UVA football coach Mike London talks with reporters on Monday. Virginia (4-5, 2-3) travels to Tallahassee, Fla., to take on #2 Florida State (8-0, 5-0 ACC0 on Saturday at 6:30 p.m..
Q. Doug brought it up with Zach earlier today, talking about the second half, in the last four games you guys have scored a total of six points in the second half. Can you put your finger on why that’s been unable to be productive with offense in the second half?
MIKE LONDON: Well, obviously that is a big concern. You have to be able to score points, and particularly finish games. That’s something we have to do a better job at. We have to make sure that we give ourselves an opportunity to win games and to finish games. We will spend the appropriate amount of time to make sure that type of production will allow us to be competitive, particularly at the end of the second, third and fourth quarters.
Q. You’ve played a few Florida State teams, formerly as an assistant and now as a head coach. How does this team rank with what you’ve seen in the past?
MIKE LONDON: The Florida State teams, as we know, the last few years, have always been really good, fast, athletic teams. They have players that have phenomenal speed. They have athletes at a lot of places. Their recruiting classes year in, year out have always been at the top levels, and so we’re talking about the national champions. We’re talking about a Heisman Trophy winner. We’re talking about a very good football team that has found ways to win games, even in the end of fourth quarters.
They’re good, and everybody knows when you go down there in that venue that you have to be able and ready to play.
Q. Talk about that venue. What do you remember most about 2011 down there, and does that still rank as one of your favorite games you’ve ever been a part of?
MIKE LONDON: Well, the venue, again, it’s an electric venue there. What happened in 2011 was a great moment personally, professionally, but that was 2011. Here we are in 2014, and there are a lot of guys on their team that weren’t there. There’s a few guys on our team that played in that game or that were there, but now it’s about 2014, and where they are now, they’re No. 2 in the country, and again, they’re the national champs until something else happens.
It’s exciting. The players are looking forward to going down there and playing a primetime game down there, playing one of the best teams in the country.
Q. I know you have a relationship with Jimbo. I wondered, with all the off field stuff that’s happened down there, have you talked to him at all, and what do you make of the fact that they seem to be unaffected on the field by all the stuff that’s gone on? Can you imagine going through that as a coach yourself?
MIKE LONDON: You know, there’s a professional relationship that Jimbo and I have from the various meetings we have before seasons and during the summers and things like that. You know, they have dealt well with the distractions that they have. They’ve concentrated on the things that they can control on the football field, and I’m sure that they’re dealing with things, as they should administratively and behind the scenes. But we all have our share of distractions, things that go on that you have to pay close attention to, particularly when it affects your football team.
They’re handling their issues the way that they see them appropriate, and as we have to handle our issues here as we see them appropriate.
Q. Seems like you guys have been able to move the ball between the 20s. I think the last couple games you’ve out gained most of your opponents, but putting points on the board has been an issue, especially down in the red zone. What specifically you talked about execution, not executing down there, but what specifically aren’t you guys executing in the red zone?
MIKE LONDON: Well, that’s a fact. We’ve improved in a lot of areas offensively, but one of the things, kicking field goals is fine, but you want to score touchdowns, particularly when you get in that low red zone area. There are a number of things: A drop, an interception – a turnover. Those things kill drives. Missed opportunities with ball being over thrown or underthrown – or a route being run not in the right area or right place. There are things that we can correct those things, and we have to do a better job of doing that because if you’re going to stay in game in the latter part of the game, you have to be able to execute and perform at those times down in those low red zone areas. As I said, we’ll spend a considerable amount of time making sure we address those. We talked about what players are involved, the playing itself, and just keep demanding the expectations of when we get down there, score touchdowns.
Q. You mentioned last night about a big reason why 4 2 became 4 5 is takeaways aren’t as up. Anything you can do to change that, to get back to that, or is that just one of those things that guys just got to make plays?
