CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Virginia's players say the signs of improvement are all there.
The offensive line has gradually come together and Perry Jones, the player they call "Superman," has actually had gaping holes to run through, bringing the running game to life after a slow start.
Jones and the Cavaliers (2-4, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) hope it continues when they host Maryland on Saturday, but the Terrapins (3-2, 1-0) don't make it easy. They allow just 81 rushing yards per game, seventh-best in the nation.
The numbers don't matter, Jones said.
"We're not really worrying about their statistics and what they rank in the nation because, ultimately, it's going to come down to what we do," the senior said. "If we execute the way we know we can, then what they're ranking in the nation doesn't matter because they won't be able to stop us."
Maryland coach Randy Edsall isn't banking on rankings winning for his team, either.
"They have good people there to run the ball," the second-year coach said. "Perry Jones and Kevin Parks are two seasoned guys that run very hard and give them multiple looks from a personnel standpoint."
Virginia has lost four straight, but has surged offensively in the past two games, gaining a combined 1,086 yards in losses to Louisiana Tech (44-38) and then last week against the Blue Devils.
Jones, in his second season as a captain, has been quick to assume the blame for the early season ground failures, but said at Duke, "the line was able to definitely moving Duke's defense off the ball and us, as a backfield, we were finding the right gaps and hitting them as hard as we could."
It's progress in an area that seemed unlikely to be a weak spot early on for a team that had three starters back on the offensive line, and averages 6-foot-6 and more than 300 pounds from end to end.
Center Luke Bowanko, a starting guard last season, said the unit is finally meeting expectations.
"I've said it before, that you can't really duplicate game-time situations and speed and teams' adjustments and all that stuff in practice," he said. "It was going to take time. It does for every team. It's a matter of how long it takes you to adjust. But I think the guys have done a great job."
And now, after seemingly getting swarmed under a sea of defenders every time he tried to turn the corner in the first few games, Jones is playing like he deserves that "Superman" moniker. He got it at Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, he said, "because of all the things I did on the football field."
Two weeks ago, in the shootout with Louisiana Tech, he ran for 82 yards, caught seven passes for 100 yards and threw the second TD pass of his career, a 36-yarder to Tim Smith, to open the scoring.
The 100-yard game against the Blue Devils was Virginia's first of the season.
He laughed when it was suggested his recent engagement had something to do with it.
"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, you just can't get down. You have to keep plugging away and eventually it will work out for you."
The yardage the past few weeks suggests that time is possibly one step away.
"We need to increase our scoring opportunities," coach Mike London said.
Once everything clicks, the scoring should follow, Bowanko said.
"I think it's a play here or a play there, an assignment here. We're real close to really hitting on all cylinders, and I think one of these games — it might be this week, it might be the next week — we might be able to put up a complete performance, and that's what we're working towards," he said.
"Four quarters of football. We're definitely capable of it."
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