Al Groh’s weekly press conference

The transcript from UVa. football coach Al Groh’s weekly press conference on Monday.

COACH GROH: I had a very interesting college football weekend. I got a chance to get a much broader perspective on things, obviously, than when you’re not playing, you have the remote in your hands, you can kind of see what college football around the country looks like.

It certainly revealed that there’s probably far too many teams and players that are anointed way too early in the season and far too many teams and players that are condemned too early in the season to see the significant turnarounds that occur in so many games, that the season is to be played out rather than to be seen in microcosm. I realize that’s not the reality of the way things go, but the way that they may seem but that’s the reality of the way things go. It also looks like there are an awful lot of teams this year that are essentially the same teams, an awful lot, certainly more than a Top 25 poll would be able to encompass and that there are a few teams that are clearly superior, and that outside of that, it’s a pretty good battle every week to see who comes out with it.

But the out comes of some of the significant ACC games were once again it’s not just about fundamental execution or game plans, it’s just what happens to the ball. Probably three of the most significant games in the conference were all determined by turnovers, interceptions, fumbles, blocked kicks, or returns, either the absence of them for some teams or the availability of them for the other ones that profit by that, so it’s such a tricky thing as those particular things go. It’s been a positively productive week for our team. We found some things to our team has done some things that certainly make us look better on the practice field, as was the case before the previous game. Also, I was intrigued by the results of those games, the three earlier opponents that we had, I think they now stand 10 1, so we would like to think that this has tested us in a way that will have us best prepared for the conference season that’s coming up.

And now we are playing one of our most traditional rivals, which is always one of our most enthusiastic and energetic games from the standpoint of fans, players, everybody else and since it combines with being our first conference game of the year, that we are certainly looking forward to, I guess it is tomorrow, getting into our actual game preparation for the game.

Q. Did you practice any more last week just to kind of build on what you learned from Southern Miss than you might have ordinarily on an early bye week?
COACH GROH: Yeah, I think one of the things that I’ll go back to is how we have said on so many occasions that it sometimes and certainly a lot of, I’m sure, coaches are feeling this way even more so today after some of the events of this weekend — but sometimes it takes three or four weeks out there for teams to find an identity and by identity, I mean it’s personality, it’s strengths, the concerns that you have about the team, to really, really show itself.

Having had three weeks to do that, it confirms some of our thoughts that we had going into the season, also certainly pointed us in certain directions, and clearly showed that we are profiting by more time in the systems that we are in, that continued with the practices. But practice is one thing and the game is the other. But at least the practices were more efficient and particularly in terms of movement of the ball.

Q. By the way all of your first five opponents were undefeated going into Saturday.
COACH GROH: Is that right? I had not looked at it that way. All five of them almost stayed that way.

Q. Interesting weekend, probably revealed that far too many teams are anointed early in the season and too many have been condemned is there a message there for your team? Do you feel maybe some people have condemned your team at this point?
COACH GROH: That’s not really our issue. Our issue is just playing better, and as it is every week, and just get ready for the next game and things that you need to do, but clearly that’s based on past performance also. That’s not just looking at the opponent. That’s based on your past performance and where you’re building strength and where is it now beginning to show that you have significant concerns that have to either be masked or overcome. There’s so much going on that all a team can really deal with is what it knows internally.

Q. Obviously you can’t go back and erase anything, but does the ACC kind of give you guys a fresh start? Do you look at it that way, because if you win you’re 1-0 in the conference?
COACH GROH: Well, every year I think when you’re in a conference, the reason that you’re in a conference is to win the conference championship and so that dominates over every other circumstance and so now we get into conference play.

Probably with this team, we hope that subsequent games will confirm this. We have seen progress in most phases of the team on a week to week basis, and with the installation of some of these new operations, we hope that, as I say, that it’s a trend there in taking some time in getting these things installed and going the way we want them to.

The competition steps up every week. Although clearly, I can remember saying, exactly I can remember sitting at that round table in Greensboro with the media kickoff there in saying that I thought that TCU would be a legitimate contender in this conference and somebody said to me, “You really think they are that good”? I said, ” yeah, I really do.” And it’s easy to think, because just go on their past performance. But they now have two wins and have gone to one of the more challenging places to play, a team that was I think was picked to be one of the top contenders in that division, and won down there, so they clearly are a legitimate contender in this conference as they would be and as they certainly are in their conference.