MIKE LONDON: It’s a little bit of everything. We have to make sure you still play aggressive. Those strip sacks, those interceptions, being around the ball when the ball does come out, that’s a lot of pursuit. You start to talk about those things, we’ve got to continue to do those. And then you’ve got to take care of the football. You’ve got to make smart decisions when you’re carrying the ball or you’re throwing the ball. We haven’t been smart in that regard in terms of giving the ball up. We’ve given the ball up more now the last few games than we had the takeaways at the beginning. So we need to get back to being cognizant of who’s carrying the ball, those things that can cause you issues, being lax about carrying it. When you’re a quarterback, know where the rush is coming from – know when to throw the ball away or whatever it is. We’ve got to do a better job of doing that. Those things will continue to be coached and taught and expected, and we have to do a better job of that.
Q. Obviously you were familiar with the halftime stat anyway, or the second half stats. Is there anything in your routine that you think about revealing, whether you’re too loud, too soft, too tough, too easy, that kind of thing, at halftime, or the order in which you talk to them, that kind of stuff? Is there anything that you examine there?
MIKE LONDON: Well, other than the fact that this is a football game and it’s competitive on the other side, their job is to try to beat you. There’s no magic formula. There’s always the fact that the second half of games, you have to give the same type of energy and have the same type of focus that you’ve had the first two quarters. Again, we’ll continue to keep making that an issue for us. That’s something we always talk about and rely on the players themselves to get themselves in the frame of mind that’s going to allow them to go out on the field and execute.
Q. Is there an issue with focus?
MIKE LONDON: Not with focus – I mean, with execution. We talked about at the very beginning, the success at the beginning of the season, there were more guys executing than not, and now for whatever point, that has to get corrected. There are guys that are not executing to the style and to the level that we need, and in order to play competitively here these last three regular season games, we’re going to have to that, and that’s the focus. That will continue to be the focus until we get things done on the field. And hopefully you’ll see that as we start moving forward here. We’ve got to play our best football game against a really good football team.
But we’ve got to play our best football game because we need to, and we’ve shown that we can, and that’s the expectation to be able to finish up here these next three regular season games.
Q. For the sake of understanding, you might want to explain a little bit what happens at halftime because you’re not the only person that talks. It’s broken down, there’s video, there’s stuff on white boards, there’s stuff on video screens.
MIKE LONDON: No, there are a lot of things that go on. Coaches get together, they talk about what was going on, what just happened. They get together, talk about what things can be done moving forward. They get together with the players, and specifically with the coordinators talking to both sides, the special teams coach then gets together with guys involved in special teams. Players, captains have a moment to speak to the players. I speak to them. So there are a lot of things that go on. It’s not just go in there and sit on your hat and wait for a few minutes to pass and run back out on the field.
Q. You’ve seen a lot of dynamic players. Is Winston the greatest playmaker you’ve seen in college during your coaching career? And what do you respect about his game?
MIKE LONDON: I mean, you’re right – I’ve got to see a lot of really good college football players. I’m not going to say he’s the greatest player, but I’ll tell you what, he has the poise of he’s the Heisman Trophy winner from last year. You’ve seen in a few games that he’s played that he’s brought his team back from deficits. He’s amazingly accurate. I mean, I know there was a tough game he had against Louisville, but you look at his career and you look at his percentages, completion percentages, I believe it’s up in the 70s, which is third or second best in college football to date.
He’s an accurate quarterback. He is an emotional guy that lifts his team up. He’s a very good player, as we all know, because of the national award recognition, and he’s playing with a good football team that’s surrounding him with a lot of good talent.
Q. Kind of along those lines, your safeties to this point has been pretty much as advertised, Anthony and Quin. What’s your evaluation of your corners to this point, and is this obviously their biggest challenge all year? How do you think they go about doing that?
MIKE LONDON: Well, no doubt, when you’re in the secondary, one thing that Florida State does do well is they throw the ball to various receivers and backs. Their tight end is a guy that’s very much involved. So when you’re a defensive back, the ball is going to get thrown. They have tape and projectors, as we all do, and you’re expected to perform as a cover guy or playing zone or playing man.
