Motivation is a big talking point when it comes to mid- and lower-tier bowl games. Which team is happy to be there? Which team isn’t? Who wants it more?
Safe to say that Virginia was properly motivated to secure their first postseason victory since 2005 on Saturday afternoon, controlling the Belk Bowl from start to finish in every phase to beat South Carolina 28-0.
Leading the way for the ‘Hoos was their terrific QB-WR combo of Bryce Perkins and Olamide Zaccheaus. The former threw for 208 yards and a trio of touchdowns passes while scrambling for another 81 yards on the ground, moving the chains quite a bit on third down to help the team dominate time of possession and more on the stat sheet. Playing in his final game with the program, Zaccheaus was not surprisingly the top target for many of those Perkins passes as he recorded 12 catches for an even 100 yards and all three of the touchdowns through the air.
Jordan Ellis was also impressive running the ball, gashing an SEC defense to the tune of 106 yards and a score.
Playing without star playmaker Deebo Samuel, South Carolina simply couldn’t get any consistency going on offense and failed to keep pace with their opponent. Signal-caller Jake Bentley was rattled constantly and completed just 17 passes for 218 yards with a pair of interceptions. Shi Smith had a nice game with 76 yards receiving but the Gamecocks were forced to be one-dimensional most of the day as Rico Dowdle managed only 21 yards rushing and the team converted on third down just twice.
The end result drops Will Muschamp’s squad to 7-6 on the year and caps off a disappointing final stretch that saw South Carolina lose three of their final five games, including an 0-3 mark against Power Five opponents in that span. While you can certainly understand the offense taking a step back without Samuel, the effort had to be disappointing on defense for their head coach as the program enters a big offseason in Columbia.
The convincing victory by the Cavaliers, meanwhile, gives UVA an eighth win for the first time since 2011 and completes an impressive turnaround in Charlottesville ever since Bronco Mendenhall was brought over from BYU. The Hoos have plenty of momentum now having improved their win total in each campaign under the new staff and will be looking for a lot more after this kind of performance in the Belk Bowl.