Press Conference: Mike London
MIKE LONDON: I’ll tell you, obviously they No. 17 and No. 16 in respective polls – they’re a very good team. Also I believe they’ve won 27 out of 28 home games. Coach Patterson, 111 wins, 30 losses – some incredible numbers of successes over the last 12 years.
They’re a team that has a scheme and a system that they’ve been doing for a while, and they believe in it. Their defense is giving up three points a game, 60 yards rushing, 225 yards total offense. They play kind of a 4-2-5 defense that Richmond, Duke, Virginia Tech kind of employ a little bit. They’re very aggressive and very athletic up front, and their safeties are involved in a lot of play making.
When you see them play, they run. They run well – they are good in all facets.
Their offense is an offense that can line up, and I think they have two players that are candidates for the Doak Walker Award. The quarterback is a guy that broke a single-season record for throwing the ball. They’re very multiple. They give you a lot of different formations. They pride themselves on being able to throw the ball, but also having the type of runners that can do well themselves. So they do well.
Their special teams are very, very grounded. They’re coached well. You know, it’s a complete football team. You’re talking a top-20 team that has played consistently well. Their last game they played at Kansas was the program’s inaugural game in the Big 12 Conference. The stadium is a place that people say is loud to play in. The crowd is very energetic.
So they’re a very, very good team. Obviously when it comes to the things that we have to do, obviously we have to play our best game. We have to be able to be balanced ourselves, because as I say, they really limit you on the runs that you get because there’s so many people they play close to the box, close to the ball.
Offensively they have a deep ball threat. Their quarterback does a great job. I think he is No. 1 in the country in passing efficiency, five touchdowns, no interceptions, very accurate. They do a lot of things that pose problems for different defenses. So I know I’m going on and on about them because they are a very good team, coached well, and they present a challenge for us to say the least.
Q. You kind of touched on what I wanted to ask about, the fact that they run a 4-2-5. Do they do some similar things to an eight-man front? Do you tell your players to think of Virginia Tech in a way?
MIKE LONDON: I mean, we have our hands full thinking about TCU right now. I think it’s a challenging defense because of – whether you call them rovers or whether you call them the strong safeties that are down in the box, they’re one of the elements that can force the run because they play their defensive ends in a six technique, meaning they’re head up on the tight ends, so when the tight ends block, that employs a run read for those safeties.
Coach Patterson, he coaches the DBs. I believe he’s kind of, slash, a defensive coordinator along with another coach that may call the fronts, but the other coach I believe calls the coverages. So he’s very involved in the style of defense.
They kind of dare you to throw the ball, but they have those defensive ends, linemen, outside safeties that can come off the edge or they can play coverage. They can run, so they’re very fast and athletic. They pose a lot of problems for – not only in the two games we saw this year, they played Grambling and Kansas, but some of the games they played last year you see some of the issues they present because of the style that they play.
Q. TCU has run the ball 31 more times than they’ve passed this year. Is this a pro style offense – mix in the shotgun?
MIKE LONDON: It’s a little bit of everything. It’s an offense that – we get the TV copies of the game, particularly the Kansas game they played, and how announcers will sit down with coaches and talk about what are the keys for the game, what are the things that you have to do. They talk about being balanced and talk about they’ll be in the shotgun, but you’ll see a lot of runs out of the shotgun formation with the misdirection of the read play as a lot of people call it.
They’ll motion a guy and motion the cross formation and hand the ball off and then set up their play action passes off of that. It doesn’t surprise me that there are 31 more runs, but at the same time some of the throws that they make are efficient throws because it makes the quarterback’s No. 1 ranking as far as that’s concerned.
It’s an offense that obviously provides a lot of problems because they will formation you and they will motion you and they will run that run plays that will make them look like – that will be complements of passing plays and vice versa.
They’ve done a nice job, done a good job with their package, and we will have to play, like I said, play well, but I think this is a style of offense that we see sometimes versus ourselves and what we’ve seen the last couple games. We’ll be challenged to say the least, but I think this is something that the guys are looking forward to.
