Perry Jones scored the decisive touchdown in Virginia's upset victory over the Miami Hurricanes last season. Can Superman lead the team to more in 2012?
This offseason, the focus of UVA football discussion has been on the quarterback position. This is no surprise. First of all, it is football, where the focus is always on the quarterback position. Secondly, the Hoos have had a pretty eventful few months at QB. After all, Mike London scored highly touted transfer Phillip Sims, who was granted an NCAA wavier to play right away for the Hoos. He joins returning starter Mike Rocco, backup David Watford, and well-regarded first-year commits Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns on the roster.
Therefore, the talk of the town has been on whether Rocco or Sims will lead the offense this season. I don't mean to diminish the obvious importance of the quarterback in football; however, if the Hoos have a successful 2012 season, I feel confident in saying that it won't be because of an extraordinary passing game. Virginia will win because of its rushing attack.
While UVA's abundance of passers has given Wahoo fans fits, the team's depth at running back has bothered opponents instead. Last year, the "three-headed monster" of Perry Jones, KP Parks, and Clifton Richardson combined for 1990 of the team's 2107 rushing yards, good for fourth in the ACC. Jones had his coming out party when he picked up 149 yards in the 24-21 upset of Georgia Tech and was UVA's most consistent and versatile weapon out of the backfield. Electrifying freshman KP Parks set the team's freshman record with 9 touchdowns on the season. And Richardson developed into an efficient bruiser, always keeping his legs moving and falling forward.
This season, all three returners will once again showcase their contrasting styles in the backfield, with a year more of experience and a full offseason of training. Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi will once again anchor a giant offensive line in front of them. The Virginia rushing attack should be as good or better than last year's, and it will be a real force in the ACC.
The offense's high expectations from its backfield also affects its needs from the quarterback position. In 2011 Michael Rocco garnered ample praise for his part in turning around Virginia's season. The praise was well-deserved, as he put together a stellar second half; it's just that the bar for Rocco was a little lower, as he didn't need to be spectacular to turn the team around. UVA's quarterback must be efficient and limit mistakes. During the team's late season run, in which it won 6 out of 7 games, Rocco threw just 2 interceptions in completing 59% of his passes. He passed for either 1 or 2 TDs in each of the games, never more, never less, and passed for over 300 yards just once - that was against Maryland's defense, which is no longer officially counted in NCAA statistics because of the skewed effects of doing so.
The experience and maturity that Rocco gained last season, as he learned how to win with this football team, will be invaluable in allowing the running backs to do their thing. Mike knows how to use his backfield in the passing game as well, as Jones, Parks, and Richardson combined for 60 catches and 21 passing TDs.
So while the quarterback issue will never go away, especially considering the coaching staff's past usage of a platoon system at the position, captain Perry Jones, nicknamed "Superman," will ultimately be one who has the potential to carry the Hoos to compete for the ACC title.
"Even those things that people think I do well, I still need to improve upon," Jones told CBSSports. "I can still run better routes coming out of the backfield. I've been working on that a lot this season. I just want to be an easy target for the quarterbacks. I think, for myself, the sky's the limit."
So enjoy the off-season drama at quarterback, but once the season starts, let's remember that there are ten others on the offensive side of the football, the most talented of whom will often be lining up further in the backfield.