Press Conference: Mike London

QUESTION: In one of your long drives, there was a play where it appeared Kris Burd caught the ball a little bit short of a 1st down, you ran a quick QB sneak, and then it was somehow third down.

COACH LONDON:  Yeah—that was a coaching error right there because they were quick to turn it into a first down.  We wanted to hurry up, so we hurried up and called a play that would signify him taking a quarterback sneak.  But as we were hurrying up, there was no signal given to us at that point as to whether it was first down or not.  We kept asking, ‘Is it first down? Is it first down?’ and the guy to give the signal was out on the field, the side judge would say whether it was or not, so we just called a play and went with it.  Basically we could have done a better job coaching from that standpoint.

QUESTION: What’s the quarterback situation now?  What are you thinking for this week?

COACH LONDON:  Today the players have their day off, the mandatory NCAA day, and right now all the guys that had injuries or issues are getting their MRIs and their X-rays done.  Michael is in that group, so I will know more about his status and how he’s feeling later on tonight.  Then tomorrow being our first practice, I’ll get even a better indication how he’s feeling or what he can do.

QUESTION: I know you addressed this a little bit last night, but the way that went down on the 1-yard line, does that cause you to address at all among coaches maybe changing that hard and fast series?

COACH LONDON:  I think as we start moving forward and trying to develop not only our quarterback, but our corners, young linebackers – we have spots where we just put them in the game, let them go.  I think that what happens is sometimes, as coaches, you get a little bit reluctant about putting a guy in depending on where the ball is or you don’t want to put him in because it’s in the red zone or for other reasons.  Sometimes you’ve just got to say, ‘All right, the guy is going in at this point.’  I think that going into our fifth game, some of these guy’ roles will increase, not just with David but with receivers and defensive backs.  That’s what we have to do.  We have to get these guys an opportunity to gain some experience before we go into the second half of the season, which is the conference half of the schedule.

QUESTION: The stats sheet would suggest that all three defensive tackles played well on Saturday.  Do you agree?

COACH LONDON:  I thought the guys up front played well.  As I said, of the 61 yards rushing, 31 of those came on the punt opportunity there.  Then there were the three sacks.  I think we hit the quarterback about ten times.  Obviously you’d like to get more pressure, you’d like to knock the ball down at the line of scrimmage, but as far as defensive linemen were concerned, I thought that was one of the positives that came out of the game.

QUESTION: What happened after you took Michael Rocco out, and what was your evaluation of his performance before you took him out of the game?

COACH LONDON:  Again, he engineered the first two drives which led to scores, and that’s what he should do.  That’s what we need him to do.  The first interception was probably an ill-advised throw.  The second one probably had a little bit more air underneath of it than it should have and one of their defenders made a great play on it.  As a quarterback, whether it comes off the hands of a receiver or you underthrow it or over throw it, you’ve got to be the guardian of the football because you’re the one delivering it.  Any time you throw an interception it’s not a good thing because the other team gets the ball.

I thought that the game was going to come down to a game of possessions when they got it.  Our defense had to play on the other side of the 50-yard line in spots, so you never want interceptions.  In that situation, I know Mike, if he could, he would take those throws back; but he made them, they were interceptions, and they cost us.  You never want a quarterback to make those kinds of mistakes.

QUESTION: If Rocco were unable to go, who would be the starting quarterback?

COACH LONDON:  It would be determined this week in practice.  David has taken reps as well as Ross Metheny.  We’ve put the game plan in as far as how we’re going to attack Idaho and we’d go that route and see what happens in the end—by Thursday.

QUESTION: You said if Michael Rocco is fine, then he starts?

COACH LONDON:  If Mike Rocco is fine, we’ll do what we’ve done before.  He’ll take the first snap in the game and we’ll get David those opportunities to get in because he will get in, and as I said, we’ll try to utilize his talents, as well.

