Press Conference: Mike London

Virginia football coach Mike London talks with members of the news media about his team.

UVa. (2-1, 0-0 ACC) will host Florida State (3-1, 1-0 ACC) on Saturday at noon.

Q. I have a question that doesn’t really pertain to this week’s opponent, but when you scheduled two FCS teams, did you think there might be some risk involved down the road in terms of Bowl consideration?

COACH LONDON: As I’ve answered in the past, this schedule was already made prior to me getting here, so we’re playing the schedule as the schedule has fallen. I don’t understand the formula as to why we played two FCS teams, but it is what it is for this year. We’re fortunate enough now to enter into conference play and open with a home game. Hopefully there will be a raucous crowd in a great venue as we welcome the Seminoles.

Q. Did you get an explanation as to why that happened? Was it still part of the looming aftermath of that MAC deal that fell apart?

COACH LONDON: I don’t know about issues there might have been in regards to the schedule. I know the teams we’ve got to play in our schedule game-by-game, and Florida State is the next one on the schedule.

Q. Can you just talk about your thoughts on the ACC opener?

COACH LONDON: What is most important is it’s our conference opener and it is at home. The other things that are going on behind the game with the white-out and raising the awareness within the community and the students are also important. But to us – it’s a chance again to play in front of our home crowd, play to get better, have a better performance from all three aspects, offense, defense and special teams. We want to try to establish a culture of trying to play competitively and to win some games.

I think that’s the biggest thing that this team is thinking about now is we have a home game, first conference game, chance to get better and a chance to play a really, really good team. I think they’re right outside of the top 25 and very easily a top 20 team.

Q. How did this white-out theme come about?

COACH LONDON: I didn’t think of it [smiling]. We’ve talked about our captains choosing our uniforms. I believe Jon Oliver in a way to try to show some enthusiasm, some support – generated the idea. I’m willing to carry the torch to get everybody out there to come to the stadium. I understand the free t-shirts are going to be given out. My wife is excited and said, “I can’t wait to get mine.” So I’m hoping that that will drive a lot of people out there and have a great atmosphere for a Saturday game.

Q. After three games where are you guys at health-wise and just as far as your first year here where do you feel like your offense and defense are at?

COACH LONDON: I think we’re in a situation where we see what we can be offensively. I think we’re in a situation that we need to improve in some aspects to get us to where we want to be. This is game No. 3, and as I said, there’s been three different types of opponents. Richmond, a very elite FCS team, a team I knew a lot about; then USC, a road game at a historic place with a very good team; and then an opportunity to play VMI right up the street from us, another FCS team.

So this game, first conference game, BCS opponent — very, very good team with a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback – a program with national championships and all that type of stuff. This will be another game to try to see where we are right now. I’ve always said we’re a work in progress, and we’re looking to improve and to get better. This game will also have an opportunity for me to see – for our team to see how far we need to go, what we need to work on, continue to work on, what pieces of the puzzle that we need to address in recruiting, just a whole lot of questions still left to answer.

But that’s why you play the games, and that’s why this one is the ‘next’ most important game.

Q. How does a Jimbo Fisher Florida State team differ from a Bobby Bowden Florida State team?

COACH LONDON: Well, I’m sure Coach Fisher has his own way of doing things. He’s got some new staff members. You see one of the things that have been traditional with a Florida State team is they are athletic and they are fast. They have skill position players all over the place. And that’s something that’s always been a mainstay. Very talented – as I said before, the quarterback is a Heisman Trophy candidate, fifth now, I believe, in total offense.

They have fast wide receivers and running backs. [Ty] Jones is very, very good – leads the team with attempts. He’s also a guy that catches the ball out of the backfield, so they utilize his skills. Defensively they have fast linebackers who are tall, they can run, good corners, good safeties.

