Bronco Mendenhall on loss to Miami, Bryce Hall, getting ready for Duke

Bronco MendenhallBRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, been hard at work this morning. After reviewing our Miami game, certainly disappointed we didn’t earn a victory on the road in Miami. I thought our team competed well. I think we tried hard. Our execution ultimately offensively inside the 30 became the real story of the game, having made six trips there, three of which we got no points, one with a blocked field goal, and one with a turnover on downs. Yeah, and the other three yielding only field goals.

So ultimately, any time we make trips to the red area or red zone on the field, we expect touchdowns at least 50% of the time. Not yielding any touchdowns really became the story of the game as I would say we would stop just short of controlling the game.

But yardage, time of possession, and our plan was on pointe and executed well, with the exception of the most critical area. That was scoring. And the trips we made once we were inside the 30, again, there were six times there.

The defense played well. I thought they controlled the game prior to the last drive as we were adjusting to Bryce Hall being out. That was a significant adjustment. Coach Howell on the defense did as good a job as possible with personnel and adapting and adjusting as quickly as possible.

Ultimately that led to a touchdown at the end. That was the difference in the game. I would say the combination of those two things, our inability to score in what we call the blue zone, and when Bryce went out, just the last touchdown that we gave up for Miami.

In relation to Bryce, he has signed a release just allowing me to update you. He’s in good spirits. We expect a full recovery. He sustained a left ankle injury. He had surgery Sunday morning. He is recovering well. He will not return this season, and we’ll help him rehab for his next opportunity. Rehab timeline is uncertain depending on his healing.

Bryce is just an amazing young person and has had and does have a huge impact on our program. I’m thankful for his efforts, for the chance to be his coach, for his influence not only on the team, but in my life. On the bus after the game he was sitting right behind me, and I turned, and one of the few times — I usually have something kind of quick-witted to say to our players, and nothing came.

I said, Yeah, I’ve got nothing. He and I were talking a few weeks ago about a quote we liked. It was in relation to people who were human buoys, nothing can get them down. That’s basically what he said. He said, ‘Coach I’m a human buoy’. He was smiling and he’s remained in good spirits and has just been exemplary in everything he’s done.

So that hopefully summarizes. I’ll be glad to answer questions regarding the Miami game. Looking forward to Duke, another ACC Coastal game. Most of these games are dead even in terms of how the matchups look. Miami was one of those. I expect almost every other one to be the same, as was Pitt, where I think any team has a great chance to beat any other team on any given Saturday. It’s that close within our division.

We have plenty of work to do. I’ll take questions.

Q. With Bryce out, who in the secondary, whose role in the secondary changes the most? Is it De’Vante [Cross] moving full time to corner?
BRONCO MENDENHALL:
Yeah, so Nick, Coach Howell, does a really nice job of prioritizing and ranking players really daily and weekly in the event that a player is hurt, who would then be next up. That’s not specific to position played. It’s to always allow us to have the best four or five on the field at any one time.

So sometimes a corner might go out and you’ll see a safety move to corner because the next best player we think, No. 5 or No. 6, may be a safety. In this case, Chris Moore was that player, and De’Vante, we believe that combination would give us that, the best combination.

So Miami did a really nice job of – and not a lot of coordinators do this, or not a lot of teams do – but sometimes with an injury the game plan remains as if nothing changed. As it became critical, that’s where they targeted, was Bryce’s position. De’Vante held up well. It doesn’t mean that he played as did Bryce, nor should he.

So we have some adjustments we need to make there and we will, but De’Vante, his ability to play corner, is what will happen. Jaylon Baker is the next corner that will be considerable, as we know that both Darrius Bratton and Shawn Smith are out as well. So De’Vante Cross and Jaylon Baker are the next names you’ll hear at corner.

I guess what I also got to mention is that Chris Moore at safety with Antonio Clary as the next one in that mix.

Q. You mentioned the blue zone in your opening comments. Your first year here the touchdown percentage was very high; since then it’s been trending down. Is there anything in specific there? Is it a collection of things? What are you seeing?
BRONCO MENDENHALL
: I think it’s a combination of things, and my basic philosophy is who first, then what. And each of the four years, while it is intriguing and you want to put them together, I would caution us to do that. Each team is a little different and each dynamic is a little bit different.

But I think certainly we can consider personnel and who we play and where we play them, maybe more specific an emphasis level in that critical area, and then how we use them.

So both those things need to be elevated and adjusted at a higher level based on outcome. So now that we’re halfway through the season, and what I shared with my team is improvements come with feedback. As much as I would like to be ahead of it. That’s my job as the coach. I am responsible for all of it. I would love to be ahead of it and predict and say, I’m not sure we’re ready there or that doesn’t look like that’s going to be right.

Sometimes I miss it and I don’t see it until the game. I didn’t see it. I thought we moved the ball well there and I thought at least 50% of those would be touchdowns, and that would’ve given us a great chance to win of didn’t happen. So not only who we’re playing and what context, but how we’re using those players needs more emphasis. That’s what the feedback told us.