QUESTION: Can you give us your evaluation of David Watford’s performance?  Was there a point that a light bulb went on for him?  Was there a point where you felt like he got more comfortable and confident running the offense?

COACH LONDON:  When he first went in on the goal line.  Those moments right there.  He’s not shaken by when he goes in or where he’s put in.  Even in the Indiana game, he went in, the ball was on the 5-yard line, so he’s unfazed with those types of situations.

The good thing about David and the thing about the growth and development of David—if you remember the one play where he dropped back and there was pressure from his right and he out ran that pressure, he out ran the guy towards their sideline and then ran back up and threw the ball…Under that type of pressure, with most quarterbacks that have experience, you’d want them to step up in the pocket and then if the opportunity presents itself, you escape that way and you hit towards the goal line.

What we saw was David’s athletic ability to outrun a pursuing defender, and he used his athleticism.  I think what we will see when he starts learning more about being a quarterback and some of the things that it takes, particularly in games like that, is that sometimes you can step up in the pocket and make those throws and have some confidence in the protection.  Because people are flying around you all the time, it doesn’t mean that things are going bad.

That’s one of the things that I think was a positive.  You saw his athleticism.  But at the same time you see some of the growth that he’ll need as we move forward.

QUESTION: Southern Miss was a faster team.  How would you assess the speed in your program right now and how close are you to where you want to be in that area?

COACH LONDON:  We’re still in need of more speed and we’re still recruiting speed.  I think they were fast.  They did a great job coming off the ball—very athletic team—and that came to fruition when the game went on.  I thought they got off the ball well.  When a ball was thrown, they turned and ran well.  Special teams, kickoff return—they did a lot of good things there.  That’s one of the things as this program is being built as far as recruiting and things like that.  The need for speed is always paramount—guys that can run because they can run out of mistakes or they can chase down people.  They can make big plays.  So we’re just going to keep on making that an emphasis of this program.

QUESTION: You mentioned the need to get off to a fast start.  Is there anything you can do to help push that process along?

COACH LONDON:  I think part of it has to be us as coaches being willing to call plays aggressively, whether it’s take a shot or whether it’s combination routes that are downfield.  There’s a number of things that we as coaches can do that will infuse or show the players, ‘Hey, listen, we’re going to be aggressive on this, and you start out that way.’

Some of the players have to take on the mentality that when they come out of the tunnel, this is not about the smoke, it’s about the first play, the first couple plays, the first series of energy and passion that they bring.  But certainly play calling, certainly the players’ initial emphasis on the first couple plays—all those things are important.

I think sometimes we start playing that way third, fourth quarter and are trying to catch up.  We need to play that way from kickoff until halftime and then play like we continue to play from the third and fourth quarter on.

We’re looking for a total four-quarter effort of that, and that’ll be the focus of this week for sure.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about Idaho?

COACH LONDON:  They’re from the WAC Conference.  I know they lost here recently.  They’re 1-3.  Their offensive style is sort of that pistol offense – spread offense.  They’ll run some two tight ends, they’ll run 2-1-personnel—one tight end, two backs—and they’ll run the ball.  They’re big.  Their front guys on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively, are big linemen.  Their defensive guys are guys that secondary-wise can run and make plays.  On special teams, they have a kicker that’s a Lou Groza Award candidate.

I think one of the receivers they just got back last game, [Justin] Veltung, is up for the Paul Hornung Award.  He’s a candidate for that, which is given to the most versatile player in college football.

There’s a lot of skill and ability that they have on their team, but like I said, they’re probably—upfront with O-line and D-line guys—one of the bigger teams we’ll play.

QUESTION: Where do you think the defensive line is at this point?  You’ve talked about sacks and getting more pressures.  What do you think they need to do, and what do you think they’ve done well thus far in these first games?