To have now played, besides our ACC games, I think Southern Mississippi with what they did at Kansas is showing that they are comparable ACC, wherever they would rank in there, comparable ACC type competition. So we have had to go up against that type of competition, and we can only we look at the positive side of it, and hope that the lessons are what level the team has to perform to go against those kind of teams.

Q. When a team has two weeks to prepare. How much time is actually spent preparing compared to fixing your own issues?
COACH GROH: It’s certainly a different circumstance with each year and each team when that bye comes. With ours coming after the third game and our belief that it takes a few weeks to really get a handle on who your team is, that when it comes to that particular stage, then regardless of what your record is at that time, it’s an excellent time to make a self assessment and have a real good what are the areas that we are going to really emphasize here that can we do well, what are the areas we try to improve upon, and when you can designate and what you can really do well, and you would like to have balance between run and pass and offense and defense or whatever, but sometimes you don’t, and you just go with what you have. You learn the personality of your team. I think at this stage, our first year players have been here and have been in our system for two months. Some of them now have the opportunity to have a little bit more background where they might be able to make more of a contribution.

So when it comes to this time frame, we had one after the first week, really wasn’t that valuable. It just came too soon to be able to make an assessment of any production. We had one before the last game and you only get ready for the last game and rest your team. So sometime in this time frame is where it has the chance to work the best for a team. So at this stage, our priority here was pretty much taking care of ourselves rather than getting way ahead on the upcoming game.

Q. With Dominique (Wallace) out, what about the location at tailback, and Torrey (Mack) was on the field a lot against Southern Miss, does he get some of those carries?
COACH GROH: Yeah, definitely. Dominique was certainly right up there and put himself in a position to be one of the top players in that rotation. It’s really an indication of his will and his toughness of how long he played in that game with that injury, when, as it turned out, over two quarters after he was hurt. That’s a particularly painful injury.

In fact, before this type of surgery was developed, it was often a career ending injury. This surgery has saved the careers of a lot of players. This is the same doctor to whom a lot of NFL teams send their players and the same doctor to whom Cedric Peerman went. I had never heard of the injury frankly before I came here. Maybe we had had players with the injury that in staff meetings we were told then it was not perhaps referred to by it’s medical name, but this Lisfranc fracture, I had never heard that term before and now we have had three running backs with it, two of whom it cost them the whole season. We know unfortunately quite a bit more about that than we would like to. But it would certainly put Torrey Mack up there where he has the chance to see the ball a lot more.

Q. When you decided to change philosophies before the Southern Miss game, how much did that weigh on you to make those changes? What prompted you to make the changes and what have you seen since from the team that you liked?
COACH GROH: Just the ongoing process of thinking about our team, where is it, what can it do. As I said, we are very acutely aware of that early season time frame from where competition shows you so many more things about your team than practice does. And whether it’s game plan schemes that the other side thinks of that maybe your coaches didn’t think of, they had a different idea, or matchups or that type of thing.
So early in the year, that’s always a very ongoing thing, what to do more of, what to do less of, what we might change to, and just at that time, I felt that we had a system that had a proven record of success. It’s not snake oil. It worked very well before. It’s working very well around the country, and we had players who had a proven record of success.

But at that time, there wasn’t a clean mesh. And clearly, more time will provide that. But we look at every week as you only get 12 of these a year, and you know, I think a player spends between five and 10 percent of his football life in games; a coach clearly spends a whole lot less, so in that one to five percent that we get to actually have games, that’s pretty precious time. And so when we think some things need to be done the very next week to help us the very next week, we are very proactive on those things so, that’s kind of what led to all of that.

Q. Did you suggest it to Gregg Brandon, did he make suggestions to you, did you basically decide together that something needs to be done and how involved were you and how involved was he?
COACH GROH: Does your wife make suggestions to you or do you collaborate on those things? (Laughter).

Q. So you played the role of wife in the operation (Laughter).
COACH GROH: Didn’t answer the question.

Q. She makes suggestions and if I know what’s good for me obviously for somebody
COACH GROH: It’s funny how so many things in life overlap and are the same.

Q. The way you just put it, makes it sound like you hit him over the head.
COACH GROH: No, I didn’t say that. I would say that we all want what’s best for the team and we can all recognize that there are certain things that would give us a better chance.

