Press Conference: Mike London
COACH LONDON: Like was just mentioned, I was inside the McCue Center when it occurred and came outside. I don’t know much about it. I know that whatever the issues are there, that they’ll get it rebuilt, repaired.
Kind of the same way with us, you know what I mean? With the team, it’s just getting ourselves maybe on the outside, hurting here and there from losses or whatever may be, but on the inside, the spirit and resolve of our team is in good shape. So we’re excited about getting ready to play again, playing at home.
I want to also mention, the first responders that came out, they were out there pretty quickly themselves. My appreciation is for them because of their response and their professionalism.
Q. Thoughts on not creating turnovers.
COACH LONDON: Obviously, the opportunity that, when they do present themselves, that we have to capitalize on them.
There was one in the game that hit Brandon Phelps right in the hands, and potentially a touchdown run because of where he was. So, obviously, stripping at the ball, second man in. You want to make sure that you’re in position to make a play on the ball. You want to have anticipatory aspects of when the ball is being thrown.
So there’s little things you can continue to keep doing, but you’ve got to keep pressing the players about creating the turnovers and the mindset of doing that because, as I said, once one happens, a lot of times they start coming, and we just need to have the game where those opportunities occur for us.
Q. The running game started well at Duke and then the second half wasn’t as potent. What are your thoughts?
COACH LONDON: There are so many elements to the running game part of it. Obviously, the offensive line and blocking – the tight ends and the fullbacks who are doing the kicking out or leaning up on the isolation plays. So there’s a renewed sense of being able to run the ball, move the ball, but obviously with the start that we had, we got to 14 points early, we need to continue on and culminate that with scoring more points, whether it’s on the ground or through the air.
So it is noted that the running game has picked up, but at the same time, we need to increase our scoring opportunities.
Q. There have been some big plays out there made on your defense. How do you stop that? How do you create big plays for the defense – create that confidence?
COACH LONDON: By continuing to keep emphasizing the fact that you have to, whether it’s putting pressure on the quarterback, whether it’s the defenders that are going up – there are a couple of occasions where they were contested throws, and the receiver came down and made a great play. One was one-on-one with Tra’ Nicholson, and the other one was actually double coverage in the end zone, two defenders around him, and he made a great catch.
But we’ve got to come down and play the ball better in the air or play to the hands of the wide receivers. So limiting those explosive plays on the other end of it, particularly when it happens to us, has got to be a point of emphasis because, if you’re going to make teams go the distance, you’ve got to have those long drives. You don’t want to in one long play change the field position and they put points on the board in a hurray as they did in those possessions there.
So it is a point of emphasis defensively for us.
You know, when you look at last season, you look at the last, I believe Indiana was one of those wins that, one of the last plays, Cam Johnson sacked a guy and led to kicking a last second field goal. There are a lot of opportunities that present to itself.
And confidence sometimes happens when you win games like that and you gain confidence. You know, with these players, these young players sometimes, negative things happen, and you try to get them out of that – the mindset of going down a road of not feeling confident. It’s hard to feel confident when you’re not winning games.
But at the same time, I think we have to make sure that these young players understand that our attitude changes a lot of things. The way we approach practice, the way it’s easy to give up and say, where do we go from here? There’s a lot of opportunities for this season remain confident in our players because what they look for, they look for how they’re being coached and the leadership that’s presented in front of them.
We have to continue to present that positive attitude about what can happen. Address some of the issues of maybe playing more people. Sometimes we come out second, third quarter, like a little gassed or tired. But we address that by playing more people.
If more people means playing more freshmen, which are in our depth chart, then so be it. Just little things, other things that have to be – that we have to take care of going into this final stretch. You control your own destiny.
We talked about the month of October, winning the month of October. That’s important with a bye at the end of the month. You take the games as they come and the importance of the games, and you talk about the positive things that can happen out of that with the renewed sense of effort from everyone, from coaches, from players, from everyone.
Q. Is there something more you can do in practice?
COACH LONDON: I don’t know about doing something in practice. If you’re executing in practice and performing in practice and doing the right techniques in practice, other than if you want to go the first team against the fourth team and build confidence that way, I don’t think that’s the way we want to go about doing it.
