COACH LONDON: I’d say that this week was a very productive week for us. Had a lot of opportunities to get guys healed, self scout ourselves, take a look at some of the schemes we’ll be facing the second part of the season.
Our players are excited about this next half. Our first opportunity, another ACC game, against a very good Duke team. But we’re excited to travel on the road and go play, get back to playing football once again.
Q. Last year I think it was 4.4 yards a carry you gave up defensively against the rush. This year it’s like 2.7. In your mind, with almost essentially the same personnel, what has been the reason for the dramatic improvement in your run defense?
COACH LONDON: The biggest thing, we talked about it before, like a lot of elements that the team has improved in. It is another year of understanding the techniques and the terminology.
Bigger, faster, stronger – Ryan Tedford has done a great job with our guys from the physical standpoint. Then raising the IQ about gap responsibilities. It’s important when players know how to play the positions they’re being asked to play. Then you have a guy like Henry Coley who can direct our line movement, a guy like Anthony Harris who can direct the coverage. We have those components. You say, Guys, just play fast once you get the call. That’s helped. That’s probably the biggest thing that you see and the difference.
Q. Greyson get all healed up over the week? What’s his status?
COACH LONDON: He practiced on Sunday. Obviously they’re off today. He’ll get some reps and we’ll look at him, evaluate him like we’ve always done and see if he’s ready to go. If he is, then he’s ready to go. If not, we’ll continue on.
But this time off has been good for a lot of guys. We look forward to guys being able to get back. It’s not always 100 percent health when you get to this point in the season. There are always a lot of players playing with aches, pains – issues. But having a chance to rest and kind of recuperate, you get back to being able to move around, it’s been productive for us, not only for Greyson, but a lot of other guys.
Q. David Dean is coming in later today. Talk about his year, what makes him so good. Talk about your front seven, what you like about those guys.
COACH LONDON: David has done a great job. He’s another guy we talked about knowing what to do, having the ability. He’s very strong. He has tremendous knock back. He’s not a very tall guy, but at the same time he’s very disruptive.
David has become a better football player because it’s important to him. The way he’s played, he’s played with the same guys again, Eli Harold, Max Valles, Mike Moore. When there’s a familiarity not only with the personnel, the guys you’re playing next to, as we talked about before, a familiarity with the techniques and the expectations of the positions that he plays, then he performs better.
David has been kind of a quiet, unsung guy that’s been doing a really nice job. When you look at the stats at the end of the game, sometimes what you don’t see is hits on quarterback, what you don’t see is he knocked a pile back and makes the runner bounce to the outside. There’s a lot of things that David has done that’s very productive that might not show up in the categories of tackles and sacks, but been very productive in what he’s done when coaches have a chance to go back and look at the tape.
Q. And your front seven?
COACH LONDON: The front seven has played positive, played well in a lot of instances. We can play better. There are some things that always you want to make sure that you take care of. Perhaps yards after initial hit, missed tackles, the mental errors and mental lapses have gone down dramatically. But there’s still some that you need to make sure you take care of.
This defense, you have to communicate. It’s simple, but you have to communicate. Guys have to be in the right gaps. When we do that, we can be productive and guys can play fast.
When you don’t communicate, you’re hesitant, the gap is not sound, then teams make big plays or they get yards for gain that we’d rather them not have.
For the most part the front seven has been very productive for us, been causing turnovers, has been getting after the quarterback, hitting the quarterback, keeping the points down better than what we were doing last year.
There’s an improvement that’s going on that when you improve there’s confidence. We need to keep gaining that type of confidence as we improve.
Q. Did you expect Quin Blanding to have such an immediate impact? He is leading the ACC with 61 tackles.
COACH LONDON: Number one, he’s known for being a very talented player. When you look at him play at Bayside High School, wildcat [QB], played some tight end and receiver. He played safety. Looked like maybe even a linebacker position at sometimes. He was very versatile and multiple in being productive for his team.
When he got here, he already had a certain skill set that would allow him to get in the mix early. From day one, sort of like a Tra’ Nicholson type of situation, we saw something in the young man that had the type of skills that could really help our football team.
He’s continued to learn on the job as we go. I’ve always said having Coach Tenuta and Mike Archer is something that’s really developed his game.
He’s a leader. Even now as a young player, he’s very active in getting his class assignments [done]. There are so many things I could say about the young man. He’s just a great young man.
