Press Conference: Mike London
COACH LONDON: In the coaching profession, some time or another we probably all cross each other’s path, whether it’s playing against them or at the national coaches convention. We have met. I think that you follow guy’s careers from afar. In particular now playing Penn State, you appreciate the job that he has and the task that he has of getting his team prepared and ready to play despite all the obstacles and things that occurred there.
I’m quite sure they’re concerned about playing a football game and traveling on the road and doing well. And we’re concerned about playing well and doing well at home.
Q. Coach O’Brien talked about the environment he was expecting here. He expects it to be a very loud and hostile environment. What are your expectations of what you’ll see as far as the atmosphere and the media attention and what fans will do?
COACH LONDON: Some of it you can control – some of it you can’t control. The numbers, as far as crowd, I would hope that this game is close to being sold out because of the implications of us having a chance to be 2-0. I know at Penn State there is a lot of prestige and a lot of tradition, but we’re getting ready to play a football game and play a football team – not the prestige and tradition.
I understand they travel well on the road, so I’m sure there will be a well-represented crowd for them, but our main focus is playing a game and making improvements from this past Saturday to show this Saturday to get us ready for the following Saturday. We all understand it’s a 12 o’clock – ABC game – national TV. There are opportunities, and we’ve been on national TV before, so we’re excited about the challenge that brings this Saturday.
Q. If you were O’Brien, people are looking to read into all kinds of things and into everything they do, how do you manage that if you’re the coach?
COACH LONDON: Well, I can’t pretend to think that I can guess at this being an answer. The only thing I can answer is I know Coach O’Brien is a football coach. I know that the circumstances and what’s going on and what’s gone on with the school is out of his control. I know in those meeting rooms in the practice fields, that when they break it down, that all that matters are the guys that are in that program that are playing and preparing to play this game. So you try as a coach to get your guys ready to play a football game, and human nature is that everyone understands that the story has been talked about and it will continue to be talked about and brought up. But I would imagine that as he talks to the team, the only non-distraction is actually the game itself, the practices itself, the moments that all you’re thinking about is just football and playing.
Maybe after the game, again, the human part of it comes into play. People ask you questions about it so it will be a year that they’ll all continue to keep asking. People will keep asking questions and coming up with their answers, but I’m quite sure that when it comes to approaching another team in this season, that he is concentrating on the football part of it, the execution of it to improve from the first game to the next game, just like I would if I was in that situation.
Q. What do you see in their defense in the second half? Was Ohio that good or did maybe the moment kind of start to collect on them or did the defense get tired? What have you seen on film of what happened with them defensively?
COACH LONDON: I saw a very good Ohio team – ten-win team, a bowl team. They’ve been running that system for a while. Have a very veteran coach. A couple of passes, the one that was misplayed by the safety and came down in the receiver’s hands and ran for a touchdown, some of the things that the wheel routes and stop routes and the curls, the running game that you see maybe a missed tackle or see a guy not in the right place. I’m quite sure when they look at the film, and he talked about it after the game about playing better and doing better. I’m quite sure that in a lot of first games, there’s always some of those moments that guys are not in the right gap or doesn’t hit the right call or you’re trying to figure out how much a player or your personnel groups can address whatever the situation that you’re facing.
So much like us, looking at it again and having to improve in some areas, I’m quite sure that they saw after the game, and I think I’ve heard that this was a game that they thought they could win outside of the middle layers and things like that. So, again, Ohio’s a very good team. Penn State is a very good team. Both of them played in bowl games last year. I just think those first games and execution – you always worry about that as a coach and getting the calls like we were ourselves.
Q. When you were defensive line coach here, I’m not sure you always had the depth up front that you appear to have this year. What are the advantages of being able to shuffle guys in? Is there any drawback?
COACH LONDON: I think looking back at last year when we had a three-way rotation going on with [Nick] Jenkins, [Matt} Conrath, and Will Hill, no one wants to go out of the game, but the reality of it up front someone is hitting you every play. You’re pushing and pulling on every play.
The one way to try to continue to capture the line of scrimmage by being aggressive is if you have guys that are in a situation that we’re in now that are older now that you can put in the game. They may be after the third series, the go-in guy. There may be a third down – you go in and rush the passer-type of guy. We have some depth that can go into the game and provide relief for some other guys. I just think we’re stronger in that area this year than we were last year.
Q. Is there any thought on giving Phillip Sims more time earlier in games or while the game’s yet to be decided?
COACH LONDON: We haven’t thought about any of that yet. We’ve thought about how to put the game plan together and where Phillip and Michael fit into this – we’ll continue to finalize that. Phillip has taken a lot of reps in practice along with Michael. They’re the only two now taking reps. As we continue the game plan going into tomorrow and Thursday, then we’ll talk about strategies as far as the who is concerned.