Q. It seemed like it was how dramatic it was, there was a lot of little things, maybe not one acute difference, but a lot of little things.
COACH GROH: I’d say that’s pretty accurate, yeah.

Q. When Vic does get back, is that a good problem to have, all of a sudden having two quarterbacks? Jameel seems to have gotten himself into a better flow, being the guy, definitely a little bit of a balance act there?
COACH GROH: We have got a lot more games to see how that’s going to go, but where we stand right now. First of all you are exactly right. He’s got a little bit of momentum going. Certainly can play better but he has been playing better. That’s been his history his previous two years as a starter, to continue to get better as he accumulated more starts.

And you have to remember that this is a player who once he did get into that type of rhythm two years ago, won nine games for us. So I think as is the case in any sport when a person is proven to be successful and there is a little bit of a history of how that’s come about, that when he first became a starter in ‘06, those of you who watched some of those first two or three games, it was a little bit rocky but then we went on and had some real good wins and he had some real good games. And the same thing was true in ’07, and as the season picked up momentum, so did Jameel, or maybe they coincided with each other. So I think you need more than two to have an accurate sample but at least we have a little bit of precedent in that case and we can only be positive and think that history might have a chance to continue.

Q. Does Vic Hall need surgery on his hip and if so how long will he be out?
COACH GROH: Not at the present time.

Q. What were your thoughts on North Carolina watching that game?
COACH GROH: I look at the team in the big picture, not in any one particular game, so I had watched quite a few games previous to that game. Very impressed with their defensive team. There are a lot of players on that team that are really good. Obviously they showed that to us last year when they were here, and continue to do that during the course of the season.

Of the four games this year and the final half of the season last year, thinking back to their Bowl game, the only two games they lost was when the opposing quarterback had a career game. Pat White in the Bowl game last year had a career game which enabled his team to win, and Nesbitt had an outstanding game the other day, probably a career game for him, too, or one of his very best, which enabled his team to win.

So usually against a defense of that strength, it takes that, it takes the quarterback to step up and do something spectacular. Each one of those quarterbacks did it in a different way for their team and it’s one of those games where — Miami did the same thing to Indianapolis the week before, but the time of possession, but unfortunately for the Colts they had Peyton Manning and when your team only has the ball 14 or 15 minutes in the game, it’s going to be difficult to get a lot of points in the game. For those circumstances, and the fact that obviously our offense is quite a bit different than the Georgia Tech offense, that we tend to not use that game a lot in terms of our preparation.

Q. As you mentioned earlier, all of the bye weeks are different in terms of timing. I think you won nine of your first 11 games following the bye week. And then last year you lost both of your games following the bye week. Is that something that you looked at this past offense and something you go back and change?
COACH GROH: Well, I had not thought about the bye weeks of last year, I think one was before the Duke game. That was when we were going through as I recall that was Mark’s first game as a starter, or the other one, he really didn’t have full preparation for. So that week previous to that game, we actually saw a lot of progress with the team but unfortunately that fell into the category that I mentioned this week where the teams turned the ball over six times, so those six plays in themselves made it impossible to demonstrate the degree of improvement that might have been made. Now that showed up the next week. And the next week, I don’t remember who we played.

Q. Clemson.
COACH GROH: We played pretty decently in that one too but once again that was a multiple turnover game. That’s just the reality of it. That’s just the thing that you hear coaches about talk about this issue all the time, but that skews your results. You can have an inefficient day offensively and get points off special teams and defense because you take the ball away. Or you can have a pretty efficient day in many aspects of your team and if you give the ball away, you’re going to have a hard time holding on to the game. But yet there might be a lot of players who played really well. And I know that was the case when we played Clemson. They had a lot of players who played really well in that game and against a very good team and a team that was on a real roll then but because we gave the ball away so much, the scoreboard didn’t reflect that. But that’s a necessity to be a good team. It’s not just about your schemes or your execution, it’s about the ball. Sometimes we are just bringing it to the meeting, look, all of the assignments that everybody has, and you have to adjust to this formation and you have to make this call with this person; you have this hot read, tackling is important, blocking is important.

It’s about what happens to this; it’s about what happens to the ball on every play that determines the outcome of the play. The ball is the thing. And so those two things now that I reflect back on it, the ball was the thing in those games. And clearly that’s going to be the issue with that team when your margin of error is such or your margin of success is pretty small, as most of these conference games are, the ball is the thing. And if you have a team that gets it and doesn’t give it away, you have a real good chance to accumulate a lot more wins than the other way around.

