CHARLOTTESVILLE — With linebacker Charles Snowden wreaking havoc, Virginia’s defense did its part throughout Saturday’s game against Louisville.
The offense, meanwhile, sparked by elusive quarterback Bryce Perkins, broke through in the second half, and the Cavaliers pulled away for a 27-3 triumph in their ACC opener at Scott Stadium.
The strong showing marked the first time since 2009 the Cavaliers held an ACC opponent without a touchdown. It also was the first time since 2010 Louisville failed to reach the end zone.
“I’m really happy for our players,” Virginia Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “They performed really well. Defense carried the beginning of the game, creating scoring opportunities, which then eventually were leveraged into touchdowns. Not in the first half, but eventually we started to kind of handle sudden change a little bit better offensively.”
The touchdown that all but sealed the rout in front of an announced crowd of 34,446 took place with 13:08 left in the fourth quarter, with Perkins delivering a 44-yard strike to wide receiver Joe Reed for a 20-3 margin.
On the Cardinals’ next possession, Snowden broke up a pass on second down, and on third down he and sacked quarterback Jawon Pass, who replaced starter Malik Cunningham. Snowden later recovered a fumble that Virginia turned into the final touchdown courtesy of Perkins’s eight-yard run in which he hurdled a defender for the second time in the game.
Snowden finished with a game-high eight total tackles, including 1 1/2 for loss, two pass breakups, one interception, one sack and one fumble recovery. The sophomore from Silver Spring, Md., is emerging after playing less than two years of varsity football in high school at St. Albans in Northwest Washington.
“I look up to every single guy on the defensive side of the ball,” Snowden said, “and so to go out and contribute and help them personally means a lot to me.”
Virginia (3-1, 1-0 ACC) yielded 214 total yards, including just 66 rushing, forced three turnovers and limited the Cardinals (2-2, 0-1) to 3 of 11 conversions on third down.
Perkins led the offense, accounting for 275 yards and three touchdowns. The junior transfer completed 17 of 24 passes with one interception in which intended receiver Olamide Zaccheaus had the ball go through his hands and into the arms of a Louisville defender.
Perkins played the second half with a dislocated pinkie finger on his right (throwing) hand, which had forced him to miss part of one series late in the second quarter with Virginia ahead 6-0.
“We did a pretty job all week of just knowing the different type of looks we were going to get,” said Perkins, his right hand wrapped in ice during the postgame news conference. “When we got to the game, it was exactly what we practiced all week, so coaches did great job of dialing it up. Our line did a great job of blocking and executing the plays.”
The Cavaliers scored the game’s first touchdown late in the third quarter to take a 13-3 lead. The scoring play covered three yards on a pass from Perkins to junior running back Chris Sharp, who came wide open in the front right portion of the end zone.
Three plays earlier on first and 10 from the Virginia 49, Perkins delivered a highlight-reel run for 36 yards, hurdling strong safety Dee Smith at the Louisville 25 before being tackled at the 15.
The only points of the first half came on a pair of field goals from freshman Hunter Pearson, both in the second quarter. His first from 32 yards followed an interception by Snowden, who extended both arms and grabbed Cunningham’s throw intended for wide receiver Jaylen Smith.
Snowden ran it back 23 yards to the Louisville 32, and the Cavaliers offense got as far as the 10, setting for the field goal when Perkins’s pass to Hasise Dubois on third and seven ended two yards short of the first-down marker.
The first half also included a trick play with Perkins as the intended receiver. He slid trying to make the catch, and after a Virginia timeout, freshman Brennan Armstrong replaced Perkins, who came to the sideline to have his pinkie examined by the athletic training staff.
Armstrong’s first play gained 34 yards on a run up the middle to the Louisville 8. Pearson, who replaced A.J. Mejia (Paul VI) after the sophomore from Fairfax missed from 32 yards in the first quarter, capped the drive with a 24-yard field goal.
During that time, Perkins was throwing lightly on the sideline and re-entered on the ensuing series just before halftime.
“Today, it was not perfect, but it was 27-3 in our opening ACC game at home,” Mendenhall said. “And there was a confidence when my team arrived in our locker room, our stadium. My wife asked me last night, she said, ‘How do you think you’re going to do?’
“I said, ‘We’re going to win. They’re becoming more resilient and more confident,’ and rarely do I say that to her or anyone else, but there’s a different level of confidence that’s coming with this team and program. It doesn’t mean we’ve arrived, doesn’t mean there’s not things to work on, but I’m seeing it unfold.”