Press Conference: Mike London
COACH LONDON: You know, it’s always the main concern is always the turnovers that happened, and you know, what’s fair or unfair is the fact that one of the interceptions occurred when passed and ricocheted off the receivers hand to the defender’s hand.
But taking care of the ball is absolutely a necessity; a fumble and not scoring in the red zone – then another fumble, and so we have got to pay close attention to those type of things and what’s causing those type of issues in regards to play of the quarterbacks, Michael understands that his throws, his decisions are very, very important to the success of what happens to the ball.
Phillip understands the same thing. He was 5-of-12 – Michael was 13-of-28, with a couple throws that if you connect, in particular with Perry Jones, and then we feel good about how this game could have been played. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t happen.
But I think everyone on our team understands that you have to execute, you have to perform, not just the quarterbacks; the wide receivers, the linemen, and that’s something that we are taking another hard look at, particularly as we go into another game, our fifth game here at home with another very good team, another fast team, it’s going to be important, the completions and runs-after-catch is going to be very important.
So both Michael and Phillip are aware that they have to perform at their best regardless of who the quarterback is. That starts this week with our game plan, with Tuesday’s practice and getting ready for LA Tech – we see how things go. But right now there is no change of strategy. Both of them, though, have to perform – and allow us to be competitive and win some games.
Q. So is Michael your starting QB?
COACH LONDON: Nothing has changed as far as our approach going into this game. Practice, the way we practice, how we handle the game plans, I mean, that will all be evaluated. So not only the quarterback position, but there’s other positions that have to do well, play well and eliminate some of the mistakes and errors.
So we are looking forward to this game, this opportunity, and we’ll see. I feel the players – at Sunday’s practice, the players felt really upbeat about the opportunity, again, to play at home after being on the road after two tough games. I think the attitude of the players is very positive. I’m always positive, and always look for the absolute best in these guys. I think they want to play and they want to play well, and the best way to do that is play well here at home this Saturday.
Q. You were a defensive coach, how much do you involve yourself with the offense when its struggling?
COACH LONDON: Well, you know, you always try to lend your suggestions and the way that you look at things. Being a defensive coach for quite some time and how you run your coverages and different types of things, you give that type of feedback to your offensive guys. You also look at how you would try to attack them and there’s a lot of times after this meeting, Coach Lazor and myself, with Coach Reid, we’ll sit down and we’ll talk about game planning, about who and what on the other team, how to attack them, thoughts and ideas how the game plays out and the personnel.
So that’s always ongoing. Obviously we want to do a better job – finally running the ball a little bit, 160-something yards, almost 200 yards, but ultimately you have to score more than the other team. We have got to give up fewer points than the other team. And we have got to be able to put the ball in the end zone; when you have four turnovers, that’s not going to help you.
We do talk about some things, some things that can help you win games and strategies and things like that. And this will be no different as we approach the game.
Q. How much is moving forward and progress in recruiting tied to how important it is to do well on TV, just to kind of keep that momentum?
COACH LONDON: Well, it’s always important that you play well and you represent to these young people that are looking at schools to go to that you represent the best in what they are looking for, a chance to play, and the opportunities.
You look around the country, there’s a lot of games that are won or lost – in our situation, last year, we were 2-2 after four games, kind of the same record after we had lost to Southern Miss – driving in, going in for a score, we beat Indiana on the last play. We kicked the field goal, made it. We beat an FCS team and lost to Carolina. You look at it, kind of the same situation where wide left on the Penn State game we win – we defeated an FCS team and lost to a very good Georgia Tech team and obviously an excellent TCU team.
We are in the same situation we were last year. I think one of the things, being back at home and having a chance to play is to get that re-galvanized and get that energy again. I think that’s probably why Sunday’s practice was one of the better Sunday practices that we have had, because you know, it’s good to be back home, it’s good to know that you still control your own destiny, five of the last eight games are at your place.
So there are a lot of positive things to look at. There will be a lot of young men that will be coming to the game – just to see the different teams that are coming in – there’s a lot of good football left to be played, and people see how you start, but they will all remember how you finish, and that’s one of the important things for us this year; to understand that this is our fifth game coming up and we have a chance to play well against another very good, fast, athletic team.