Q. Having watched a few games myself this weekend, Virginia Tech, Miami, Redskins, Lions, Colts, Cardinals, the losing team simply could not block the other team. Seems like that’s been the problem with your team this year; how do you get that group to perform better?
COACH GROH: In that case a lot of drilling. If you have players that have been successful, it comes back somewhat to the question of earlier, about getting some of these players to return to what some of these players have had success doing; and that maybe they could be as successful. Most likely they could be successful doing other things, but while the season may last quite a few months, it lasts a very short time, the number of games and so we are not a knee jerk operation, but sometimes when we see things that are reality, we react to reality.

Q. As far back as signing day, you said there was a chance Tim Smith would play this season. What did you see as a high school player that made you confident and what have you seen from him thus far?
COACH GROH: The most obvious thing was speed, and that he would increase the speed level at a position that significantly needed it. Clearly he has been able to do that. Now, the speed isn’t quite as striking on our videos as they were on the high school video because on most of those, he was the fastest player on the field, or thereabouts. Now he’s playing against lots of players who were recruited on the same basis.
But when we look at it, it’s still a case at that position, is matching up better with the other team’s speed than what has been the case in the past.

Q. The wide receivers really seemed to take a step up at Southern Miss. How will that allow you to develop the offense and can you do more things as they progress?
COACH GROH: It almost feels foolish answering the question this way. But they just ran faster. And they ran faster out of conviction and confidence of what they were doing, just another week of what they were doing, because even with the interjection of some things that we have done in the past, even with those things, not many of the returning receivers have much background in those things and nobody has background in many of the other things that we are doing.

So Burd has never really played in games that we see very much, he was a special teams player last year, Brown has never played, Green has caught 12 passes in his career, Smith has never played. So there are just a lot of players in their first games and running those routes and reading the coverage for the first time so we are just seeing these things developing faster and getting into the secondary with more burst and more push, so it was just a simplistic thing like that has been part of the process.

Q. Corey Mosley — the pass interference against Southern Miss – was than an egregious error, or is that a horrible judgment call that went against him?
COACH GROH: That was one of the easier there were some calls in that game that were challenging for the officials, but that was one of the easier calls.

Q. What kind of conversations are you having with Corey?
COACH GROH: Each one of them has really been significant in the outcome of the game. So we can’t withstand too many more of those clearly. Too many, meaning, zero. If they affect games to that degree, clearly.

Q. Did Ras-I elevate his game at all?
COACH GROH: He very definitely did. We are pleased with where he went and in Cook’s absence, Minnifield was really the first player this year that significantly had to be the next man up and did a nice job with that. Can he play better yes, he can. For as much as he played last year, he’s just still a second year player, so there’s a lot of room for that to happen but that will be our collective challenge to make sure that it does.

Q. So much talk about three leading tacklers going from last year and the task ahead. Through three games, what’s your overall assessment of the linebackers?
COACH GROH: Positive, although for the last three years, and particularly through the previous two, one of the players that we were replacing was a real big play player in Clint Sintim, if I have this information correctly he led the country in linebacker sacks last year and that’s a lot of big plays. If you look correctly, now that we are playing some conference games, we are starting to look at more of last year’s games, when you play the non conference teams, and you want to look at us against them last year, and just to see some of his blocked destruction that he did to blow up plays and make it second and 11. So he was really a playmaker linebacker for us.

And in Jon Copper, we had a player who had some really awesome plays during the course of his career, but we can’t check them off as sacks as such, but in answering your question, one of the things that comes to mind is two years ago, we played Connecticut here and we turned the ball over in the first two possessions and we have a chance to be in the hole 14 0 right away. And the defense holds both times and they kick field goals and it’s 6 0. That’s a tremendous difference. On each one of those plays, Jon makes a third down stop. One was third and which caused a field goal and at the end of the half Jon strips a receiver in the red zone on like the last play of the half and we get the ball so there’s X amount of plays that are not going to show in the national statistics, other than a tackle for Jon but those were game changing plays. So those two players in particular contributed to a lot of plays that really changed the course of the game where it helped us manage the game. So we are getting good, solid play there but we are not getting the game changing plays yet that we have gotten previously from that position.

