Press Conference: Mike London
COACH LONDON: I think a little bit of all of the above. It’s the No. 1 offense in the ACC on the ground, top-five in the country and there is a methodical approach that Coach Johnson has for this offense, go for it on fourth down. Its very balanced, very thought out attack – their option game, triple option – to tell you the truth. We saw last week the fullback, his game break away speed and opportunity; the quarterback, I think he’s only maybe 11 yards short of being one of their top rushers in the history of Georgia Tech. So there are a lot of things that go in defensing this type of offense.
A little bit of what we did last year – some more ideas of other teams that they have played that are on film – it’s truly an assignment-oriented football game. I remember the first time we were here in the first season playing them at their place trying to make the transition from guys playing safeties to linebackers, and they ran all over us. I think last year was a better understanding of the offense, and we made some big plays offensively — I think the key to that was getting up on them early, I think 14-0, and that’s going to be a big key, also, being able to have some points and move the ball ourselves.
It’s a challenging offense. I talked about it last night about the course of spring and also during some of the August camp days, we spent a portion of time trying to defend this offense. We feel a little better. We have more understanding of it going into this game than we have done in the past, for sure.
Q. After Saturday, how long do you savor a victory like that?
COACH LONDON: I think what just happened was a last-second win – again, you know the history of this program with those recently, and you savor that for the moment and you celebrate with the players. You remind them that we are nowhere near where we need to be and after we leave the locker room – our focus is on the next opponent, so you don’t stop and reflect about things like that until after the season is over. But you’re grateful for the opportunities to be very fortunate of having a win like that at our place at home. But you always move on, look to the next game.
Game’s over, don’t let the highs get you too high or the lows get you too low and you get ready and move on to the next game.
Q. How different is it to prepare for Georgia Tech with only one week, versus having the bye week last year?
COACH LONDON: Well, as I mentioned before – having the foresight of playing them early, we go back to coming into the season, you take your first three games, your first three opponents, and you break them down and do some game planning on them.
Being that they are the third game, you know, Coach Reid and defensive staff put together some cards, tape, breakdowns and personnel matchups. We did that early on and during spring practice, we devoted a couple practices – I called it coordinator’s choice – to do what they wanted to do and needed to do and we spent some time on option then. Going into camp in August, there was a couple of practices where it was coordinator’s choice again to give them the opportunity to defend or have a scout team lineup as a Georgia Tech offense. You’re right, it’s not an open week for us, but I think at the same time, understanding that they are one of our early opponents, that the opportunity to get some practices in and get some things on paper and on film about the way we are probably going to try to play them, allowed us to do that this particular season.
Q. Is this a desperate team you will face on Saturday, already 0-1 in the Coastal Division?
COACH LONDON: Sure, we are the same way. It’s a division game. It’s as important to us as it is them. It’s our first away game, and with travel and things like that – it’s very important to us, as well, because it’s our first conference game.
Q. Two weeks ago you sat before us and gave us an explanation for David Watford — is there any temptation to redshirt Clifton Richardson?
COACH LONDON: Clifton is a very good player and I think he’s getting back to where he needs to be 100 percent. His style is different than the other styles of the running backs. He’s a big, big physical downhill runner, and you know, we are glad that we got him – we’ll have him back and have an opportunity to put him in the game.
But we try to weigh all options and look at what are the best interests of the player and the team, and that approach or that mind-set right now is not something that we are seriously considering.
We like to get him 100-percent healthy and ready to go and I think this will be the week for it.
Q. This offensive line at Georgia Tech might be the best it has been recently, have you seen anything like it in the three years you have been at UVa?
COACH LONDON: I know that the center is an all-ACC candidate. [Omoregie] Uzzi, one of the guards, is a guy that’s played in a lot of games and he’s another postseason candidate – I believe one of their tackles is a guy that’s been in this system for a while.
So they have seen a whole bunch of fronts. They have seen the different stunts that people try to throw at them. So when you have an experienced line, not just operating the triple option, but also being able to block and defend 3-4, 4-3, two guards head up on two defensive tackles heading up on the guard and slanting in and slanting out. They have seen all those type of looks and what you have experienced linemen like that running the offense, it plays to their strength, and so that is one of the strengths of their team.
Q. How concerned are you with the lack of production from the running game?
COACH LONDON: I think it’s one of those things that we have to do a better job being able to run the ball. But you know, this last game – one possession led to a fumble – turnover. Then we had the ball on another possession – two plays and fumble. Then we had the ball for three plays, interception.
Then we had the ball for five plays, a fumble. So we don’t have the opportunities to use plays to run the ball – throw the ball the way we need to do, it’s going to lessen your opportunity to be productive. I think the running game is something that we have to be able to do, but when you have four less possessions with just a few plays, then it really is obvious about not having enough rushing yards.
