Virginia Coach Mike London may not handle his team’s quarterback situation the way some fans would like him to, but he is very aware of the microscope junior Michael Rocco and redshirt sophomore Phillip Sims are under these days.
On Monday, London reiterated there is no controversy and that Rocco remains his starter despite a lackluster two-interception showing at Georgia Tech this past weekend. But even though the battle under center draws headline, that isn’t the main concern for a unit ranked 80th in the country in total offense entering Saturday’s road game at No. 17 TCU.
For the Cavaliers, this week is about creating some balance, especially facing a Horned Frogs defense that routinely crowds the line of scrimmage and “kind of dare you to throw the football,” London said.
Virginia’s struggles establishing a consistent run game this year have been a surprise given their wealth of talented tailbacks. Senior Perry Jones and sophomore Kevin Parks were supposed to form one of the more dynamic one-two combinations in the ACC this year.
Instead, both have been stuck in neutral for the most part. Thus far, Parks has just 128 yards, and Jones has been held to 81 yards. The statistics are skewed a bit because Virginia stopped running the ball much after it fell behind by so much at Georgia Tech, but the Cavaliers’ inability to establish a ground game contributed to the onslaught in the first place.
Through three games, Virginia has attempted 112 passes and just 95 runs. Most would have assumed those numbers would have been flipped before the season began.
The problems stem from a leaky interior offensive line and opponents catching up with Virginia’s tendencies. Defenses know the Cavaliers like to run Parks and Jones outside the tackles, and with guard Cody Wallace out because of an ankle injury, replacements Sean Cascarano and Conner Davis have struggled to hold back opposing defensive lines.
London said he must “help” them this week and added Monday that will come from “the style of play-calling” and moving away from relying strictly on man-to-man blocking principles.
But the challenge is made more difficult by TCU’s unique 4-2-5 defensive scheme. It’s similar to the aggressive package Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster employs, with a rover that can crowd the box or drop back in coverage. The Horned Frogs have yet to allow a touchdown this year.
London understands any improvement must come through his running backs. That starts with Jones, who accumulated more than 1,500 all-purpose yards last year.
“We know that we have to find creative ways to get him the ball,” London said. “If the running game is not working, then we have to do something to get him the ball, whether it’s put him in the slot, flare him out, go do draws or go do screens or whatever it is. That’s a conscious effort that we have to make is to get him in the game, on the field, and get him the touches. And that’s something that’s going to be done and has to be done.”