Q. Late July the sanctions were announced that Penn State players could transfer. I know you can’t talk about recruits. But what was that whole situation like? I don’t think you raided Penn State by any means, but there was temptation for some. How was that?
COACH LONDON: When it came out that the opportunity was going to be extended to those players, I had heard from other coaching friends that they were on the next flight to Happy Valley. And you hear the stories about coaches walking around with their school logos on, and it was kind of like an open market.
We didn’t try to make an approach that way. We saw other people doing that, and also there are all the issues with us as far as transfers and things like that.
But it was kind of you look at it and you felt bad for Coach O’Brien because here he is, just gets there, finds out what’s going on, and players have a chance not only to leave at that time, but again leave at the end of the season if they don’t go in and play. So I’m quite sure he’s trying to put a game plan together and kind of a program together to keep these guys together, not only committed recruits for next year, but also the guys on his team.
I couldn’t imagine having to deal with that, and keeping the guys loyal, keeping the guys wanting to come to the school, keeping the guys that particularly maybe the younger sophomores, freshmen, that are already on the team that will be highly impacted by this. He’s got a tough job.
But the juniors and seniors that stayed behind, guys that probably enjoyed some success, have been in bowl games – I could see them staying behind and wanting to finish up and getting a degree from Penn State.
Q. Did you have some numbers to go after Penn State players?
COACH LONDON: Not particularly, because of the way you to go about to get them in and how they count against your scholarship numbers. I’m quite sure there are some teams that did some counting and high-risk calculations that they’re probably going to lose some players or get rid of some players in order to make room for some of these transfers. The scenario for us wasn’t one that we were going to entertain. The only issue for us was guys that perhaps we had been recruiting, and that was it.
Q. Obviously your secondary has some question marks going into the season. Played well last week. With a Bill O’Brien offense coming in they are sure to get tested.
COACH LONDON: Absolutely, I only know what I read and what’s reported. But I think they probably wanted to run the ball a little bit more than they got behind. I’m quite sure they wanted to be more balanced. With the tight ends in the game, and you’re running the ball, sometimes the tight end is in the backfield, and pass protection sometimes he releases out into the flat. Sometimes they run vertical routes and they’ve got some pretty good tight ends that can stretch the field and run. So it will be interesting to see.
Again, our young guys are one game tested now. They had a great practice today, and the game plan has continued to be put in as we speak with the coaches back at the office. But you know, we’ll try to do some things to help them and understand that the tight end formations, sometimes you might have two tight ends in and they might play like it’s four open wide receivers. Or play like one tight end on the line of scrimmage, and one off the line of scrimmage and one in the back field, which is typical they’ve got one tight end in the game or two tight ends in the game.
Q. People outside the program sometimes when we talk about Michael they call him a game manager. I think they say that with a negative tone. But do you see that as a positive?
COACH LONDON: Absolutely. Every player has their own style and a way they play the game, and that’s what Michael does. He manages the game and makes the throws and the checks and he calls plays at the line of scrimmage. He directs the pass protection. So it’s easy to see a player that can scramble and run and looks ‘oh, wow, and all that.’ But you want to know can he run? Can he control the offense? Can he make the throws and make the decisions? That type of player is the type of player Michael is. It’s a positive for us, as long as we continue to keep winning and moving the ball. Every player, every receiver, every DB has their own plus and minuses. So despite those things, they still play, and we understand what their limitations are but we try to use their strengths to the maximum ability. I think Mike’s been taking advantage of that.
Q. Wallace has moved down the depth chart, why is that?
COACH LONDON: Well we feel we have three starting offensive guards. Last year, the D-line men up front – Conrath, Jenkins were starters, but Will Hill, with all his playing time – I think he ended up having more reps than Jenkins did because of third downs. That’s kind of where we are. Back in the secondaries, the safeties, if we’ve got to rotate guys in, we consider them starters. Henry Coley did a great job, but I think of Daquan also being a starter, or Da-Da (pronounced Day-Day) as we call him, has earned more playing time as well.
We’re deep in some places, and we’re not as deep in other places. But we’ll try to play as many guys as we can particularly since we told those nine to ten freshmen – you guys are going to play this year.
Q. Richmond’s last possession, they went down the field pretty quickly. What were you able to do with that, and does that concern you?
COACH LONDON: You’re right. There are about five or six freshmen in there and a couple of red-shirt freshmen. Obviously we wanted to stop them and didn’t want them to move down the field. But the lesson you learn is you have to be in your gaps, you’ve got to tackle, get the communication from your sideline. You see how an extended drive is.
