Al Groh | Weekly Press Conference

Monday, Oct. 26
THE MODERATOR: Unless Coach has an opening comment, we can start with questions.

COACH GROH: Well, the subject was brought up last evening, we had a complete flip here in one respect. We’re getting ready for a team that has passed the ball more and has used the pass more effectively than anyone else in the conference. Last week we played the team that runs the ball more than anyone is the conference.

So for all the conversation when a team plays Georgia Tech, about the uniqueness of it, you’ve got to play disciplined. You’ve got to fit on the plays properly. You’ve got to do your jobs. Clearly that’s the case here once again. You’re just deploying the same principles against a different set of variables. Where the probably best continuity of preparation is that the defensive alignments by the two — that the last opponent and next upcoming opponent are not dissimilar. So perhaps there is some good in that given we didn’t do a very good job with those alignments 48 hours ago. But to make sure we figure out how to do a better job against those alignments than we did last week.

 

QUESTION: You weren’t able to use the dime as much in the last game as much as you normally do. In this game are you expecting to use it more or put them in on earlier downs?

COACH GROH: Two plays, two plays.

QUESTION: This game, safe to say there should be opportunities because of where they play?

COACH GROH: Well, sure, if we can get them into the third down.

QUESTION: If they pass as much as they do, would you put them in?

COACH GROH: That, against a team like this that always becomes an ongoing situation-by-situation decision. That is do we want to match personnel or do we want to leave the regular in there, because there is an overlap in what we can do from a coverage standpoint between the two. Not entirely the same, but because there is an overlap, we have that option. And in the past in circumstances like this we’ve worked that option both ways.

QUESTION: Compared to other teams you’ve played, how sophisticated is this passing game? Can you just elaborate on that?

COACH GROH: Well, yeah, clearly when you see the numbers of their frequency, what that also clearly indicates is that there is a strong commitment and they are a dedicated passing team.

And when you make that decision just as, again, the comparison to Georgia Tech, there is a sophistication in the schemes in which they run, because they know that when certain runs aren’t working, Georgia Tech isn’t going to say; okay, we’ve got to start passing more.

They’re going to keep running. They’re going to either change the particular run patterns that they have, or change the schemes around which they utilize the actual backfield action. Duke is the same way in their fashion. That when they have difficulty passing the game, passing the ball, they don’t suddenly say; okay, now we’re going to run it 60 times in this game. They say we have to find some patterns that will get open better from the one that’s we’ve been running.

There is that similarity. And as I mentioned, it was going to be very important through the course of the game with Georgia Tech that we got good feedback as to how those patterns and those schemes were changing.

And in grading the video yesterday, for future reference, and just information on the game itself. Recorded all the schemes as well as the plays. So there might have been play A, but there were one, two, three versions of it, and how we have to change up against that.

It will be a similar circumstance here with the patterns against this — obviously the certain fronts that Georgia Tech would want to run certain plays or schemes and there are certain coverages now that Duke will want to run certain patterns against.

QUESTION: What is Thaddeus doing that’s different from years past? Even with losing his best wide receiver from last season?

COACH GROH: Well, I think probably a little bit of a question as to whether he actually lost his best wide receiver or not. But he’s showing one, the value of being a four-year starter. Those of you who were here to see him in his true freshman year or, I guess it was down there when we played him as a true freshman, will remember it was pretty challenging for him. He had a difficult time that day, as might be expected with a first-year quarterback against an ACC defense.

He’s now a fourth-year quarterback with probably in all likelihood more starts than any quarterback in the Atlantic Coast Conference at this current time. So, that certainly shows – not only the fourth year as an ACC starter, but the second year under David Cutcliffe who has great experience and know-how and development of quarterbacks. He clearly has profited by that.

QUESTION: You look at the N.C. State game?

COACH GROH: We look at them all.

QUESTION: But Coach Cutcliffe said that was the greatest performance by any quarterback he’s ever coached?

COACH GROH: 40-for-50 is probably the greatest performance than anybody’s ever coached. It’s probably better than Brady or Manning has ever had.

QUESTION: How about 42-for-58?