And then the kicking game, the punter and the kicker – the punter is outstanding with his average, and then the placekicker who’s also the kickoff guy — he’s got like 16 or 17 touchbacks. From a special teams standpoint, the field position aspects for them they do a great job. They have – No. 5, [Greg] Reid, who has outstanding special skills, not only as a DB but also as a punt returner. I believe he led the country last year in punt returns and right now he’s got double digits average in punt returns, so they’re scary in a lot of ways, so we’re going to have our work cut out for us.

Q. As far as grading the players on Sunday, what goes into that, what are you looking for?

COACH LONDON: When you grade the players and have a chance to watch the tape, we give them a technique grade. The techniques of the position – how well they did. And then you also grade them on play-making opportunities, a sack or pressure – a catch or things like that. You can also grade them on production. The technique grade asks – are they doing the things that the position calls for?

A production grade allows you to start adding things up as the season goes on and you see these two or three players are the most productive guys. Then as you go along, you start to evaluate and assess your players from that standpoint, and that determines the depth chart moves or that determines who we should get the ball to more, things like that.

That is the basis of the grading scale.

Q. What specifically makes Christian Ponder more elite than some of the other QBs?

COACH LONDON: He’s a guy that’s very accurate. I think his passing efficiency rating is very good, and he’s very, very athletic in terms of escaping a rush. I think in terms of attempts, he’s the second guy on their team with rushing attempts. Now, I don’t know how many of those are his quarterback runs or some QB scrambles, but I’ll tell you what, he’s fast. When he gets out to the second level he does a great job because he’s hard to bring down.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about Minnifield when you first got here and your impressions of him and what you’ve done to try to develop him and how far he’s come along?

COACH LONDON: I think Chase has done an outstanding job of just preparing himself week in and week out. Obviously being the son of an NFL great, that helps a lot from a technical standpoint of what to watch and just different things about how to play the position. But you’ll see Chase watching tape. You’ll see him studying the game. And that’s something I’m quite sure he gets from his dad Frank. But he wants to be the best. He wants to go against the best.

He’s fearless and he’s courageous, and you’ve got to be when you’re back there catching punts and returning them. He does a great job by studying the game, and I think that’s helped him, particularly on one of the interceptions that he got Saturday just based on seeing the formation and knowing the QB mechanics and things like that.

When the players tell you, just like it happened in practice, just like I saw on film, then you know they’re watching film and you know they’re paying attention to what’s going on. Chase is one of those guys that does a great job of doing that.

Q. How rusty did it seem that [Ras-I] Dowling was the other day and how did you view his performance and [Rodney] McLeod’s? What did you think about the way they played?

COACH LONDON: Ras-I played close to 30 plays, 27 plays. I thought that one play that was a check at the line of scrimmage, QB threw it up, jump ball, he kind of misjudged it, and I think one other time if you’re looking for negatives, he might have overran a tackle. But he was in position for a lot of other things. You saw him running out there pretty good.

We just wanted to make sure that, again – and the same with Rodney, you wanted to make sure when they were in the game they had a chance to hit cover, get involved in making calls and the checks. Rodney didn’t play as many plays as Ras-I did, but after the game he felt really good. He’s feeling pretty good now, and we’re looking forward to him being with us here on Saturday –s ame with Ras-I. I think they’ll be back to being close to 100 percent.

Q. Cam Johnson had two and a half sacks the other day. Was that game a big step forward for him, or do you kind of have to wait and see him doing that against, maybe a bigger, more talented offensive tackle?

COACH LONDON: Well, any time you can put pressure on a quarterback and get a sack, that’s important because you’re the defensive end. And defensive ends, you’ve got to get sacks, put pressure, hit the quarterback and create those opportunities.

As you stated, as the games go on and you know you’re a defensive end – it’s third down or it’s passing situations, a couple criteria measure you. One is the sacks and the pressures – QB hits, and the other is how well you play the run. We’ll see what type of player Cam will turn out to be, a guy that can sack the quarterback or a guy that can stuff the run and play the run well.

Q. Virginia hasn’t run the ball particularly well against Florida State even during your time as an assistant. What’s the importance of the running game this weekend and not relying on Verica to throw it 35 or 40 times?

