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Cavaliers look for running game as road trip looms

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia has the 2-0 start it was looking for, and now things get a lot harder.

The Cavaliers head to Georgia Tech on Saturday, the start of a tough three-game stretch that also takes them to No. 16 TCU the following week and then back home against high-powered Louisiana Tech.

They need to find their running game before hitting the road.

Virginia managed just 32 yards on 25 carries against Penn State on Saturday, and is averaging just 108 yards per game on the ground. That's a small sampling, for sure, but includes a game against FCS-level Richmond, and is 54 yards per game fewer than the Cavaliers averaged just last season.

The numbers make it look worse than it is, tight end Jake McGee said Monday.

"I think it's real close," he said. "They've had a lot of guys up in the box, but it will be fixed. It's real small stuff but it will be fixed soon and it should be back on track."

A year ago, a ground game that produced 274 yards in the Cavaliers' 24-21 victory against then-No. 12 Georgia Tech, combined with a defense that limited the Yellow Jackets to 296 yards, caused Virginia coach Mike London to declare the victory "one of those wins that can change the perception of what you think about yourself."

It might change if tailbacks Perry Jones and Kevin Parks don't get something working soon.

Jones has 66 yards on 22 carries, and Parks has 75 on 23 attempts. They did combine for three rushing touchdowns against the Spiders, but the team is still averaging 3.2 yards per carry compared to last year 4.2.

The lack of production against Penn State, London said, had a lot to do with the stingy defense the Nittany Lions played, and with the four turnovers the Cavaliers committed in their own territory.

Neither of those, he allowed, is a good answer.

"I think it's one of those things that we have to do a better job being able to run the ball," London said, running through each turnover and lamenting how they made getting in a rhythm nearly impossible.

"I think the running game is something that we have to be able to do, but when you have four less possessions with just a few plays, then it really is obvious about not having enough rushing yards," the coach added.

There is a renewed emphasis on being able to use what we thought was a strength, what we think is a strength of our team, by being able to run the ball more, hopefully hang onto ball and provide these opportunities to have extended plays instead of just, one, two, or three plays and out."

Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco has helped make up for the running woes by completing 66 percent of his throws, many of the short variety. The Yellow Jackets, though, try to hold the ball for a long time with defense-draining, clock-eating drives, and the Cavaliers need to be able to grind it out, too.

"We are looking to being able to get back to run the ball with authority because we have backs that can do that, and that's a point of emphasis that has to be made this week," London said.

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