COACH GROH: Still, that was pretty good. Still probably not the same percentage (laughing). I guess that was against Florida State 19-10 or 19-6 game, I believe. A Saturday night game. I think that was the one.

QUESTION: Following up on Lewis. It’s more than just a quarterback. But speaking about the quarterback position, how much do you contribute the quarterback play to what that program has done the past two seasons?

COACH GROH: It’s very significant. Clearly, that that position and, again, there is some interesting — I hadn’t really thought all of this out coming over here. But thinking on the run here is another interesting comparison to last week. Josh Nesbitt’s in an offense that clearly suits his skills with the coach that knows that offense very well. And he’s now in his second year operating that offense. He’s certainly elevated his performance from the first to the second year. Thad Lewis is the same way. He is with a coach that really knows the offense and he is in his second year with it and he has really elevated his performance. As a result both players have elevated their teams as well as that position can do.

QUESTION: From a coach’s perspective, how long does it take players to forget the loss and move forward?

COACH GROH: To bounce back, I would have to say you have to bounce from every game. You have to bounce back from a win just the same as you do from a loss. And sometimes that’s more difficult. Bouncing back from a win. I actually talked to a couple coaches last week and they were really concerned about their team’s focus given the success they’ve had over the last couple of weeks.

One was saying I can tell. And he turned out to be right. He said, I can tell we’re making the same sounds, but we don’t have the same focus. We’re making as much noise, but we don’t have the same focus.

So it occurs in both circumstances. In either case, it better be pretty quick.

QUESTION: Last year when you talked about Matt Conrath playing well early and how he was a baseball pitcher, and I forget exactly the correlation made?

COACH GROH: I said he was a big, tall player. One of the things that Matt has is very good leverage, and we could tell that by one of the indicators to that was you can’t be a stiff guy ask all up high to be a baseball pitcher. You’ve got to bend your knees, bend at the waist to get down low and get that delivery. And that was reinforcing to us. Because we never saw him play in person, we only saw him on video. And that was another piece of evidence and reinforcing to us about whether he’d have the type of leverage with the height that we prefer, that he’d have the type of leverage to be able to do the job which he clearly does.

QUESTION: Were you aware that Zane Parr was also a baseball pitcher?

COACH GROH: No, I was not. But I did personally watch Zane play basketball. And was impressed for a lineman what a good — got to make some of sometimes those basketball evaluations a little relative to the positions they played. But for a lineman, he was a very smooth, easy on his feet, adept basketball player.

QUESTION: He pitched at 95 miles per hour.

COACH GROH: Is that right, huh?

QUESTION: Are they a passing team that should allow you some opportunities to get to the quarterback? Is it the type that will allow a pass rush or is it one of those two-step drops?

COACH GROH: Well, any time — I think they’ve only given up — they’ve thrown the ball more than any team in the conference, and they’ve only given up 12 sacks this year or something to that number, 12 or in the low teens. So that is always a function of a number of different things.

But one of the things that we know for sure, even with — even with real good pass protectors if it’s in the low numbers like that, the ball’s coming out very quickly. Even the very best pass protectors can hold the rush out for so long.

QUESTION: Regarding coach Brandon and coach Prince, how have you seen them progress this year?

COACH GROH: You’d probably have to ask them that. But they’ve been here for quite a while. I would expect that by now in each particular case that the adjustment has been complete.

QUESTION: Nate Collins was talking a little about his high school team last year, you probably didn’t see him in person, but what did some of his games look like?

COACH GROH: Well, the press box wasn’t very high. It was pretty close to ground level. Perhaps in some circumstances it looked like maybe a Parent was taking it from the sideline. As Nate well explained it one time last week, as you can he see, a small private, small, exclusive, private school that he went to that there probably weren’t many athletes or people of his size like that in school.

So wherever they needed somebody, Coach said can you play there? Even took one week when he said, Nate, can you play quarterback? So that’s how he played linebacker, defensive line, offensive line, running back, quarterback. But in our circumstance, before his senior year, Nate attended our camp. Even though I think the position that was on — next to his name when he came in was one of those positions, you know. Linebacker, running back, or whatever.