That position out there is one that everybody can see when you make an error or when you have some sort of success. Our job, our players, they understand that you’ve got to have a short memory when you’re out there. They may catch one on you, you’ve got to line back up and you’ve got to go again, and that’s the focus that we’re going to have to have because this group of receivers are very, very talented. You look at their roster, they’re guys that also run track. There’s so many different things that they do that you have to respect their speed and their athleticism. But again, you don’t shy away from anyone. You want to be the best. You’ve got to play the best, and you have to play to the best of your ability to give you a chance collectively as a team to win a football game.
Q. Greyson has had a lot of good moments this year, but he’s never really put together a full game where he’s been good from start to finish. Is this just part of the growth process of a young quarterback, and what do you think of his play this season overall?
MIKE LONDON: Yeah, there’s a maturation process that you gain when you play in games, when you’re playing and you’re behind center and you’re running plays. You’re out there on the field competing.
The things you can check the box for him off the field are he studies harder than anybody I’ve been around. As far as organizing things for teammates, he does that. He’s a very cerebral guy when it comes to wanting to know more.
So those are attributes you want your football team to have. The on the field things, which are always critical, are quarterbacks have to be accurate. Their percentages have to be high. We all know that the better the quarterback, the better your team, or the better your quarterback, the more your surrounding skill and players around them have to raise to a level that can also help them.
Greyson is a young man that continues to learn this position because he’s playing in games. He missed a crucial part there kind of in the middle, but at this point of the season now, he’s got to play his best football. Matt Johns has got to play his best football in order to give us an opportunity to compete and win football games.
Q. Can you just talk a little bit about Quin, he’s either leading the conference in tackles, but Andrew Brown got more reps, and I would imagine a game like this, that plays into recruiting when you can play on the road at the No. 2 team in the country. Can you talk about what you’re seeing from both of those guys and their relationship as far as what they bring to the team?
MIKE LONDON: Yeah, sure. It started out different because of the opportunities for both. Quin came in physically healthier and had a chance to practice early on and get involved with the reps. You’ve seen his development over the last few games.
He’s going to be a good football player, and obviously he’s done some things that have put him in the talk of being a freshman All American, and that’s just the reality of it.
Andrew, as we know, had the early issues with the turf toe and the surgery, and then there was a shoulder, so his development was slowed, particularly because when you’re playing up front, that’s a physical part of the game, and when you can’t run and you can’t practice, you can’t push, you can’t get off blocks, then it kind of stymies your ability to perform.
But what he’s done is he’s embraced his role. He’s gotten better. He’s learned the defense. He’s really kind of got ingratiated even to some special teams aspects, as well. He’ll be a good player, as well. Those type of guys, particularly that are in state guys, that chose to come here, it was significant for this program, because now you’re getting ready to go on the road and play the No. 2 team in the country, and they’ve had good recruiting classes at Florida State. You want to be competitive and have the same type of recruiting classes here at the in state school – home school.
Those two particularly have done a good job and will continue to keep kind of being the out front for us in this year’s class.
Q. I’m sure as a senior, he’s probably one of the more mature players on the team, but kevin parks after a game where you’ve had so few rushing attempts, you know you got down early and had to throw, do you have a talk with him about how that was handled or did he come to you to talk about that at all? I think you ran the ball nine times after the first quarter. Did he express concern about that given he had big games in the three previous outings?
MIKE LONDON: Sure, Kevin is a competitor. As I said, we all know, he’s our captain, one of our captains, and as a competitor you always want to get the ball. You always want to have an opportunity to help your team win. As this game played out, the two scores quickly put us in a position where we had to manufacture some points. We had to move the ball, and the clock became an issue because when they got it back, they did an excellent job of running time off the clock. I would expect nothing less from a guy that was the returning leading rusher coming in. I believe he still has, I believe, over 600 yards right now as we speak, and it’s not out of the realm of possibilities for him to have some breakout games and finish in a desirable position.
