FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla -- As the No. 9 Florida Gators count down the hours until they meet their opponent, the No. 24 Virginia Cavaliers, in the 2019 Capital One Orange Bowl, it's time to look at the personnel matchups that will decide the game.
While most consider Florida to be the favorite here, it would be naive to underestimate the strengths of Virginia's roster and what they can do on the football field. Most of the attention has turned to quarterback Bryce Perkins, a "dynamic" dual-threat that concerns Florida from head-to-toe, but there are plenty of playmakers across the field for the Cavaliers.
Let's take a look at the three key matchups to keep an eye on, with in-depth stats from Pro Football Focus for context.
Florida front seven vs. QB Bryce Perkins
As we've previously written here at GatorMaven, in the words of Florida's defense themselves, Perkins is a dynamic threat at quarterback for Virginia.
Not only did Perkins finish the regular season with over 3000 passing yards and a 64% completion rate - but he also tallied 102 more rushes than the team's leading running back.
Perkins has only thrown 43 incompletions on his 268 attempts targeting receivers behind the line of scrimmage through 10 yards up the field, a completion percentage of just about 84%. Not to mention, 43.8% of Virginia's passing yards this season have come after the catch, so expect him to utilize the underneath game to get things flowing.
As a rusher, Perkins has found the most success running through the left B-gap (between the left guard and tackle), averaging 6.8 yards per rush on 13 attempts, and the right A-gap (center/right guard) at 10.9 YPR on 15 attempts.
Florida's front seven on defense will be tasked with not only containing Perkins to prevent both designed and non-designed runs - 333 of his rushing yards have come on scrambles - but getting him in the ground early and often to eliminate a passing game flow.
While he's obviously a threat with his legs, Perkins has taken 38 sacks this year and the Virginia offensive line has allowed an average of 10.7 pressures per game - given Florida's explosive pass rush, there is a path to slowing the dual-threat down.
Young Florida DBs vs. Virginia WRs
With starting cornerback C.J. Henderson off the NFL Draft and not participating in the bowl game, the Gators are expecting their young defensive backs to step up in his absence.
Kaiir Elam has already assumed a starting role in Florida's defense as a boundary cornerback, taking over for Marco Wilson as the latter moved to the STAR nickel corner position. Now, sophomore Trey Dean III and freshmen Jaydon Hill and Chester Kimbrough will be expected to step up.
And they'll face a challenge. With Perkins clearly being an efficient quarterback on top of his prowess as a runner, the defensive backs will have to be on their Ps and Qs as Perkins can become unpredictable. Florida will likely have to run more man-coverage concepts as an extra box defender will be necessary to contain Perkins.
At receiver, Virginia boasts three versatile playmakers that the defensive backs will be tasked with shutting down.
Hasise Dubois has been electric for the Cavaliers in 2019. Primarily playing outside, Dubois has hauled in 73% of his targets and converted a team-leading 43 first downs. Joe Reed and Terrell Jana have moved both inside and out, and combined for 73 first down conversions and 633 yards after the catch (of 1391 total yards).
The group has combined to only drop two passes.
Florida OL vs. Virginia pass rush and heavy blitz usage
As Dan Mullen and Co. have acknowledged, Virginia boasts an uber-aggressive defense that creates confusing looks and blitzes to attack the quarterback.
The numbers back that up. Virginia has seen seven defenders top 20 quarterback pressures in 2019 - four of which are linebackers while the remaining three come along the defensive line. While Florida owns arguably one of the most productive and dominant pass rushes in college football this year, only two players - Jonathan Greenard and Jeremiah Moon - have over 20 pressures.
While Florida has done a good job at protection quarterback Kyle Trask this year, Virginia will certainly challenge Trask to get the ball out early. Keep an eye on pass rushers such as Aaron Faumui, Charles Snowden, and Zane Zandier.