ACC Football Teleconference Week 2: UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Glad to be with you. Certainly excited to have got an opening victory. That’s always good for your team after fall camp and a long off-season to have some tangible results for your work. It builds optimism, confidence and momentum. Also allows all the corrections to be made to happen in usually a more positive and effective fashion.
We look forward to taking on our next opponent, our first road game.
I’ll take whatever questions anyone has.
Q. We hear all the time teams make their biggest jump from week one to two. If that’s the case, what have you seen so far in terms of a jump from your guys?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think it’s possible that teams can make their biggest jump from week one to week two, but I don’t think it’s for every team and I don’t think it’s for every circumstance. One of the best ways to gauge that is kind of the phrase I’ve been using this week, if your team in game one looks like practice, there really isn’t that dynamic jump from week one to week two because you’re basically playing as you believed you were in practice and the setting didn’t change or there wasn’t much slippage or difference from the practice field to the game.
We were more like that than we were, Holy cow, what team is that that’s playing? I thought we were here, now we’re in this different place.
We were closer to a practice reference point to, I don’t know where my team is, now we have to really get to work on this, this or this because it was significantly different. Our strengths and weaknesses were about the same from what I saw from practice and the game.
Q. A year ago you struggled some with the mobility of Ramsey. What do you see in your defense in terms of matching up with mobile quarterbacks? Does having Bryce around prepare them a little more for that?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, an entire season worth of mobile quarterbacks from a year ago, practicing against ours every day, pretty unique circumstances a year ago as Indiana’s two quarterbacks were quite different.
If you remember the context of that game, Indiana had thrown for lots and lots of yards in their opening against Ohio State. Ohio State really struggled stopping them, certainly struggled stopping the pass. It wasn’t on anyone’s radar that they might play a different quarterback. It certainly wasn’t on ours based on the performance they had against Ohio State.
We put all of our time, effort and energy into designing a plan that was very effective for that style. When Ramsey came in, it was a difficult challenge for us. It took us a while to react. He played very well. Is a good football player. That changed the game.
More importantly, in my opinion, special teams changed the game more than anything else a year ago.
Q. Could you take us through the genesis of the pursuit drill that you do, where you learned that, how it’s evolved?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yes, I learned the pursuit drill or a version of it from Rocky Long. Rocky is the head coach at San Diego State. I worked with him one of my first — my first Division I coaching job was as Oregon State. He was the defensive coordinator. A version of it I learned there. Then Rocky hired me at New Mexico, we continued with a modified version. I carried that on with BYU with a different version, it’s might have morphed here. Rocky was instrumental in helping me understanding how important effort is to a defensive football game, kind of a will development component.
It really has become a rite of passage to become a defensive football player in a system I coach. I can’t take credit for it. He’s the one that taught me. Possibly he might have learned it from a remember former coach named Joe Lee Dunn, but you’d have to check with Rocky on that.
It’s kind of a rite-of-passage mentality is how it was framed and why I think it’s important.
Q. Are there any players on the team that you can measure that really well in to drill?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So the reality is that the defense was originally framed where you just simply would not be considered to play unless you could perform that drill and perform it really, really well, meaning that your effort had to be established before your physical execution of your position.
Chris Peace is exceptional in terms of effort and mindset and the consistency. It just seems like all the best defensive players that at least I’ve ever coached, you can identify them in that drill probably before you can identify them on the field in 11-on-11 context.
Q. Obviously the schedules were set up before you arrived at Virginia. Ideally what would your non-conference schedule look like? How about a team like Indiana on a regular basis, a team like that?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So going back to my ideal scheduling philosophy, I love the idea of three close and regional games that are intriguing but certainly winnable for us at Virginia knowing that ACC wins are very challenging. Then from a Power 5 standpoint, I would love to have equal or even lesser ability, wherever they are in their current program.
If you look at this year, Richmond I think is a great game for us. It’s close and regional. Liberty would be another one that’s close and regional. Ohio I would say fits in that same category. Even though I didn’t design this schedule, I think it fits within the scheduling format, especially within the blueprint of building a program.
Indiana did not qualify for a bowl game last year, even though they did beat us. If you’re saying just on paper would that qualify as a game that would be smart for Virginia, I think it would be.
I think that our non-conference schedule this year, it fits within the master blueprint of things I’ll be designing for the future as a reference point.
Q. You go on the road for the first time this week. What in your experience tells you are the most important components to winning on the road? It’s obviously so much more difficult than at home.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Really poise and maturity. It just seems like early in the year missed cues are more likely on the road as well as that time of year. The ability to overcome, again kind of our guiding principle, less drama, more work, when it happens, just go onto the next play. The longer you stay dwelling on something, the more damage it’s causing with each successive play.
Poise and maturity, especially at the quarterback position, are really important. Early games on the road, that position probably more than any. Then I would say punter and kicker because the field position. Same thing for those three positions to have more influence than any other on road games early in the year.
Q. Have you developed a road coaching routine at all, game day management, how travel is managed? If so, how did you develop it?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, so I have a policy manual that has every possible scenario at least that I can imagine from Thursday night games to Friday games, whether it’s at 5, 6, 7 or 8, from Saturday to Thanksgiving games to bye week games, rain delay games. There’s a blueprint in our policy manual that’s been designed and crafted over time as I’ve encountered different challenges, heard about them, asked people how they managed it. So we have a template for as many situations as I can imagine, as well as early road games.
So we have that and we follow it. Practice emphasis is made with some different things, but I think have helped prepare us in the past. Then you take the feedback, you tweak it, apply it, then that policy manual becomes the new one for the following year. That’s been an accumulation of 13 years of me being a head coach, and that forms the basis for what we’re using for this week.
Q. Going into your first game, what major questions did you have about your team that you had answered?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Our first game was just simply where and how close or quarterback was going to perform in relation to how he was performing in practice. The good news is is he performed almost identically to practice, which gave us just a lot more clarity as to exactly where he was, which allows us to design, implement and choose where we go from there.