There is a renewed emphasis on being able to use what we thought was a strength, what we think is a strength of our team, by being able to run the ball more, hopefully hang onto ball and provide these opportunities to have extended plays instead of just, one, two, or three plays and out.
Q. What do you think of Brandon Phelps’ move to safety thus far?
COACH LONDON: When you look at today’s passing game – when you have a free safety and then a strong safety, which is the eighth guy down in the box – the one thing that we like about what Phelps can do is use his corner skills as a safety being able to cover a slot receiver or wide receiver. His corner skills makes his position that more important and that more versatile.
Sometimes when you have the safety that switches and flops and can play true strong safety, free safety, sometimes you have issues with that. Or you bring in the nickel and you have a nickel back taking the slot. But we ran it having corner coverage skills, being able to defend or play man-to-man technique against a slot receiver, which a lot of teams do. They put sometimes their best receiver in the slot because of the combination routes or the matchups – then we’ve got him in the right position. And it wasn’t anything that the other guys weren’t doing. Again, the other safeties are true eight-man in the box, down safeties – Rijo Walker is a good player, will play a little bit of corner, but he’s kind of a down safety.
Pablo Alvarez, same thing. And there’s a couple other guys that I can name or kind of in that mode. But Brandon gave us some flexibility to move him to the safety position and still be able to play man coverage with slot receivers or four wide-opens or whatever it may be.
Q. How did he grade out?
COACH LONDON: I think it’s great, close to 80 percent, which is productive. I think he missed a tackle and over-ran a play here or there, but I think that I’ve got to give it to those young guys back there – that they are getting better, slowly, and that’s the improvement that we were hoping that we could get from them.
A lot of positive things, Canady, young player made a great play on the slants, and his confidence is gaining. All of those guys’ confidence is gaining and they have been in big games, big crowd now, Anthony Harris and all those guys. That’s an area on the team that you can see collectively improving.
Q. Obviously things have changed in five years, but the fact that you have coordinated an Al Groh defense — does that give you insight into how he may call the game?
COACH LONDON: You know, that’s a good question. I don’t know if it gives me an edge. Obviously what we see on tape are some of the things that Coach used when he was here, bringing the safeties off the edge, moving the nose tackle and bringing two inside linebacker, just different things.
But what appears on film is that not only are they the traditional 3-4 that we used to have here but there are also some four-down linemen looks with Attaochu being a standup defensive end to give that you four-down look.
You can see how the defense has changed for him over the past couple games or this past season where he’s doing a lot more, some 3-4 with movement, some 4-3 with Attaochu, one of their best players rushing on the outside. So Coach has always been really good at game planning and scheming – the blitz of the month before the game, he’s been really good at seeing what you do now and coming up with something that maybe that he has not shown in the last two games.
And we are going to have to be prepared for anything, but there will be some things that they will do that we have not seen on tape, and we’ll have to adjust to during the game, because like I said, he’s one of the best at doing that.
Q. Does your philosophy on the quarterback rotation change at all given what happened Saturday? Are you more reticent to or are you more encouraged to flip-flop sometimes?
COACH LONDON: The quarterback situation, it is what it is. Michael [Rocco] is the starter. And we’re in a situation where we would like to be able to fill up some reps in a game – heaven forbid that something happens to Michael – with the next guy in the game so he has had snaps in games. He got snaps in the game at Richmond because we were ahead, and then an opportunity presented itself for two series this game.
But as I say, we’ll continue to keep playing Mike as the starter, and if there’s opportunities to put Phillip in for his development, we’ll do that, but not at the sake of trying to win the game for us or trying to do too much for us. We feel very comfortable with what Mike is doing. He and I are on the same page. We are on the same page -we’re good.
Q. Did you and Rocco talk after the game?
COACH LONDON: I always talk to our guys, and not just the quarterbacks – but everyone. I thought the response that Michael gave you guys is that when he was out of the game, he was a leader on the sideline and that was his focus, being a leader on the sideline. That’s the type of player he is, type of young man he is, and that’s why he’s in the position that he’s in, to be our quarterback.
Q. QB- center exchange – when something is not happening in practice, how do you work with that?
COACH LONDON: You know, you’re right, it doesn’t happen in practice and it’s unfortunate it happens in the game. Sometimes — Mike’s got to stay in there and Luke has to get the ball up to him. Sometimes people walk up while they are getting ready to blitz. There’s a tendency sometimes for the quarterback to pull out, to get away from the pressure. There’s a tendency of the center, maybe looking to declare who the rushers are and not see a guy or something like that.
That is something that’s very correctible. I think all of the turnovers that we had, you don’t want to have them but they are very, very correctible. The one play that the defensive lineman made the interception on the screen was an athletic play, it was unbelievable.
