Press Conference: UVa. football coach Mike London

Press Conference: UVa. football coach Mike London


mike-london-ndQ.  What have you seen from Stefon Diggs as a sophomore wide receiver?

COACH LONDON:  Very explosive, still one of the guys that they find different ways to try to get the ball in his hand with reverses and speed sweeps, different things like that, so he is a very dynamic person.  We had a chance to recruit him as well, but he’s made the most of his opportunities up there at Maryland.


Q.  Do you guys play the wait‑and‑see process about C.J. Brown because of the injury, or do you scout out both quarterbacks?

COACH LONDON:  You look at who they have right now, looking at the depth chart and who is listed and he’s listed right now, but you did get a chance to see the second quarterback go in the latter part of the Florida State game. You try to look at this quarterback, the system, and the schemes that they play – that will be the main focus.

Obviously C.J. is a guy that can run the ball, does it very well for them, and, you know, we’ll see how it goes throughout the week.  But we’ll get ready for the system that they play.


Q.  Is it difficult at all to prepare for a team that goes from winning a game 37‑0 to losing one 63-0, or do you not even look at Florida State?

COACH LONDON:  You know, what you try to look at is – you look at the game, how it’s played, or you look to see based on previous games that they are playing too. If they are sticking to what they do, if what the model of their offense or defense or special teams is true to the core of what they believe in.

And you’re right, sometimes the scores get out of hand and what you try to find out, if they go back to just the nuts and bolts of what they do, and you don’t want to get too far away from just evaluating what you see on tape and not sometimes trying to second‑guess what they may or may not do.  I think it will be important for us to understand that it’s a very good offensive team, very explosive.  They play very well defensively.  I think they are third in the country in sacks, in turnovers.  They are athletic.  They have skill position players at different positions that help them get the ball downfield.

So we look more at that than we do the score imbalance, one way or the other, because we don’t want to get caught looking at the scoreboard.  We want to get caught looking at what they do. ­


Q.  I think I asked this a couple weeks ago, but now two weeks later, about the midway point of the season, you guys want to have a power running game and stuff like that and Kevin is on pace for close to a thousand yards, 950, around that range.  He was always the focal point of this offense going into the season; how do you think he’s done in that role and how do you see him progressing forward?

COACH LONDON:  Kevin’s done a nice job with his opportunities to run the ball.  You know, wanting to go into the season, being a team that wants to run the ball, set up the play‑action passes off of that, he’s really acclimated himself well to running between the tackles, trying to find things that even get him out of the backfield, the swing routes and different plays.

He is a large part of our offense, but it was good to see Smoke and Khalek Shepherd back as well.  So there are other elements to whether you’re running the ball or you’re throwing those swing passes, which is basically like a toss sweep to a running back that’s in the open field.

But we like the running backs that we have, particularly when they are healthy, and we look forward to trying to use those guys to the best of our abilities – to get them to do the things that they can do on the field to help us.


Q.  How much have the last two weeks kind of messed with the mind‑set of the team?  How much of what you guys have had the last two weeks, do you have to pay attention to and overcome?

COACH LONDON:  Well, the focus is to win games.  And obviously when you lose two games, that we believe we should have won – whatever each game presented itself – for Pitt, not getting points after getting turnovers and this game, not being able to play well versus the run when we were getting points and being productive on offense.

Our main focus is to put a complete game together, offense, defense and special teams and focus on that and not worry about the things that have gone on in the past but focus on the things that can cause us to help us win as we prepare for Maryland and then focus on the future as far as doing things that we need to do to get better – to help us win on the field.


Q.  On that same note, last year, it seemed like in the middle of the season, things just started spiraling a little bit.  Have you taken anything from what this team went through last year and maybe applied it now that you’ve lost two in a row and you’re trying to get out of a losing streak?  Do you feel like they have learned from that experience last year, sort of a couple losses piling up and maybe kind of ruined the middle of the season there last year?