I think, for us, it’s – you go back and look at the game, and there’s about three or four passes that are just on the outstretched hands of the receivers that you can make those type of catches. So we go back, and we practice the timing of it, we practice the release of the receiver. Quarterback in the pocket. We practice the things that have a direct impact on the execution of the play.
Through that and hopefully through the demonstrated performance – there’s some success with that. We just need to have – we played well in the first quarter but not good enough the rest of the game. We need to have a sustained effort and opportunities to play a good game, put drives together or be able to stop drives or put pressure on the quarterback. We’ll be able to make those explosive plays last week.
The week before, it was 11 explosive plays. This week, I believe five or six, not as many. So practice has to be an opportunity where you run the plan, show the plan to the players, players execute the plan, and then you get in the game. Hopefully, those things that you’ve done, that you practiced will come to fruition in a game. It just hasn’t clicked at that point, but we’re going to still keep on pressing and keep trying to get those things done.
Q. Phillip Sims said after the game he didn’t make enough plays and didn’t get the ball enough into the hands of his playmakers, basically taking responsibility for the loss – we know it wasn’t all his fault, but when a guy says that what does that say to you?
COACH LONDON: When a player takes the blame for himself for a loss, it’s not just on one play. It never is. That player is the type of guy, type of leadership that you want for a guy saying, ‘I’ll take that.’ I’m quite sure there were some throws that he’d like to have back or some decisions that maybe he’d like to have, and he’s just a competitor.
And a lot of the players that feel that way. As I said before, throwing for almost 300 yards, that’s a positive, but with two turnovers, that’s a negative. To eliminate the negative part of that and put us in a position where situation where in the second, third, or fourth quarter have a chance to drive and make some of those catches or those throws – I think, what you hear is a guy that’s competitive.
And a number of our players on our team feel that one drop or that missed tackle was their fault. It’s not just their fault – it’s an accumulation of things. But players recognize the fact that their execution about what they do matters in a game, and it will always continue to matter in a game.
Q. What do you learn about what it takes to be the head coach for 60 minutes during the game at this level.
COACH LONDON: It’s – you have to be involved in every detail of the program from the players’ off the field issues to their academic issues to whatever else they do in the community. Obviously, the plan that they’re getting offensively, defensively, special teams-wise is being demonstrated and given to them so they can execute it.
Manage the game in terms of how the game is being played, the opponent that you’re playing. And just continue to try to make the decisions with the information that you have based on your instincts and knowledge of the situation at hand, and you go with it. Try not to second-guess yourself about things.
You make some good decisions, and then sometimes you don’t make good decisions. And I’m not perfect by any means, but my intent in trying to coach this team to play well, to do the things they’re supposed to do on and off the field will be always 100 percent. Would we like to be playing better? Yes, we would, and we have to play better because ultimately that’s my responsibility to make sure the plan that the players get, we can address some of these wins and the losses.
But I’m the coach of the player, the overall aspect of the player too, in every aspect – off the field, in the classroom, and on the field. I know it’s a disappointing, discouraging thing right now with the record. It is what it is. But the effort and the energies to get this thing done, get these young guys coached up, and get it executed to get that feeling back of confidence that came through the performance, that’s what we’re working on.
Q. You were running the ball well in the first half at Duke and not so much in the second half. What changes did they make? Do you have any comment about them?
COACH LONDON: One is, when you’re behind and all of a sudden you’re first and second down calls may not always be run to set up the pass. It may be pass, pass, and then hopefully maybe a makeable short third down situation.
So as the game is dictated, Coach Lazor was calling the game based on our ability or our need to catch up and put points on the board because, when he got into the third quarter, particularly after the punt that was returned and there was a penalty attached to it, and on the 47-yard line, fourth and one, we didn’t make it. Then all of a sudden, the need for throwing the ball and catching up and putting points on the board became the most paramount.
So that’s – again, it goes back into addressing that third quarter stat for us, the push to stay active and to get on the board. First – they got the ball the second half, and that first drive, defense did a nice job and made them punt. But, again, we didn’t execute well enough to get points on the board and play like we needed to.
So there are a lot of aspects to look at. You want to have a good running game, but when you get behind like that, then the game plan changes to dictate what you need to do.
Q. Demetrious Nicholson – How do you think he’s done in that role so far this year as the leader? What kind of challenge does he have against a pretty good freshman coming in Saturday from Maryland?
