Press Conference: Mike London
COACH LONDON: We had Saturday off – Thursday had the game and we got back early, early Friday morning. We had something later on that afternoon.
I was able to kind of go through the channels a little bit, look at a couple games—basically have a chance to be at home, be a dad, a husband – those type of things.
I did have a chance to look at a little bit of the game that Boston College and Maryland were playing. I looked outside our door. There was sun in the sky. Up there, the weather got after them pretty good. Going back and forth on a few channels, I had a chance to look at a couple of games.
QUESTION: Your team has surprised this season, both with some of its wins and some of its losses. How would you respond to the argument that it is not exactly the same team every week?
COACH LONDON: We try to be the same team every week, to play with some of the schemes, some of the calls, some of the things that we think make us a good football team. Whether we execute the same every week, that’s up for debate, I guess.
The plan on both sides, all three elements of the football team, is to try to accentuate our play-makers, limit turnovers, create turnovers, have explosive plays.
Among the games we have played thus far, the times we’ve been successful in those endeavors speaks to the wins. The times we haven’t, it speaks to the losses.
We’re trying to be a more consistent team and play more favorable to the way that we’re capable of playing.
QUESTION: Have you detected any change in Michael Rocco’s comfort level now that he is the primary quarterback?
COACH LONDON: Maybe it might be inwardly with him. Outwardly, he’s the same guy—same type of demeanor, same type of body language, same type of person. He’s always practiced well. To answer your question, the changes might be internally. You could ask him. But in terms of outwardly—what he practices, what he does when he’s around his team, around the office in terms of meetings—he’s been very consistent in that manner.
Hopefully as we go into game two of his opportunity, he continues to exhibit those traits that led him to be successful this past week.
QUESTION: Now that the team is two months into its season, do you plan to use your freshmen more?
COACH LONDON: They’ll play just based on regular rotation. Their knowledge of the offense has increased to a level, receiver-wise, that Coach Moore and Coach Lazor feel comfortable about putting Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell in the game. Running back-wise Clifton [Richardson] is getting to that place also, whether it’s on runs or protections. Their knowledge of the offense and the whole scheme has picked up. When that picks up, obviously their rep opportunities will increase as well.
QUESTION: You have 12 scholarship players from Maryland. Is there more emphasis on this game because of the recruiting implications?
COACH LONDON: Those 12 know a lot of the players from that area who are playing on their team. There’s no secret that Maryland is an area where we recruit heavily—D.C., Northern Virginia, up and around there.
Having success in the recruiting arena is important, as is having success in the athletic arena. Having the opportunity to play Maryland, for us it’s another chance for another ACC win. But naturally you look at some of the recruiting implications, as well.
QUESTION: When you made the quarterback decision, did you take into consideration the fact that Michael Rocco never seemed to play quite as well when he went back in after David Watford was given a series or two?
COACH LONDON: I don’t think that had as much an impact that he never played well after, as much as it was into giving David the opportunity to play and become an experienced quarterback with reps.
In hindsight, you can look back and mention what you just mentioned. But going into it, that wasn’t the goal. The goal was to get David ready, as well. We still got a lot of games to play for that statement would end up being accurate.
Hopefully now that Michael has the opportunity to be the quarterback, we’ll get more consistent play, better play, more confidence in his play. Whatever roles David has the rest of the season, he gets more confidence. Even when he’s not playing, he’s learning. He’s taking reps in practice. He’s seen the big picture.
Hopefully both guys will benefit from it as well as Ross Metheny and Michael Strauss – who are watching.
QUESTION: You mentioned briefly Clifton Richardson and run protection. How much of a challenge was that for him? That doesn’t seem like something he would have learned in high school.
COACH LONDON: Maybe not. Maybe it was Clifton left, Clifton right at high school. But in the college setting, based on personnel, you have different types of protections: slide protection where you have the end man on the line of scrimmage, protection where you have to scan and take it outside, inside protection where you have to take a linebacker. I’m sure there was some stuff on his plate that he had to work himself through.
Over the course of practices and games, sitting in the team meeting room and the position meeting room with running backs, with Coach Faragalli and with the guys, he’s picking it up and seeing it.
Probably because as physical as he runs, he can be as physical when he pass protects also. He is kind of a bigger back type of guy. You look at Perry Jones, Kevin Parks and Khalek Shepherd, they’re a smaller type of guys.