COACH LONDON:  The one thing we always focus on is the next game that gives us a chance to change the fortunes of whatever occurred before and particularly in this event, the last two games, focusing on the fact that this is a team that we are about to play – probably the last time that Virginia plays Maryland – a school that has been a border rival where recruiting has been an issue between the two of us, and focusing on that is the most important thing right now, and not on the things that have happened in the past, but to get the mind‑set on doing whatever we need to do to win games now.  And Maryland provides that next challenge and that’s what our focus is on.


Q.  Tim Smith is a fifth‑year senior, and I don’t think until Saturday he had been used as a return man.  How did he come to get that job?  Obviously he did well Saturday.

COACH LONDON:  He’d always been back there as one of the guys catching punts and you know, we start evaluating where we are and what we wanted to do.  Coach Hagans said, Tim could catch it for us – he’s probably who has some of the better awareness of catching, particularly when he’s gone in practice and caught punts.

And in an attempt to make sure that we are doing everything we can to put the right people in the right places, I think Tim’s audition, he did a nice job.  You know, we told him about the Willie Mays catch over the shoulder there was ‑‑ which, maybe the decision making on that.  But you know, he is excited about that.

The one punt return that he had, that was a long one was just one block away, and even the one over his shoulder that he caught, they were one block away – so he’s a dynamic threat back.

When you evaluate your players and evaluate your team, we went with the decision to put him back there, and I think he will be a tremendous asset for us as we move forward.


Q.  You began the season by beating a quality team in one of those bare‑knuckle, coin flip games where you have to do things right at the end to win.  And then five Saturdays later, you play a game that you called, embarrassing.  From Point A to Point B, can you identify in your mind what happened and how to fix it?

COACH LONDON:  You know, we talked about those positions and things we had to do to look at ourselves, what we’re asking people to do.  The fact that there are some players that we put in the position ‑‑ young players that have to play to the level of giving us an opportunity to be competitive and win – the fact that we just had 13 penalties, that’s not an excuse for anything.  That will cause you to lose games first and foremost, and then along ‑‑ you turn that over ‑‑ with turnovers.  So that recipe right there in and of itself is a recipe not to be successful.

We forced some turnovers, we had some turnovers against BYU and got the big one towards the end ‑‑ those type of things.  I think we are close in terms of just those type of things, ball bouncing the right way, guys understanding where they need to be, eliminating those errors that caused you those issues, and so we’ll just keep pressing on.  We’ll just keep reiterating to the players about those things that can cause you to lose, have been manifested, particularly in this game and any game that we’ve lost.

So our goal was to get back on task with the Maryland team, being on the road, being at their place and all the things that come with playing them for the last time.


Q.  You mentioned twice now about, you said probably the last time, and then you said a little bit more definite when you said it just now.  Would you be opposed to playing Maryland on some kind of basis when they leave the ACC, or is there some kind of stigma attached to them because they are no longer in the conference?

COACH LONDON:  No, there’s no stigma.  Just the fact that they are going into another conference and their first obligation will be their conference play, whether it’s eight or nine‑game conference schedules – I’m not in the mix of making that decision as far as how or when we play them.  But again, to go on the premise that this may or could be the last time that we play them is something for the careers of these young men that we have right now, but you know, if it happens later on down the road, for the powers that be as far as the scheduling is concerned, then it happens.

But right now our seniors – juniors, first years, second years, third years, this will be the last time that they will play them.


Q.  You mentioned the 13 penalties and often times when there are breakdowns during games, there’s a correlation between those and problems off the field.  But Luke Bowanko said that practices have been better than in all his five years here.  You stressed good behavior off the field.  So can you figure out, what’s going on during games that isn’t happening during the week and isn’t happening in practices that’s costing you guys so much?

COACH LONDON:  Luke’s assessment is correct.  We’ve had really very good practices, and these ‑‑ the players have done a fantastic job in the classroom, in the community.  We are always striving to be representative of the University.

