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Press Conference: Mike London

UVa. football coach Mike London talks with the news media on Monday. The Cavs (2-3, 0-2 ACC) host North Carolina (3-2, 1-1 ACC) on Saturday.

QUESTION: Ras-I Dowling and Chase Minnifield are playing well. Cornerback seems like a strong position for the team – what makes those guys as good as they are?

COACH LONDON: I think experience and having been there before. Seeing the different coverages and the routes, things like that helps those guys. It’s good to have an element of our strength back again and to have Ras-I and Rodney McLeod healthy and back out there.

Ras-I is a captain and we missed him when he was hurt. Chase is a vocal guy that benefitted us from a leadership standpoint while Ras-I was out. We tried to get Chase out there and get him going – we had him going on punt returns too. Chase had one from 19 yards, so we try to make an emphasis of trying to get him started and get him opportunities to do something things in the kicking game.

QUESTION: It seems like thunder and lightning, big guy/little guy combination in the running game. Then you go change of pace with the other guy. Talk about your philosophy on where you’re going with the combination of Keith Payne and Perry Jones.

COACH LONDON: Most of it just depends on the particular play and then maybe the ‘who’ defensively, the scheme that they’re running. I don’t know if it’s as much we go with Keith and then we go with Perry. Both of them have done a nice job. And actually, Keith is starting to play kind of like a big back, and kind of a mid-sized back that can run it up in there and get on the outside and being able to catch the ball.

Perry made a great catch where he almost went down, he spun around and ran out of it and made a nice long run. The goal is to keep trying to find ways to get those guys the ball. Identity the playmakers, guys that aren’t dinged up, that aren’t injured, that can carry the ball or get yards after catches. And Keith and Perry are definitely two of those guys that can do that, we’ve just got to continue to find more.

QUESTION: I think a lot of people thought with all of the players suspended at Carolina, and then Coach Blake resigning that the team might fall apart. Instead they’ve been incredibly good in every game. What do you make of what they’ve done at Carolina? Is it just a case of guys rallying together around the university?

COACH LONDON: It’s exactly that. When you have people that are attacking your football family, sometimes you rally the troops and you circle up and you say, all right, listen, are we the only ones that care about you, the ones that are inside the room, inside that family.

You appeal to the players’ competitiveness and their pride, and they’re really the only ones that know what is exactly going on. Coach has done a nice job – Butch has done a nice job of rallying his troops and guys stepping up in place of those guys that aren’t playing.

It’s the same thing if you had injured players, somebody would have to step up and play also. They’ve done a nice job doing that.

QUESTION: What do you remember about the Carolina game from your time here?

COACH LONDON: Always competitive. I know it’s the South’s oldest rivalry game. It’s one of those games that you recruit a lot of the same type players from different areas. We have players from North Carolina – they have players from Virginia – things like that. You know the coaches. They’re in our side of the conference here in the ACC Coastal Division.

It’s a game that the significance of it has people drawing light to the home and away schedule of the series, but we’re a completely different team. And I would say they’re a completely different team now. We’ve got to play the game that’s here in Charlottesville. It’s our homecoming. Hopefully it’s a nice crowd out there. It’s a 6 p.m. game. Hopefully the venue will be nice and a good college football game will take place.

QUESTION: Seems liked redshirting philosophy has been different here the last couple of years. Can you talk about how this point of the season is kind of the point of no return? Can you talk about what it would take for you to put a true freshman in the game at this point in the season?

COACH LONDON: You always have to be concerned about the development of the player. The young man that you have, where he is on the depth chart and then the consequences of you putting him in the game both athletically and academically, because then you trigger a lot of things once he starts to play.

And I would say at this point almost halfway through the season that I’ll try my best not to play a true freshman right now, because Brandon Hourigan and our weight guys have had him for a time now. Just want the true freshmen to get acclimated to getting bigger, faster, stronger, and that is the biggest difference sometimes.

