Press Conference: Mike London
MIKE LONDON: We know what the series is. We know what the records are. That’s something that’s made plain and everyone knows about it. But this year’s approach for this team is an approach to get them ready to play, you know, a rival team that has done well in the last several years, and to play on the road at a venue that’s been known to have a loud crowd and a crowd that gets into the game. So the fact that it is our in-state rival means a lot, particularly for some of the in-state players that we have that are on our team. They know a lot about each other, much has been made about the high school rivalries and all those other things.
For us it’s the last opportunity for our fourth and fifth-year seniors to have an experience to go out on a winning note, and that’s the main focus.
Q. Since you’ve been in coaching, has that been the most frustrating part of coaching in the last five years, not being able to get a win against the Hokies?
MIKE LONDON: You know, when you’re a competitor and you play in the ACC and you play a team in your Coastal Division, your side, the record speaks for itself; anyone can look at that and make note of that. The competitive side of you wants to change those opportunities. You get frustrated about a lot of things, but this is another game, another opportunity to change the fortunes of that, and you have to play well. We have to play better than obviously we played last week. We have to play probably our best football to date for anything like that to change.
So again, the focus for us is that this is the last game. There are no Bowl game implications. I mean, there’s the Commonwealth Cup, there’s pride, there’s all those other things that you have to play for, and the players on our team understand that, and that’s the main objective right now is to go out on a positive note.
Q. Any updated on Morgan Moses? He is on the depth chart.
MIKE LONDON: You know – it’s guarded right now. I’m not a doctor, but he understands the importance of this, and I think that outside of knowing what happens tomorrow when we have our practice – the players are off today for their mandatory NCAA day off – but we’ll see Tuesday and we’ll see Wednesday what happens, and then we’ll go throughout the week to see how he can do or what he can do. That’s going to be important.
I’m quite sure if he’s ready to play, able to play, he will. And if not, then Jay Whitmire will be the next man up.
Q. Carolina had a lot of success with the bubble screen. Do you expect given that that they’ll try to exploit that, as well? What can you do to defend that better?
MIKE LONDON: You know, a lot of teams when they have a film and they see the success that the previous team had, obviously a lot of it is you go back and you attack what’s been successful, and it’s not like Virginia Tech doesn’t throw the ball out on the perimeter; they do. Your approach to that would – obviously there’s a couple things you can do coverage wise, whether it’s the type of coverage you play, what do you do with your corners, how you align your outside backers, the way you play your safeties. But is something we’re going to have to do a better job at because they’re very capable of running the same type of quick perimeter play like that, get a blocker on a blocker and allow their runners to run. But that is something we definitely have to look at, play better and execute better in terms of what type of coverages we need to play.
Q. How much of a motivation is it? Obviously you want to win, but the idea that you could keep them out of the postseason, is that a petty thing or something we come up with or is that something your players are thinking about?
MIKE LONDON: Again, we all understand the implications of what a six-win season means for every team. Right now they have five wins, and I’m quite sure that they look at this as a sixth win opportunity to extend a Bowl streak and opportunities for themselves. So we look at it also as an opportunity for us to win a football game against a team that has beaten us at Virginia the last several times.
For us the human element, the nature of it would be to have a chance to win a game and maybe be part of not extending their streak, but the biggest thing for us is to win a game, particularly going out, as frustrating as this season may have come out. We’d like more than anything else to end on a positive note, and people will count up the wins and losses at the end of the season and the opportunities that have been extended to different teams.
Q. Do you know why this season isn’t as successful as you had hoped?
MIKE LONDON: I think probably one of the telltale factors is the turnovers part of it when you’re turning the ball over two, three times a game and you’re extending opportunities for possessions and you’re having issues in trying to get the ball back, and particularly where the turnovers occur, whether they’re deep in your red zone on the plus side of the opposing team’s territory, you know, that does put you – your back up against the wall on several occasions.
