In the final two games of 2011, Virginia running back Perry Jones totaled just 45 combined rushing yards against rival Virginia Tech and Auburn.
Virginia’s inability to run the ball left Jones a mere 85 yards shy of becoming the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Alvin Pearman in 2004.
There’s no shortage of motivation for Jones and the UVa offense this fall. Virginia made strides last year under first-year starting quarterback Michael Rocco, but the offense will have to be even better this year if it is going to help compensate for the loss of seven starters on defense.
“We have to have the mindset that we are the focal point of the team,” Jones said. “Even if we had 11 all-Americans on defense, we would still think that we are what the team needs to win. If we don’t have that mindset, we’re not going to be very good. We did lose seven starters on defense, but I think the offense can do a good job of picking up the slack.”
Much of it starts with Jones, a senior and one of five team captains. He started all 13 games last year and led the team with 1,346 all-purpose yards. In a 38-0 loss to Virginia Tech, though, the entire team was held to just 30 rushing yards.
“I definitely think that not only myself but the entire offense was disappointed in ourselves,” Jones said. “Going into next season, what’s going to be a determining factor is going to be our ability with the long ball. We’re trying to develop that because that’s going to soften defenses up to not have so many guys in the box trying to stop our run game.”
Last year, Jones, Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson combined to run for 1,990 yards, and totalled 60 receptions and 21 touchdowns. It remains to be seen how the carries will be shared this season. Coach Mike London said "it's a good problem to have."
"When you have good players you try to put them in position to do the things they do well," he said. "That's one of the strengths of the offense, is that a lot of the guys who touched the ball and ran the ball last year are back."
And the defense will be counting on them.