But to answer your question, when you recruit students, playing well with energy and having success, that makes it very important.
Q. What kind of adjustments do you make to slow a team that has been scoring over 50 points a game?
COACH LONDON: I don’t know if you slow them down. They scored 50-something – first two games – 56 points, last game – 52 points. They have given up some points, as well, so it’s kind of been a back and forth, coming from the WAC conference, there’s a lot of spread out, throw the ball all over the place. But the interesting thing about this team is they are like 22nd in the country in rushing, 22nd in passing. They are up there – obviously points scored.
And so their balance is that they move the ball on the ground and in the air. So it’s a style of offense that we have similarly played against. I think defensively they have given up some points as we all know, and I think it’s going to be important for us to play well defensively, not turn the ball over, and put some points up.
I think we are going to have to score some points. We are going to have to hang on to the ball and put some drives together and with the style of offense, because they will run a ball, they will run a play and then they will throw deep, touchdown. You will see that – you go back and look, there’s probably been several times during the course of the season you look after three or four plays, touchdown, because that’s what they do. It’s up to us to stay on the field and limit that, and when we get the ball and score ourselves.
Q. Does this game remind you of the Southern Miss game a year ago?
COACH LONDON: Last year they were the WAC champions. They were a bowl team. You look back and the schedule is littered with a bunch of teams that played in bowl games. They have outstanding personnel; their quarterback; they have a receiver, No. 4, outstanding dynamic player that can locate the ball wherever its thrown.
You look at a team that’s coming from another conference that has been successful and has played in a bowl game. They play with a confidence about them because they are what they are. They spread them all out and they throw and they pass it; defensively, they are a 4-3 defense. It will be interesting to see how they play us since most of the teams they have played were all spread out all over the place.
Putting the game plan together offensively it’s going to challenge you, but at the same time, it’s not as much about what they do; it’s about what we have to do and what we do. That’s something that we have to go into the game.
Q. Looked like they did a lot of things – attacking, and what do you your guys have to do to be ready for that?
COACH LONDON: You know, when you look at formations, they do have a running game that plays off of the passing game. They try to make the running game where your linemen are allowed to block downfield a certain number of guards. They will run a running play with the linemen that are typically running down the field and then play-action pass off them. It’s an offense that, you know, you’re going to have to be on – watch your keys and understand your reads and things like that, just because of the way they play is the linemen are always blocking, they are always blocking downfield.
But in passes, you’re allowed to go – you can go three or four yards downfield. But sometimes that does affect the linebackers that are reading these linemen. They do a good job of doing that. You see it just takes one miss-read or miss-step or understanding of what the play is, and the receiver can be behind you or the running back – I don’t know what number he is, but he’s 5-7, 170 pounds, and he’s quick and he can find the holes and creases. It’s a good offense, but I like the challenge of our defense versus their offense.
Q. You mentions there’s obviously other factors, the down grade from the end of last year – what do you think is separating Michael Rocco from playing at that level he did at the end of last season?
COACH LONDON: Well, a few dropped passes, you know, a couple completions here and there, and you know, perhaps the conversation is different. But when you are 3-of-16 on third down, that really hurts. We were passing really, really good on third down situations going into the TCU game, but you can’t keep the ball and move the chains if you don’t make third down. Thirteen times you have to punt it or something, that’s been something that’s quite evident. He’s been good at that previously. He can be good at that. He understands where he has to be or how he has to throw the ball, how he has to manage the team.
So you know, Michael understands that, he’s a competitor, and he wants to play he wants to do well and he understands that everyone’s looking and everyone’s watching.
Phillip, he has something to prove also; everyone’s looking at him. The great thing about those guys is they are competitors and they understand that what is best for the team is best for the team, ultimately. There are no issues with us right now with quarterbacks. We know we have to play better and we know the surrounding cast has to play better, as well.