I think that’s probably more than anything else the ability of trying – the need to force turnovers and then the lack of – and then us giving the ball up too many times, whether it’s interceptions or fumbles, have created those extra possessions for those offenses. So the more possessions they get, then you increase the opportunity for other teams to score. I think they go hand in hand.
Q. I read an article the other day about Les Miles, and he talked to the importance of belief in football program. How do you get the players to believe they can do something and beat a team that haven’t beat?
MIKE LONDON: Well, I think it requires you to revert back – rely back on even your parenting skills, your coaching skills, anything you’ve ever done to try to convince someone that they can do what they set their mind to. I think the atmosphere has to be positive, it has to be one that you believe it and you have to convey that type of feeling to the players and they have to feel that you’re genuinely trying to express those type of feelings.
This whole season, this whole opportunity is to try to create an atmosphere of being positive despite the negative things that have happened is something I will continue to try to keep doing. You want the players to believe in themselves and you want them to believe that you believe in them, because if not, you’ll have no chance. And so just continue to keep trying to promote an atmosphere of being positive despite what the record says, but in a game like this, the opportunities that are presented, the last game, the rivalry game and all those things that you’ve just mentioned here today – all those things come into play.
A lot of these players, they know each other, they went to school with each other, they’ve played against each other, and obviously there are recruiting implications. There are so many other different things that are involved with this that don’t need someone to stoke up. It’s just one of those things that this is a big game for us, and obviously it’s a big game for them because it has Bowl game implications for them.
Q. Virginia Tech plays a lot more single coverage on the perimeter. How different schematically are they than they have been in the past?
MIKE LONDON: I think what you see is a very aggressive approach to their style defensively. There’s a lot of man coverage, there’s a lot of blitzes — they blitzed against Florida State, they blitzed against Miami. It looks like it’s kind of the MO about being very, very aggressive, and they’ve made a lot of plays because of that style, and sometimes it’s hurt them.
But you do see a very aggressive man-to-man style,
we’re-going-to-put-pressure-on-you, you-have-to-block-us type of approach. But that’s something that’s been very evident as you watch tape and look at the season on them.
Q. For a three-game stretch the defensive line was really impressive. What kind of challenge do they have against Virginia Tech?
MIKE LONDON: Well, I think that a lot of it has to do with the style of offense that you’re playing in terms of catch-and-throw or ball coming out quickly. But I think that when you look at Virginia Tech, you look at Logan Thomas as being – to us he’s an outstanding player. He’s a guy that can handle the ball with his arm. Obviously he does a tremendous job with his legs. You just can’t count him out as far as being a runner or a guy that can threaten you with his arm. 6’6″ or whatever he is, there’s no doubt sometimes of the situations that he’ll get the ball, put the ball in his hands, and he’s proved time after time that he’s been successful in a lot of those situations.
He runs the offense. They’ve got J.C. Coleman, they’ve got Davis, they’ve got all the tools for their offensive approach, but what impresses you when you look at Logan and his size and his athleticism you see he’s a very talented player and definitely one that we as well as other teams are going to have to play well against.
Q. Tech has been up and down as much as you guys have this year. I’m not asking you to be critical, but what have you seen?
MIKE LONDON: You know, it’s hard to say, because each game there’s a game plan that you go into what you want to do with the team that you’re playing, and then outside of not knowing their approach per game, you see the style of defense. They are, again, very aggressive. They have excellent players. Gayle is a young man that you’ve seen over the years play well. I played with his father at Bethel High School. Antone Exum, you see the linebacker, you see guys as individuals you look at them, they look good and they play well. Whatever the reasons may be as far as the success or lack of, it’s hard to say.
I think offensively they run the pistol offense but they run an offense that’s predicated upon a lot of the things that Logan Thomas can do, and I think he was – he’s been on, he’s been off, but particularly things seem to flow as he flows, and when he’s playing well and going well, then so goes the rest of the team.