COACH LONDON: Well, not a whole lot of teams have run the ball very well on them, particularly this year. But I think that you have to be able to run the ball or at least create running lanes or cracks or crevices that hopefully a guy like Perry Jones can slip through. I don’t know if Keith Payne is going to slip through any crack or crevice. He’ll have to be more of a power game.

But as I’ve said before, the running game sets up your play action passes and stuff off of that, and if you’re one-dimensional it could make for a long day. If we can’t run the ball, it’ll be difficult for us. But if we can run the ball then do some play action passes off of that and do some other things through game planning, then to be able to move the chains – I think that’s important. Our first downs are going to be important, not just the third down conversions – but how many first downs we can get, because I think that’s always another indicator of how the game is going. Being able to move the ball on the ground will be important, and then take the opportunities when you can to throw the ball deep or throw the ball to the intermediate routes or throw the ball to whatever they’re giving us.

Q. Having said that, can you just elaborate on Florida State’s team speed, especially defensively, 19 sacks already, and how you plan on protecting the quarterback this week?

COACH LONDON: That’s a challenge. I remember when I was with the Houston Texans, our first round draft pick was Travis Johnson from Florida State, and just having a chance to talk to him, the whole mindset is they get up the field. They rush the passer. That’s what they do. And you still see the same mindset; like you said, 19 sacks. So it’s going to be a challenge to provide protection for Marc. Whether that means some out-of-pocket stuff or whether that means – quick passing game, we’ve got to find a solution to try to do something to help us because those ends, and the two guys inside particularly, they get great push up front. They were doing a lot of blitzing and scheming the first couple games, and I’ve heard the comment made that they decided to just let those guys play.

I’ll tell you what, they’re playing pretty well when you keep it kind of basic and let your four guys rush, everybody else back there cover, so they’ve been very successful at doing that.

We’re going to have to protect the quarterback, find ways to do it, in order for us to move the ball.

Q. Assuming you do that, I would think that you guys have to be pretty happy with the production of the passing game since they haven’t really made a lot of mistakes and Marc seems to have a really good connection with Dontrelle [Inman] and Kris [Burd]. Talk about how well you guys are throwing the ball.

COACH LONDON: I think it’s a product of the offense, of the system and the scheme that’s put in, not asking a guy to do too much. When Marc makes a throw based on the coverages, based on the wide receivers running the correct route, then we can be fairly productive.

Now you add in the pass rush issues and making sure he has enough time to do all those things, we’ve got to make sure we have opportunities to do that, also.

I have been pleased with Dontrelle and Kris Burd, and just how the two of them complement each other on the field. I am pleased with Jared Green and Matt Snyder, being able to be some guys that could, as I said before, add up to – not that they’ll ever add up to Timmy Smith, he’s a different kind of player — but add up to being productive in their own right.

Jared can catch the ball and run. He’s a vertical receiver. Matt is a guy that can block and runs good routes and he’s got very good hands. I’ve seen the catches that he made on the sideline, I’ve seen it all camps, all spring practice, all those things.

Everyone is going to have to play their best game without a doubt this Saturday. That’s going to be important.

Q. The last couple years that we’ve seen Marc he has tucked and run with the football at times. With a defense like Florida State and even moving forward, do you want to see him maybe take an opportunity once in a while to use his athleticism offensively?

COACH LONDON: You want to make sure that you don’t go backwards. You want to make sure that if you’re in a situation where you’re being harassed that if you can throw the ball beyond the line of scrimmage and make sure you’re not throwing it to their guy, then instead of taking a sack – you’ve got a chance to live to see another day or maybe perhaps punt.

But if it dictates that it’s not there and he can find a crease or a crevice – rather than taking a sack or going backwards, then sometimes you look at Ponder when you’re playing man coverage and guys are turning and running with their back to him – it’s engrained in him, he takes it and he goes. And he’s a fast guy that can add some yardage that way.