But we’ve got to throw the ball over that guy’s head – the catch and run and hit and fumble, Paul Freedman, we have to hang on to the ball and cover the ball up.
The sack fumble caused when Phillip was in there was – they let the guy loose and the guy hit Phillip and he didn’t see him and dropped the ball. We are trying to teach that – we teach the same things to our guys. So those are all correctible things.
On the other end, we have to get turnovers ourselves and we practice those things, but we have got to get them ourselves and make sure that we can get the ball back. And the offense has to hang onto ball. That will be a point of emphasis this week in practice for sure, because there’s an offense that pitches the ball. The quarterback runs, and he also tries to pitch it. There’s a tendency for the ball to be on the ground. So we have to be alert and aware to that.
Q. Were you able to watch the Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech game from last week? Anything you can pick up on the TV broadcast that you may not get on game film?
COACH LONDON: I saw a little bit of it but I had the TV copy of it, since I’ve seen it, and sometimes what happens, the announcers for the game, they come in on that Friday, and you sit there and talk about the keys of the game and what do you look to do and things like that.
So sometimes after a regular film exchange, you get a little bit of the insight of the coach, what he’s thinking and what he’s thinking going into it, and as much as he’s willing to share. Although there’s not a whole bunch of information that’s probably shared on the tactical part of the game. But at least you get a little bit of – philosophically you get how the coach is going to approach that game and his keys to victory, you know, things like that. That’s about the best way that I can describe that; as far as any advantage, maybe not, but you get a mind-set of what the other guy is thinking.
Q. Talk about recruiting Jake McGee and if you always had the mind to make him a tight end.
COACH LONDON: In recruiting Jake, he played quarterback at his school. He’s also a very good basketball player and very athletic, you look at a guy, a long lean athlete like that and a lot of times you recruit him and you never know what Mother Nature going to do with him or what Evan Marcus is going to do with him. You start out with a few practices at that quarterback position and figure out that our quarterbacks are making calls at the line of scrimmage and different things that you like to do with the quarterbacks, and saw that perhaps his best opportunity to utilize some of his athletic skills was at the tight end position.
And you know, he’s done a nice job in the weight room with Evan. He has learned the entire playbook. He’s getting stronger. He plays off the line a lot but now he has an opportunity to be on the line and blocking guys. I know that was one of the questions I heard you asking about his role. His role will increase, because he has demonstrated performance and production, and that’s what we are trying to find, and to get a tight end back in this offense, back as a feature or go-to guy, he’s demonstrated that in the last two games and he’s done it in practice time and time again.
So you’ll see more of him for sure.
Q. I know you always take things one game at a time, but with these next three games, three real top teams, do you get a sense of urgency from these kids to make an early statement here?
COACH LONDON: Well, as Jake just told you, this is a big game for us, because it’s our first conference game. And it’s against a very, very good team. I guess picked second to finish on our side of the conference – so it’s important for us to play well, because it’s on the road. We have played well on the road in the past, and now we have to continue that to get into the October months of those games, we have a couple home games. But it is a tough stretch, but the schedule, I think someone said it’s the second toughest schedule in the ACC because of who we are playing. But we are playing these teams now and we’ve got to get ready to go.
Q. Who has been running the scout team at QB?
COACH LONDON: Last week we ran a two-huddle practice in order to get them a lot of reps. And so Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns were the quarterbacks, because it was Richmond had stuff they could do. For Georgia Tech, Jacob Hodges has been our quarterback because of the specifics of this offense and him knowing and having run it in high school, and he’s done it the last two years for us in preparation.
So we will probably practice more, instead of two-huddle, probably more show or scout teams separate and get individualized attention on the techniques what the defense does. On the blocking schemes and what the offense does, Jacob will be primarily just the quarterback for this week so we can get as good of a look as we can.
Q. Ever thought about using David Watford as a scout team QB?
COACH LONDON: Against Richmond, he got right in there and threw the ball, but I don’t know about using him now as the option quarterback. I mean, we could – their QB – Washington is a very athletic player himself. And I believe their backup quarterback is probably athletic and when he goes in the game, he’s also in the slot back and he plays all over the place.
We’ll see. It may take a couple snaps, but I know that this offense, because of the short motion and the footwork of the quarterback and all of the different intricacies of playing that position, you know, it takes some time. And when you want to get the right look, you know, there’s a guy that knows the look. So we’ll see what Dave can do.
Q. How upset were you with the three sacks and does Jake McGee remind you of a young Heath Miller?
COACH LONDON: The sacks, you never want that to happen. Obviously the sacks also lead to hits on the quarterback and hits on the quarterback can lead to putting the quarterback out of the game. They did a good job of just plain out beating us. Those tackles and those guys have blocked very, very good college players before, and we’re disappointed a little bit to let a guy go and get a hit on the quarterback.