Q. To follow up on that, in general the big picture of football, what changes or how much harder is it for an offense to operate when they have less space to work with? And does the fact that you have not been great running the football play into that?
BRONCO MENDENHALL:
Yes to the second question. Our inefficiency or limited production in the run game is certainly influencing and influenced how Miami played us. But also to give them credit. I think they’re a good defensive team. I know the week before did not necessarily reflect that in terms of points allowed.

Outside of that, I think that statistically we’ll find they’re pretty strong. They certainly had something to do with it. Again, our ineffectiveness or inconsistency in running the ball has had some effect, and then concepts that will create a little more space and the ball being delivered where it’s supposed to be and on time with more precision and execution.

Some of the concepts were really well designed. Just not executed at a high enough level. So the feedback again to me is the head coach. Again, my job is to be ahead of it. In this case I’m after it and reactionary to it, to assess and make the adjustments needed within the limited space, which requires faster timing, more certainty, and a higher level of execution and we fell short.

Q. Might not be any of our business or it might not matter, but I’m curious why is it the blue zone instead of the red zone?
BRONCO MENDENHALL:
Started because our colors when I was the coach at Brigham Young were blue. We thought that area of the field deserved a special designation in alignment of something that was reflective of is, meaning we would be strong there.

Also reflects that our rival when I was coaching at BYU was University of Utah and they were red. Red was not our favorite color then, so the red zone sound lots better being the blue zone. We’re also blue here, so why not? Different shade of blue.

Q. Bryce [Perkins] has been sacked 13 times in the last two games. Seems to be holding up. How worried are you about the protection of the quarterback and the offensive line in general?
BRONCO MENDENHALL:
It’s ongoing. Ongoing work in progress and ongoing group that’s under construction. And ongoing group that’s being pushed and coached and taught, continual answers being sought.

Again, I think both defenses were effective. I think both defenses, meaning the two losses we had, certainly were strong and better than possibly some we played up to that point.

But Pitt also pressured the quarterback well. I think we’re making some in-roads, and I would verify that by simply when we played Notre Dame they weren’t known for sacking the quarterback. Miami was. We gave up fewer sacks in that context, and we’ll take every success we can at that position.

To not acknowledge success or improvement, that’s not how I operate either. While it might not be at the level that I would like, I do acknowledge when there is a trend or there is some success or some change happening, yet while it’s not as fast or as strong or as vibrant as I would hope it would be.

Again, luckily Bryce is mobile, he’s active, and his emphasis has been on ball security. So that’s, yeah, I think exactly where we are right now.

Q. There is obviously a football element, an Xs and Os element to losing Bryce. There is also an emotional element. You talked about how it impacted you. What kind of challenge is that moving forward, how it has impacted, will impact, might impact guys in the locker room?
BRONCO MENDENHALL:
I think that remains to be seen. Our team is resilient, our team is really close, and our team, they love each other. Man, I love being with them. They’re an amazing group of young people and I’m so, so lucky to be their coach and to be here at this unique time building a program, not built; striving to improve, not arrived; struggling to become, not became.

We’re right in the middle of that. Our feedback is telling us all that. As much as all of us want to be arrived and jump right to the next stage, we have to earn that stage. 8-5 a year ago in the bowl win is a pretty high mark, and we’re striving for that with an opportunity to do that.

Bryce was right in the core of that developing the simple idea that no one believed more than him. So believe was what — he does believe in our program. He asked his teammates to do that. I think it was hard for us to keep the players away from him when he was out there. They wanted to surround him. They wanted to touch, support him. And they will.

Bryce I’m sure will handle this in an amazing way and will lead from where he is now. I thought it was an amazing — I thought it was a powerful tribute. I believe it was Miami’s entire secondary ran across. I think when you have the respect and acknowledgment of your peers — that wasn’t just an opponent. That was his peers in same position on another team. I think his impact has been pretty far reaching, not only on our team, but in the league and on our staff.

So, yes, it hurts emotionally. Yes, it hurts in a lot of different ways, including tactically. But already how he’s handled it, he’s taught us a lot. I think it will end up helping our program at some point, at some time, in the new role that he has.

Q. Brian Delaney is 10-14 on field goals, 18-19 on extra points. How would you assess his play this season? He also kicks off.
BRONCO MENDENHALL:
I really like him. Put it this way: I like Brian and I like his progress. He works really, really hard. And I think those numbers are strong. They’re not perfect, but I think they’re strong. I think any of possibly the decline or drop-off that’s happened slightly in field goals is because, yeah, he wants to punt, too. He wants to do everything. He’s so competitive.

I probably should have restrained him a little bit more in the punting so he could focus more on kicking off and kicking extra points and field goals, as if that’s not enough. And so I can do a better job managing all of that. I hate to put a limit on someone, but I think he’s doing a nice job. The one kick that was blocked in the game that was a missed kick. It was low. It wasn’t the pressure and it wasn’t — even though it will be credited as a block, the ball was about shoulder high. So he just missed that one.

