“Yeah, they really had to get in there and pull pus out,” said Perkins, who revealed his illness following a 39-30 victory over the Hokies on Nov. 29 at Scott Stadium. “I was awake through all of it. It’s over now, and I’m feeling great.”
Throughout the ordeal, in which Perkins at times had difficulty breathing and speaking because of inflammation narrowing his airway, the senior assured coaches and teammates he would be on the field, just like when he had played through an ailing knee, neck and thumb.
Perkins’s moxie, particularly at the sport’s highest-profile position, emboldened the team during practice this week as well, players and coaches indicated, with another daunting assignment at hand: No. 3 Clemson (12-0) in the ACC championship game Saturday night in Charlotte.
The reigning national champion Tigers, one of three undefeated teams in major college football and a four-touchdown favorite, won the Atlantic Division by three games and are chasing an ACC championship and College Football Playoff berth both for a fifth consecutive time.
The No. 23 Cavaliers (9-3) are making their first appearance in the ACC championship game after becoming the seventh program in as many years to win the Coastal Division.
“I think he’s a fantastic player,” Clemson safety Tanner Muse said of Perkins. “Dual-threat guy, can really make stuff happen with his legs and also his arm, just being able to bring that dynamic to the game — really tough for any defense. Just seeing him play, it was Friday against Virginia Tech, it was really special to watch.”
Perkins’s performance against the Hokies included accounting for 475 yards of offense and three touchdowns. He rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns on five carries in the first quarter against a defense that had not permitted more than 63 rushing yards to any of its previous three opponents.
His 3,636 yards of offense are the most in the ACC this season, eclipsing the program season record he set last year. Perkins needs 659 yards over his final two games to break Shawn Moore’s program record for career total yards (7,897).
Perkins also is one of three players in major college football with 2,900 passing yards and 600 rushing yards this year, joining Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts and Louisiana Monroe’s Caleb Evans.
Since the start of last season, Perkins — who began his career at Arizona State, redshirted in 2015 and missed 2016 with an injury before transferring to Virginia — is the only quarterback in major college football with 5,200 passing yards and 1,600 rushing yards.
“Anyone that would underestimate him, what he’s capable of, simply hasn’t been paying attention to what he has accomplished, what he continues to accomplish and what he will yet accomplish as our quarterback,” Virginia Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Yeah, I would say underestimate him at your own risk.”
Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney certainly isn’t, having watched hours of video of Perkins in preparation for the first meeting between the programs since 2013. The entire team, in fact, watched the Virginia-Virginia Tech game while riding the bus to Columbia, S.C., the day before playing in-state rival South Carolina.
Perkins has run for at least 106 yards in three of the past four games and needs 22 yards to become Virginia’s career leader in rushing yards for a quarterback, but Clemson is yielding just 106.3 rushing yards per game, the 11th fewest in the country.
Perkins also has seven touchdowns passes with one interception over the past four games. With six more passing touchdowns, Perkins would pass Kurt Benkert, his immediate predecessor, for third on Virginia’s career passing touchdowns list.
Matt Schaub is the Cavaliers’ career leader in passing touchdowns (56), accumulating his total over four years.
“First of all, he’s a great leader,” Swinney said of Perkins. “You just see that in him. He plays with an incredible will to win. He has this belief in him. It’s very easy to see that. He’s one of those guys that makes everybody around him better. You can tell, again, he’s a great young man and a great leader. That doesn’t just happen.”