I understand it’s another nationally televised game, so an opportunity to kind of redeem yourself after being on national TV and not playing well, but great team, great venue that we’re getting ready to travel down and go to Dallas-Fort Worth and play them.
Q. It looks like teams try and get the mismatch of getting their receivers on your linebackers. How do you plan against that?
MIKE LONDON: I think maybe the play you’re alluding to is kind of the typical play that most teams run, the split backfield, run a wheel route with their back. You see a lot of teams get beat on that. You see a lot of teams having to defend different ways.
You always look at ways that you can help your linebackers with your safeties, strong safeties and with your free safeties, but our coverage standpoint has got to be – is played by the back seven, and that involves the Mike and the Sam and the two safeties, and I think that our guys are very cognizant of if you have a key, key in your key, because if you don’t, things can happen to you that aren’t positive.
You know, this past game has been a learning experience for a lot of these guys about getting corrected some of the things that you need to when you’re going to play good teams, and this is another good team. As I said before, with the play action fakes and the way they run them, they’re specific as to making the run and making the pass fake look like the run. They’re well-coached when they do things like that. They will test your reads, as well. So we’ve got to do a better job of that.
Q. I know you said it’s important for you guys to put that game behind you and kind of move on. So much in sports is confidence. After that kind of a performance, surely their confidence got shaken. How do you get them in a week’s time to rebuild that and be ready to play like they did maybe against Penn State?
MIKE LONDON: I mean, that’s a great question, particularly when you have such a young group, particularly on the back end, the secondary. But when you’re back there, you have to have a short memory and move on to the next game because if you tie your identity into a particular game, it’s a long season. That was game three. We always talk about the positives because these guys are student athletes, and they have to focus on what’s going on not only on the field but also in the classroom. And we just talk about when we play well, what they do well when they have chances to win games, we’ve been in a close game and won a game, more attention to the detail of playing your position, and it was just one of those games that got away from our young guys, got away from us.
They played better than us, and you have to move on. You have to go look at the things that need fixing, but you have to build the kind of mindset that you’re going into another environment, going into another place that they’re capable of putting up as many points as they put on anybody else when they’re playing well.
So our focus has got to be on the things that we have to do. I’m always a positive guy. I mean, I understand that there are things we have to fix and things that we have to do, but you have to approach the players in a positive manner, but when you’re going on to the next game, and particularly the next couple games, you look at two out-of-conference teams that are very good teams that are Bowl teams; one is nationally ranked, one throws the ball all over the place. You have to have confidence. That’s all I’ll talk about to these guys about letting that one go and then moving on.
Q. You mentioned last night that you need to get some help for the interior offensive line. I wonder, what can you do to help them? Is it bringing in maybe a running back in there, calling for roll-outs? Without getting into the game plan, I guess, what exactly can you do?
MIKE LONDON: Well, again, without getting into the game plan, you could help with the style of play calling. You could help with slide protection as opposed to man-on-man protection. There are little things you can do there to help those guys get more presence by the center. There are different things. You look at our depth chart there, we’re kind of beat up there. There’s no secret right there. We started with Tim Cwalina disqualified for the year because of a heart problem. Kelby Johnson was suspended, Cody Wallace, his ankle. And that’s the reality of football, particularly as you’re playing guys that are up front and they’re blocking constantly and pass protecting.
But we will continue to find ways as specific to this game when we put it together, the coaches today, and they’re still practicing tomorrow and Wednesday and Thursday to come up with a game plan that we can help them, we can also help ourselves, and we can move the ball, hang onto the ball and score some points because we need to do that.
Q. Talk about the safeties – looked a little bit more comfortable this week against the offense that Richmond ran. What did they do specifically in the game that’s encouraging now going into the next game?
MIKE LONDON: You know, very formation oriented, twins, pro set, and things like the motions and the shifts that are conventional style offenses. When you play a team like we just played and they line up in an unbalanced set and have one receiver covered up that’s not eligible that’s a big receiver that’s blocking, primary role is blocking, then it provided a challenge as far as getting off a down-field block.
