Press Conference: Mike London
Q. It seems like you guys came out a lot more wide open offensively the other day. Before the game you had said it was going to be hard to slow them down. How did you feel that worked for the first 20 minutes, and is that something that maybe we’ll see more?
MIKE LONDON: I think trying to utilize it, we talked about going vertical and what’s been mentioned about having enough skill players to stretch the field, that was definitely one of the mindsets. That’s got to be something that — we’re concerned about the running game — with the running game part of that last week, this week. There were some elements of being able to move the ball that actually allow you to throw the ball downfield. We’ve been talking about seeing a lot of eight-man, nine-man fronts, and the way to try to defend this.
But one way to loosen them up is definitely to make sure you throw deep, or we’ll throw those intermediate routes and those crossing routes that require receivers to push up the field.
I think we kind of ran into an issue in the third quarter when all of that sudden that up-tempo offense kind of took place there [from La Tech]. We [UVa defense] never could get off the field, the ball is on their hash, close to their sideline, and they just kept it going and going, and we didn’t defend it enough to get off the field and make a stop there.
That’s one of the things that we talk about, where do you go from here, what are you looking at, personnel and things like that, is finding out what we do best. Yeah, we want to run the ball, but what do we do best in terms of moving the ball and with whom in terms of the personnel. So it was good to see, like I told the team, I think there was 11 explosive plays over 15 yards, probably the most we’ve had in a while, 73-yarder, 30-something yarder, 43-yarder, things that you have to have in order to get that consistent running game – but also to allow some of these guys that we thought that could be play makers for us and let them have opportunities to do that. And those are the ways we’re trying to explore how we can get points and get people involved in the offense.
Q. For the past five weeks you have said Michael Rocco is the starting quarterback – with no depth chart, who is the starting quarterback this week?
MIKE LONDON: Again, as I said Sunday night when I talked to you guys on the media conference and after the game, we are going to evaluate everything that we do and the who and who the personnel is. For me, Coach Lazor and the offensive staff – for everyone to understand that it’s not just about one individual – it’s about the team and about who gives us the best chance. And that decision will be made very soon. I’ll let you know that. Everyone will know. But I want to make sure, as Bill and the rest of the offensive staff, we’ve been talking about the who as part of this offense and how we include some of the people that we see have chances to be explosive players for us, we have to look at who gets it to them, who’s blocking for them.
I can tell you this: That inside we’ve moved Matt Mihalik to center; we’ve also, in an attempt to try to make our guard situation more competitive, Ross Burbank is battling with Sean Cascarano, so he knows that there’s competition there. By the same token, Cody Wallace and Conner Davis are battling right there, so whoever at the end of this week in terms of practice, we’ll know who’s going to be the guy that’s going to start there. Bowanko will stay center, Mihalik is behind Bowanko, and Kelby Johnson will be behind Oday, and Jay Whitmire will be behind Morgan.
But we talked about some things, about how we need to prove and progress and get people in those positions, that’s one of the areas that we’ve made a move as of right now, right away, and there are some other areas, some other players that we’re still waiting on some training room reports as far as their availability.
We didn’t get banged up as much, but there are some guys that there are some question marks as far as their availability and where they fit into the scheme of the evaluation we’re talking about is going to be important. And hopefully we’ll know – actually know by this afternoon or by first thing tomorrow morning.
Q. There have been a lot of dropped passes this year. It seems like a lot of times they’re on his crossing routes. What is that issue there, and how is that addressed?
MIKE LONDON: You know, it could be a little bit of everything. Obviously the mindset of a receiver, the ball touches your hand, you should catch the ball. Obviously the quarterback should like to throw the ball or you’d like to receive a ball not up above your head but at a point thrown at your facemask. You’d like the route or the window, the receiver to clear a route or the window for the quarterback to throw in and not have to throw, anticipate you running in front of or behind a defender.
So there are different elements to it. But regardless, if it turns into being an interception, it’s a turnover, and those are the things that you can’t have. And quite honestly, sometimes the quarterback gets blamed on that part of it when, as you mentioned, sometimes the ball is deflected off a hand where the route is not run correctly, but ultimately it hurts the team because that’s one less possession we have and a possession that they get.
Turnovers, and particularly this game, the penalties, silly penalties, things that are basically out of characteristic of the way we have played or can play are things that ultimately did us in for this particular game.
I feel really good about where we were, how we were moving the ball, but then we self-inflicted ourselves with silly penalties that set us back or put us back. That’s on us. That’s on coaching. We’ve got to do a better job of making sure the players understand that no player is worth the penalties that they give us or cause us to have, and we’ve got to do a better job coaching.
Q. You mentioned in the spring that it was critical that the wide receivers take their game to another level, and generally they did the other night. How comforting was that from your standpoint, and how can that help you guys advance?
