Another year, another marquee bowl matchup in the Belk Bowl. This time, the resurgent Virginia Cavaliers take on a South Carolina team that has had no issue putting up points.
South Carolina-Virginia: Belk Bowl time, TV channel
South Carolina plays Virginia in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Dec. 29 at noon on ABC.
South Carolina-Virginia: Belk Bowl preview, prediction
Bronco Mendenhall is having his best season so far in Charlottesville. With a win, he’ll not only deliver Virginia its first eight-win season since 2011 but also the Cavaliers’ first bowl win since 2005.
The main reason for Virginia’s turnaround is its defense. In two seasons, the Cavaliers have improved from allowing more than 33 points per game to allowing less than 22 points per game. They own the 14th-best pass defense in the country with two first-team All-ACC secondary players cornerback Bryce Hall and safety Juan Thornhill, who has five interceptions this season.
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That secondary will have a challenge against South Carolina quarterback Jack Bentley who has quietly completed nearly 64 percent of his throws and is about to surpass 3,000 passing yards for the season. Against Clemson this season, Bentley threw for 510 yards and five touchdowns.
But Bentley’s top weapon, wideout Deebo Samuel, is sitting out the Belk Bowl to prepare for the NFL draft so coach Will Muschamp will have to find a way to replace that production. One way to do that would be to give running back Rico Dowdle a greater role in the offense. He hasn’t had a 100-yard game on the ground since Oct. 27, but considering Virginia’s much better against the pass than the run, maybe Dowdle will be more involved in the Belk Bowl.
On the offensive side for the Cavaliers, dual-threat quarterback Bryce Perkins has been a welcomed surprise this season. He has completed nearly 64 percent of his passes for almost 2,500 yards and thrown for 22 touchdowns to nine interceptions. His favorite target this season has been Olamide Zaccheaus. The junior wideout will surpass 1,000 receiving yards this season with just 27 yards in the Belk Bowl.
Given the South Carolina defense ranks 66th in pass defense and 88th in total defense, Perkins and Zaccheaus could have huge games.
|7-5 (4-4 SEC East)||Record (Conference)||7-5 (4-4 ACC Coastal)|
|32.6||Points per game||28.5|
|440.2||Yards per game||382.5|
|425.3||Yards allowed per game||337.2|
|230.8||Passing yards allowed||180.1|
|194.5||Rushing yards allowed||157.1|
2,953 yards (27 TDs, 12 INTs)
|Passing leader||Bryce Perkins
2,472 yards (22 TDs, 9 INTs)
638 yards, 4 TDs
|Rushing leader||Jordan Ellis
920 yards, 9 TDs
882 yards, 11 TDs
|Receiving leader||Olamide Zaccheaus
1,046 yards, 6 TDs
94 total tackles, 10.5 TFL, 4 sacks
|Defensive leader||Juan Thornhill
92 total tackles, 3.5 TFL, 0.0 sacks
South Carolina-Virginia: Belk Bowl prediction
Bentley is worth watching on his own. The junior quarterback can really sling it. But the South Carolina offense is a question and less dynamic without Samuel. The Virginia defense struggled in the final two games of the season, but the offense certainly didn’t, with more than 400 yards of offense and an average of 29 points in each game.
Virginia 27, South Carolina 24