The style of offenses we’ve played are route – are pattern routes, recognition to splits and motions, backfield sets, so it goes back to what we practice against during the spring, against ourselves, against what we’ve played, more of a recognition, a familiarity with the style that they have to play as opposed to the style that was dictated this past Saturday.
Q. Talk about Zachary Swanson. How has he developed?
MIKE LONDON: You know what, he’s probably the biggest fullback in America, 6’6″, however much he weighs right now, and he’s done a nice job of being able to handle that position, and he has the skills of when you run a power, you also run a power pass, you can leak him out into the flat, things like that.
You know, he’s not the prototypical fullback, but he does a nice job of what we’re asking the fullback to do. Zach will play anywhere, play any position, and he’s ultimately a team player. We’re encouraged after three games about what he’s doing and where he’s at now.
Q. Sean Karl makes his first appearance on the depth chart this week. Is he a guy kind of as an emergency option, or do you see playing him, and I think I asked before about CJ Moore. Are you looking to redshirt him or can he help out?
MIKE LONDON: Your first question, Sean is, again, a true freshman that has practiced and practiced where he’s demonstrated a kind of performance that he’s very tough, very aggressive. I’ve always said that the hardest thing for linemen to do is to play at such a young age because you haven’t had the benefit of being in the weight room. But his toughness, and he’s a big kid, big, thick kid that has put him in a position because of the need there to help us.
For CJ, CJ not playing – every game that he doesn’t play, we’re past the third game and now going into the fourth game, it looks like it’s more and more likely that I’d like to be able to redshirt him. I wouldn’t come out and say it right now as we’re going into the fourth game with still several games to play, but I think he’ll make the trips, he’ll be there if needed because of our numbers back there. He may play, but if not, if I can hang onto his redshirt I’d like to be able to do that.
Q. You worked through most of the first three games without much of a power running element that you talk about with Clifton. If he is unavailable for extended periods for the rest of the season, do you completely lose that element, or is there something you can do with Zachary or Skrobacz or Battle to get them some carries, or does the power running game disappear without Clifton?
MIKE LONDON: I don’t think it disappears completely. Obviously Clifton is a very talented player. As we talked about before last night, when you’re a runner and you rely on your wheels and your wheels aren’t working to the way that you need them to work, it’s always going to be an issue.
But I think that you look at Kevin Parks’ height but you look at his stature, he’s a thick young man, strong legs, so I don’t think we lose an element of the power game. We’d like to have the element that Clifton provides, but obviously, again, we have to deal with injury. You’ve got to move on to the next best option.
So we’ll see here. I mean, this will be a critical week in terms of where he is and how he can perform, because again, I think there is kind of after three games you get to a point where you have to make a decision, and we’ll see pretty soon here in practice about which direction we need to go in with him.
Q. What do you need to improve to get your running game going?
MIKE LONDON: Well, got to block better. I think that part of the elements of being able to run and also the elements of everyone else, too, tight end making it so you seal the defensive end, the back that’s kicking out, the runners who run in the right holes, it’s an ongoing process when you have a running game. We thought about last year that a lot of our rushing yards against Georgia Tech were in the fourth quarter when we had to try to melt the clock away. During most of the course of the game we were doing short passes and screens and quick dumps and things like that to our running backs and wide receivers.
You know, we have to do better there because the season, like I said, is just three games into it, and we have to address it with personnel, which we’re going to do with our inside guys. We’ll have to address it with how we will handle it if we don’t have one of our bigger backs being able to be in there and participate. But it’ll have to be addressed in a way that as coaches we’ve got to coach our guys and put them in those type of positions to be successful and then look at our personnel and see what we can do to make sure that – because we’re going to have to run to let the clock run because if you’re not firing on all cylinders in the throwing game, you tend to — the play is three, four, five, six seconds old, and then before you know it you’re punting again. You need to be able to ball control a little bit to be able to help offensively.