Perhaps maybe focus; attention to detail at that moment, at the precise moment that it calls for you to be at your best, for whatever reason, that we are not there, and that has to be addressed and it has to be fixed.  We’ve got to keep talking about it and keep harping on it until it becomes kind of ingrained.

We didn’t start out that way, and trust me – the players understand that after Saturday, with penalties and turnovers like that, you don’t want to feel the way you feel.  You want to be able to have those types of satisfactory feelings of when you do things the way you’re supposed to, limit those penalties, get turnovers and not give the ball up.  I think that’s what Luke is speaking to, is just more of a personal detailed interest in making sure we take care of the ball and protect the ball.


Q.  A lot of coaches when there are penalties and mistakes like that have some consequences that players get up at 5:00 and run or whatever.  Do you have anything like that?

COACH LONDON:  Yes, there are consequences for players that continue to have the penalties that cause us to lose, and as I said, have not been that way until this particular point.

Regardless if it’s believed it should have been called or not, it’s a penalty, and penalties cause you to lose.  So we’ll address that at our practices in manners that I think are befitting for everyone to understand that we can’t have those types of things.  And then we move forward and we move on.


Q.  You have mentioned the youth; is it more disconcerting for you guys that a lot of the penalties and the turnovers and stuff, a lot of it comes from people that are veterans that are among your best players and those kind of mistakes that are not from inexperience; they are from something else?

COACH LONDON:  Again, turnovers are those things that can cause a team’s opportunities not to be successful and if you catch the ball, you’ve got to put the ball away.  I think it speaks a lot of times to other teams stripping the ball out, or just the awareness of having ball security or the mind‑set of having ball destruction.

Turnovers have no age limit to it.  I mean, the fact that older guys are involved in that, then there’s also the fact that older guys understand the responsibility to change that, to fix that.  And particularly are guys that are ball carriers that we want to get the ball to.  So if that continues, then you don’t give them the ball.  You don’t keep throwing them the ball.  You don’t keep handing the ball off to them.  And I think that they will respond in a way that ‑‑ these guys are competitive and they understand that they want to carry the ball, they want to score and they want to be players that can be counted on as explosive players.  I look for that to change and the ball security aspects to improve greatly.


Q.  In the off‑season you said something that fans should be patient about the new system, the new coaches, the new terminology, all that stuff.  Has it taken longer than you thought that it might to kick in, or is it just something that has to work its way out?

COACH LONDON: There is a process to a lot of these things.  Obviously we want to win.  We want to win now.  I believe in the coaches.  I believe in the players.  I believe in the young players that are playing.  But there is a process to that, and you know, we want to do everything we can to make sure that we develop and bring these guys along to have a chance to be competitive in games.  We want to show improvement from week‑to‑week, and that’s my job.  That’s what I have to make sure that gets done, and that’s the main focal point right now is just to move us from where we were, even though new systems and all, and gain improvement as we go along, and then be reflective as we play on the field on Saturday.


Q.  You talked a lot about that Newsome kid for Ball State, number 11, and the outside rusher.  Seemed like the two biggest pressures he had is when he switched to Morgan’s [Moses] side but he played on Eric’s [Smith] side and he did a decent job against it.  How do you view that, a good thing that your freshman held up okay but your senior got beat up a few times?

COACH LONDON:  As I said, Eric did a nice job for his first start.  I think there are only four UVa linemen in history to start [at offensive tackle] as a freshman.  Morgan is going to get the best of the best.  He was going against him early ‑‑ I mean, he’s gone against the best early in his career and he’s gone against the best as we’ve played him.  It’s a challenge to him.  You know, you’re the left tackle, the starting left tackle; then you’re going to get the best rushers, because people want to rush the quarterback’s blind side.

The challenge is always given to Morgan that he’s going to have to perform at a high, high level.  And their rusher did a good job of affecting David on two occasions.  I believe, like you said, he had two sacks.