COACH LONDON:  Like I said, I thought the guys up front played well.  I thought they played well versus the run.  Again, if you take away the 31-yard fourth quarter run, that’s 30 yards of rushing then.  That’s pretty good.  I also thought the big issue the week before were the rush lanes and getting to the quarterback.  I thought Coach Hanson did a great job of solidifying the rush lanes and allowing the players to make their counter moves that filled in those rush lanes and led to the three sacks.

Right now, if you looked at the ACC statistically, I think Virginia is No. 1 in tackles for losses.  Not only with the three sacks, but like I said, at least maybe eight to ten times we got a hit on the quarterback.  Sometimes the ball comes out quickly, you don’t always get the sacks, but you can still affect the throws by getting to him.  So I’m very pleased with the way that the guys up front are playing and applying pressure.

QUESTION: Can you explain what happened on the two-point conversion?

COACH LONDON:  We practice the creature formation or whatever you call it.  You want to make sure that if teams don’t defend you with a certain amount of people on both sides that the holder has the opportunity to run a certain play or call us back in and then kick the ball.  I think what happened in that situation is we spread out like that, kind of caught them off guard, and we had a kind of a four-on-three look to the right side.  I think our holder made the correct determination that we had numbers, and he threw the ball over there.

I thought that the offensive line or the guys on the right side weren’t paying attention enough to take advantage of that situation.  There should have been more aggressive approach to blocking the defenders that were out there.  We’re trying to figure out what it was.  Sometimes it’s a one-time opportunity when you do that and they show that look to make that play.  That’s something that you practice and you have to be ready for when the opportunity presents itself, and we failed in capitalizing on that opportunity.

QUESTION: Does that change the strategy throughout the rest of the game in terms of extra points?

COACH LONDON:  At that point it does.  When you have the numbers and you can execute the play, then that’s a two-point play for you.  If you don’t have the numbers and you look outside, then you bring the group in and you kick your extra point.  Our thinking and Coach Poindexter’s thinking is when we have numbers like that, with half the right side of the offensive line struggling to try to get lined up, you should win in that regards, and we failed to recognize that up front with those guys on the right-hand side.

QUESTION: Does that mean you’re debating the rest of the game whether to go for just one or to try for two?

COACH LONDON:  Yeah, it’s part of that strategy—if you scored again or got in field position, would you go for it again.  It does play into that.

QUESTION: Attendance was around 18,000 below capacity.  What do you do about that?  Do you guys need to implement a policy of ‘if you leave at halftime, you can’t come back,’ since people are using two tickets so they can leave at halftime and then come back?  Is that something you need to look at?

COACH LONDON:  Well, that’s news flash news to me as far as the latter part of your question, and that’s something that I wouldn’t be able to answer.  People that deal with that administratively could best give you an answer on that.

The first part, obviously what we could do is we could play well.  We can play well and we can win.  We can play well and be exciting with how we play the game.  You look at our baseball team, you look at other teams that have done well here—when you start having some success, the people want to come out and they want to see that success.  I understand that.  That’s part of this whole thing—trying to win games, trying to get young players to feel like there’s a home field advantage by having a large crowd.

When it started out, the student section over there was great.  I know there’s a push for the students to fill the hill, things like that.  That’s something where I as a football coach can reach out to our student body to encourage them to continue to come and make sure after games that we go over and we acknowledge them.  But being successful plays a large part of that.  Also the fan base out there has to know that this is a process of trying to put the best team together and trying to play well.  We’re going to continue to do that.  We’re going to recruit well and we’re going to win here, and I feel certain of that.

But that’s something that we’ve all envisioned—that I envision for this program, the players envision for it.  With game No. 5 coming up here, we’re just going to keep trying to do our part on our end to make sure that happens.

QUESTION: Do you notice that the upper deck is not very filled?  When you come out, do you pay attention to that?

COACH LONDON:  I acknowledge the fact that people are sitting up there.  I appreciate the fact that they’re there, and those are the seats that they have or they chose.  They had a choice to go anywhere they wanted to on that Saturday, but they chose to come on a Saturday there and support our team.