That’s something that has been noted. Those guys have also played really well with Oday being player of the week, I mean, it looks bad, three sacks, but he played a heck of a football game, so I’m sure he’ll rise to the challenge with this next group that’s coming in, because you’ve got some outside backers that can bring it.
And your second part was – about Jake? Obviously when he was recruited, I believe Heath was the quarterback, also in high school – he hit the weight room, and playing the position and really getting good at it. See him make athletic catches, as well – ‘Big Money” is always going to be ‘Big Money,’ because he’s earned that and he brought that kind playmaking with him. Jake being a young player, with still more room to grow physically as far as strength is concerned, I can see him – if we start putting more things in for him, to make those type of plays – I mean, the Richmond catch and then this pass catch were two unbelievable catches. I think his best football is in front of him, and at the same time, I think he can be as good as he wants to be.
Q. How quickly did you contact him after leaving Richmond?
COACH LONDON: I will set the record straight – I didn’t contact him first. He contacted me. I don’t want to mess with guys who are committed to a school. That’s true. He contacted me first. We talked about hoe he’s going to have to talk to the Richmond coaches and do it the right way by decommitting to them and telling them there’s an interest and an opportunity here at Virginia. It was a process that took place, but eventually, because of the ties that he’s had here with his family, people that have gone to school here and it’s just worked out that – same thing with Drequan Hoskey. He was a guy that we offered and had an opportunity to come here, ran track that first year, but he ended up getting a scholarship.
Q. Did he commit to you at Richmond — were you thinking why does this kid not have FBS offers?
COACH LONDON: You know, I think one of the advantages being at the University of Richmond and then being right around the corner, you know – hearing about his basketball playing opportunities and things he’s done, he plays Benedictine and different other schools – Greg Lilly is a coach at Benedictine, an assistant at Richmond, a player at Richmond, and we start talking to other area coaches about, hey, this guy is really good, then we have got constant feedback about him and his abilities.
And maybe someone looked at his film and maybe the film, coming from smaller, private schools, not all the best, the clock tower shots and everything, maybe just people thought the brand of football or whatever it was, what they thought it should be or could be, but having been around that area and knowing those coaches and a lot of those schools and players that have come out of those schools, you know, it was very important to us that once he was identified as being an athletic player at quarterback/maybe tight end, but he could play basketball, could do a lot of things – the interest level went up high. And he was a Division I-A prospect, but that’s what happens sometimes. Some young men, they get overlooked or the numbers just don’t quite work out for the schools to have those slots and those scholarships that are available. It just happened that we came to Virginia, that there were slots and a scholarship available.
Q. There have been some great college football players to come from private schools in Virginia – is there some skepticism when recruiting these guys from major college football programs?
COACH LONDON: There may have been undue skepticism, particularly if you are not in the Commonwealth of Virginia and you’re from out of the state and you have your own private school issues that you deal with. I think that there are some very, very good private school head coaches and good staffs that the trend has been to look at facilities, you look at private schools now, players are going all over the country.
But early on, there may have been an understanding or a misconception of the type of players that come out of – “private schools.” But I’ve got to tell you, you look around now and the last ten years, eight years or so, private schools have positioned themselves where the best of the best end up going to those schools – because there’s financial aid, there’s proof about playing well and going on to the playoffs and winning championships. A lot of private schools have done well. The private schools here in the Commonwealth of Virginia were very good schools that you definitely have to take a look at and you don’t want to overlook any of those young players coming out of there, because there are a lot of players there.
Q. Having playmakers for the passing game – talk about getting the players for it.
COACH LONDON: I think the players that can do it are there: Darius, Tim Smith, you saw along with Jake. We tried to go to Adrian Gamble. He’s got flat-out, flat-line straight speed. So there are a number of guys that can stretch the field. We are going to continue to keep doing that. Going to continue to keep trying to find the matchup, make the throws, get them downfield, and then allow those guys to be playmakers. So that is something that’s positive that we are looking at in the offense.
Q. What do you have to do to do as well as last year against Georgia Tech?
COACH LONDON: Coaches did a great job of scheming the 3-4 and types of runs. As I said now, this year, that’s just more multiple looks, so I think there’s more answers to what offenses can do by playing the 4-3 and moving blitzes on the 4-3 and same thing, 3-4.
We are looking to being able to get back to run the ball with authority because we have backs that can do that, and that’s a point of emphasis that has to be made this week. They have a game that can stay out there forever and eat the clock up. You have to be careful, if you don’t get up on a team, they can eat the clock up, so we have to move the ball ourselves and score and definitely not have any turnovers.