But we’ve set all along that Kevin wants this team to win, and whatever it takes for this team to win, and he’s a selfless guy, and there’s been no issues with, hey, I need to get the ball in my hands. But as I said, he’s a guy that wants his team to win, and there will be times that we’ll have to rely on him again because he is a really good player.
Q. Taquan Mizzell is your leading receiver in terms of catches. He’s up over four yards a carry. What do you see as – Next step for him, turning some of those routine plays into sort of dynamic plays?
MIKE LONDON: Well, he’s been productive. Again, five star that came in with all the accolades and things, but again, sometimes it’s handling the expectations when you come in and you’re highly recruited that there are other issues that you have to learn how to deal with. You have to manage the expectations outside of your group, of your peer group, of your family, of your community. Taquan has done a really good job of learning the position of being a running back, not just the holes that you have to see, the vision, when to cut, but also the protections. I mean – there are so many different things to being a running back that you have to have.
He’s got the hands. He’s got the ability to make a nine yard play go 99 yards. I believe he’s anxious for an opportunity. He had a couple long plays. He’s had a long return in the kicking game, and I believe he’s still waiting for that opportunity to break out into the open and just run by people and run away from people. He has that type of speed. Now the opportunity for him to have some success doing that, we want it to come sooner rather than later.
Q. You already talked about Jameis Winston and how good he’s been the past couple years and this season, but it seems like Jameis has sort of made up for some of the deficiencies that Florida State has at the offensive end, in the trenches, on the line. Against Notre Dame they were held to under 10 rushing yards. Is that an area you feel like you can explain? And Louisville had success running against them. They’ve been giving up running yards. Does this look like a game where kevin parks gets a lot of touches?
MIKE LONDON: Well, you go into it with the game plan what you’ve seen from other games and you evaluate the other games and see how similar or dissimilar they might be to what your approach is, but you put the game plan together that is going to allow you to use your personnel. It calls for running, calls for spreading them out, calls for the formation settings or whatever it is, that’s our responsibility.
So there are other teams that have played them well, but as I said, they’re undefeated, so they’ve found a way to come back and win those games regardless of what you were doing with them.
Our job is to put a plan together that will give us the best opportunity to go down there and be competitive, stay in the game and have an opportunity to win. You know, we’ll see, as things progress, whether it’s the running game or the passing game or whatever it may be. But again, it’s a good football team. He’s an excellent football player that can take a team and put them on his back and say, I’ll carry the load.
Q. Sitting on four wins with three games to go, how do you handle not having much wiggle room left? Do you play that up to the guys or do you go the other way with it this week and downplay it or not even remind them at all?
MIKE LONDON: No, they’re smart guys. The reality is the reality. Three games left and the opportunity to be to still realize some of the goals you set for yourself this season, they’re still there. This is an older team that realizes that we have to make the most of our opportunities. We have to play better the second half. We have to score points when we get in the red zone. We have to coach better. We have to create those turnovers. Those things we can control, and if you can do those things, and you can control your own destiny, and having this team this year with the type of leadership has been very positive as far as what we talk about and what they focus on.
Q. You mentioned last night that Watford’s move to receiver is not permanent, so does he go back to quarterback this week, or does he work at both spots? What’s the deal there?
MIKE LONDON: Without giving the scouting reports away or anything like that, he’s listed as a third string quarterback right now.
Q. Jameis is apparently nursing a sprained ankle. Fisher said that he’ll probably play this weekend. Do you go full speed ahead just anticipating he’s going to be the quarterback, or do you prepare at all for his backups?
MIKE LONDON: Well, you know, you look at the team and you look at what they do, again, he’s a great player in his own right, but there are plenty of other players that you have to be concerned with, running backs, wide receivers, I mentioned their tight end. So we’ll prepare for Florida State and what they do.
Obviously we’re going into the game with the mindset that he’s going to play. If he doesn’t, then the game plan will still be predicated upon what they do and the surrounding cast.
Q. Last year’s team had a season ending losing streak. I can’t remember the year before exactly, but is there anything you’ve learned from the past in terms of avoiding an – ‘oh, no, not again’ mentality amongst some of your players?