Marc has got to be kind of like that a little bit in that if there’s a lot of pressure and they have guys covered that you can be a runner yourself, get as much as you can, go down, don’t try to be a hero, take what you can get and live to see another down instead of trying to rush things.

Q. You’ve already seen a good passing game in Southern Cal. What did that game show you about your secondary and your ability to put pressure on the passer?

COACH LONDON: I think the secondary and how well they play is always tied into the type of pass rush. And I think it goes back to the question asked about when you’re grading. Sometimes you don’t get the two sacks or you see a sack and a half or whatever. But we also like to look at pressures or hurries where you make the quarterback move his feet and not let him stand back there all day and throw. And you also like to measure or count QB hits. And I think the last couple games we’ve had an opportunity to get hits on the quarterback.

Eventually it takes its toll, also. You can have a productive game by not having the big number of sacks but having those pressures, hurries or hits on the quarterback. And if you have that from up front, then the coverage aspect makes it a lot easier.

I think they both go hand in hand. The coverage is tied into the rush, and then the rush, if it’s a lack of rush, is tied into the coverage because those guys can’t cover back there all day.

Q. Just to follow up, you didn’t have your best two backs against Southern Cal but you still held their receivers in pretty good check. Was there anything that surprised you about that at all?

COACH LONDON: No, I think, as I said, the combination of being able to hit the quarterback or make him move his feet, he had a scramble there at one time, so we’ve got to make sure we take care of that aspect of it. Christian Ponder, he’ll pull it down and he can run, so we’ve got to definitely shore up our rush lanes and our quarterback landmarks. But if we can tie the rush into the coverage, I think both of them will benefit each other, and if we can do that on both sides, then again, we’ll give ourselves a chance.

Q. How did Morgan [Moses] and some of the other offensive linemen who haven’t played much look to you when you broke down that film?

COACH LONDON: Well, Morgan looked like a freshman, a freshman that just got a couple reps. Well, actually he got almost 30 reps. That’s something that you want to have, a guy having a chance to get reps and get experience. Sean Cascarano, he played, Luke Bowanko, Mike Price, those are guys that are on the depth chart and it was good to see them get an extensive amount of reps – because you only get better by playing in the games, the game is a whole different arena.

Practice is controlled; coaches are sitting right there on top of you. But when you go out there, you’re making the calls, nobody is out there to tell you where to go, what to do, and it was good to gain that sort of experience from them.

We’ll be looking to try to put them in games as the circumstances permit, but they’re only going to get better by playing.

Q. Before the season when you were talking about true freshmen who might play, [Drequan] Hoskey was a guy you said was a possibility on special teams. How is he coming along with football outside of track, and at this point in the season would you rather hold him out or is he still in the mix?

COACH LONDON: Actually he hasn’t played yet, and Rijo Walker was one of the freshmen that we committed to playing, and he’s on all the special teams and actually did a really nice job and went in the game also as a corner. So with Ras-I back, then all of a sudden the corner situation has one more body and more reps that they’re demanding.

It’s the third game, going into the fourth game, we’ll see what happens with Drequan. He needs Coach Hourigan bad. He needs to get some weight on him and get a little heavier. He’s already fast. He needs to put some muscle on him. Hopefully we’ll be able to develop him – because I think he’s going to be a really good player when his time comes.

Q. You talked about the speed and the aggressiveness of Florida State’s defensive line. For your offensive line, not necessarily individually but as a unit, have you seen what you needed to from them so far that makes you think they’re ready for the challenge they’re going to face on Saturday?

COACH LONDON: Well, they’ve been trained and coached to be ready. The great thing about games is you’ve got to play. I’ve always told the guys that they’ve got to have the desire to win. Everybody wants to win, but your physical effort has to either match or exceed your desire to win. When you’re out of the tunnel, you want to win. But your physical effort has to match or exceed that. I’m quite sure they’ll be sky high, they’ll want to play. This is a conference game for FSU, also. We’ve got to play above whatever level that they bring in order for us to be successful. If those guys can do that up front, it’ll give us a chance.