Q. In the case of Dominique’s injury, you mentioned you have done some research during the offseason. I think in the past five years there have been about five, six NFL players is there any explanation as to the rise of this and the cause of it?
COACH GROH: We obviously have been very intrigued by that stat. We have asked our medical player to look into it. Is it more games or turf or is it more games on grass? Wali (Lundy) did it twice, one more severe than the other but both were on grass fields, one here and one at Clemson. Cedric (Peerman) did his on artificial. Dominique in this case did his on artificial. There are more games in the NFL being played on artificial turf than there have been in the past but the field turf plays so much like grass. How much like it? Well, there is no way to measure that but people that we have spoken to have said that if these were on formerly hard Astroturf surface it might be attributed to artificial but this surface plays so much like natural grass, it’s difficult to say.

So really whether it’s bigger, stronger players making more severe cuts; in Lundy’s case, he was just running. There was no cut. In Peerman’s case and Dominique’s case, it was a plant and drive and it happened at that moment. Wally he was just running down the sideline and all of a sudden I remember it very well, he was just hip-hopping coming down the sideline. So in answer to your question, we have not been able to come up with anything that just leads from one to the other. We wish we could obviously.

Q. Are the coverage teams going to look different on Saturday? Have you shuffled that around at all?
COACH GROH: I could say yes or we will try to make them look somewhat the same. One of the issues with those coverage teams in the second half is that they were already looking different; that players who were not on the first half coverage teams who were I’ll put it this way — who were on the first half coverage teams, because of injury or whatever, were not on the second half coverage teams, and that definitely was we wore thin and wore out, clearly our performance in all three phases was not as strong at the latter part of the game as it was early and that as was definitely the case in terms of coverage. So we hope to be able to get some of the people who were absence on some of those back into the lineup as well as look at somewhere we think we could improve that performance.

Q. Following up on that, special teams in general, if you had won the special teams, you might have one or two wins at this point. I can’t imagine you can stretch them anymore? Do you put any more emphasis on or discuss them more?
COACH GROH: One part of my answer would be to myself is regardless of how much we are discussing practicing them, we should do it more. By the same token, I also think to do more would almost say that we would abandon practicing on offense and defense. I mean, just to one third of the operation, it’s difficult to we devote four significant periods a day to it now, as well as a 40 minute period on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we devote four periods to it, and on Sunday we devote 40 minutes to it, more than half of the practice, and on Thursdays we devote 28 minutes to it.
So we are pretty heavy in the time devoted to it. So with that, sometimes you’ve just got to get better execution or demand better than what we are getting.

Q. What games did you watch this weekend?
COACH GROH: Well, there’s a lot of things that interest me in football: Where my close friends are, what different systems are, where certain competition is. Actually, I was going to say I have the male disease of having a quick trigger finger, but Mrs. Football is pretty interested, too. So she was doing a good job with that remote herself. And so it wasn’t all up to me.

We watched the North Carolina/Georgia Tech, Indiana/Michigan, a little Yale/Dartmouth for the fun of it, Alabama and Arkansas, we watched quite a bit of that, Texas and UTEP, Virginia Tech and Miami; Oregon State and Arizona, we watched quite a bit of that game because a good friend of ours is coaching there. Some of Purdue/Notre Dame. And we watched quite a bit of Houston and Texas Tech for the entertainment value of it, and managed to do a few other things, too.

Q. What are your thoughts on your running game right now?
COACH GROH: Like everything else, we want to see it get better and that’s pretty much the way we feel about our team.

Q. What did Georgia Tech able to do defensively in particular? Obviously their offense is not something you’re going to simulate but defensively they had a big game.
COACH GROH: Very situationally appropriate pass rush, which gave them a lot of success on third downs and contributed to their time of possession, most particularly out of number 91, Morgan. He’s a good player. Our players last year, there was another player there who had quite a bit of height, Johnson. But Morgan is a player that Eugene is a pretty good guy to measure, because I think he’s a pretty good judge of who is a good pass rusher — and they were much more impressed with Morgan on Saturday. He’s a real good player.

There are a lot of really outstanding players on this North Carolina defense, which is why their results have been so good, but one of the really eye catching players is number 42, the right defensive end. He can go. He’s really an impressive looking player. He just comes off the edge like few players can. He and Morgan were very similar in terms of that during this game.

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