Bronco Mendenhall talks ODU, looks ahead to road trip to Notre Dame

Bronco MendenhallBRONCO MENDENHALL: Already deep and fast into Notre Dame preparation, which is our next game. Normal morning for us in addressing our game versus ODU with our team, making the corrections necessary, and then all the initial looks that we’re getting regarding Notre Dame.

So business as usual. Really pleased with the resiliency of our team, the chance to win and make corrections, to continue to have success to show for our players’ efforts and our staffs’ efforts, and yeah, anxious to keep playing.

I’ll take questions.

Q. In ACC, when you go on the road you don’t necessarily play in a huge venue with a sold-out crowd cheering against you. Because of that, how do you prepare your guys for what they’re going to face in terms of the atmosphere?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, you do the best you can. So most programs, including ours, you practice with crowd noise. I orchestrate and create crises during the week in as many different ways that I can, and that helps to some extent.

But if you watched Notre Dame versus Georgia, and Notre Dame plays in a setting that is loud and impactful all the time, and they had a number of offsides or false starts themselves.

So emotion is something and chaos is something we work to create in practice. Again, I try to create that as much as possible. That’s really all you can do, other than continue to build your program and hopefully the experience of your players and the number of settings you’ve been in eventually helps balance that out.

Q. Prior to Saturday night your offense had been exceptional on third down, one for 11; at least a handful of them I think were third and three, third and two. Was there a common thread as to why you weren’t able to convert?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think you just hit on the primary difference from Saturday’s game to the previous games. Our third down or critical plays are critical downs, which third down was certainly the majority of them. Few fourth downs.

And I would love to say there was one recurring theme, but just basic execution was not quite to the level we normally and had been playing to. So different player, different context on different plays.

And then credit ODU. The way they played, the style they played, they were very well-prepared for us. So I think they had something to do with it. A combination of both, kept the points down more than we would’ve liked; certainly longer than we would’ve liked.

Q. Looking at Notre Dame they have a ton of talent at the running back position. They have not been overly productive in the run game. What do you see that’s limited or hindered them?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think they’re physical and tough and I think they run really hard. I think they’re strong offensively. Numbers are misleading sometimes. So I haven’t seen maybe the gigantic chunk that sometimes lead to the yardage which then leads to the attention which then leads to the accolades.

But I have seen the ball consistency being moved when they want to run it against whomever they play. So I think it’s a physical, tough, grinding approach, which just hasn’t yielded big plays yet on the ground, but certainly capable.

Q. And big picture, I asked you after William & Mary if it was an important step for the program to kind of beat the teams you’re supposed to beat. Is it an important step in the program to play well and win a game like this, a top 25 matchup, national attention, all that?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, every game and every win — put it this way: the number of times this year already I’ve heard, ‘This is the first time since…’

The number of sentences that have started with that after the game when someone walks up, This the first time since… and there is some year and some statistic.

There are a lot of cool and positive things happening in your program. There will always be another metric and this is the next one. So Notre Dame is a very good team, national prominence, powerful name. We’re anxious to play.

So to have a 4-0 start and have some of the attention we’re garnering just adds to I think the preparation and the urgency for us to continue to grow and learn.

Q. Talking about Notre Dame, the power thing, when you go to a place like that, that sort of has a mystique all its own, do you have to do anything psychologically to get your team ready to go there? I know some teams seem to struggle going there for the first time.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, I think just — and we do this wherever we go. We always see and go to the stadium when we arrive and come off the plane and have a chance to see the field and get familiar with the locker room and make the unknown known for those that haven’t been there.

But then there is the reality that we’re playing this year’s team with this year’s players. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking about the different players that might have been there, the names of the past. While that’s historical and a positive thing for Notre Dame, we’re playing this team, this year, in the stadium that the rest of the guys have played in.

To think about more than that is just a waste of time.