Q. I’m sure you have to balance trying to keep kids happy with winning football games, but what does it mean for you when a guy like Raynard Horne who really hasn’t had a lot of success was able to return a kick like he did the other day?

COACH LONDON: It’s very gratifying as a coach that while you’re coaching the players, and you say, you know what, if you do this- then this is what’s going to happen in the game, and you can talk to him about it. I think he’s made reference to what we tell him sometimes when he return a kickoff back there – ‘you like to get back there and move your feet side to side, just catch the ball and run straight downhill and allow the blockers to do their job’ – and I think that’s what he did on that first kick.

After the game, it was like, “Coach, just like you said it was going to be.” I’m like, “No duh, that’s the whole thing about coaching and trying to get you in a position to make plays. If you do this, you’ve got a chance.”

It was nice to see him do that. I was there the last time Marquis Weeks ran one back, so it was fun to watch him have success like that. And we almost had another one going, also. One guy missed a block. Had he gotten that blocked then he probably would have taken another one back.

Q. What are some of your recollections about previous Florida State games, trying to game plan and prepare for them when you were here as an assistant, and is it more difficult to prepare against a team that has just a whole lot of superior athletes or against a team that maybe runs an interesting or unique or precise kind of system or scheme?

COACH LONDON: Well, superior athlete part, that was pretty good, because they do – I think from that standpoint, what happens when you have guys that are very athletic and can run is that a lot of times you can run out of mistakes. I’m quite sure on the other side of the ball, for them, they may not have been pleased with some of the things that are going on. But when you can run, and whether you run in the wrong gap and then chase a guy down, that’s running out a mistake. And you look at their athletes from offense to defense to special teams, I know Coach Fisher talked about the recruiting and the way it’s going and getting Florida State back to where it’s been, and I know he’s well on his way to doing that.

But it’s a game you’ve got to play the game, though. We’ve got to block those guys. We’ve got to tackle those guys. You’ve got to play the game, and that’s the challenge. But it’s a challenge that we’re looking forward to.

Q. Just to follow up on Raynard Horne, he’s third on the depth chart but didn’t get a carry on Saturday but a whole lot of people did. Did he get banged up on that kick?

COACH LONDON: He came up with a charley horse there a little bit, so as a precautionary measure we didn’t want to put him back in the game. He definitely would have gone back in. But I think the other thing was to give our other running backs, Torrey Mack, who hadn’t played, who by the way also did a great job special teams-wise, a chance to play. Torrey has come back and has embraced the role of I’ll do whatever you want on special teams by Coach Poindexter. So we wanted to make sure we got him some carries, also.

Q. Just curious the importance of the scout team not only to this point but with Florida State and then Georgia Tech and Carolina, almost seems like three different teams and some scary opportunities for a rookie that just got to college to have to duplicate that.

COACH LONDON: Your show teams or your scout teams are always important. For us sometimes what we do is we’ll go – our offense will be up, and then our defense off of cards will be the defense, and you still get a good on good type of look with the emphasis being on the offense. And then we’ll do the same thing defensively. The offense, our offense, first and second team offense will be up and we’ll go two huddles, and we’ll send them back to defense so the defense is getting a representative look.

And then sometimes you go scout team where you have guys that might not be on the depth chart. That’s when it’s a little bit more challenging, but at the same time I’ve got a lot of players on the team that just want to add up to something and want to do something to help the team. When they go out there, they don’t care if Landon Bradley gets mad and the defensive end is going to rush, because it’s going to happen in the game.

A lot of guys have bought into the fact that whatever role there is, whether it’s the scout team or you’re on the offense or giving a look to the defense or vice versa that the better they do in giving that look, then the better we can play, the more realistic it’ll look. But to simulate their speed we might have to line up offsides, get all the way into the backfield already to try to simulate that, do something like that. We’re going to try to figure out a way, like I said, to help us game plan to give us a chance to be competitive in this game, it’s a game our players are looking forward to, and it’s a home game, a white-out, just all those different things that are built up around it. But more importantly, it’s a game for us to get better than the last three.