I don’t look to see how many empty seats there are.  I look, and I see that orange or that blue and I’m very appreciative of that.  I’ve been here when the whole place has been filled, and that’s the goal: trying to create that type of excitement and energy once again.

When people come to the games and they’re out there and they’re loud and they’re vocal and they make noise, that can bring or infuse an amount of energy that I think this young team, our team, needs.  I think our team needs the crowd, and I know that part of that is doing well and performing well.

I would keep encouraging people, and as I said, I appreciate those that come out on those Saturdays when they have a choice to go somewhere else and support the University of Virginia like they do with a lot of our other sports.

QUESTION: After the game, LaRoy Reynolds was asked about the 3rd-and-23 play and he blamed himself for not making the tackle.  He’s talked about some of his growing pains from safety to linebacker.  Has he cut down on the mistakes and is he making fewer than he did a year ago?

COACH LONDON:  I would say so.  On the technical part of it, he has.  For him to say he had an opportunity to make that tackle would be a moot point.  That’s part of the maturation process I think he’s made, not just as a football player but as a person, because there was an opportunity for the play to be done and over with.

He, like all the other guys, just wants to keep continuing to get better, and now we have another opportunity with game five at home to play well.  LaRoy is a good player, he’s going to continue to be a better player because he cares about the position that he plays and about being able to play smart and being able to know what the other teams are doing.  That’s kind of been part of his development and growth, and he, like a lot of us, always has room for improvement.

QUESTION: What are some of the areas that you would like to see improvement in offensively and defensively?

COACH LONDON:  Offensively, as I said, I think there was a situation where there were three or four 3rd-and-1 situations that we did not do well on.  I brag all the time about the offensive line being one of our strengths, and we have to be able to convert those 3rd-and-1 situations and then not give the ball up.  I think that’s seven or eight interceptions right now.

Defensively, we have to create more turnovers because I think it boils down to the possessions again.  When you have turnovers or create those type of turnovers and you’re on the plus side, then a lot of times it reflects your record because you have more opportunities to score, so we need to create more turnovers.

Kicking-wise, the last punt by Jimmy was a 31-yard punt which was uncharacteristic of him, and then the last kickoff by Chris Hinkebein went out of bounds, which is very, very uncharacteristic of him.  I talked about it at the beginning of the season that our kicking game and the legs of those three guys—Robert Randolph, Jimmy Howell and Chris Hinkebein—would have to give us extra yards, would have to flip the field for us.  Those guys have the type of legs, and I think Robert thus far has proved that he has the type of leg that can help us win games because he’s done it.

I think Jimmy and Chris can do it, but we need them to do it consistently, particularly in a game like we just played that was a close game against a good team where every yard, every field position issue counted for us.

QUESTION: You mentioned the screen play and the “setting the edge.”  What does that mean, and is it a problem?

COACH LONDON:  Setting the edge is the force on the particular defense.  Sometimes that changes based on coverage, based on the alignments of where your linebackers are or whatever the call may be.  Setting the edge means making the ball turn back to the inside towards pursuit, and that’s why you’ve got to run the ball.  Setting the edge is always an issue when teams are running tall sweeps.  You’ve seen corners come up and take on a fullback or pulling guard or tackle—that’s setting the edge.  Then you make the runner run to the inside and hope that your pursuit inside-out takes care of that.  It’s not that it’s been a huge problem for us.  That was one of those plays where, if you set the edge, he doesn’t get outside because he ended up running all the way out towards the sideline, their sideline, and got outside of the edge.  That created a part of the problem because then your inside out pursuit couldn’t help.

QUESTION: Could you talk about Matt Snyder and what he brings to the team as a player, as a wide receiver, and as a captain?