MIKE LONDON: Well, you know, I’ll tell you, it’s – we started out camp and started into the who can play for us. I felt good about Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell being returners, and E.J. Scott having an opportunity to play now, because he had various setbacks, and then with two young players that started emerging early on, Canaan Severin and Adrian Gamble, it was good to see that the ball was distributed, but it was great to see that Adrian Gamble can be a really good receiver.
As we talked about the who and the what in this room, it’s about who are the guys that can go give us some explosive plays and be athletic. Canaan Severin is another guy that has really good ball skills and ability. Got to find a way to get him into the game.
And I think the receiver group is a positive group for us, is a play-making group for us, but we have to utilize their abilities and skills, and I think that that’s what this week is probably more about – understanding we have a lot of respect for our opponent in Duke, but it’s probably more about us and getting the ball to those individuals that can make plays happen for us, and it was good to see some explosive plays occur for a lot of those guys.
Q. Are you kind of baffled by the defense’s inability to force turnovers this season? What do you want them to do that they’re not doing right now?
MIKE LONDON: You know, I’ve been coaching defensive football for a while, and I know that sometimes – there have been years I’ve been here, and you’d have like 26, 27 turnovers, and the mentality that you created. If you saw this game, there were two fumbles on the ground that really bounced underneath our guy and into their hands. So when you say baffled, I mean, that’s baffling when the ball doesn’t bounce in your direction or in your hands. When you drop interceptions, on both sides there are opportunities for the ball to hit defenders in their hands and they drop them, and it has occurred to us, as well.
But again, you never stop practicing it and never stop preaching the importance of turnovers, as we see in this game, how negatively it affected us. But that’s something that we’ll continue to be harped on, will continue to be coached and made an example of; the fact that here yet is another example that the team that has the most turnovers usually at the end of the game has a chance to win the game. In a close game like that, with having three and not having any, and then the penalties, as I said, those are things that definitely get you beat.
Again, that’s on us, and understanding the penalties and the need to turn – the need to get turnovers and then not give them is very, very critical.
Q. When you say that’s on us, we need to coach them better, you’re not on the field. What was going on?
MIKE LONDON: You know, I would say this: There was a lot of chippiness going on, a lot of that. I can say this: I’ve been coaching for a while; there’s a lot of things that are said and there’s some physicality that’s out there, and you may be standing around a pile and get bumped or you turn around and you take exception to that and you bump the guy back, and it’s always the case that the second man gets caught, and then it’s one of those things that you have to have control and you have to understand that people are going to try to rile, get a rise out of you, and being able to respond with – there’s another play, the next play, block them next time or get off the block the next time.
And that was something that, again, was totally out of character for this team to get involved in a pushing match or back-and-forth match, and that won’t happen again.
Q. Do you guys talk about consequences?
MIKE LONDON: Well, a big one is the big L that we took. That loss is enough of a consequence that those types of penalties ultimately affect the whole team. And to get penalties like that is a selfish penalty. And as I said last night, any player that engages in thinking that personal fouls and things like that – you’re going to have penalties, but personal fouls and things like that or something that’s condoned, they won’t be playing. So the message has been sent, and I expect a level of play out there that – again, like I said, every once in a while you’re going to have some kind of block in the back or something that during the course of the game guys are moving and running back and forth. But again, the ones that are personal control penalties and fouls, those are the things that a young man is not going to be playing if they continue or they show a pattern of behavior like that.
Q. You’re trying to kind of get to know Phillip’s game a little bit more. There was a time where he rolled left and there were like 35 yards and he pulled up at the line still looking to throw. Is he a reluctant runner? Is he somebody who’s willing to run, or is that a situation where it just made more sense –
MIKE LONDON: I don’t know at what part of the game you’re talking about. I know there was a scramble situation. He scrambled to the sideline and got a first down. What you try to take advantage of when your quarterback is scrambling, you tell the defense to stay in coverage. A lot of times where defenses get beat is they see the quarterback running or approaching the line of scrimmage and the primary defender will run to tackle the quarterback, then leave the primary receiver open.
I know that they’re taught to be heads up and to understand what’s going on with the coverage part of it, but I am trying to remember the play that you’re talking about and if – well, I would say that if there’s an opportunity for a receiver, if it’s a lot quicker to throw a ball to a receiver when you have a defender coming up on you, then that receiver 35 yards that’s open right now with a defender coming at you, there’s always a decision you have to make.
If it was open enough that you can pull it down and run with it, sure. At the time when it occurred to Phillip, I believe the right decision was made because I believe when he scrambled he got the first down on that..
Q. You mentioned the personal fouls and people would not be playing if they committed them. Cascarano had two personal fouls; is that why you’ve opened up that position a little bit?