Q. One more on the impact of losing is Bryce. Curious, you’re among the nation’s leaders in sacks, and part of that has been the blitz package, the pressures, which you’re able to do because you have a guy that you can lock one-on-one and leave alone. How much of a trickle-down effect will not having him there affect your blitzes, your pressures?
BRONCO MENDENHALL:
Yeah, it’ll affect everything on our team. As you know, he was the captain of our kickoff team and punt return team, which is where he got hurt. Our best players, we think every blade of grass matters, and we play and they want to play in any capacity to help our team. So he does affect our defense besides coverage. He does affect our special teams. He does affect our offense, because ultimately points matter.

Defensively and statistically we’re not only strong and sacks and TFLs, but total defense, and about every defensive category you can think of. Our scoring I think would be stronger. The latest statistic had up to like 38 points coming off turnovers against the defense. What that means is we have to be better with sudden change and better in the blue zone on the defensive scoring side as well.

Bryce was right in the middle of all of those numbers being as strong as they are.

Q. Last week you sat in here and said you wanted to expand the role for Mike Hollins. Where is the trade-off in the ball security, and is there a part of you kicking yourself for picking that moment to kind of…
BRONCO MENDENHALL:
Sure. I believe in Mike. Any time something doesn’t go how you want it to, that’s part of the leadership, college football. I’m not sure if there is any more stressful and visible profession at the same time of high impact and visibility. Mike has a really bright future. I love and I’m proud of him.

And that one play and our time to insert him didn’t work out well. Looked like it could have been possibly a touchdown. Defensive lineman slightly out of his vision. He had the ball and the defensive lineman was getting blocked and came down as hard as he could and just happened to hit the ball.

It’s a learning experience for not only Mike, but our entire team, and myself as the head coach.

Q. A lot of focus on Bryce. What is your status update an Hasise [Dubois]?
BRONCO MENDENHALL:
Yeah, Hasise got hit really hard and the player was ejected for that hit. He’s recovering. We expect him to play versus Duke after some time recovering. It was a hard hit a violent hit, and it’s also part of football. I don’t think the player from Miami needs to be made out in any other way than he was just trying to play football.

Within the new rules and the way it works, just so happened to impact one of our players. I don’t think it was malicious.

Q. I think a player that we haven’t really talked about in this room is Noah Taylor, who I see is listed top linebacker spots. Six and a half tackles for loss and five sacks. What can you say about him?
BRONCO MENDENHALL:
Really impressed with Noah’s development. I’m not sure if it was in this context, but I talked about after the bowl game and when we came back in the winter that Noah was the most conditioned athlete on our team and no one could keep up with him.

From that moment on, from the South Carolina game until now, he’s just worked relentlessly to get himself on the field. He’s now learning and mastering the scheme in a high enough level with the conditioning and ability to contribute to help our team.

So between Charles [Snowden] and Matt Gahm and Noah Taylor, they’re handling most of the linebacker duties. Noah is really developing at a position that has a huge impact on our team, which, yeah, I’m really impressed with.

At last count as well — so I had up to I think right at 13 first years that have played this year. That doesn’t mean they’re playing every down and doesn’t mean they’re all starting, but that was what I see. And as you know, I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong on occasion. So possibly they were listed in the two-deep, but that’s about where I think we’ll be. Noah is just one year removed from that.

Q. Duke has put together a nice season so far. What impresses you about them?
BRONCO MENDENHALL:
They’re coached by David Cutcliffe, which their schemes are well thought out. Execution is on pointe. They maximize the use of existing personnel. They have a strong culture. He’s doing something very unique at a place that has a lot of reasons to say that it couldn’t be done. He’s doing it anyway.

So I have a lot of respect for him. The next quarterback is in after all the accolades for their previous quarterback who was a first-round pick. Doesn’t appear to be much drop-off. While their offense does not look identical and he’s improvised and innovated in a way that’s maximizing their current personnel. So I would say that their season and our season are very similar. The way they’re playing is very similar. Their culture is vibrant and very similar. It lines up to be a really challenging game.

Q. Follow up on that. Their receiving corps doesn’t have a star receiver. They spread the ball around. Given your situation in the secondary, how does that play in that matchup and what challenge does that present?
BRONCO MENDENHALL:
You know, I think rather than maybe even addressing that question, if you look at Bryce’s [Hall] play against this particular opponent and how successful he’s been, that’s probably the bigger story. It just seems that he’s played an integral role in our chance, success, against this opponent.

Without him now, someone else will have to do that. There isn’t any more time. That means we have to do it this week.

Q. You mentioned how Bryce has played against Duke. This is the ACC team you’ve had the most success against. Is it just a good matchup? Is it just coincidence? Any sort of explanation?
BRONCO MENDENHALL:
I don’t have an explanation. Again, the league and our division is so, so close. The number of plays that determine outcome, as you know, is so small. In this particular game and this particular matchup, we just made a few more plays. To go any further than that I would be guessing.

 



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