Q. With what essentially amounts to a preseason before you get into any ACC play, how important was it to kind of get the guys to have success in a new defense and a new offense and kind of feel good about the way that they’re going?

COACH LONDON: Obviously you want to win the games that, quote-unquote, you’re supposed to win. You want to be competitive in the games that people don’t give you a shot in. And I think so far we’ve been able to do that. These guys, they like the coaches, our coaches like the players. You ask a lot of these guys, they like being on the team. There’s just a different mindset, not being negative to one person or that person, but they’ve had academic success and all these things are kind of tied into it here a little bit.

The question was asked before about our desire to win. Well, our effort and our energy have to match and exceed that in order for us to go out there and be representative. This is a very, very good team that’s coming in here. We’ll see how far away we are, how close we are, how do we answer it, through recruiting, through depth, whatever it is, we’ll see. But it’s what you play the games for, and I know our guys are excited about it.

Q. What’s kept Jared Green off the field? He looks like he could be a big-play guy. It’s been a couple years since he’s really done much.

COACH LONDON: Dontrelle Inman and Kris Burd kept him off the field. And not what Jared is doing; it’s those guys have done a really, really nice job of doing what they can do. And to Jared’s credit, you could be a player that – there’s only 11 on offense and defense, there’s 11 parents that love me. The other, two deep and three deep, they’re not very happy with me about playing time.

But the things that you can control is when you do practice, when you run the routes, when you have to block, like all the players, when it’s your time to do it that you can do it and you can perform. So then when you get the chance to do it, then it warrants another opportunity to continue doing it.

It’s the players that sometimes get disgruntled and don’t play, they don’t practice as hard, they don’t do the things they need to do, and then when they get a chance it’s not the result that they want, and so it kind of leaves a bitter taste in their mouth. But I think Jared could have gone that way, Matt Snyder could have went that way, but I like our players. They practice hard. A lot of you have been to our practices and you’ve seen that our practices are up-tempo. We run around, we move around.

The next-up mentality was presented, and Jared along with Matt stepped up. Now they’ll continue those roles and perhaps maybe even further opportunities to get a pass thrown to him. But you know, as a wide receiver you’ve got to block, too. You’ve got to run good routes. You’ve got to run routes full speed even though you know the ball is not going to go to you. So there are a lot of things that may come into that position and other positions.

Q. I wanted to ask you about Matt because he seems like a guy who in spring games always does really well, whenever he gets a chance does really well, and then the games come and you don’t see much of him. Is he somebody when you put him out on the field it kind of seems like, wow, he kind of surprises you, again?

COACH LONDON: Matt is a worker bee. In the spring he wasn’t on a scholarship, he said, Coach, if my actions and my efforts are such that you can consider me for a scholarship, I would appreciate it, end of story. And then he went out there and practiced hard and did all those things. Dontrelle Inman and Kris Burd, in a two-back set you only two have receivers out there, and they’re the guys that line up out there.

And then with his ability and opportunity to play now, he’s made the most of it. Matt’s not the fastest guy, but he gives great, great effort, and you appreciate a player like that, and so we’re going to put him in a game because he’s far exceeded maybe his own expectations, and I thought he was good enough to warrant a scholarship because he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do.

Q. One of those catches he made the other day was almost ridiculous. Did it look that good on film?

COACH LONDON: Yeah, it did. I don’t know if you all remember, we were down at ODU, the last play of the scrimmage, Verica threw a pass up, and that was him that came down and caught it, scored a touchdown. But it was a penalty on offense that got negated. But that was Matt who went up there, rose above everyone else and caught it.

The guy is 6’4″-plus, and he works at it. In the weight room, Brandon Hourigan works with him – he works at raising his vertical. He works at lifting, he works at blocking. Is he the most talented? Maybe not, but he works at it, and when you get a guy like that that works on it, you’ve got to find a spot for him on the field some kind of way. He does special teams, too in that way.



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