There’s been times where you get the big back presence that perhaps Terence Fells-Danzer or Max Milien have, or maybe even Colter Phillips could be in the backfield. Now Clifton’s learning curve has put him in a position where he can pass protect and also be part of getting out of the backfield if the linebacker doesn’t show, being part of the slip screen where he has to act like he’s blocking then turns to the line of scrimmage for the screen. He’s got pretty good hands.
Like I said, as we go down the stretch here, his role of knowing what to do has increased, which will allow him to go in the game more frequently.
QUESTION: How proud of Michael Rocco and the way he was able to prepare given the short week were you?
COACH LONDON: It speaks to the maturity level of Michael. You go back and you say you’re hoping you made the right decisions for him and for David.
I think his ability to pick up the pre-snap read, see things as they were occurring, was huge because a lot of times in football, you look at the game film and you try to see what hurt the other team. Lo and behold, you see a lot of copycat defenses, a lot of defenses that teams have used to be successful even though they disguise it in another way.
I think his recognition of those things – the game planning was impressive. To say he’s mature as a sophomore—he is mature and he’s going to get more mature. It’s a benefit to him and it’s a benefit to us.
How proud of him am I? I’m extremely proud on a big stage that he could handle it because they were bringing it.
QUESTION: What can you say about Maryland?
COACH LONDON: As I told the players, this is a very good football team. Everybody says, ‘Look at their record.’ You look at their record—there’s a loss to ranked West Virginia, ranked Georgia Tech, ranked Clemson, then Florida State, who at the time was still a very, very good team. A lot of people had them picked in the top-ten, Temple is a win away from being bowl-eligible. This past weekend with all the inclement weather, Boston College got on them early, but they came back. They beat Miami and they beat an FCS team, Towson, who is 6-2 right now.
It’s a very talented team, a very skillful team. The quarterback situation—whichever one they decide to go with, both of them are very adept to running the style of offense they have. C.J. Brown—you watch the Georgia Tech game, he takes off for a 77-yard run, he can run. There’s talent right there.
Davin Meggett, the running back, is very explosive. The wide receivers who they get the ball downfield to are they’re very good.
Defensively that’s where they’ve been nicked up a little bit with injuries, having to play young guys here and there, the experience or lack thereof has caused some concerns. But they play hard. They play hard on film.
In their special teams, they’ve had some guys nicked up. Tony Logan was a guy that was a dynamic returner. You haven’t seen him for the last of couple games—don’t know if it’s an injury situation, whatever it is. They’re a fast, athletic team. You see they were in a lot of the games that they lost after halftime. It’s an explosive team that’s a good team.
To look at their record and say they’re 2-6 is not indicative of the type of talent they have.
QUESTION: You have made 40 percent of your third down conversions this year. Is there a percentage you want to meet every week? How do you feel you have performed on third downs so far this year?
COACH LONDON: On all third downs you’d like to have as high of a percentage as possible so you can keep moving the chains.
It’s a good percentage in terms of third down. You also get into a distance of third-and-two, third-and-five, third-and-seven, third-and-12 plus. Your chances of those situations diminish the longer the yardage is.
Up into the 40s, if you ask coaches I’ve been around like Bill Lazor, up in the 40s, 42 percent, is fairly representative of a number that can be successful. But that’s a big element of playing a game—those third down situations. It goes back to the first and second downs. You don’t want to create those second and 10s or third and 10s because you’re not successful in your first two downs. I think that’s something we have to work hard at doing. When you get down to the third down situation, it’s proven you’re more successful in the third-and-one, third-and-two, third-and-three because of the call playing that’s at your disposal.
We practiced third down situations because they are very critical. We’ll continue to drive. I think last week they were two for nine, which was substantial for us in terms of getting the ball back on those seven opportunities they didn’t convert. We consciously look at that and try to work on that on both sides of the ball.
QUESTION: It seems the players have responded well this season to criticism. Do you feel they have rallied behind that?
COACH LONDON: Good things and bad things are said and written all the time. You’ve just got to be thick-skinned about it and say, ‘Listen, people are entitled to their opinions.’ You have to not take it personal to where it consumes your every thought and everything that you do. You just play ball. You circle the wagons with people that are in your program, that know what’s going on, the people that you say you believe in. You just play from the standpoint of what you can control is what you can control. You can’t control message boards, the way things are written, commentary, all those types of things.