Q. Louisiana Tech does a great job creating and recovering fumbles. What are your thoughts?
COACH LONDON: I think last year they were No. 1, or high in the category of turnovers, and you know what you see, they are up there again, in a passing league like that, underneath routes and things, the linemen peeling and running, and a lot of times the most unsuspecting is the lineman coming up the line and stripping the ball. They do pay a lot of attention to gang tackling and second guy in, ripping the ball out, they do that very well, and you do see that. And that’s not a miss-print or anything like that. That’s kind of a philosophy.
But all the balls that are thrown – the receivers, you worry about yards-after catch – they are worried about yards after catch and getting the ball out.
Q. What led to starting D.J. Hill for La’Roy?
COACH LONDON: D.J. is a Will linebacker, that’s what LaRoy is. Sam linebacker is Henry Coley and Daquan Romero.
D.J., because of the style of play Will linebacker is – it’s kind of a cross between a strong safety and linebacker, so he kind of fits that build. Actually D.J. played 61 plays. He graded out a winning percentage and made some tackles. You never know, again, he’s one of those guys that you never know, all of a sudden your number is called and now you’re going to have an extended amount of reps in the game and also special teams plays.
Now it’s another window of opportunity – as well as Demeitre Brim, true freshman that will be playing at that position, and just one of those young linebacker positions that he stepped up and did an admirable job.
Q. Are teams keying in on Jake McGee?
COACH LONDON: I think they have cameras like we do and you look at players that are making plays, and I think that he is – he’s earned a reputation of being a guy that when the ball is thrown in his vicinity, that he can go get it.
But what you do is you’re more conscious and aware of where his alignment is. Out of the slot may be different than on the line. It’s part of game-planning though. But like I said, we’ll continue to be creative with Jake and move him in different places, and that’s all part of it, because he has become one of our – one of our guys that we want to get the ball to. And we tried it a couple times in the game. One off his fingertip was overthrown, and that’s – when you have a one-hand get and you grab it.
Q. What do you do to get Perry Jones going?
COACH LONDON: You know, that was one of the things that we talked about as far as getting the ball to playmakers, and it was – after this game to do that and if you noticed, a couple passes that were thrown just from one on the fingertips on fourth down – those type of plays are the ones he made in Miami and Florida State.
But there is an acknowledgment that he’s a guy that we have to get the ball to, and not for lack of trying in this game. It’s just we need to hit him – when he’s on the field, we all know that he’s dynamic. So we’ll continue to keep trying to find ways to give him the ball.
Q. In this game you’re an underdog – do you say that that’s motivation –
COACH LONDON: No, the biggest motivation is to win a football game, and for two games now that that locker room has been pretty quiet.
As far as who we are playing, I think it’s an opportunity to put third win on our record – I think that’s kind of where the mind-set is of – we will practice again tomorrow, but I think collectively, understanding that, you know, football is such a close game between catching and no catching; and being there, the one catch, the one-handed catch on a blitz that we had going in over Brandon Phelps – the (TCU)guy made a great, great catch and that’s football.
We need to make plays like that and make catches like that, sustain drives. I think that’s what we have in us, and I’m very positive and very optimistic about our guys wanting to do well and wanting to play well. This is a game, too, that up there in the Top-25, I don’t know where they are now, but another conference champion, a chance to play, I think this is where you want to be, and the challenge; and the challenge for all three phases of our team is to play well in competition.
Q. Back to the quarterbacks – is it that way because Michael has played more college football than Phillip?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, I think the way you posed the question is exactly the way it is. (Laughter) And I think that that’s a lot of football that one player has been exposed to, as opposed to the other not. And you know, Phillip’s knowledge of the offense continues to keep getting better.
As I say, we’ll see how things will shake out, but right now, I’m excited about Michael having a chance to show everyone once again how he can play and perform. He understands that; that he has to. Everyone has to perform – and looking at options that help you get better play from that position. Not trying to create anything where a guy is looking over his shoulder or anything like that. But I understand what you’re saying.