Q. It seems kind of like an elephant in the room among fans on Twitter and message boards and whatever. Nothing that you guys have said has done this, but it seems like every time Michael throws a bad pass, people are talking. I know what happens in your locker room is in the locker room, but surely those guys are not oblivious to that. How do you manage that with them, and has anything changed in that situation?
MIKE LONDON: No, our guys understand that in a football game good things happen and bad things happen. Our guys are the cheerleaders for each other. There’s no animosity. There are no inferences as to who should be this guy, who should be that guy because they understand that as one guy has a good game or a bad game, he can have a good game. I think there’s no controversy, there’s no quarterback controversy with us. It is what it is.
Michael is our starting quarterback. He had not a great game. It’s unfortunate, two interceptions he was responsible for, and the one coming out was a tipped pass that was caught, and then one was – he just made it exasperated by the fact that Morgan Moses had kind of a penalty, and then the next thing that happened was an interception. So things started to roll downhill from that standpoint.
But the quarterbacks are visible. Everybody sees what they do, how they throw, how the team moves the ball and all those things like that, and people are entitled to their opinions. But as a team, we try to handle it the best way in that whoever is in there, it’s our full 100 percent confidence in that individual, unless otherwise the performance is just something where we’ve just got to get him out of there.
We’ll continue in this fashion. It’s important that Michael plays well. It’s important that Sean Cascarano plays well so Sean Karl doesn’t have to play. I mean, everybody has to play well. We’ve got to coach better and then help these guys be successful.
Like I said, the quarterback situation is so visible and everyone knows about the position and it’s been talked about over and over and the expectations of it. We are still trying to bring Phillip along, and as we’ve talked about, we’re going into game 4 now, so we’ll still keep operating the way we are right now unless the situation dictates otherwise.
Q. In reference to the safeties, looking back now, I think you sort of explained it a couple weeks ago, but when Brandon Phelps switched to safety right before camp rather than in the spring, I was curious about that, and what has his learning curve been so far? What’s sort of been his positives and negatives and what are you watching?
MIKE LONDON: Well, like I said, the first two games that he played, he did an excellent job. He did a nice job. Again, we’re playing the styles of offense that we see 95 percent of the time with the teams that we’re playing. You know, I talked about before a safety having cover corner skills, so those teams that do go into slot formations or motion or leak it back out to a seam route, he’s got enough athletic ability to cover him.
This particular game with the option reads and things like that and getting off stop blocks and cut blocks, he didn’t perform well. I have confidence in Brandon, a young guy back there. He’s only going to get better with the more amount of reps that he takes and the more amount of live reps that he gets, like I said, because he practices against similar offenses or similar style of offense when we go against ourselves.
I expect him to continue to improve, and I think he will.
Q. Perry is your captain, your leader, one of your better players. Obviously his numbers haven’t been all that great the first three games. Do you try to find different ways to keep him going and eventually he will start making those plays because that’s the type of player he is or do you have to try to put him in certain positions?
MIKE LONDON: Yeah, and there’s no doubt that Perry, captain, all those things, and we know that we have to find creative ways to get him the ball. If the running game is not working then we have to do something to get him the ball, whether it’s put him in the slot, flare him out, go do draws or go do screens or whatever it is. That’s a conscious effort that we have to make is to get him in the game, on the field, and get him the touches. And that’s something that’s going to be done and has to be done.
But Perry, the kind of young man he is, again, first couple games, he’s all about winning those games. He’s selfless, as I said before about him. The game that just occurred, things got away so fast that him playing third and fourth quarter, there wasn’t a necessity or a need to do that. But it is recognizable that going into the season he was recognized as being one of our better guys, and we have to get him the opportunities to touch the ball.
Q. What do you think about the helmet rule now? People are accusing you of taking the helmets off, and you said the other day maybe you should be penalized if you see things. Didn’t it go a lot more smoothly before they had any rule?