COACH LONDON:  Number one what he brings is just an incredible story of perseverance and a guy saying, People say you’re not good enough, you’re not fast enough, whatever it is, but he kept his mouth closed, worked hard, and the players saw an example of what hard work, discipline, dedication look like.  He earned a scholarship, which I think earned the respect and admiration of his teammates and then earned the opportunity to become captain, which again, as far as his teammates are concerned, earned a lot of respect in that way.

Matt is very smart as far as route running and things he can do—blocking at the point of attack, running plays.  He made some big catches last year.  We’re looking for him to make some bigger catches for us this year.  He hasn’t had those opportunities yet.

When you look at hard work and dedication and you look at a guy like Matt Snyder, and that’s where some young guys need to look and see that that’s what it takes.

QUESTION: One of your players last week said that if the team could go 4-0 during the home stand, it would be in good shape.  Were you worried that your guys would look at the possibility of going 4-0 and kind of look past Southern Miss?

COACH LONDON:  I don’t think so.  I think that what was obvious was that when you look at the schedule, that’s how the schedule could have played out.  But what’s most obvious is that you can never overlook any opponent.  I always, always talk about how the most important game is the game that’s at hand, and you have to take care of that game first before you can even talk about the second game or the third or the fourth game.  That might have just been the players’ optimism about what could possibly happen.

As a coach—and as I try to instill in them—it’s about the game that you’re about to play and how you play and how you execute that will determine the fate of the opportunity to play the next game to win or lose.

This game, we’re focusing on Idaho.  I don’t even know who we play after this.  We’re focusing on Idaho.

QUESTION: Jennings has had a couple nice returns.  Talk about him and how his game has developed.  What do you expect out of him offensively during the stretch?

COACH LONDON:  As we said before, and this is on me and this is on Coach Lazor, that a guy like Dominique Terrell and Darius Jennings have opportunities to go in the game and do some things, and so you’ll see more of those two.  That’s a mandate from me.

The skill level will speak for itself.  I think that we’re at this point of trying to bring the team along—when you’re playing young players to bring them along—that the packages increase.  You might have a ten-personnel package where those two guys go in, or an 11-personnel package where maybe one of them goes in with two other experienced receivers.  We’re going to do more of that to try to create more opportunities for those guys to catch the ball in space and run.

QUESTION: You guys are still perfect in the red zone this year, but do you still get the feeling you have left a lot of points on the field with the offense?

COACH LONDON:  It’s interesting.  When we get in the red zone, we score.  I think I said last week, the issue is from the 20 to the 20.  On 3rd down opportunities, I think we were 9 for 19, 45 percent or something like that.  You always want that to be the case.  You want to be up in the 40s, high 40s.

When you have turnovers like that, that kills those opportunities there.  That played huge in that regard because you can’t turn the ball over.

That’s one of the things that we’ve recognized—I’ve recognized—and talked to the offensive staff about.  The play-making opportunities between the 20 and the 20 have to lend themselves to getting us the opportunities to get down inside the 20, in the red zone, because that’s where we’re successful.  We need to get to where we can be successful, so that’ll be one of the focuses of this week’s practice.

QUESTION: You were asked about Matt Snyder, his work ethic and what he brings to the team.  How similar is his brother, Jake, to Matt, and what kind of year is Jake having?

COACH LONDON:  Jake has done a nice job for us.  Jake is a solid, steady, reliable, accountable guy.  He’s one of those guys that just works hard at it.  He started some games but he’s also split some reps.  He’s not an every-down player or an every-down starter, but he’s one of the strongest guys on the team and has just quietly worked himself into being that.  When you’re reliable and you don’t have any mental errors or miscues like that, then you become a guy who’s dependable that you can put in the game.

He provides opportunities for us, and we’re trying to find opportunities at defensive end positions on both sides that can put pressure on the quarterback and set the edge, so to speak, on certain runs.  Jake has done a nice job.  He’s different than Matt.  Jake doesn’t talk at all; Matt will talk.  But they’re both great young men.

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Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25.


The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.
 
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