Unless it’s a skill player, a fast guy, fast receiver, something like that, then maybe. But at the same time, I’d rather take guys that we have in the program already. What I’ll have to do with the tight end situation is try to address that with players that have eligibility as opposed to players that are using a redshirt year.

Morgan Moses has played. He’s going to continue to play. Rijo Walker has played. He’s going to continue to play. Those are the type of guys that we’ve committed to playing, we’re going to keep on playing. Then everyone else, just for the sake of them academically and athletically, try to hang on to them.

QUESTION: It seems like Colter Phillips and Paul Freedman will be seeing more time at tight end now with Joe Torchia out. Are Phillips and Freedman similar style tight ends, or what are their individual strengths?

COACH LONDON: I think they’re similar in the fact that both of them are now having to step up and be the guy, point-of-attack guys. Joe Torchia was that guy. Colter has obviously caught more passes. Paul, I consider him a young player that’s now thrust into the everyday you’ve got to be ready to go, whether you go two tight ends or if Colter’s out and you’re ready to go because you’re the tight end that’s in the game.

And both of them have to be or learn how to be accomplished blockers, which Joe was. But they both have a tremendous upside to them. We’ll have to get that type of play from them from this point on with the games that are left and with Joe being out.

QUESTION: How much of an issue are Marc’s slow starts the last two games?

COACH LONDON: I think what you always try to do in a game is you try to have the throws and the plays that you hope that can move the chains to give a certain level of confidence to your quarterback. Now if you don’t hit the guy that’s open or you throw it short or overthrow him, then that adds to the problems or issues that might be had in a start, particularly at the start of a game.

Our thing with Marc is to try to get him to have some success early. He’s got to have success early. We’ve got to complete some passes, we’ve got to set up 2nd and 2. We’ve got to have a 2nd and 5 or 2nd and 6. Then the thing is you can do again is prepare to have a successful, makeable third down situation.

All those things are tied into it. Him having a good start, a fast start, because a successful start is definitely predicated on him completing the passes and us being able to run the ball so we can put ourselves into those makeable third down situations.

So that’s what Marc has to do. That’s what we’ve got to do, and that’s the goal for us.

QUESTION: A lot was made about Carolina’s defense in the preseason. How are they doing, and what has impressed you considering the loss of personnel?

COACH LONDON: They’re playing fast. Their linebackers are very physical. They have a 4-3 scheme. Don’t do a whole lot of blitzing, but they just play well technique-wise, they cover well. You just see them flying around to the ball.

They’re a team that’s rallied around whatever kind of adversity they’ve had. Kind of an us-against-the-world mentality – and you can see them playing like that. No matter who the guy is in the game, they’ve done a nice job of really playing fast and getting to the football.

QUESTION: Bill Lazor is one of the guys that you didn’t know real well before you started. After you’ve played a few games with him, what have you learned about the way he approaches the game?

COACH LONDON: His demeanor is the type of demeanor that our quarterback right now needs to have. He’s on the sideline, being able to coach him up and teach him up during the course of the game. We have to call plays and do things to try to understand who our talent and what our guys are, and try to get the ball to those guys. Unfortunately we tried to get the ball to Dontrelle [Inman] and Kris [Burd] a couple of occasions, and it didn’t work out. One – there was a penalty – onther two were underthrown; one got stripped out of Kris’ hands.

I think as long as we keep trying to do that, we’re a team that has to find guys that can carry the ball for us and get yards after the catch and things like that. We can keep trying to identify those guys. Because it looks like with guys in, guys out, now Landon Bradley starting left tackle, will be out for a couple of games with a hand injury.

Joe Torchia is not here anymore. We have to be creative in what we do and how we move the ball. But that’s what you game plan for. That’s why you play games. We’re hard at work trying to get that ready for North Carolina.

QUESTION: Through five games, only seven field goal attempts. That seems like it might be on the low end. Is it hard for these guys to get a rhythm? It seems like a coin toss out there regarding which kicker you’ve been using.