It was clear to take one look at him that that wasn’t going to be his college position. Kind of similar to Zane, and Nate. Or Zane and Nate, in spending a week with them and watching him do drills, athletic ability for a player that was going to be well above the mid-line. We saw that with our own eyes.

QUESTION: Have you ever seen Nate throw the ball?

COACH GROH: No, and I can’t say that since I’ve been here. Most of the time everyone’s career you see at least one time they have picked it up and thrown it some. And we can see whether they have any sense. But I can’t give you an evaluation on that. We won’t be throwing any tackle around passes though.

QUESTION: Mel Kiper said last week that Rashawn Jackson is the best fullback in the country, Has Nate kind of emerged as a guy who can play on Sunday?

COACH GROH: Nate has certainly been exceptionally stellar to the half way mark of the season. He’s certainly playing himself into that position. He’s probably making a similar move on that, say that Alvin Pearman utilized his senior season to do.

QUESTION: How important is it to stop Duke’s rushing game and have a good rushing game yourself?

COACH GROH: Yeah, the statistics on the Maryland-Duke game are pretty interesting in that the two teams combined for less than 100 yards rushing. So good defense, more passes, whatever. Certainly the passing game was a major component of that particular game, obviously, to go 40-or-50 in their previous game against N.C. State was the same thing.

So they can’t afford to let that one go, obviously. It’s more of a distraction than it is an issue. The big issue is finding what we can do to slow down this on-target, precision passing game.

QUESTION: Nate made a lot of plays in his first three years with the program, but he really seems to come into his own this season and particularly in the last two weeks.

COACH GROH: Yeah, he has. He’s made plays, he’s made a lot of those plays on an overall athletic ability. But, the efficiency of how he plays his position from play-to-play is dramatically upgraded. And that’s why we probably all remember plays that he made, you know, just as your citing. Probably remember plays that he made. But, have not seen the kind of production numbers that we’re seeing this year.

QUESTION: Obviously, there are a lot of tackles in that game the other day for your guys, a lot of guys have tackle totals. Parr has 12 stops, what kind of game did he have?

COACH GROH: Very good. Very good. I don’t want to be redundant to those fellows who are on the conference last evening. But as we discussed last evening — as we discussed last evening, two pretty significant changes for Zane in a week’s time. One, he went from being primarily a dime player and a back-up at left end, to playing 44 plays at right end. Then all of a sudden, he’s back to playing every snap of the game at left end.

So it’s a very positive thing. And we’re well impressed with his versatility, his adaptability to be able to do that.

As we’ve talked about a lot of times in the past, any time a player can go from side-to-side, whether it’s right guard to left guard, or left end to right end, that really gives us the equivalent of two players and gives us a better option.

So if you back up left end is the third-best left end, then he’s also your back-up right end instead of having to put in your fourth best end because he’s just a right end. So really showing that developing, and as we come into this phase of the year, that’s a real plus for us.

So he we now have Nate who can clearly play nose. And we have Zane who has played left and right, and actually a little bit overlooked here is that we’ve got a very nice performance from John-Kevin Dolce who moved from nose to right end.

So now in certain circumstances, he gives us more flexibility and adaptability there.

He didn’t have the kind of numbers that the other two did, but he certainly gave us a very positive performance a.

QUESTION: Seven tackles is normally good for 79 defensive plays?

COACH GROH: But he did a nice job. There was very little, there was one play early where he was in the backfield and had a chance for a negative play on the quarterback and Nesbitt alluded him. But, there are really very few plays in the game that you could realistically or honestly say, oh, gee, we wish somebody else was in there other than John-Kevin. He did a nice job.

Again, not to wear it out, but those two players stepping up and being the next guy in there at their spots, they’ve performed like a starting player is supposed to. That’s why we don’t make too big a deal out of it when we don’t have somebody in there.

QUESTION: Are you a coach who scripts the first few offensive plays and what value is that first offensive possession for the tone of the game and the confidence of the offense?

COACH GROH: When it works and you win Zach, you say that first possession really set the tone, when it doesn’t work and you overcome it and you win, and you say it really wasn’t that important, but any positive possession clearly is important. Not just the first possession, but the avoidance of three-and-outs is really something that any offense wants to do, wherever he they come. You know, it’s over before you know it.