Q. It seems as if Charles Snowden has a variety of roles out there. You do anything especially for him?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: As many things as possible. Charles is capable. Retaining and the workload mentally that he can handle, we can put him in a number of different positions at a number of different times in unique roles to try to leverage whatever the circumstance is where we can get the most out of what his abilities are.

We used Kyle Van Noy similar. We used Ziggy Ansah similar. So our system allows for him to be inserted in multiple places as long as he understands the scheme comprehensively, which he does.

So when you have players that can do multiple things it gives us more value and flexibility to get the right 11 on the field to match the circumstance, either personnel or situation. So he’s giving us a lot of flexibility right now, and that’s also yielding high level of production for him.

Q. You didn’t have an update Saturday night on Olu [Oluwatimi]. Curious where you right now given he’s on the depth chart still at center, and also where Tyler Fannin at that position and what your game plan is there.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I don’t have an update to this point. Kelly [Pugh] and our trainers might. I probably won’t address it again until maybe Thursday, but I don’t have an update as of this morning.

Q. Both of them?

Q. Jonathan Leech was in the game late at tackle. Were you looking to get him some work or does that just speak to the fact that things arose on the line and you needed to put a body in there?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s both. Jonathan earned his way into the two-deep a couple weeks ago. Now there continue to be injuries and wear and tear, and so it won’t be the last you’ll see him. The circumstance required it. Now we’ll try to make the most of it now that he’s played.

Q. In a perfect world would you be able to save this year for him?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: If it was perfect, but we’re not perfect.

Q. What are the rewards and challenges of working and coaching at a faith-based institution, and do your BYU experiences perhaps give you an appreciation for Notre Dame and its mission?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Sure. My experiences and experience at Brigham Young University was priceless and something I’ll cherish. To be able to represent my personal beliefs and my faith through my work in a visible and tangible way brought a reward and a peace that I’m not sure you can achieve any other way. Normally there is a separation of work and faith and the demonstration and the acknowledgment of.

So to be able to have those intertwined and seamlessly binded was an amazing experience, and really, really profound. The night before every game we held firesides at local congregations and the prisons when we were at home in Utah, and being able to have outreach through the game of football about what I personally believe was very rewarding and seemed to make it more than a job.

I really liked the depth and substance of that. Because of that unique context, young people and families were also choosing Brigham Young University for a faith-based nature, to get everything — to be able to acknowledge their faith in a predominantly member-oriented institution, 98.5 percent I think is, when I was there, the last number of students that were members of the faith.

And then be able to play their sport or study in their field at a really high level, just seemed like that was too good to be true. So there was a resolve and upbringing for families and kids that that was the destination. So having not coached at Notre Dame but played against them, I could certainly see where possibly young people that have loved football and are also members of the Catholic faith could see that being — where else would you want to go? If you can play Power 5 Football and have your faith represented and keep growing in that capacity at the same time, that becomes a very powerful draw.

In terms of challenges, I can’t speak for Notre Dame, but at Brigham Young it takes young people that really want to live the standards of that university. So Brigham Young is a privately-owned institution that has an honor code and expectations that you live in accordance to your faith, and that’s required to not only be enrolled but to maintain your enrollment.

So sometimes that doesn’t appeal to just the normal population with what’s required. But to me, it was an advantage in almost every way possible.

Q. There is a different kind of adversity at home versus on the road. When you guys have faced adversity the last two weeks, how much does the value of the guys having to rely on each other and whatever kind of come into play on the road, too, where that’s always they have?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, it’s really helpful. The last two games the stand that we made to hold off Florida State and then coming back from down 17, when you start winning and winning consistently, which we’re starting to do, wins come in all shapes and sizes and forms. Each one of those game scripts end up adding to a collective that kind of binds your team together.

I saw after Zane Zandier’s interception for a touchdown — I made a point in the meeting today — the defense, how they reacted — I’m talking about the other ten players that were on the field — the way they reacted, they acted as if it was just those 11. The stadium was irrelevant, fans were irrelevant. It was just those 11.

And I saw a connection being formed there that had more depth and substance than could have been formed without the circumstance of being down, needing a play, making the play, and then the collective celebration and investment in each other.