COACH LONDON: I think Trea’ is one – a very silent, quiet guy, but when you think back to his career – his career as a sophomore when he started every game and played every snap, and he’s played against, as you said, the best receivers that are out there. Balls that were thrown deep, there’s been a lot of times when he’s broken up a pass, whatever.
But when the corner’s back there and you get beat deep and there’s a touchdown scored, well, obviously, everyone sees that and knows that. I think the challenge – he’s accepted any challenge that’s been presented to him with the other team’s best receiver in Stefon Diggs. As far as the recruiting part of him, the best player in the state of Maryland – he is an explosive, dynamic player, and Maryland tries to find a lot of ways to get him the ball.
Whether they put him in the regular offensive formation. I think Trey will rise to the challenge because Stefon will be another very talented, dynamic receiver.
I believe, since Tra’ started, I know he’s started every game for us. That’s kind of a quiet statistic, but he just – and he’s drawn sometimes the best receiver the other team has, and it goes unnoticed. At the same time, he’s a special player, and he’s a young player, now a sophomore going into his seventh game of his college career.
I think great things are ahead for him.
Q. Was the turning point at Duke when they stopped you on fourth-and-one?
COACH LONDON: You’re on the 47-yard line, and it’s fourth and one. They just scored, and you’re playing on the road. You’re trying to play a game to win, and they beat us to the punch, and they stopped us.
Of course, that led to another one of their scores, and that kind of started that third quarter slide.
Again, you can play the game cautious. You can play the game by punting the ball there, but when you’re fourth and one there, much as you try to talk about changing the dynamics of your team and what they think about themselves, you’ve got to start from an opportunity near the 50 yard line, let’s go for it. We didn’t get it. It led to points. We needed to stop them, and it led to points.
So we need to keep trying to find ways, when our team, our offense is on the field, that whatever the situation dictates, that they understand that third and one, fourth and one, fourth and two, fourth and three, that we’re going to go for those opportunities that present itself to us.
Q. Chris Brathwaite doesn’t start but has a ton of tackles, is he coming into his own after battling injuries last year or so?
COACH LONDON: I think part of it is, like I said, we have to play more players defensively. Not too platoon, but get more guys in the game. So in the long run, in the long end of a game, we have guys that have been in there – Chris is, remember he was a committed player when we first got here. He was recruited for the three-four nose tackle position, kind of like what Nate Collins was here before.
But Chris has been battling some injuries off and on, and the last two weeks, last 2 1/2 weeks actually, he’s been relatively healthy. So it’s good to see the skill that he brings to the position and the depth that he also brings to the position. And being productive is going to help us particularly when we’ve decided not to play some players up front there.
Q. What is the affect of not having Tim Smith out there regularly?
COACH LONDON: Timmy is a veteran of the group. Outside of not having him, what we have are sophomores and freshmen that are playing. You miss that leadership – you miss the play making ability. There are a lot of things that you miss that, when he’s on the field, in the huddle, around with the rest of the team and the rest of the receivers, it’s a source of comfort.
Now when you have your younger guys in there, the older guys – now Dominique Terrell or Darius Jennings, and they’re sophomores. So not having Tim in there, it’s probably similar to not having a guy like Billy Schautz in there, who’s been out the last couple of games because of injury. Just having another experienced player in there that can provide pressure on the quarterback, play the run, and have a voice in the huddle. You miss out on guys like that – it affects you.
But the next guy mentality has to step up. Everybody has injuries during the course of the season. Some are most glaring, and some almost have a domino effect on the others. But Tim on the receivers, because it is such a young group, it has an effect.
Q. What is Tim’s injury?
COACH LONDON: You know – it’s ankle, Achilles, just different things. And, again, he’s a speed guy, got to stretch the field. If those speed guys aren’t feeling right and their wheels aren’t feeling right, it definitely limits their ability.
It’s different than just having a guy out there. The receivers have to run, and they’ve got to get open, and they’ve got to do different things. We do miss a lot of aspects that Tim brings to the game.
Q. What is the plan for Saturday – expect a good crowd?
COACH LONDON: I believe its Homecomings. Correct me if I’m wrong on that one. But as I said, this is every effort; every energy to put a plan together offensively and defensively is geared towards trying to win a game – and special teams. The effort and energy and understanding we’ve got to coach better and teach better and give the players a plan to play is also important.
