catches for 100 yards and Jordan Ellis ran for 106 yards and a touchdown as Virginia held more than a 24-minute edge in time of possession.
Perkins said he felt chemistry with Zaccheaus the first day he transferred in last year from Arizona Western Community College — and his favorite target agreed.
“The biggest thing with me and Bryce is we get along so well off the field — and that just carries over,” Zaccheaus said. “Even when I might not make a play or he might not make a play, it’s like, ‘Who wants it on the next play?’ We’re the same that way.”
Virginia’s defense was relentless.
It put the clamps on quarterback Jake Bentley, who had thrown for 16 touchdowns over the previous five games, including a 510-yard, five-TD performance against Clemson earlier this month. Bentley was limited to 218 yards on 17-of-39 passing and was intercepted twice.
South Carolina (7-6) was 2 of 13 on third down conversions and 2 of 5 on fourth downs.
The Gamecocks clearly weren’t the same playing without wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who bypassed the bowl game to begin preparing for the NFL draft.
Coach Will Muschamp said he was “disappointed” in the team’s performance, adding “we didn’t put on a good show and that’s on me.”
Bentley said he didn’t play well at all.
“The interceptions especially and then not executing in the red zone is a tough thing to swallow,” said Bentley, who added that he hasn’t made a decision on whether he’ll enter the NFL draft.
The Gamecocks were shut out for the first time since 2006, when they lost 18-0 to Georgia.
“That is huge,” Virginia safety Joey Blount said. “I don’t know of many teams that have done that in a bowl. That just shows our defense is for real.”