And so I think all those things will help us have our best chance to be poised and ready in the setting we’re going into, and not as reliant or concerned about how many people are there or who is there. Just that we’re there.

Q. Are you a believer in kind of trying to train your team or condition them to thrive on the – not hate – but being the visitor and a huge crowd being in favor of the opponent?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, we like hard things a lot.

Q. Curious, did you talk to Bryce [Perkins] any further about the play in which he was injured on in terms of falling on the ball versus picking it up? I know you said you don’t want to rein him in. Obviously pretty important to you guys.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: He is, and no, I didn’t.

Q. What do you see when you review that play? Is he completely healthy now?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: He’s healthy and he was just trying to make a play. I don’t intend to have another conversation with him. Yeah, I advise when I can at the right time and the right place. I think his feedback on that play was enough.

Q. I know you’re a guy who likes to keep it even keel, not too high, not too low. Have you gotten a sense that that has trickled down on your team and that’s the way they’re approaching things now?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I don’t know. I have plenty of staff members that aren’t as even keeled, so it’s nice to have some balance. (Laughter.)

I think my role is different now. I have a relatively young staff in a lot of different areas, and I love how energetic and enthusiastic and vibrant and competitive and combative and emotional that they are.

My role now is not that. So I think the collective is what’s helping our team. I do think being steady at the head coaching position is important, but I’m certain there are many that would love to see and love to see coaches with more emotion and that are more gregarious on the sideline and do different things.

Yeah, I rely on my assistants to do that now.

Q. I know that particularly your linemen kind of helped blow the fourth down play up late in the game that ODU ran. Joey Blount came in and made the tackle. He was able to lift weights more this off-season even recovering from surgery. Has he added strength and a little bit more weight paid dividends for him on the field that you’ve seen?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think that no question he’s stronger and he’s bigger. To this point, I think that it is helping him in terms of physical play. Too early to say that the yield will be significantly different because of that.

It will give him his best chance to be durable. In our program we emphasize three things. How durable, consistent, and how productive. It’s hard to be consistent and productive if you’re not durable. Joey has an elbow brace on now. The chance for being is over for college football players. Once game one starts, they’re healthy again maybe in January, maybe February, maybe March.

They’re all playing with something. The off-season work in terms of strength and size helps mitigate that, but not all the way. I see it’s helping him, but already some signs of being beat up a little bit.

Q. During preseason you said that you wanted to see better, more consistent and more physical play against the run. The numbers would indicate opponents are rushing for 2.2 yards per carry. You have attained that. What is your assessment through four games?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think it’s a work in progress. I think there are times where we are doing that, but I also — when you look at the run numbers, especially in the college game, havoc plays or sacks, those numbers are counted in. We’re affecting the quarterback at a high level right now and traditional runs, and if it was only the base run game that was being charted, again, I think we’re improving. I see progress.

Consistency is still what we’re after play in and play out. If we were to take away all the havoc plays that happened sacking the quarterback and say is it truly dominant without that, that’s when I’ll rest comfortable. We’re not there yet, but we are trending in the right way.

Q. You said in the preseason you wanted to get your sack totals up. You’re currently tied for No. 1 in the country in that category. Have you liked how you’ve been getting those? Okay blitzing as much as you have been?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, to this point it fits our personnel, it fits our identity, and it fits the teams we’ve been playing against. Facts are our friends and numbers are validators. I like the rankings at times when it comes to statistics. Again, I’m always contextual with against who and how did that happen. So there is always more to the story.

At this point I think it fits our personnel.

Q. On Saturday we saw a lot more De’Vante Cross and Chris Moore at safety than we did with Brenton Nelson. Was that a game-specific package decision or was there an injury we didn’t know about?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s just the De’Vante and Chris have been doing a really nice job. It’s hard to believe, but there are nine more games. Four seems like a lot already, and wear and tear at those spots where bodies are flying around full speed, we’re going to need everybody.