So I think that’s something that really is just the beginning for, and how you put together your first and second down calls as a lot to do with that whether you just package. Here’s our series of first and seconds. Or here are 15 in a row, whatever.

Bill Walsh was really the architect of the scripting of the plays. His theory was it’s just a lot easier to think on Wednesday than it is in between plays. That in a lot of cases it didn’t make a lot of difference what the plays were. It’s just they were already on paper and it was easier to read them than think them. And sometimes they had a realistic purpose, and sometimes the purpose it was just easier.

We’ve done that on occasion. And some teams the 15 plays is just a number they’ve just thrown out there. I’ve known some guys who some weeks, not every week, I’ve known some guy who just said I’m going to script the whole first half.

And you have to get off of that when you’re in situational play. If it’s 3rd and 1, and you have a double seam call, you’re probably going to make a 3rd and 1 call. Then they get back on the script. You get in the red zone, you get off the script, but you might have a red zone script. So I know some guys who have just scripted the whole first half. No matter what the outcome of the previous play was, no matter what play 14 did, they’re calling play 15.

QUESTION: You have talked a lot about Lewis already, but what kind of things are their receivers doing well now? They have two guys leading the conference in receptions at this point.

COACH GROH: Well, they lead in receptions because they’re playing in the Duke offense. If they were playing Georgia Tech, they’d probably not be leading the conference in receptions. They run very precise routes. They’re where they’re supposed to be. It’s a timing, precision, passing game which requires that receivers have the discipline to be at the spot, at the time as much as having raw skill.

To do that, there could be some guys who would be blazing fast guys, but if their routes are being run at 18 where they’re supposed to be run at 14 or vice versa , then it dramatically effects the rhythm and timing of the passing game that’s constructed such as this one. So that’s what they do a very nice job with.

QUESTION: You talk about another offense. What’s their defense do that your offense is going to have to exploit?

COACH GROH: They’re a four-three scheme. Over, a little bit under, but mostly over. Matched man-for-man in zone. Not that that’s traumatic, but we play some teams play little to no man, this is a team that plays more man-for-man. Now that creates a different circumstance for receivers, now it’s up to them to win one-on-one.

Now if you win, you usually get a big return on it. But you can also result in the quarterback having to hold the ball and not be in the rhythm that he wants. Coaches are certainly this way. I’m certain some people say hold it, don’t hold it, throw it, throw it. Sometimes if you have effective man-for-man coverage, there is nobody to throw it to. That would be the dilemma for the quarterback.

What do you want me to do with it? There is nobody open, and you don’t want me to stand there I understand that. I don’t have anybody to throw it to, either. What should I do with it? So we’re going to get a good combination of both.

QUESTION: After the game Saturday Nate mentioned last year’s game in Durham. I don’t think you are a coach who likes to use revenge for motivation. Do you have any problems with your players going over past games like that? Would you discourage that?

COACH GROH: I remember the results of most games that I’ve been involved in.

QUESTION: Is there really that much time to make that many adjustments at halftime?

COACH GROH: There are certainly some that there is the opportunity there to be made, but there is a lot — very frequently what happens at halftime is whatever adjustments were made during the course of the first half are just confirmed and more clearly defined for the players. Frequently those adjustments have to be made on the run, often in between — often during the course of the series when you don’t have a chance to talk to the players.

But you change your play selection. That’s more the case on defense than it is offense. Okay, here’s something that just a lot of offenses do, is they’ll package their plays by series. Okay, in this — in a lot of game plan will look literally like a box.

They’ll have boxes on the sheet; okay. Just like a package. And in box A … okay, these are the players that are going to run during this series. And in box B, these are the plays they’re going to run during that series. And the intent of that is to stay one move ahead of the defensive team.

So if they ran a package of play B in this series, and the players come on off, and the coaches are discussing the series with the players and making adjustments about what just occurred, well, that’s not going to occur in the next series because they’re going to box C with a different package of plays.