MIKE LONDON: I believe that every season is a new season. Every individual collectively as a team or the team in general have new attitudes about who they are and what they are, and the one thing I’ve said over and over about this team being an older team is not only taking ownership into what we’ve had success doing, also taking ownership into the fact that what we have to get corrected and get done. There’s nobody hanging their head around here. There’s nobody in the dumps. There are three regular season football games we have to play, and our guys embrace the opportunities of who we’re playing. Two of them are on the road, and one is our last home game for a lot of these fourth and fifth year guys.
The mindset of this team has been different all year, and I look at the teams as being different entities every year, and this year’s group has been, I said early on, even the early part of the success has been one group that’s been fun to be around, and that hasn’t changed.
Q. Do the plans at quarterback change at all Saturday? Do you want to get Matt in earlier? He came in in the fourth quarter on Saturday. Do you change that up at all? I assume Greyson is obviously still your starter?
MIKE LONDON: Yeah, we always go into the fact of this week’s practice of guys that are performing. As they have the last several weeks, both of them have taken reps with the ones. The expectation of the quarterback play is they’ve got to play their best quarterback game. They have to put us in position. They have to make the throws. They have to be accurate. And so we’ll go into this practice as we always do and then move forward in terms of who’s going to go out there and give us the best opportunities to play. Greyson is right now listed as No. 1, but again, we’ve had week in, week out Matt also getting some reps in, and we’ll continue to keep doing that.
Q. How has Winston been against the blitz this year?
MIKE LONDON: The only thing when you look at tape or you look at again, I know there’s statistics about when he’s pressured, the percentage and all those things, but I’ve seen when he’s been pressured, he’s been on his back heel or almost falling down and has made throws that are unbelievable throws. And not only that, the guys going to get the ball in the air have made unbelievable catches. You saw the Louisville came where two defenders collided and a guy caught the ball and then went to score. He’ll put it out there because he believes in his receivers being in the spot where they’re supposed to be.
Again, and you look at his percentage completion rate, it’s up there, and it’s as good as any college quarterback right now. There are some things about him that make him special, make him elite on the football field, and we’ll definitely have our work cut out for us.
Q. I know there’s a lot that goes into that phase of the game and it’s not on any one player, but are you disappointed you haven’t gotten more production on punt returns? 4.2 average doesn’t seem like much happens.
MIKE LONDON: You know, yeah. You look at the various styles of punt teams and the coverage teams that they have and the personnel and all that, you have one big punt return, then your averages go up significantly. The punt game now is it would allow a guy to go get the ball, and if you don’t allow him to catch the ball, there are issues with impeding his opportunity to catch the ball. But we want our guy to be aggressive, to go get it. That’s something that’s an area that, again, it’s a feel position area that can definitely change the course of a game because of where you start your drive, and that’s an area we’ll continue to keep enforcing or keep talking about. This has got to help us, whatever it is – it’s got to help us, particularly in these games going down the stretch.
Q. Zach Swanson when he was in here earlier expressed some frustration with not having caught all the balls that he could have caught. Has that been limiting at all this year when you look at some of the success other teams in the ACC have had with their tight ends? Is Florida State among them? And also the success that Virginia has had with tight ends in the past.
MIKE LONDON: Well, you know, you rule by the psychology of results, and if balls are thrown to you and you drop the ball or can’t catch the ball, whatever it may be, over thrown, underthrown, then obviously Zach is a guy just like any other player, running back wants the ball more, tight ends want to catch the ball, receivers want to catch the ball. He caught a touchdown pass, and I know that’s one of the things that as a tight end you want to do. You want to be able to block, as well.
Zach has been improving. The fact that he hasn’t gotten a lot of footballs thrown his way also lends credit to the fact that you’ve got to catch them when they are thrown to you. That’s any receiver, that’s any back. But again, with three regular season games left, Zach will have opportunities to catch the ball.
This is a place that has had tight ends in the past and has been successful, and we will continue to keep recruiting those types and looking at guys that can play that type of position and not only block but also catch.