Q. Would you say you beat yourself this season?
MIKE LONDON: You know, I think when you say don’t beat yourselves, – obviously with turnovers, that’s critical. The inability to convert on 3rd down situations, that’s always important, and then penalties, particularly the penalties that have to do with post-snap issues, late hits or personal fouls. Those are part of the elements of having to play this game, and in order to play it successful, you have to limit those things, or in terms of turnovers you have to increase it. In terms of penalties you have to decrease it.
I think there have been times that we have not succeeded in that area, those areas, which has definitely come back to hurt you. But at least three or four games of the game being decided by a touchdown or less because of those issues, unlike maybe last season when the opportunity existed to come out on the winning side of that. So that’s definitely something that’s been noted. You look back on it and you think about the impetus or the push to make sure that whether it’s this game or games to follow that you eliminate those type of things.
Q. Marcus Davis is impressive don’t you think? He is big and strong – can you talk about him?
MIKE LONDON: Absolutely. I mean, we watched it last game, as well, play was third and extremely long, just threw the ball up in the corner of the end zone, the DB was there and went up, but he just – that height and ability, the vertical leap, all those things, the measurables probably with him came into play, and he came down with the ball. It’s going to be hard to play – with that type of size, you’ve got to play through the receiver’s hands, all the techniques of how you try to disrupt a ball when it’s thrown like that. But he is a very talented player, very fast, very well, can run after the catch. Just so many things that he does well that you marvel at. So we’re going to have to do a really good job with him not just with the corners but also over the top safeties and things like that because he does make plays for his team.
Q. Just from a maturity and leadership standpoint, how do you like what Michael Rocco brings to the team?
MIKE LONDON: I’ve said time and time again, I think the competitive part of him, he always wants to play and be the starter and play every rep. But I think the maturity part of him understands that this is the decision that the coaches have made and the direction that we’ve gone in, and he could have handled it one or two ways; he could have maybe voiced his displeasure and pouted and not been a team player, or he could embrace the role as being another opportunity to lead the team by showing how you handle these type situations.
So he’s been very mature. He has embraced it to the fact that he has not been a destruction to the team or a distraction, and I think basically he’s handled it well. It has to do with going into his third year, being a more mature person, more mature quarterback, and understanding that as the season went on, the decisions that were made, whether he agreed or disagreed, that he was a teammate and he bought into whatever was being decided on behalf of the team.
Q. How often does you guys’ inability to beat them for eight years, how often does that come up?
MIKE LONDON: I’m quite sure on their side they probably talk about it a lot. For me its guys that have been here maybe two or three years or guys that have been – for some of these guys, it’s their first year or second year. Talking about it is something that – it is what it is. But the ability to do something about it, it is what it is, too. It presents the challenges that are before us.
But for the most part, guys, whether they choose them or choose us, are guys that like the message or the brand or the opportunities that each school presents to each player, and I just – like I said, I just think that there’s so many of our guys that either were recruited by them or they have players on that team or teammates or whatever it is, that this game is something that will be very important, very important to us, very important to them, and the implications for us to go out on a winning note, making them Bowl eligible I believe will have some recruiting implications to it, and a lot of the kids they have committed and we have committed are kids that chose us early before this game was even played.
But again, this is another rivalry, and they’ve been on the successful end of it, and our job is to try to change those fortunes.
Q. Just kind of big picture, the ACC is going to fall way short of teams that get into Bowl games. Can you talk about how it’s not been a great year all around?
MIKE LONDON: Well, I mean, I think you look at two of them, not because of the lack of win total. One, you have Miami decided not to, and you had Carolina. So outside of those situations, you’d have two teams that would very much be in the hunt of having opportunities to go to a Bowl game. The circumstances surrounding that are unfortunate, because it dealt with rules and infractions and violations.
But from a football, on the field standpoint, they garnered enough wins to be considered to be Bowl eligible.