MIKE LONDON: No, I just think overall just sending a message that the games in itself are hard enough to win when you’re playing and competing, and anything that you do to contribute to something that requires a decision being made by you post-whistle is something that we just can’t have.
But that is also part of the issue of making sure that everyone understands that the best players want to have a chance to play, you have to perform. Those things that cause you to lose are things that are not acceptable, and we have to understand that being tough doesn’t mean pushing a guy after a whistle; being tough means lining up in front of him on the snap of the ball and blocking him or getting off a block when it’s time to get that done.
Those are the type of messages that I want this team to understand, that they understood yesterday, and understand from this point on about things we need to do to help turn this thing around and get it back in the direction that we all want to be headed in.
Q. You’ve been going against Duke for a long time at BC and even at Richmond. What have you seen that has kind of advanced them, and what do you think about this present team?
MIKE LONDON: I think that Coach Cutcliffe, who I have a tremendous amount of respect for, does a great job with his personnel and his scheming of what he does. I mean, everyone knows he coached Peyton Manning. You look at their style of offense, it’s a little bit of everything, but it’s a little bit of everything that spreads you out. Again, another team that will run the ball, and they have elements of running the ball, the read, the read play.
But there is a lot of what we just saw here recently, last game. A lot of bubble screens, a lot of hot H hide screens, a lot of flare screens. They get the ball to No. 2, I believe his name is Varner. He was six passes short of being the ACC’s all-time leading receiver. I don’t know if he caught six passes in this past game. He tied it? Okay, so obviously if he gets one in our game, he’ll be the all-time leading receiver.
There’s a former running back that now has been moved to a receiver, which talks about throwing the ball out there on screens. So they do a lot of things utilizing their quarterback. It seems like – Renfree I believe was there when I was at Richmond. It seems like he’s been there forever now. But they do a lot of things with him with throwing the ball and play action passing that their offense has been very effective for them, particularly for this year because their record reflects how successful they’ve been.
Q. Talk about Kelby Johnson. He hasn’t played this year. Would you like to get that redshirt back for him?
MIKE LONDON: Well, again, as we try to address some of the inside positions, it has required him – given him an opportunity to move up and move into that backup position. If an opportunity is presented, we’re worried about – with him, particularly a guy that can help us. I know Morgan and Oday, they don’t want to come out of the game, but sometimes those are opportunities that are presented that are out of their game that we don’t need to play them in a blowout game or if there’s an injury, God forbid, to one of them, that’s another opportunity that Kelby will have to go in.
We’re trying to be guarded about it, but at the same time we’re trying to play to win now, not to worry about next year for him.
Q. Phil Sims came in and obviously learned a lot in a short amount of time. Do you have some sort of a mental checklist what you’d like to see him accomplish?
MIKE LONDON: No more than any other player in terms of his progression and understanding of the scheme. Obviously the quarterback position, what you do depends on the 10 other guys that are out on the field, so there is a litmus in terms of being able to run the plays audible, make the checks, understand the hot reads, sometimes call the protections, recognize potential blitzers. So there are a number of things that go into calling the game or going to a quarterback playing the game. And he’s been able to do that as time has gone on, given the opportunities that have been presented to him.
You know, he’s put himself in position, as we said, when we’re talking about personnel and things like that to warrant the consideration of the who and the what, who’s going to play.
Q. The bubble screens – how do you want to play that if the team sees that on film that La Tech had some success, and then secondly, when it comes to the tackling, how do you guys address that?
MIKE LONDON: I think what happens with the bubble screens – one way you try to defend it is putting three over two. You go three over two, then the running game comes into play. So you have to decide whether it’s through pre-snap look coverages or post-snap look coverages, how you’re going to play it, because the offense, they’re pretty good, too. They understand what’s going on.
But it also entails that you have an edge setter to make sure that when the ball is caught, the ball is turned back to the inside to the pursuing players, so that could be your defensive end and your outside linebacker are as heavily involved in defending that play on the perimeter with the safety in the corner. So there’s different ways to defense it and different ways to come up with strategies to understand how you want to play it.
A tunnel screen is one where the receiver heads back towards the line of scrimmage as your offensive line allows the defensive line up the field. Well, that play has got to be played by the defensive line, recognizing that they’ve been – the pass pro is light, they have to retrace their steps and run back towards the line of scrimmage.
When you have a volume of different types of screens, which Louisiana Tech did, and then when you look at Duke, what’s been successful for them, there are various types of screens that the technique of the perimeter players, the linebackers and the defensive line is going to be very, very important. And that’s something that we definitely will be working on this week.
Q. How do you feel like Harold is progressing to this point, and what’s the future look like for him?
MIKE LONDON: You know, I think Eli is, again, one of those young players that have gone in games and have learned to get the experience as they’re playing. He’s a young man that’s very determined. He wants to win, and that’s why he’s here. And so we need to set him up for opportunities for success, and he values that, and he wants that. He is another young man that you’ll see more of because some of the other things that he provides.