It was a great opportunity, yeah, to get a little bit deeper.

Q. We talked about just the aspect going to Notre Dame. Ind. You personally have experience coaching there. What’s it like and how does that maybe help prepare for another trip?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: You know, I don’t remember much about being there or how many times I’ve been there other than it was the coldest I’ve ever been. Even after being in the state of Utah and all through the inter-mountain west, there was a game there — and I believe Coach [Brian] Kelly was the head coach.

I looked over one time and their defense was on the field and he was seated on the bench on one of those heaters. I was like, ‘Wait, is that legal as the head coach? Can you –’

So I don’t know the year. Might have been the last time we were there. I don’t know what the score was. Again, I don’t remember how many times we had been there other than how cold I was that one particular game.

I’m not so nostalgic I guess is the bottom line, but I do remember being cold.

Q. Bryce Hall ,when he decided to come back, talked about wanting to improve his game in various areas. With all the expectations on a guy like that coming into this last season and some of the things he wanted to accomplish, what have you seen in terms of him improving his game from a year ago?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think that it’s too early in terms of only four games to say he is changed in this regard. I think what he hasn’t changed is how consistent and how prepared and his production. I think all that is continuing.

Ultimately, he’ll probably gauge coming back by interceptions and by production personally, but what he’ll most likely gain or will measure his coming back is how is our team doing? Right now we’re 4-0 and he’s helping us play at a really high level. That alone would be reason to come back probably if you asked him.

Q. Hard to frame since we don’t have the update on Olu, but what did you see from the way the line played without him and what is your expectation of that group going forward?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, we still lack consistency and continuity. Every time there is a change from one spot to another, our players shifting here or there, it’s not quite as precise as what you would have hoped if it was just the same five all the time. It would be the same in the secondary. It would be the same with the quarterback throwing to receivers.

The offensive line is unique because the reactions have to be so fast and the time frame to make decisions is very tight and shrunken, reduced, to how they communicate with each other, how they react and who they’re playing next to really matters.

It still is affecting us. Would love to get the right five and keep the same five healthy. Seems like just when we kind of get that there is an injury or two. So we haven’t yet got it dialed in.

Q. When Bryce got hurt it was an errant snap. Lindell [Stone] came in and looked like the next snap was a little bit off and to his left as well. Overall during the game how were the snaps?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, those were probably the two that we all would notice. The rest were — I think because we didn’t notice any other ones they were within the target for the most part. So I was happy with the location of almost every other one.

The one, if I remember right on Bryce, I think it was the timing where we were adjusting a play and then it was snapped. So if that wouldn’t have happened probably would’ve been catchable. Probably one errant snap. So I would take that as a plus.

Q. You indicated that your assistants are more likely to be alarmed than you are. Was there a lesson to be learned from the slow start the other day?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, lots of lessons to be learned. Certainly not just the outcome of the slow start, which we really hadn’t experienced yet this year, but the reasons for the slow start.

So if I were just to kind of point to a couple things, we already talked about our third down conversion issues offensively which caught us off guard. We had been strong on third down, so that was a surprise.

And then simply a broken coverage and some missed tackles led to 14 of the points, and our defense has been playing pretty consistently and really strong early. So to have assignment breakdowns of that magnitude that early and kind of back to back led to that hole.

Having said that, playing from 17 down, that is a unique experience, and I think our team did benefit in a lot of different ways. The pressure that’s on every play when you’re down in that manner is really good for building a football team. It doesn’t mean I would like to do it again, but there are some positives in that context that we learned.

Defensively ended up adjusting well and eliminating basically most offensive threats the rest of the game. Then offensively we made just enough plays at the right times to capitalize and get enough points to win.

Q. I think after three games you were almost matching last year’s entire sack total. I know you mentioned it’s a lot personnel, but how much credit do you give to your defensive coaches in being aggressive?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I give them all the credit. So I had a chances to be with Nick, Coach Howell for — I think we’ve been together 14 years. Well, every defensive staff member has been a graduate assistant and so our system is what they know, and they know it inside and out. They’re just doing a really nice job of adapting it to our existing personnel, and knowing then, studying through the numbers of what will really impact and give us a better chance to win, and we identified that minus yardage plays and/or havoc plays would be helpful.