When we talk about getting into shape, sometimes they’ll understand it and think we’re in shape by running. But when you talk about football shape it’s pushing and pulling and running and contact. You’re never in shape for a football game until you play football. They had the opportunity to play football. They had 12 points at that time, and it happened, and now it’s a teaching tool to these young players about ‘one of you guys or two of you’ will have to step up and turn the tide or make a play or cause a fumble or do something to stop them moving the ball. Definitely was a learning experience for them.
Q. C.J. Moore didn’t play and is on the two-deep, what are your plans for him going forward?
COACH LONDON: Didn’t get an opportunity to put it in, but he’s the next closest of all of the ones that haven’t gone in. C.J. is taking reps with the twos. If it presents itself we’ll get them in the game. We’d like to get him in the game.
Q. You guys talked after the game about how quickly Richmond was throwing the ball and four and a half sacks. Is this a game you expect to see more pressure?
COACH LONDON: We’d always like to get more sacks and more pressures and QB hits, pass deflections and all of those things. Would we like them? Absolutely. We’ll see the style of offense they choose to play against us – we’ll have the conversation after the game.
We’re practice like we want to get sacks. What we’ve seen, there are some opportunities because they’re not as much as catch and throw like Richmond. But they do have a passing game or a package that calls for those crossing routes and those quick stops, getting the ball out. So we’ll see. We’ll practice getting cut. We’ll practice the quick steps, the quick throws hands in the throwing lane. Getting to the quarterback. Not letting them have a whole lot of time back there.
Q. After watching Richmond, was there something that you noticed from your team of what you need to get better at?
COACH LONDON: You know, sometimes when you’re watching and you’re out there and playing the game and you think that things are going terrible, you then go back and watch the film and look at it and say he actually plays a pretty good game. The only thing is that the red-zone chance on that 4th-and-1 and not getting that, and that’s something that 4th-and-1, we’ve got to get it. Even if you say, we’re going to run the play over here and everybody knows it – I’ve been bragging on the offensive line, so that’s probably the biggest, one of the biggest disappointments. We scored five of the six times down in the red zone and that was one that stood out.
Q. You have an unusual quarterback situation. You’re red shirting three quarterbacks. In the end of the game, Phil Simms is handing them off. Do you have a third quarterback that you can get into the game to kneel down or hand off?
COACH LONDON: Trusty old Kyle McCartin. Kyle was a quarterback last year and some points he was on the depth chart at quarterback, but he’s primarily a special teams guy. Now with the others red-shirting and Kyle had to take an emergency snap or take a knee or that kind of thing, we would call on his number.
Q. You and almost every other coach went into last week with kind of a wait and see on the kick off strategy. Is there anything you saw last week in your game from your standpoint that you’ll look at your strategy to see if you want to give up the 25 or not?
COACH LONDON: You see games and play the game, kicking it into the end zone and getting the touchback, and ball at the 25-yard line is not a bad thing. Particularly if the team you’re kicking to has a dynamic kick returner. I think its just one game.
I would hope people would respect Khalek’s ability to bring the ball out and if they have a strong leg kicker that can kick it out of the end zone. Or you may start to see if your kicker can kind of – you have to take a look at the fullbacks – the guys in front of the returners and see who they are. Sometimes teams have linebackers or other position players that don’t quite touch the ball or handle the ball.
I was listening to the radio, and there was a coach talking about the sky kick. Kicking it deep in the air, and maybe the guy catches the ball on the 20-yard line. That fullback or linebacker whoever it is – If your cover team is quick enough or fast enough to get down there, maybe you can force a fair catch at the 20-yard line or limit the return beyond the 25. As the season goes on you’ll see different kicks, squibs, on the ground when the ball is live and those loop kicks. We’ll practice all of them.
But I think the guys returning the kicks will be the one we’ll probably look at and say what do we want to do with this guy?
I know number 6 for them, Hodges, the starting linebacker is back there returning kicks. That’s interesting. Of course he’s an all-conference linebacker. He was a quarterback in high school, a real athlete. Was watching film against Northwestern last year, he made an interception and took it back to the house.
He’s also one of the listed back-ups as kick returner the strategy will be ongoing and kind of unfolding as we see whom we’re playing.
Q. ESPN rumored you as a possible hire last winter at Penn State, what did you think about that?
COACH LONDON: Thanks to Desmond Howard for throwing it out there like that. No, I love the job that I have. I love this place, I love this community and I love the players here and what this University stands for. That always happens. There are always people throwing your name out there and then it growing legs, and all of a sudden, it’s a centipede and you have all kind of people talking about it.