Yes, he’s fast off the edge, but there are a lot of these young players that just have willingness to just kind of a “go-get-it heart of a champion.” I bring up the example of – I said this last night, I believe, on the long kickoff when they’re running it back, Anthony Cooper, young player, freshman, playing, did a great job in terms of running down the returner and making him leave his feet and trying to make a tackle. But more so impressive was Demeitre Brim, watching a guy 220-something-plus pounds, true freshman that’s playing on our special teams to get him some game experience, he’s running also step for step, and he makes the touchdown-saving tackle, and that was a particular series of plays that they didn’t get in the end zone with the ball being on the four-yard line.
And that’s the type of effort that this whole team needs. That’s the type of effort that young players like Cooper, Adrian Gamble, Eli Harold, and I can just go on with a number of them, that they bring to the table.
But the thing is that experience that they don’t have is something that they’re growing into as we’re playing, and although it’s frustrating at times because you want them to hurry up and grow into the experience of playing the position, it’s something that’s going to come, and it’s going to come and it’s going to be exciting to see those young players play when they get the experience.
They’re getting it now in game five going into game six.
Q. You had mentioned Richardson. Any update on him?
MIKE LONDON: He’s one of the players that we’re talking about as far as getting the all-clear sign. I believe at 2:00 or 2:15 today, if I check my phone, I will have a message as to his status. I feel – and again, I feel pretty confident about Clifton, his injury or his status being such that I think we’re going to have him back. And again, that’s something that’s very important as it relates to the running game, as well.
Q. When you look at what Duke has been able to do so far this year, do they kind of remind you of what you guys did last year?
MIKE LONDON: They’ve won the games they’re supposed to win, I guess, and people say, well, you’re playing Duke, but Coach Cutcliffe, again, has done a great job of coaching this team. They’ve played Wake Forest, they beat them, and Wake Forest beat North Carolina.
I think the message for them is that they – in the ACC you’ve got to play. You’ve got to play because you never know what’s going to happen. And I think they are embarking – 4 and 1 right now embarking upon a record that they haven’t had in years, and I know that’s something that’s fueling their desire.
We have a great desire ourselves. It’s a conference game, common opponent. The last two times we’ve been down to Durham have not been successful for Virginia. So there’s a drive and desire here, as well. But I think that a lot could be said about what’s happening to them and their season, finding ways to win, using different players to get it done. It’s self-evident right now the way they’re playing.
Q. You’ve had Rocco as a starter since pretty much day one here, but I wonder when the time came when Phillip became eligible to play this year, did you kind of plan at all that the time would come where you’re going to have to choose between the two?
MIKE LONDON: First of all, I mean, Michael Rocco is a great young man, has been our starting quarterback for 18 months. I value him. And coming into the season, he was, and until the decision is made, is the guy that is the quarterback, starting quarterback. Now, what happens when you get an opportunity to have a talented player or recruiting talented players that come into your program, you always have to evaluate where you are and where the players that come into the program – how they stack up against the competition and how they can help you win and all the things that we want from some of these other players that are here.
You always want the players that come on your team to have an opportunity to help you win. You always recruit the next best player or get a player hopefully that they can be better than the player that you have playing the position now. I mean, that’s this game. That’s how you play it. That’s how you do it.
When the time is right or when the time presents itself that one player has exceeded the expectations and the opportunity of another player, whether it’s the quarterback or any other position, then that player warrants an opportunity to get a chance to play. As I addressed it with the interior, with the offensive guard situation, that time has presented itself, and it’s been presented itself maybe for a couple weeks. So the move is made to send a message.
As I said, as we continue to talk as a staff, not only with quarterbacks, with the wide receivers, Eli Harold, the defensive ends, all those things going into game 6 are very important because we want to win football games. We’re not worried about personalities and things; we want to win games, and we want to put the best people in the game to help us win. We want to do it the right way and make sure that we are covering all our bases here.
Again, our next game opportunity is against Duke, and we’re excited to play. We’re ready to play. We’ll be ready to play when it’s time to play.
Q. What do they do that you’re going to have to be on the lookout for – the kind of the game where its getting chippy?
MIKE LONDON: You know, I don’t think it was as much the game getting chippy as it was for one of our players, a very emotional player, getting chippy (laughter). And again, it goes back to what I just talked about before, that there’s a difference between talking tough and playing tough, and I’m all about playing tough and not talking tough.
That’s kind of our mindset. And again, Chase [Minnifield] is a great player, very animated, very emotional, and a couple times the best of his emotions got to him. But again, that’s part of the game.
But at the same time, we talk as it relates to our issues with personal fouls – we can’t have those types of incidences.