So they’re doing a nice job of leveraging what the numbers have said with the personnel we have and the scheme we know to deliver on that to this point. Again, I only consult, meaning that when there are questions that they have regarding what might be appropriate to do scheme-wise, I give feedback on every play, every day.

So there is another source, and an objective source. I don’t sit in. I stay independent so I can watch it as if I’m a third party to give them objective information. They take that in and make decisions.

So I think the two sources of context are helping, where here is the staff working, and here is almost the advisory coming in from something else, and then whatever matches seems to be what’s yielding the most results.

Q. And I was going to ask you, what kind of problems does Ian Book present to the defense?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So I’m really good with numbers, not so much names. Yeah. Not only mobile, but quick decision maker. When you’re playing Notre Dame, just jumps out really quickly how well-coached, well-schooled, and not only in fundamentals, but decision making the majority of the team is.

So a quarterback, that’s what I noticed right off this morning, is how quickly defenses are diagnosed, how fast the ball is out, how effective once he pulls it down to run it and then just the competitive spirit he has.

So it doesn’t take long when you’ve been a coach long enough. Yeah, I was impressed.

Q. Seemed like every year players come in in the week before a game and profess laser focus on the opponent. Often, if it doesn’t go well, they come in and say the next week they were flat. I think you indicated after the game that you were watching all week for signs of that and didn’t see any. Does that kind of thing typically only happen once a year or — and how much does it alarm you that you didn’t see anything?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I hope it only happens once a year. Man, I was a looking specifically, because Florida State was a hard game and a big game. What I noticed or what I can say, what you felt myself, is in terms of emotional energy, it was about till Thursday till I was back that way. I noticed that with the team. They were very workmanlike in how we practiced was really comfortable with. The level they were doing it, there wasn’t the extra excitement, the extra emotion.

I was like — I thought that was normal because that’s what I was feeling. When I watched the film I didn’t see anything flat. I just saw again some execution things that certainly contributed.

But to say that it didn’t have any affect, I think it did. I didn’t see it in our preparation other than we just weren’t as emotional. I wasn’t either, so I guess put it this way: I didn’t see it in intent, and I think they really did prepare well and hard.

In retrospect and now saying it, yeah, wasn’t the same edge as we had versus Florida State, but it wasn’t because of lack and effort and intent in practice.

I hope that makes sense. I don’t know how to present it any better.

Q. Not to be the one that always asked the status questions.

Q. I’ll be that guy. Armstrong, second week in a boot. Any update on his status going into this week?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: No. Still day to day.

Q. (Regarding Richard Burney.)
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I don’t know about him either.

Q. At the four-game mark now. I think I’ve counted three true freshmen have played in all four games, and then a handful, two or three. In year two now of the new redshirt rule, how have you learned the balance of immediate versus long term?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, still learning, and each year and situation is different. It’s hard to predict looking at what depth you have versus what impact a first year can have not only then, but over his career.

I basically just have settled on now is what matters. What I’ve learned, meaning that when a player has a role, it just seems that they thrive. Meaning that playing is more fun than watching and having a role they feel more included.

What I have learned also is it affects their academics, which means there is a link to performing and playing to academic success as well as social conduct.

Yeah, when in doubt, they’re going to play.

Q. How much do you like the flexibility of the rule?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I like it in terms of roster management. When you consider the length of the season, even though we’ve only had four games, it seems like more than that. When you practice and play the way I want our team to play, yeah, hard to stay healthy.

Q. You mentioned earlier that four games down, nine to go. Is that a reference to a bowl or the ACC championship game?

Q. So ten games to go then?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: My players are very clear that’s what their goal is, and that’s not being anything other than consistent with what my team wants to achieve.



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