Now after while, those things tend to recycle. But early in the game, you know. So once you see by a series on the sideline, what’s going on, sometimes you have to change the whole style of calls that you’re making on defense. And then come off and tell the players why you did it, and the next time this happens, this is what we’re going to do.

So, obviously, that takes some adaptability on the part period of the players to have that happen during the course of the season. I’m sorry, series. And if not, then it occurs on the sidelines there. We’ve had some teams that were particularly good at that. I think I’ve cited, I remember citing some examples with the team in ’07 and there were two or three circumstances where we put some things in on the bench that we hadn’t put in yet that year that we had added in previous seasons. And that group was, look, fellas, this will take care of this situation for us.

Can we do this? And can we do this? We can do this. Or I’m not comfortable with that. Just give me an honest answer. So you’ve got to know how well the players can adapt to that, and whether you should make changes in between series.

Those things then get a little more confirmed at halftime, not necessarily because they’re different, but because you have a more settled, more extended circumstance to explain these things to the players. Here’s what we remember. Here are the adjustments we’ve made during this series. Here’s why we’re going to continue to do that. Okay, is everybody clear on what we’re doing?

Okay, now I’ll use Phil Simms as a reference. Phil Simms in his book writes he can’t remember a meaningful halftime adjustment that was made. Okay. Now this was with some real good coaches on some real good teams. So he’s obviously not saying I didn’t have very sharp coaches. He’s saying in his book “Sunday Morning Quarterback”, which is a good read; okay. It’s a fun read, and it’s a good football book, too. He writes, “I can’t remember when a half time adjustment was really meaningful.”

I guess that kind of negates the commentators making great half time adjustments speech, right?

QUESTION: For Jameel, playing from behind and having to throw almost every time, how does that change his role?

COACH GROH: I don’t think it changed his role at all. It just created greater frequency. We were looking for and will continue to look for a far more productive performance from everybody associated with the offense.

 

QUESTION: The last game had injuries, but much has been made about Georgia Tech and taboo subject, chop blocks, was Aaron Clark’s injury any result of that or was it just kind of normal play?

COACH GROH: No, actually, Zane Parr leg whipped. Zane came off a block very nicely. Looked like he was going to come off. He really came off and made a good play. He came off and tackled the player, one to two yard play, and as he came down, he leg-whipped down.

QUESTION: Is it likely that Nick Jenkins will return to his normal role this week?

COACH GROH: It is. You know, that was just one of those cases where the particular style really fit one player’s game. And that particular style didn’t fit the other player’s game as well. But Nick’s done a real good job for us. And, actually, as we discussed on Saturday we might not have been in the same situation last year if Nick hadn’t sprained his ankle at the end of the North Carolina game, and was unavailable for are the Georgia Tech game. So, Nate moved up and did a terrific job. It would have been foolish to not take advantage of that again.

QUESTION: How did Conrad play last year?

COACH GROH: He played very well. He played very well.

QUESTION: Do you see — you see a lot more tape than I do, but is it common for the long snapper to be one of the first ones down the field and be the guy to make the tackle or save the ball?

COACH GROH: In this protection scheme it often is. It was an advantage we were discussing last week. And some of the advantages of the scheme and one of the things that allows all the protectors to be moving forward into the protection rather than backing up as the NFL style spread punt does and allows everyone to get out faster. And Danny tries very hard to take advantage of that.

QUESTION: Are there reviews with him going over the line?

COACH GROH: It was close. But in college football, you can be in the end zone and still get credit for downing the ball. In the NFL, if the players are in the end zone, and the ball is on the field, it’s still a touchback. College football for players in contact with the end zone, but the ball is not, it’s a legitimate stop. Not only did he get to the ball early, but he had the presence of mind to try to flip it backwards. So it was a very head’s up, situational play.

QUESTION: I can’t imagine the special teams unit has had the amount of game-changing plays that you envisioned entering the year. What needs to be done for more of those?

COACH GROH: Well, it’s not exactly the same exact thing. It carries the same weight as the quarterback position. The major thing is your specialists have to have an outstanding performance. That is kickers and returners on two of the three units, let say we’re not shooting par, and we’re looking for a much-upgraded performance in punting the ball and kicking off. Robert’s done a nice job with the placements. And Drew Jarrett has done a nice job in his role. And we need a more dynamic performance out of our return guys. We’ve got to get them a lot more help.