Flattering, perhaps, being mentioned. But at the same time my focus is here, and this is where I want to be.
Q. What did you see from Billy Schautz that you liked on the back-up pressure?
COACH LONDON: The question was asked about the sacks and what Billy was able to do. He knocked a couple balls down. We’re a zone pressure team, and the quarterback tried to dump one off to the tight end. He did a great job deflecting the pass. He caused three pressures. Pressures making the quarterback throw the ball under duress, which leads to an incomplete pass.
He had harassed the quarterback, and though the sacks didn’t occur, some of the things that he did in the passing game were those that were recognized by us as a great effort, and I think that’s probably the biggest thing.
Q. Is this the best depth of quarterbacks you’ve been in ever?
COACH LONDON: It’s hard to answer that question right now because it’s just one game. But if you asked me three, four games into it and we see the consistency of what’s going on and when Phillip also could go in and play, I’ve been here with Schaub, Hagans, I’ve been here with some good guys and been other places where at Boston College, we had the Hasselbecks that were there too.
So right now I would say it’s too early to say. But we’d like to think that we got some good quarterbacks here.
Q. On one side of the coin you have guys on scholarships, and as head coach, what is your take on how much of an impact 20 less scholarships can have on a team throughout the season?
COACH LONDON: Well, when you think about the players that you can go out and recruit and the depths that you have there basically it limited them to kind of an FCS school as far as the scholarship limitations. You notice that you better be on target with the ones that you recruit and then your walk-ons better provide depth and things like that. It is difficult because if you go two deep at every position and you get kickers and your punters and we’ve got a holder, it only takes one player or one play to lose a game or to win a game. Coaches always want to have the opportunity to put the best players on the field to give them a chance to win.
When you feel your scholarship limit has been reduced significantly, and you’ve been used to going out and getting those three or four-star players to come to your school, sometimes it’s hard. When you get those scholarship reductions, it’s hard to make offers to another young man because you’re bumping up against limitations of where the sanctions set in. They have the scholarships in the 60s or something like that, but as a BCS team, the opportunities to play and all these young men being recruited all over the country, it can get to your depth issues really quick. They’ll definitely have issues.
Q. Last year he had a kickoff return late in the season last year and you have Khalek out there returning punts. How did he emerge out of the pack?
COACH LONDON: He was always been practicing, we come out of practice – and if you’ve been out there you’re always seeing about four or five guys catching punts, catching kickoffs. Khalek has very, very good hands. I can’t remember what game or what point we put him in last year, but we put him in to catch the kickoffs. Over the course of the summer we talked about how to increase the roles or the touches for the running backs we have. His name came up. Head Coach Anthony Poindexter talked about him catching punts. It’s a different skill.
The kickoff the ball is end over end. The punt, with the types of – we had a left-footed punter, so the spin of it is different. All camp we had our guys kicking to him, and he just proved to be a guy that was reliable back there.
Nikki (Dominique Terrell) now basically is in the starting rotation as the third wide receiver, which has increased his plays. We decided in order to get Khalek more touches, that Nikki’s going to get his plays on offense, but he’s still back there to catch punts and Khalek’s number of catches or touches are getting involved in the kicking game.
Q. Talk about Penn State real quick. They say that the sanctions was with the old group. How does that affect players not having that opportunity?
COACH LONDON: It’s tough, I’m sure, particularly for the juniors and seniors that have enjoyed those opportunities. I know they’re in a bowl game last year. For the younger players not having the opportunity to play postseason. There is no secret these players like the gift of bowl participation.
I would say it’s difficult. For us being in a bowl game, it gave you those extra practices. So as a coach, that’s going to be tough, because now once your season is over, there is no ‘get ready for 25, 30 bowl practices.’ The next time you practice will be in the spring. There is an advantage for having an opportunity to practice during the Bowl week and get your players better.
Q. You played Richmond twice now – each time much is made about the fact that it’s your alma mater and you coached there. Is that game emotionally draining for you? Are you happy to have it past?
COACH LONDON: Next time we play all the players I recruited would be gone, that’s for sure. Again, to be human and answer the question truthfully, yeah, you think about the people that you spent some years with. Some good times and bad times and you won championships with. But as the coach now at Virginia, my objective and perspective on that is I have to get the team ready and prepared to beat whoever the team is across the sideline. But it is one of those things that is where I graduated. That’s why I coached. I lived there for a while. I was a police officer in the city of Richmond, so the human aspect of it is there. But two years from now, maybe not because everybody will be gone.