Like I said, people are entitled to their opinions.
With our team, we’re just worried about what we can control. If we play with energy, passion and effort, a lot of times those things kind of work their way out. It’s not one thing that we look at and say, ‘Here is what they’re saying about it.’ We don’t look at it that way. We’re in this thing to play, to play well. When you play well, you have a chance to put yourself in a position to win games. That’s what it’s about.
QUESTION: Danny O’Brien has shown he can be an effective passer. Can your secondary correct its mistakes from Miami?
COACH LONDON: What happened in Miami was 6-5 versus 5-10, 5-11. There were a couple shots there that Tom Streeter went up and made one of those off-the-rim type grabs.
There’s things you do defensively—playing through the hands, teaching disruptive techniques that any corner, 5-10, 6-2, would have to make. We have to be better at that.
A couple of throws, like the one he threw over Chase Minnifield … Chase has one of the better vertical leaps on our team. It was a perfect throw. It was going to be thrown out of bounds, or Streeter was going to make a catch. He made an unbelievable catch.
We tie in that part of the pass defense also to the pass-rushers. It’s not just one position; it’s other positions that are tied into a successful pass defense.
QUESTION: Michael Rocco is quiet in the press room. How does that translate to his on-field personality?
COACH LONDON: Would you like your quarterback to be rah-rah? It fits his personality. You don’t want him to be something that he’s not. From day one, that’s who Michael is in terms of his outward appearance, when you meet him, when he’s in school. When he’s playing, he’s competitive. That’s what you want. You want guys that are competitive no matter if they’re overtly boisterous or whatever it may be.
I think I wouldn’t want him to change from who he is from that standpoint. Every once in a while you chest bump him or something like that, with him coming to the sideline looking for somebody to do that. If he throws the ball for 200 something yards, makes completions, I’m fine with that, too.
His personality is one where on the field he’s very competitive. Sometimes you’d like to see a guy come up here, command the whole room, even with his teammates. With his teammates, you see him joking around. They’re very comfortable with him. It’s just the personality that he has and it is what it is. We live with it. He’s playing with it. Hopefully he continues to play with it and we’re successful with it.
QUESTION: Against Miami, short plays turned into big gains. Is that a sign of the offense getting more comfortable?
COACH LONDON: More of it is the recognition that we need to increase our explosive plays or increase the time we throw the ball downfield. When you’re known to run the ball and you’ve run it successfully, teams start playing with eight defenders down in the box—safety, whatever it is. The way to remedy that is to throw the ball deep. The halfback pass has been in for a while. If you saw, they were normally a cover-three deep, which means their corners on run would come up.
One particular play was a cover-two where the corner had to come up. Perry Jones did a great job of throwing the ball over the safety. It was a conscious effort to show that we’re going to throw the ball down the field and that we need to continue to keep doing that so teams won’t start stacking up safeties to stop the run. Because of the development of some of these young guys, they can go vertical down the field. Tim Smith during last three games or so has proven he can go vertical down the field, so we want to do more of that.
QUESTION: Matt Schaub used to act similarly to Michael Rocco.
COACH LONDON: As far as personality. He wouldn’t say ‘boo’ either, but he would lead by example.
QUESTION: It seems the field goal kicking game has cooled off somewhat. Are you concerned at all?
COACH LONDON: You’re concerned anytime you miss a field goal, particularly from a makeable range. 32 yards is definitely maekable for Robert Randolph. Haven’t looked at the specifics of snap, hold, kick, those things like that, but normally, Robert at the beginning of the season was been kind of automatic. You do rely on two other people—the snapper and the holder—to get that done for you.
I know Robert when he missed that one, he knew it right away. He spent a lot of time at practice yesterday kicking. He wants to get it right. Those three elements—the kicker, the snapper, and the holder—they all have to work together. I think he’ll do better because he wants to do better. He’s proud about what he does, how he does it. We’ll keep giving him opportunities to get in the red zone to keep putting them up.
QUESTION: How would you gauge Demetrious Nicholson’s confidence level?