COACH LONDON: Well, the one we kicked was a 50-yarder. So that’s a coin toss for whoever is kicking it. But you’d like to try to find out what the drop-off point for the field goal kicker. I think ours is the 30- to 35-, 37-yard line. If we don’t get there, your chances of kicking a field goal successfully are minimized.

Chris Hinkebein in practice has proved that he’s got the stronger leg. The kick that he kicked was long enough, just off to the right. Then when you’re kicking those long field goals, you have to think about the pooch punt and you try to place field position, those type of things.

We’ve got to be able to move the ball to give Robert [Randolph] a chance to get to the yard line where he can have some success – that’s the plan. You’ve got to get in the red zone and get yourself to score some points whether it’s touchdowns or field goals.

QUESTION: Do you mean 35-yard line or 35-yard field goal?

COACH LONDON: Right. Ball on the 30-yard line.

QUESTION: You appear to be using Morgan Moses more at right guard than you had originally anticipated. Is that because of weakness in someone’s play? What’s your evaluation of Morgan Moses so far?

COACH LONDON: No, not as much what B.J. [Cabbell] has not done, is the fact that I think for a young player on the offensive line, you particularly start them in the inside where he’s got help with the center – he’s not asked to do a whole lot of things. Your right tackles and left tackles – they’re the guys. Particularly your left tackle has got to be the guy that’s pass-pro and protects the quarterback’s blind side.

We started Morgan out there at the right tackle and just found that he has more of a comfort level being inside, playing close to the center and being able to do some things on our counters or our power plays. He gets a chance to pull and wrap it around and put a big mass of humanity on somebody.

He likes that. He relishes the opportunity to do that. From a learning curve standpoint what is best for him right now is to put him at guard and share time with B.J. and push B.J. a little bit. B.J.’s also an experienced player who can go also on the other side to give [Austin] Pasztor a little break.

You’ve got a player like Morgan who came here to play, so we’re trying to bring him along so he has an opportunity to play and be a good player by the time he leaves here.

QUESTION: And what about B.J.?

COACH LONDON: B.J.’s doing a nice job. He’s a veteran player, what he doesn’t do with overall strength and overwhelming, he does it with experience. There are some aspects to his game that he knows he has to improve, that all players that are being evaluated as need to improve.

When you have a player like Morgan’s ability, too, you want to get him reps and it’s not uncommon to try to work your guys out.

North Carolina talks about having two full offensive lines that play during the course of a game. I’d like to be able to get to a point where you could put your second offensive line unit in there, it’s just we haven’t been afforded that opportunity because of the learning curve for some of those guys.

But Sean Cascarano, he’s got to play, Morgan will play. We talked about Luke Bowanko possibly playing maybe as a tight end. But with Landon out, now Luke’s got to be a backup. Now the opportunity for some of these younger guys to play, they have to, because of the injury situation.

QUESTION: I think you mentioned that Oday Aboushi would play left side now?

COACH LONDON: Right. Right now we have him lined up with the right side with Sean Cascarano playing the left. And during the course of the week in practice, if we decide to move him to the left side, then, of course you’ve got Cascarano who can play the right, or Bowanko, [Aaron] Van Kuiken, all those guys have been practicing at the tackle position.

We’ll see how practice goes on this week. See where we’re best suited to put our best pieces of the puzzle in order for us to help us in this particular game.

QUESTION: You alluded to this earlier. But Carolina hasn’t won here since 1981. That’s a pretty amazing streak. Does that come up at all or do you not mention it to your team?

COACH LONDON: Till you just mentioned what year it was, I didn’t know myself. I just know that they’ve been pretty good games. The circumstances of this season for them and what they’ve got going on with us, and what we have going on, all we’re worried about is this particular game being a home game, our homecoming and a chance to get back in the position where we have a chance to win a game.

We want to play well. We want to play well, because we need to play well. And I know the players want to play well. I think that is the biggest significance, home game, homecoming, and a chance to play well, even with guys that are out and just represent our program. I think probably that’s the biggest thing.