But when you look at it come December, January, and everybody will be talking about the teams that are playing, what league is playing against what league, then that’s something, again, that will be written about and talked about. But again, I think the situation and circumstances for this season is a little unique in that you had two teams that were – had to deal with some NCAA issues, and outside of that, if you had those two teams they’d be very much involved.
And I think a positive in a program like Duke University being Bowl eligible for the first time in a long time, that’s positive; a Florida State team having an opportunity – playing for their side of the conference championship; and then you have another opportunity there for a Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship game, a team that’s been in it in the past, and people have wanted the real Florida State to step up. Now you have them playing and representing the ACC.
But it is interesting that this particular year when the Bowl games are handed out or talked about that the absence of two ACC teams, because of the situations, won’t be in the mix.
Q. With the quarterback, you’ve done the rotation for three games now and you’ve learned about how to manage them and implement them?
MIKE LONDON: You know, again, you keep looking at the things that you could do or they could do and try to tie that into your game plan. I think we will go into the last game – you know, it’s probably safe to say that both quarterbacks will play, but to the extent of how much and when and where, I mean, that remains to be seen. But going into the last game, we will try to utilize every player that we have on our roster to help us.
Q. While we’re talking about the ACC, what do you make of Maryland going to the Big Ten?
MIKE LONDON: That came as a shock and as a surprise, but again, I think Maryland was one of the original members in the ACC for over 60 years, I believe. You know, again, it appears that schools are making decisions based on what’s in the best interest of their universities. Obviously there are financial implications to it. But it’s been a shock, and I know that now that they’re – I believe Rutgers is going, as well, and I know with us just getting Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame that at the end of all this conference realignment may not be over. Kind of a wait-and-see moment now what happens from here on out.
Q. To follow up on that, you are now the closest school to the Beltway – will that help you in recruiting?
MIKE LONDON: I think that those young men in that D.C.-Maryland area probably have more of an opportunity by coming to Virginia to be seen by their parents and their community to see them play a Tech or a Duke or UNC or NC State as opposed to traveling an away Big Ten slate.
It’ll be interesting to see how – I know the media market that they’ve talked about will enhance their opportunities, and I’m quite sure it will. But at the same time when you talk about parents and families seeing you play and being able to look at it on a map and talking about the geography of it is going to be important, as well.
Q. Back to the quarterbacks real quick, do you think long-term you need to settle on a quarterback for the program in general, or do you think that this system has – you have a lot of talented quarterbacks in the program right now. What are your thoughts on that?
MIKE LONDON: You know, this year the quarterback situation was dictated out of need, borne out of necessity, and what happens in the spring and next year I’m quite sure will be reevaluated again.
You’d like to have a quarterback in the succession thereof, and hopefully as we have these quarterbacks on our roster and separated them by years that we’d be able to do that.
Again, this year was based on what we thought was in the best interest of the team, but obviously you look at the guys that you have and where they are in their year of eligibility remaining to try and set up a succession order that one can play and then the next one behind him can play when their turn comes.
Q. This year you guys are in the spoiler role. Does it take away from the intensity of the game when the stakes aren’t as high?
MIKE LONDON: I don’t think so. Again, the game in and of itself is talked about and reported on and everybody knows about it. It has an importance particularly to the guys that are playing in it, the players and the coaches. But it seems like there is – for the second year in a row, there is a significance to playing the game, and last year as you know it was for the chance to represent their side, and this year if they win they’re Bowl eligible; if not, then they’re not, and we end the streak. Again, it does have another significance to it.
Q. Were there any teams in your playing career that you never beat, that you played every year?
MIKE LONDON: I don’t know. That’s a good question. You’re putting me on the spot right there for that one. I’ll have to get back to you on that.
Q. Was it William & Mary, something like that?
MIKE LONDON: Yeah, sure. Maybe not. That’s a good question. I only played one year at Bethel, so the one year Hampton beat us. But Tabb and York, we got after York on several occasions. (Laughter.)