But the football part of it has shown itself. I believe before it’s all said and done, he will be as good as anybody’s been here, as long as he maintains his ability to take coaching and he’s surrounded by good players like Anthony Harris and other people that help you play better.
Q. Will he be a safety for his entire career?
COACH LONDON: Mother Nature will determine whether he will be for the rest of his career, like she always does. When you’re lifting, training, running, eating, your body changes. There have been 220 pound free safeties or safeties in college and playing in the pros.
But we’ll see. This is year one for him. Don’t want to put too much in front of him. The fact he’s got six more regular season games to play is the important thing. The most important thing is this game against Duke coming up.
Q. You’ve been competing against Duke for a long time as a head coach and formerly as an assistant. Is the difference in the caliber of athlete on that team now as stark to your trained eye as it is to our untrained eye? Watching them Saturday, looked like a different breed than we’re accustomed to seeing at Duke.
COACH LONDON: Coach Cutcliffe has done a great job in recruiting his profile player. We all know that Duke, the school itself, has academic requirements that require players to be accomplished in the classroom as well.
What they’ve done is, when you look at them, they’re one of the fewest penalized team. They rarely turn the ball over. They get turnovers. I believe if we’re three or two or whatever it is, we’re very close in terms of getting turnovers. They play a small brand of football. They don’t try to do more than what they’re capable of. They play just good football. They’re coached very well.
A lot of it you attribute to the players and hopefully their football IQs, but a lot of it is to Coach Cutcliffe and their staff understanding whom they have as players, the challenges they may have off the field. But the fact when they play on the field, they play smart. You can see that the last few years I’ve been here.
Q. I think over a year ago when Max came on the scene, wasn’t really known that much in the preseason, then that Pitt game he showed some flashes. What do you think has been the key element to his quick rise into the player he is right now?
COACH LONDON: Well, the quick rise is like anyone else on our team that’s been here last season, has gone through the system, is the ability to have other players that know what they’re doing next to you, behind you, in front of you.
One of the things that Max has been able to benefit from is he’s not the only guy that can pass rush. Eli can do it. Get good push up the middle with Mike Moore. He also is involved in dropping in pass coverages. If you recall the interception he had against Pitt, Mike Moore was in the quarterback’s face and made the quarterback throw an errant football. Max playing the passing lane stepped in front of it. He’s the beneficiary of other guys that are playing well.
He’s got talent, no denying that. But because other players are playing well, he benefits from having a skill set in terms of coming off the edge, big first step, understanding, again, what’s being asked of him. He’s not only a down guy for us, but he also plays in the linebacker position as well. So he’s improved in that category.
Q. Obviously Cutcliffe is pretty brilliant in the passing game. Is his passing offense more sophisticated than the others you’ll face this year? If so, what makes it so sophisticated?
COACH LONDON: I know Coach Cutcliffe. Again, I know how others characterize him as being brilliant. He’s a man that’s coached maybe one of the best quarterbacks of all time in the NFL.
He has a scheme and a system that he uses that tries to stretch you vertically and cause you whatever coverage you’re in, man or zone coverage, to make decisions. Most teams want to stay over top of the balls that are thrown. He has a system that will throw underneath, give it to a guy like Crowder who does a phenomenal job of making yards after catch. My hat goes off to coach for what he does in the passing game.
We have to play defense. I believe we have a good defensive staff ourselves. You look at total yardage given up. I think we’re fairly competitive. You look at total yardage that they get on offense, there’s about a 100 yard difference between the two. It will be important that we play well – not only the passing lanes, but also they have a pretty good running attack as well.
Our team is playing their team, not necessarily Coach Cutcliffe playing Jon Tenuta. They’ve done a great job over the last several games. They do what they do and they find out what you’re going to do to try to stop it and they do a great job of executing.
Q. Wallace Wade Stadium is not one of those venues where you’re going to have 55,000 rabid fans screaming at you. Does an atmosphere of a place affect how you prepare for a game at all on the road?
COACH LONDON: It doesn’t affect you as you prepare for the game because you prepare for the game by putting your game plans in and saying, this is what we’re going to do, this is how we’re going to execute, this is the expected performance, the expected production.
One of the things that you can’t control is a game day atmosphere, who is in the stands, the weather, the officials, all those things. What you can control is the way you play and how you identify those things that we need to take care of. We need to make sure we have a mindset of where they are and who they are.