MIKE LONDON: You know, it appears so. Again, I understand the intent of the rule, when helmets come off and guys are chasing a ball carrier or they’re chasing to get involved in the action, and it’s more geared towards making sure that they don’t – that that person that’s chasing doesn’t get involved. But what happens when you’re in a pile and guys are fighting for extra yards and you’re grabbing – not a facemask, and I’ve seen countless number of games where helmets are coming off. There’s more of a conscious effort between buckling them up and things like that. But if a helmet is coming off it has to be seen by an official someone grabbing the facemask or intentionally ripping it off. I have yet to see penalties thrown where someone was intentionally trying to grab a helmet off through facemask or through just trying to rip it off. But you’re seeing more helmets come off.
And I know from our standpoint, there’s four chin straps, buckle up. You get to the point when you get a haircut, guys with the afros, you’ve got to get them refitted again, or the braids, because it’s a different kind of fit. It’s more of a conscious effort to make sure that those things stay buckled up and stay on, but as you pointed out, you look at TV games, there’s two to three times a game that a helmet comes off from contact or just from guys forcing pressure up on a helmet and it pops off.
So you have to go out a play. That’s the rule. Unless there’s a penalty, and I haven’t seen a penalty throw in any situation that’s come off, I have yet to see a penalty thrown.
Q. You mentioned the TCU defense. Is it pretty much what everybody is doing to you guys now, with the running game struggles? What do you foresee as the answer to that?
MIKE LONDON: I don’t know if it’s as much daring us to throw the ball. I know that that’s the style of defense that they play, an eighth man down, or they play low safeties or whatever it might be, then obviously they’re daring you to throw the ball. You have to be able to – if they’re going to do that, you have to be able to throw the ball. If you look at the style, the technique that the corners play, they’re playing off, the throwing game may be kind of a hitch route, catch in front and then make the guy miss.
If you can remember what happened with Tim Smith and Darius Jennings – that was the style that Richmond was playing. Some styles are up on top, jamming the receivers. You may have to beat them deep. We tried a couple of them. One of them was with Adrian Gamble down in the corner. The corner there made a great play. But if that’s the style teams are playing because you look at what we’re – the lack of or what we’re doing rushing wise, then we’re going to be able to be effective at taking advantage of what the coverage dictates and throw the ball.
Again, I’d like to be able to have that kind of balance where you can rely on the run to open up the pass, I mean, instead of just being all pass because then you become one-dimensional. There’s no doubt that we have to improve in the run area to allow that balanced attack to occur, because if not, then teams will continue to load up and then start doing stuff coverage wise to make you throw.
We looked at it, we talked about it, and things have to be done to make sure that we put ourselves in better situations to compete and be competitive.
Q. Eddie Williamson is assistant coach at TCU. Did you know him when he was at VMI?
MIKE LONDON: Just through professional development, the conferences, national conferences, and you’re on the different teams and you’re playing – was he at North Carolina or East Carolina or something like that also? North Carolina? Just through those professional relationships of knowing him and meeting him three or four games or after games.
Q. You don’t have a lot of guys on your team from Texas. Is that an area you’d like to be more involved in so playing a game there helps you out at all, or is that too crowded of an area to be involved in?
MIKE LONDON: No. Obviously Texas is a fertile recruiting ground, as you know. In fact, we talked about Zachary Swanson. He is from that area, and Kelvin Rainey is from that area. Not talking about the way recruiting is going now, but we feel pretty good about our recruiting situation in the Dallas-Fort Worth or Houston areas. I did a VAF event down there where I met with Matt Schaub and some UVa alumni down there. I understand the ticket allotment for UVa is sold out there. So there’s a large UVa alumni contingent down there, which makes sense for us to have a presence there from a recruiting standpoint.
Playing TCU, being on national TV again only helps that. I think that, again, that’s an area – great programs, great academic programs that play good football, and we’re looking to make sure that there’s a profile student athlete, and I think that the area of Dallas and Houston has some really good players, and they don’t always go to their in-state schools.