COACH LONDON: When you’re a corner, part of the hazardous duty you have is that every corner is going to get the ball thrown deep and have to defend deep balls.
It’s been eight games now, and he’s played at least 60 reps each game. He’s got two interceptions, a lot of reps where he’s been involved in pass breakups, tackles. You have to have a short memory as a corner when the ball gets thrown deep on you. If you don’t, you’re always worried about the last play when the next play could be the next big play again.
It’s no secret that teams will probably try to throw at him, but he takes it on as a challenge. That’s part of the reason why he started there at day one. The young man has a tremendous amount of confidence in himself and his ability. He’ll continue to keep getting better because he’s going to play against some of the best talent in our conference, in the country.
We just keep coaching him up when there’s a size mismatch, how to play through the hands a little better. But Tre has responded in a positive manner to balls being thrown on him and behind him in a couple situations. There also have been plays where he’s been step-for-step and made some pretty good plays.
Being a corner out there by yourself, everybody’s eyes are on you and they see the mistakes you make. He’s a great young man. Probably before he’s done playing here, he’ll end up being a captain.
QUESTION: What are your thoughts on the possibility of becoming bowl eligible?
COACH LONDON: You guys hate this, but we talk about a one game at a time mentality. We relish, cherish every win. This challenge right here, this game is against a good team on the road once again. That’s another opportunity. That was a big game we had against Georgia Tech; we didn’t play so well against NC State. We just had a big game against Miami. Now we want to go back-to-back with another game showing our ability to play well on the road.
Those are the main focuses now. The by-product of that is that when you count wins up, it is the sixth win. But we’re looking at it as a border state rivalry—they beat us last year, a lot of our players are from Maryland, the recruiting implications, different things like that. That’s how we’re approaching this. It’s a good team that lost to some really, really good teams that are still playing well. We’ve got to play good football ourselves. That’s the focal point for us now.
QUESTION: What would it mean to get the win Saturday?
COACH LONDON: As I just said, the importance for us is preparing for our game coming off another big game, another road game, another big victory. I was talking about playing consistent. After one game, we need to put another good game together—back-to-back consistency. One game up, one game down. We want to be a consistent team.
This is a team that, as I said, is a very good team despite what the record says. We have the opportunity to go on the road, in a rivalry game, a conference game—the implication of just winning the game—what that means. Those things are obviously what everybody is looking at.
Where we’re at in this program—the wins, how they line up, when they line up—those are the most important things. Then what we can do to make sure we put ourselves in a position to win.
QUESTION: What are your thoughts on Maryland’s inability recently to stop the run?
COACH LONDON: As I alluded to before, there’s a lot of injuries. You look at their two-deep—it’s dotted with freshmen backing up in two-deep on their entire roster.
Defensively it appears that’s where most of the injuries and things occurred. Kenny Tate was an outstanding player. To lose him, with his leadership, it’s got to hurt.
You may see some guys that are playing the position of linebacker or safety or defensive end, but there’s something to be said about experience, about having played the position before, run fits, knowing where you have to be, reading your keys. There’s something to be said about the weight room, getting bigger and stronger. Maybe there’s a little bit of everything that is the issue—teams offensively having a chance to run the ball against some undersized guys, guys that aren’t quite developed in their position as of yet.
They’re a young team that will be good. Right now they have to deal with the issues of teams that have been running the ball.
They’re just like us. We have young guys. You put them in there. You have to live sometimes with the results of however it shakes out. But it appears that’s one of the issues they’re having.
QUESTION: It seems like the return game has improved. Is that because it has been a focus in practice, or is that just a result of players getting more comfortable back there?
COACH LONDON: I think it’s a little bit of both. I know they’re quick to say we have to get rid of the yuck Dominique Terrell punt catching. You can rib Darius Jennings about the kickoff protection and those kind of things, like when he ran into the sideline. He said, ‘It was the wind.’ I don’t care if it’s the wind—catch the ball.
He and Khalek Shepherd have done a nice job of advancing the ball. They’re improving in all areas of returns, Coach Poindexter is recognizing the type of scheme we need to put together to help them be successful—just the experience of having played in games now—all those things kind of add up.
There’s been some really good kickoff returns not only by Darius but Khalek Shepherd that have sparked us in terms of where we spot the ball. We’re going to continue to keep looking for those opportunities and