I mentioned a couple players that they have. We talked about offense. But defensively they got some really good players, too. 14, Helton, their linebacker, does a great job. 16, very active guy. I believe he’s a transfer from Ohio State. He’s very active. So their defense runs. We just talked about the type of athletes they’ve had now over the couple years. When you have success, it lends itself to recruiting better players. You look at the product that’s on the field, they’re playing well as a team.
So overall it’s important that the things that we can control, we control those things. Other things outside our control, we can’t worry about it. We traveled well. We went to Provo, Utah, flew across the United States to get there. Great crowd they had there, all that stuff.
You just have to be able to adapt to whatever the outside circumstances are in order to focus in on what’s important.
Q. I assume you chart ‘drops’ each week. Are those numbers significantly lower this year than in the past? How have the receivers done to improve in that area?
COACH LONDON: The receiving corps generally is probably one of the hardest working groups on our team. You look at the different players that are there have had games of significance, not only in the passing game, but also in the running game. There are some big guys that have gone downfield and blocked safeties or linebackers.
It’s a group that after practice, they’ll stay after and they’ll continue to throw footballs, get on the JUGS Machine – catch footballs. They’ll come in early on Sundays. They’ll stay after on Sundays. It’s a group – man they work. It’s probably one of the things that has made them kind of step up and step out as far as who’s playing well for us.
You just go down the list of the different guys. They’ve all made contributions to the team. A lot of them are involved in special teams. There’s some height there.
Again, it’s a great hard working group of young men that don’t care who plays as much as the other, but just wants to do their part, play their role, whatever it may be, for the upcoming week.
Q. You said before the Richmond game that you would use two quarterbacks in that game. I think you were still evaluating them at that point. As it’s turned out, injury, for whatever reason, you played two quarterbacks in every game but one. Do you like the idea of playing two quarterbacks or are you playing it by ear at this point?
COACH LONDON: No, back then we talked about Richmond and playing two quarterbacks. I think it worked well for us, having the opportunity to do that. Unforeseen are injuries, things that happened to Greyson. Without having that approach with Matt Johns playing right after that, playing in the UCLA game, I don’t know where our development will be at this point.
I feel good about the quarterbacks we have. Greyson was our starter prior to getting hurt. Matt has stepped in the last couple games here to be very productive. Greyson will come back again and see if he maintains the level of production that’s expected for a starter.
Q. Do you plan on playing two quarterbacks this weekend?
COACH LONDON: Again, the game situation dictates that. It’s not going to be musical chairs as far as who is in, who is out. What has worked for us is we have had two guys that played in some games here.
But, again, as the second half of the season goes on, coming off of our break, we’ll be able to evaluate where we are with Greyson, where he is physically with his health. The best way to find that out is when he goes in the game.
Q. Saturday afternoon, did you watch your next two opponents? They were on back to back. Does watching a game on TV bore you with all the commercials? It’s not the coach’s film that you’re accustomed to seeing. Curious how a coach spends his alleged day off.
COACH LONDON: First of all, there was a lot of honey do lists to check off, which is good. I know the open week you want to talk about your team, getting healed and getting ready. But I’m a husband and a father as well. I cherish those roles, as well. Daughter came out for dinner. We hung out – we’re a family. I did sneak downstairs and got a voice from upstairs, Turn that TV off. Take the cell phone, because you’re always texting or tweeting.
You become a fan, an observer, of other teams, other situations that are going on. But this past weekend I was more dedicated to my family than anything else.
Q. You mentioned Quin Blanding, where Mother Nature might take him. How about with Max Valles? He’s a hybrid guy. Is he a guy you can see carrying more weight?
COACH LONDON: That’s a good question. Obviously in our nickel packages, when he has his hand down or if he’s standing up rushing the passer, wherever his next life will be, he’ll be rushing the passer somewhere. Whether that’s a gain of another 10 or 15 pounds, whatever it might be. Right now Ryan Tedford has done an excellent job with our guys maintaining their strength. These guys are getting faster and they’re getting stronger. That’s the other thing.
So we’ll see. With the meals, this whole thing we’ve been doing about recovery, taking care of your body, sleep. Those things have been big factors for us, as well, as far as guys being able to produce. We’ll continue to keep doing that and see where it takes us.