CHARLOTTESVILLE — The focus couldn’t be more basic: Get the football.
“It’s all about the ball,” Virginia senior cornerback Bryce Hall said.
Saturday, Hall and the defense forced three turnovers in the UVA spring game at Scott Stadium, a positive step for a team that ranked sixth in the ACC and tied for 54th in the nation in turnover margin last season.
Hall and senior linebacker Jordan Mack each intercepted Virginia starting quarterback Bryce Perkins, with Mack returning his pick 55 yards for a touchdown as the defense beat the offense, 78-69 in the scored scrimmage.
The defense also recovered a fumble and sacked Perkins twice.
“The defense played stronger and with more intent, and culture and passion than our offense did,” UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “More physical and the takeaways were forced. Offensively, we responded late, but too late, and not enough.”
Senior running back Chris Sharp gave the offense a lift with a 57-yard run.
Sophomore running back Wayne Taulapapa scored the first touchdown of the afternoon for the offense, nearly an hour into the scrimmage, bulling his way into the end zone from a few yards out. After the game, Mendenhall said Taulapapa ended the spring as the team’s No. 1 player at the position, though junior PK Kier, who has been slowed by a concussion, and others will compete again in the fall.
Mendenhall said the competition for the starting center position is unresolved, with sophomore Victor Oluwatimi holding a slight edge over sophomore Tyler Fannin.
The coach said junior Brian Delaney ended the spring as the team’s best kicker, kickoff specialist and punter — ahead of junior Nash Griffin — and indicated he’s not averse to Delaney holding all three jobs in the fall.
Perkins, the dual-threat star who helped elevate Virginia’s offense last season and lead the Cavaliers to an 8-5 season and a Belk Bowl win over South Carolina, finished 7 for 17 for 117 yards, unofficially, with two interceptions.
“The very first one, just tried to give him a jump ball. Just left it short, left it hanging inside,” Perkins said. “Second, got hit on my arm a little bit when I was releasing the ball, which made it go outside. Just got to be better. Can’t have those.”
Perkins, who played most of last year with a injured finger that required offseason surgery, threw 25 touchdown passes and nine interceptions in 13 games last season.
“Offense did start slow. I’m not sure what it was,” junior wide receiver Terrell Jana said. “Maybe it was a mindset thing, guys looking too far ahead, thinking about going home. But I think we definitely picked it up near the end.”
Mendenhall praised backup quarterback Lindell Stone’s play running the second-team offense and noted redshirt freshman Brennan Armstrong’s 64-yard touchdown pass to Jana on the scrimmage’s final play.
But the defense earned the most commendation Saturday, in large part due to the turnovers.
“It’s everything we talk about,” Hall said. “We set goals to go plus-2, have two more takeaways than our opponents, because that’s going to give us a high percentage of winning every game. So it’s the main focus.”
Last season, Virginia forced 21 takeaways, sixth in the ACC and tied for 44th in the nation. Safety Juan Thornhill led the team with six interceptions. He was a senior who was chosen Friday by the Kansas City Chiefs in the second round of the NFL draft.
Hall, who surprised many experts by returning to UVA for his senior season, led the nation in pass breakups. Turning those into interceptions is one of Hall’s biggest goals for the upcoming year.
Saturday, he showed he’s on that path.