The coverage units have been here ever since the mess with that one kickoff return with Southern Mississippi, ever since then they’ve done a relatively decent job. The punt coverage unit has done a decent job. But the return guy has got to pick it up.

 

QUESTION: Where has Duke come in the last couple of years under David Cutcliffe?

COACH GROH: As we understand it, the school has upgraded its commitment to being successful in football, that’s always part of it. And it’s usually, it’s more than just the coach. They’ve upgraded their commitment to being successful and done some things in that direction.

You know, David was very successful in a very challenging conference when he was the head coach at ‘Ole Miss. And probably was unjustifiably released from that position. He had his team in the Cotton Bowl. I think they won ten games or whatever they did.

So he’s a quality coach. Knows how to run a real good program. It was expected, and he had a positive attitude, but demanding standards. He’s done a very good job with their team. We’re very respectful of it.

QUESTION: What did you see of the ‘phantom’ personal foul called on Saturday?

COACH GROH: What we had suggested is that for anybody who has — most people Tivo the game in order to go back and take a look at it and write your stories based on what you see there. So, I just suggested that everybody look at their Tivoed version and come up with your own opinion. And if you have any questions since clearly I’m not the expert on this. If you have any questions, I’d suggest that you direct them to the ACC office and see what they might want?

QUESTION: Did you direct any questions?

COACH GROH: I have the same question you might have. I guess Halloween was one week early. You know, Ghostbusters or whatever.

 

QUESTION: You were talking about the returns. One of them just got buried – is that the blocking or something else?

COACH GROH: We took a look at that group-wise yesterday. That was kind of an embarrassing moment for some of the other people who are on the field with the returner at that time.

But I think he had one of them. I know Perry Jones had one.

QUESTION: Couple years ago there was a season where you had a lot of dropped balls. It didn’t seem like you had many dropped balls in the first six games. Obviously some challenging conditions the other day. Do the receivers need to help out Jameel because he’s not a 70 percent passer?

COACH GROH: That definitely falls within that earlier statement about we’re looking for increased performance from everybody associated with the offense.

You know, Zach, I think was on the right track here last evening. It’s not the only part of it. But against the two teams that we played that are Top 12, Top 10 teams. Georgia Tech and TCU, scoreboard-wise, we were in pretty decent shape at the half. Had the numbers down in yardage and had the numbers down in points. In both of those games, when we got over, and they were both pretty rugged games. And both of those games we started to get into the 55, 60-play count is when some of the creases started to show up.

We’ve got to make more first downs. We’ve got to be more productive. We’ve got to get better field position either to start our offensive series as a result of these punts that aren’t going far enough or these returns that aren’t long enough, or a better starting position for the offense to do something with it. Then even if nothing happens with it, then they’ll punt it further down the field than what we are.

And that field position would help the defense. It certainly sometimes inhibits some of the things that the opponent offense can do. But if we can sit them down there for a little bit longer and not get that pitch count up there so high, but that certainly has to be a factor in there. I mean, that’s — that’s not something that you like to take out, or sometimes necessarily from our standpoint acknowledge.

But that’s the body is built. These guys are college football players, not members of the Marvel Comics family. They’re not super heroes and they wear down. And they have energy lapses like all people do. So I think there is certainly some significance to that. And that’s an important issue that we have not been oblivious to up to this point. It’s just putting an explanation, another explanation point behind it here.

QUESTION: You have had injuries at running back this year, and how much of an advantage is it having the running game going, especially the production?

COACH GROH: Yeah, you’re right about the fact that we have not had the continuity of the back that would be preferable. You know, Jackson wasn’t available in the first game. Simpson made a cameo appearance, both coming off their training camp injuries. Both of which were freak injuries. We’re very enthusiastic about getting Wallace into the mix. He only was able to give us that one game. And Simpson had his issue again.

So that’s not just in the games itself, but obviously in those circumstances, they miss practice time, and so probably that’s a contributing issue, but I would still like to make the answer be that if the holes were bigger, most anybody could run through them.

  



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