Q.  David came in last week and said that he needed to get more accurate, like the first series, he over‑threw a couple people.  How accurate is he in practices?  Is there a difference between practice and games?  And I guess you no longer consider him a first‑year starter, or do you?

COACH LONDON:  Well, with five games into his college career in terms of being a quarterback, he is a first‑year starter right now.  And I think with every practice, and with every rep, particularly when you have guys that are getting acclimated and learning the process and getting better ‑‑ I believe they will get better.  I really believe that.  And I know it’s frustrating to him and frustrating to people that may be out there watching, but I think that there is a level of him improving that’s yet to be made and that’s through coaching, that’s through the play calling.  That’s through what he sees as he’s playing in the game, and I have confidence in him.

And you know, we’ll get ready for Maryland and try to do things to allow him to be successful but ‑‑


Q.  The two plays early, the two overthrows, do you see that in practice or jitters maybe?

COACH LONDON:  You’d like to have a player throw 100 percent in game or in practice.  Doesn’t happen that way a lot of times.  The thing is, you want to be efficient and you want to recognize that thing that he has to change.  If he’s overthrowing, he has to adjust or plant his feet or whatever it is.  But that’s part of the coaching and teaching, the improvement that you have to continue to make and that he is making.

So again, as I said, I look for his improvement to continue to get better as far as being a quarterback.  You know, his practices have balls that he throws that are right on money, has balls that he throws that people are in his face and he has to put a little air over the top of it.

We’ll continue to keep practicing and he’ll continue to keep getting better, and as I said, I believe in his progress and where he’s going.


Q.  As far as going back to the new members of the staff, obviously Steve Fairchild is the play caller on offense, but what influence does Tom O’Brien have on decisions on game day?

COACH LONDON:  It starts on Sunday with the game planning of the next opponent and with Coach O’Brien and Steve, Scott Wachenheim, Larry Lewis, Marques Hagans, they are all in that room talking about the best ways to attack an opponent.  There’s a lot of collaboration that goes on.  Tom has been a valuable asset to Steve.  He’s up in the box, and they talk all the time.

And so again it’s been a collaborative effort.  Steve calls the plays, but Tom has done a good job of communicating what’s going on, what he sees.  Now, we have to do better in all aspects, you know, even with that, but we’ll continue to make progress.

As I said, I believe in what’s going on right now with these coaches.  We have good coaches, and we have to show that we can bring these players long, as well, so they can have success.


Q.  You made several changes to your offensive line at the wide receiver position this past weekend, obviously was the first time that the defense was really under the microscope.  Have you looked at making any changes in your secondary, whether it’s playing time, personnel or both?

COACH LONDON:  Every game you go into, you go into the packages that you put in, whether it’s in this case we will, regular base, dime, dollar.  There’s so many terminologies that you use, and look for Tim Harris, a young man to get playing opportunities; Max Valles to be more involved in some of the other packages that we have.

But again, in that position, as far as defensively, we didn’t play well and got to play better.  And I think that this week in practice, again, that everybody is under scrutiny to making sure that they are in the right gap; that the coverages are sound and that what we do is ‑‑ will give us an opportunity to play and play hard and play well.

So nothing ‑‑ no one is inheriting a position going into this workweek. Everybody has to be scrutinized and watch what we do and how we do it.


Q.  Following up on that, it seemed like there were four games, that sort of the strength of this defense was its aggressiveness and its ability to create tackles.  Seemed like, and correct me if I’m wrong, Ball State may have used some of that aggressiveness against you guys with some of the schemes they had with the short passes and whatnot.  Are there any schematic adjustments that you guys feel need to be made, or was it like you said last night, simply just missed tackles and missed assignments?

COACH LONDON:  They played well.  We didn’t.  We’ll continue to be aggressive in terms of Jon’s [Tenuta] approach.  We all know that.  They had a passing game that was short and deliberate that at times would not allow you to get to the quarterback.  Sometimes an aggressive play and the play‑action pass sometimes makes it ‑‑ that you have to deal with the issues of it.

