A couple weeks ago, Virginia running back Perry Jones got engaged to longtime girlfriend April Johnson.
He’d been planning it for a couple months. He took Johnson out to dinner at the amphitheater on Grounds, the location of their first date during freshman year. Meanwhile, back at Williams’s house, her roommates were setting up candles and rose pedals for when Jones got down on one knee.
“When we walked in, she still didn’t know what was going on,” said Jones.
He didn’t meet Johnson until college, even though the two grew up five minutes down the road from one another in the Tidewater area. “I went upstairs, got the ring and once I pulled it out she started crying, which I expected,” he said.
That, though, is about the only thing that has gone according to plan for Jones this season. The do-everything senior started the year off slow, with just 113 rushing yards and 11 receptions through four games, part of an early-season swoon for Virginia’s tailbacks.
But Jones has turned a corner the past two weeks, right around the time he popped the question. The Chesapeake, Va., native eclipsed the 100-yard mark in rushing for the first time this season last week at Duke, and also had 100 yards receiving against Louisiana Tech two weeks ago.
“The first few games of the season, it just seemed like nothing was working for me and it definitely got frustrating,” Jones said. “But just like the overall message I want to send to the team is you can’t get down. You just have to keep plugging away and eventually it’ll work out for you.”
Many put the blame on Virginia’s offensive line, which has struggled to open up running lanes on the interior. But Jones admitted this week he needed to raise his level of play as well.
“You can easily put it on the offensive line and say they weren’t blocking for me, but there’s definitely things I wasn’t doing right and my team needed me to do that early in the season,” Jones said. “This team, they rely on me to make the plays that we need to win the game and I just wasn’t doing some of those things.”
One of the odd quirks in Virginia’s 42-17 loss at Duke last week was that the Cavaliers churned out 184 yards on the ground in the first half, but then ended the day with 186 yards. Afterwards, and even throughout this week, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has blamed himself for the Cavaliers not scoring more points given their production on the ground early.
Virginia currently ranks No. 89 in the country in terms of rushing offense, but “I have to do a better job making sure the passes we call can be completed,” Lazor said.
Part of jump-starting the offense has meant getting Jones more involved since a loss to Georgia Tech last month, no matter where his touches come. The Cavaliers have used him in the slot and out of the backfield as a receiver, and he nearly made a long diving reception along the sideline at Duke.
Against the Blue Devils Jones also took a wildcat snap, a variation of what he did against Louisiana Tech. That week Jones once again showed off his arm when he completed a halfback pass to wide receiver Tim Smith for a 36-yard touchdown. The Cavaliers tried it again Saturday at Duke, but Jones threw the first incompletion of his career. He had a touchdown pass last year in a win over Miami.
But Jones and his backfield mates Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson, who saw his first extensive action of the year at Duke, may face their stiffest challenge yet this weekend against Maryland. The Terrapins have shown vast improvement running a new 3-4 scheme led by defensive coordinator Brian Stewart and currently rank seventh in the country against the run.
To hold them off, Jones will be counting on an offensive line that is suddenly badgering him for wedding invitations.
“They want it buffet style, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford that,” Jones said with a laugh.