UVA secondary waits Belk Bowl test from Bentley, Gamecocks

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Unbeaten Clemson gave up just 183.8 passing yards per game to opposing offenses this season, good for third-best in the ACC. Opponents threw for just 11 touchdowns against the Tigers, second-fewest in the league.

So South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley's 510-yard, five-touchdown performance against Clemson a month ago can get your attention. That's definitely the case for players on the Virginia defense, who will face Bentley and the Gamecocks in next weekend's Belk Bowl.

"Coach told us they threw for 500 yards on Clemson and it kind of shocked me. I was like, whoa," admitted UVA senior safety Juan Thornhill. "So I started watching that game, just watching every pass play, every run play."

Bentley finished the regular season fifth in the SEC with 2,953 passing yards and tied for second in the league with 27 touchdown passes. He also led the conference with a dozen interceptions. As a team, South Carolina averaged 277.4 passing yards per game, which ranked third in the SEC.

"A lot of what they do is passing, and they're trying to run up-tempo. And that's going to have a lot to do with us especially," said UVA cornerback Bryce Hall. "So if we can handle and do our job effectively, that's going to help the team out a lot."

UVA did not allow an opponent to hit that 277-yard mark in the passing game all season. North Carolina's 271 passing yards -- in a 31-21 loss to the Wahoos at Scott Stadium in late October -- were the most for the Virginia opponent all season.

"We love to play against teams that like to throw the ball because the secondary is the strength of our defense, and we're blessed with the opportunity to play against a team that likes to throw the football," Thornhill said. "So we're ready for that."

Thornhill was among the UVA players this week who compared Bentley to NC State quarterback Ryan Finley. Finley threw for 257 yards -- second-most by an opposing quarterback against the Wahoos this season -- and three touchdowns in a 35-21 NC State win in Raleigh in late September.

For the season, UVA ranked second in the ACC and 14th in the country in pass defense, giving up just 180.1 passing yards per game. Led by Thornhill's five interceptions, the Cavaliers as a team picked off 15 passes. That ranked 17th nationally and tied for third in the conference.

"Their defense as a whole, they do a lot. A lot of different coverages," Bentley said. "They do a great job of mixing it up and understanding how to disguise different coverages. So it's going to be a great challenge for us."



 
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