So we will get better with that without a doubt.  That was the first thing on Sunday that guys worked on was we are going to continue to be aggressive and stop the run, and then one of the things that teams do to attack you is go play‑action pass on that.  So that’s something that will be addressing this week, because again, this team that we are playing, Maryland, particularly with Brown as a quarterback, does a great job of running and play‑action passing and throwing the ball down the field.

So we’ll have to play ‑‑ we’ll have to play well, for sure.


Q.  You’re talking about relying on younger players and this is your fourth year, so you’ve had three or four recruiting classes.  I counted up seven on each side of the ball that are starters that are juniors or seniors.  Can you explain how the process has been over your tenure, recruiting guys and developing those guys; have you missed on some recruits in you’ve been relying on younger players continuously since you’ve been here.  How do you continue to work to make sure you’ve got juniors and seniors at almost all positions and that would possibly lead to more victories?

COACH LONDON:  You keep searching for the best players, the best talent, and with three classes, you’re correct, true freshmen, redshirt freshmen, or true sophomores that have played in the majority of the games since we’ve been here – but also taking the fact that the change of the different schemes, which affects the recruiting style or model of the particular player.

But ultimately we want to attract those student athletes that have a skill level that can help us win and be guys that could be consistent contributors.  You would like to get to a point where you have fourth and fifth year players playing and be able to redshirt guys so they can sit ‑‑ particularly with your linemen.  It’s easier for skill position players to play a lot of times because it doesn’t require that they have the weight room strength.  It’s the speed and athleticism and agility.

But we are at the point where we are getting to those guys that are playing now that ‑‑ guys that are coming in, we’d like to sit them, we’d like to soak them and allow them to get bigger, faster, stronger.  But they are coming because they can play; they are coming because the skill that they bring allows them to get into the games right now.

So we’ll also, like I said, we’ll continue to keep recruiting the style of guys that fit the schemes offensively, defensively and special teams‑wise.


Q.  I think when people saw you guys come out and score 17 points pretty quickly, they thought, wow, you’re in good shape because the defense is so strong.  How surprised were you maybe by the way Ball State was able to move the ball on the defense?

COACH LONDON:  Surprised.  They did an excellent job in doing what they do.  And again, I’m not a prognosticator, but that looks like it might be one of the MAC champions there.  It’s a very good football team.  Coach Lembo has done a great job with them.  They have a quarterback that’s been in the system for three or four years; the value of having a guy that’s been a starter for awhile, a college quarterback is something that is very important in today’s game.

So they took what they had and they played it to the best of their ability and our ability wasn’t good enough to stop them.


Q.  Eli Harold wasn’t having a monster game ‑‑ gets the sack taken away; how much do you think his penalties are where frustration may have been a factor?

COACH LONDON:  Again, with penalties that occurred, those 15‑yarders, whether it’s inadvertent, whether hand in the facemask or whether it’s pressing and playing till after the whistle, they are not excusable.  It may have been frustration, but frustration caused us penalties and caused them first downs or caused a field position change.

So without all that being said, you know, he has to play better and understand that, you know, when you’re a rusher and you’re rushing quarterbacks, that you have to know where you’re at and what you’re doing because the referees are there for the protection of the players in the game and we just have to be smarter when he plays or when we play.


Q.  The last time your defense gave a lot of points and yards against Oregon, they responded with two back‑to‑back performances against VMI and Pitt.  Is that any comfort going into Maryland now that they have been there before and they have shown the resiliency to bounce back?

COACH LONDON:  As I said, I believe in what the guys on the staff are doing and what they are getting taught and what they are getting implemented.  And as we continue to grow into these roles, I believe that the players will respond because they are competitive.  They want to win.  They don’t want to drop passes.  They don’t want to do those types of things.

And I feel certain that this week’s practice will be another practice that will be geared towards eliminating those things again that have been played us particularly this week, and then more specifically, about taking care of the football.



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