There are a variety of reasons why Virginia ended the 2012 college football season with a 4-8 record and last-place finish in the ACC’s Coastal division for the second time in three years under Coach Mike London. The Cavaliers had the league’s worst turnover margin, the second-most penalties and allowed more kickoff returns of 50 or more yards than any other ACC team.
But for London, the biggest disappointment may have been his team’s inability to establish a consistent running game on offense. Virginia entered the season with two running backs (senior Perry Jones and sophomore Kevin Parks) that combined for 1,624 yards in 2011 and had a pair of NFL-caliber offensive tackles (Oday Aboushi and Morgan Moses) to pave the way for them.
Except it rarely went according to plan, and it was fitting that the Cavaliers’ regular season ended with Virginia Tech holding them to a season-low 30 rushing yards.
“I’m quite sure if you ask [offensive coordinator] Bill [Lazor] and the offensive staff as you go into the season, you think your strengths might be one particular thing,” London said Sunday on his end-of-the-season teleconference with reporters. “Maybe a strength of our team was looked at as the offensive line as far as being able to run the ball with authority and maybe that didn’t come to fruition as they would have hoped or thought.”
Ultimately, when London looks back on his third campaign as head coach, he will have to wonder why his team could never establish an identity. Before the year began, many predicted Virginia’s defense, featuring a very inexperienced secondary, would struggle but that the offense could be prolific.
It didn’t turn out that way, though. For the most part, the defense improved over the course of the season, and ranked fourth in the ACC in total defense. The Cavaliers struggled to create game-changing plays, ending the year with just 17 sacks and 12 caused turnovers. But that was symptomatic of how much youth defensive coordinator Jim Reid utilized throughout the year.
On the other hand, the Cavaliers finished ranked No. 101 in the country in rushing offense and Jones and Parks saw their combined rushing totals decrease by more than 400 yards from a year ago. London talked Sunday of how his offense failed to deliver on third down more often than not, but it might have had more to do with the fact that Virginia averaged just 3.4 yards per carry on first down this season. It was again a problem Saturday at Virginia Tech.
“I thought we failed too many times on first and second down,” said Lazor after the Cavaliers failed to convert a third down the entire second against the Hokies.
Part of the struggles had to do with a four-man rotation at the two guard spots that proved to be a significant drop-off from what all-ACC guard Austin Pacztor provided last season. The Cavaliers had seven games, including the final three of the season, in which they failed to average four yards per carry.
Virginia’s unsettled quarterback situation didn’t help, either. Junior Michael Rocco and redshirt Phillip Sims combined to throw 14 interceptions this season, and neither became a credible enough threat to stop defenses from loading the box to combat the run.
But the larger issue is that these Cavaliers lacked an offensive identity, mostly because they couldn’t establish the run game that propelled them to eight wins a year ago. It’s a shortcoming that is sure to irk London as he enters an offseason in which he plans to “evaluate everything with the program, top to bottom, with how we do things.”
“Going into the season, we wanted to be a team that could be identified with being able to run the ball with authority and use the play action passes off of that and I don’t think over the course of the year that’s what we quite became for various reasons,” London added. “I think that’s probably the most frustrating part.”