Our guys – seeing our home fans – our people yelling for us – for our guys, is important. Our recruits, they come to the game, where they’re committed or the ones that are thinking about Virginia now, that’s important. So there’s a lot of things that are important when you have going down the stretch these last few home games, to have a representative crowd cheering for you because it affects – it affected a lot of things.
We want to put a game together that our fans can be proud of.
Q. You said more guys playing on defensive, which players are you looking at to fill that role?
COACH LONDON: I think with Will Hill, Brent Urban, Chris Brathwaite, Justin Renfrow, sometimes you may look at the number of reps, and it may be skewed. I’m talking about giving more opportunities for guys to come in and spell the other. So these third quarter, fourth quarter issues, there’s energy. There are guys that have spelled the other.
Same thing with Mike Moore that’s playing – hasn’t played a whole lot. But give him an opportunity to get in and play some scrimmage plays.
Eli Harold, he’s been playing, but also increase his opportunity, particularly now that Billy’s been out. Ausar has been a starter now, and that’s given Eli some opportunities. But I think Mike Moore is another player. Demeitre Brim, linebacker, D.J. Hill that plays all the special teams. I can go down the list of different guys, even going into the latter part of the season, it’s the only way they’re going to gain experience is to play now because next year will be, if they don’t get in the game now, you’re back in the same situation of not having game play experience, particularly with a guy you’re taking the redshirt off of.
Q. Is E.J. Scott a new favorite target of QBs?
COACH LONDON: I don’t know if you ask quarterbacks if there’s a favorite target or a favorite guy that they look to. They may say secretly that there is, but that the offense is predicated on distributing the ball according to reads.
E.J.’s been a player that started out on special teams when Tim was healthy and was like a gunner on punt team, where he was running down on getting in front of the punt returner’s face and doing a great job there, on kickoff return. And so his role has started to increase. Then when Tim went down, then his on the field scrimmage plays had started increasing because of trying to fill a void there.
So E.J.’s become a very good player for us. That’s a role player that also plays and performs well on special teams. I’m quite sure that he’s got himself in position to make some plays. Got a catch, got a couple of drops, but at the same time, I think that he’s become a really good football player because he’s learning how to special teams on the field, all those things. He gets a chance to play, play the game, he’s taking full advantage of those opportunities.
Q. Six games down – do you talk about second season with next six games?
COACH LONDON: Sure, we just talked about October and the month of October for us is important. Two of the games are home games, and there’s a bye at the end of it.
So approaching this game, home game against a rival, recruit against them. Everything about Maryland-Virginia football game, a lot of our players are from the state of Maryland. So, again, that’s another renewed sense of excitement and interest.
And if you talk about the mindset, I’m always trying to hang on to a player’s mindset. It’s my job to make sure – I try to keep creating that positive mindset about there’s games left to play. You’ve got home games. Let’s win the month of October. And that’s what I’ve got to do. That’s what we should do. Like I said, we’re focused on putting the plan together that people, when they come to Scott stadium, if they see, they think, you know what, this team is improving because that’s important also to make sure we improve, offense, defense, and special teams, as the season goes on, goes forward.
So that’s kind of the way it’s been, Jay, talk about let’s win this month, the month of October.
Q. As you mentioned playing more guys on defense. What do you think exists, just in general, if the season ended today and you were 7-5, what do you think – Or are you seeing signs of turning the corner here?
COACH LONDON: You look at life’s statistics, and the fact is turnovers. That’s key. Getting turnovers is key to keeping points down because then it’s less possessions that a team has. I think that’s one of the biggest things for us right now. On the other side, giving the ball away. Now the defense is on the field when you give it up.
I think it’s a hand in glove situation where they fit, having a pass rush opportunity, that you give guys those third down stops. I think we’re first or second in the ACC last year in third downs. I don’t know where we are now, but I know they were – I think they were 3-of-14 this past game. You’ve got to continue to get off the field when you have those opportunities.
There are a lot of things you could talk about and you can point at. I think probably the biggest culprit is the lack of turnovers because of possessions and increased opportunity that you give offenses – and then giving the ball up as well.