Q. Talk about play calling for Phillip?
COACH LONDON: There has to be a comfort level that he has and the players have in him calling plays, what types of plays he’s going to call. And also find things that are a comfort level for him, and that’s part of how we keep building and game planning – you have a game plan, but you also have the plays that each player’s skill and what they know and in this case, what they can handle.
We will continue to keep doing stuff like that in our game planning for these guys. It will be game plan and then there will be a menu of plays for players to feel like they can be successful at.
Q. What goes into selecting a quarterback?
COACH LONDON: Well, Michael started because he’s been a starter, and you know, he’s played in games and demonstrated his performance in games.
Phillip is a talent that’s learning the offense and making some headway, he will garner some attention and consideration.
As I said, when you look at the game and you have enough throws, both of them have to make the type of throws and eliminate the type of errors of interceptions and reads. But both of these guys are very talented. I think right now, as I said, Michael is in a position now that how he does on the field – him being on the field, that’s not saying anything negative against anyone else.
I mean, it’s the same way if a right guard is not blocking a guy he’s supposed to block, then, you know, on a consistent basis, then there has to be consideration to move him or put someone else in there. You know, as long as he’s consistent and gives us a chance to win; then he’ll play there. So the quarterback position, it’s no different than any other. It’s important, now don’t get me wrong, it’s very, very important, but I think that the two of these have to understand that and the offensive staff understands that, and more importantly, both of them are ready to perform and play.
But you know, this is the type of game, once again, that we’ll be able to tell a lot – you know what I mean, Game 4 into Game 5, the style of defense that we’re going to go against. It’s going to be important that we throw the ball where it’s supposed to be thrown; you know, catch and run opportunities, and before we go into league play, this is the last of the outer conference games and this is one that it’s an important game for this program.
Q. Do you prefer a schedule like this, playing a really good team – or would you prefer a weaker opponent when introducing a lot of new parts?
COACH LONDON: It always depends on where your team is at that time. If he had a young team, predominately young team, then obviously you want to have an opportunity to play with people that maybe you could have some success with.
The older your team is, the more experienced your team is, sometimes you feel like, okay, let’s bring the best teams in here and let’s play them early and let’s see what we have and gauge your team. That’s always a tricky question sometimes to answer.
TCU and LA Tech are some really, really good teams. We got one of them at home and hopefully – the fan base out there is still very much supportive of this team and want to come out and support the guys and watch us and cheer us on. It’s important for our whole team for our home crowd to be behind this team. I think we have been in this situation before, and we look for more opportunities to move on and get better and get back to winning.
Q. When the offense really started to take off at UVa how everything changed?
COACH LONDON: I can’t remember when it really – it’s been, at least, you know, seven, eight, nine ten years ago that we ended up having four wide receivers and red-snap throwing it, as soon as you catch it, became very popular.
When you think about like some of the option teams, maybe linemen difficulties or deficiencies, you try to get on the edge by running a quarterback pitch and that was kind of a flavor for a while. And then for whatever reason, just not done as much.
But what’s happened in high school football and college ball, is that you spread the field horizontally, get skill out there and make the defenders go out there and match up and threaten the field vertically, and when you have fast guys that can threaten spots on the field and get it to them on a pass, and you know, you favor those type match-ups.
If you’re going to blitz, and receiving the ball from a shotgun, quarterback can see it coming – it’s hard to throw to different routes. If you’re going to play maximum coverage, they are taught the same thing. So see the mind-set is trying to maximize whatever skill level you have and get it out, to your playmakers, have a quarterback, some guys that can catch it.
Q. Talk about Tim Smith.
COACH LONDON: First two games, Timmy was 100 percent and he was slowed a little bit by coming out of last week into this game, but yesterday’s practice looked like he was moving around pretty good. It is a very important part being able to challenge the ball vertically on the field. We missed that Kris Burd-type of presence where he had the go-to guy that can catch it – and Dontrelle Inman those types. But Timmy, healthy, can help us in that regard. In the Richmond game, he caught a stop route and made the guy miss. So having that kind of consistent skill level is something that we need, and hopefully, you know, he’s back to being 100 percent, because he looked like it yesterday.