QUESTION: You had to devote so much time to the option last week, and in a bye week. Is there a sense of a conventional offense would be something for your guys that would be a sense of relief?

COACH LONDON: I don’t know about a sense of relief. The Georgia Tech offense is a challenging offense. We gave up a lot of yards. When you look back, North Carolina gave up a lot to them. South Carolina State gave up a lot to them. Kansas gave up a lot. It’s one of those offenses that – you’re right you don’t practice it all the time. Your preseason, you don’t spend a whole lot of time doing that. But most of the time you do spend defending the I-pro teams or one-back sets or spread offenses. You spend a lot of time doing that.

I think the rest of the games we have left will be some semblance of that type of offense that we’ll be playing against. But it’s good to get back to being able to lineup and do what you do, try to defend their best players, but also play a style of offense that you’ve been used to.

QUESTION: Are you concerened that teams will continue to push the run against you this season after seeing the rushing efforts of your opponents the past two weeks?

COACH LONDON: I go back to the Florida State game where the issue with those four missed tackles that resulted in over 120-something yards, and then you go back to a ground game that was No. 1 in the ACC and No. 6 in the country, that that’s what they do, now that we have to play well defensively up front, going into those two particular games I felt pretty good about our defense.

I still feel good about our defense. Minimize the missed tackles in one game, and the other one is an offense that you’ve got to be assignment oriented and we just didn’t do a good job there.

I know the players defensively want to get back into the thick of things being able to play the way we play our style. That will be a point of emphasis again this week for sure.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the challenges of managing a team’s psyche to move them forward in a positive way and try to build the mentality from that?

COACH LONDON: Yeah, it’s a challenge. We’re disappointed. You’re discouraged, but you can’t let those feelings last very long, because you start to develop that defeatist-type attitude and mentality. There’s plenty of that went around last year.

You’re not looking at anybody that’s feeling sorry for themselves or down or anything like that. We’re a work in progress and we said that at the beginning when we first started. Trying to build what these guys think about themselves.

Our players are together. We’re all on the same page. Coaches are with each other, the attitude and atmosphere around the McCue Center is high. And that’s the way it should be, because of the way things are changing.

We just keep talking about the attitude. Keep talking about the approach we’re taking with the players about being positive, about no one wants to miss a tackle. No one wants to get beat deep or anything like that.

And you can respond in a couple of ways. You can respond and let it get to you, or you can respond in a way that next time, Coach, next opportunity I want to do well.

I think all of our players and coaches have moved and are staying in that direction about let’s play. And that is the only way when you lose a game and you have that taste in your mouth is to get ready, to get prepared and get to play your next game. That’s what we’re all looking forward to doing now.

QUESTION: Talk about the offensive line. Given the offensive struggles early in the games, how concerning is it for you that you’re not going to have those two guys around here?

COACH LONDON: You’re always concerned about how you start fast offensively or what you do offensively. No one likes three and outs or four plays and outs, things like that. That’s always a concern regarding to first team, third team or whoever else is playing.

But that’s one of the things that you recognize in order to stay on the field and make those third downs that we talked about before, or making those second downs, 2nd and 5, 2nd and 6. I think that is as important, because now if you get something going in your second downs, then your third downs are makeable again.

We’ve just got to stay on the field. We’ve got to do a better job finding ways to stay on the field and move the chains. That is a challenge that we have with a very good North Carolina defense this week.

I have confidence in my guys. That’s what I should have. I should recognize what we need to do, but I want to have confidence in my guys to put together a game plan to do something to move the ball, to keep the ball, to try to convert on those third downs.

QUESTION: You mentioned the North Carolina offense. Can you talke about the benefit of having an experienced quarterback like T.J. Yates back there?

COACH LONDON: Yeah, Coach – their offensive coordinator – John Shoop has done a nice job of, again, creating those throws and those situations for Yates to be successful. Veteran quarterbacks. That’s what you want a veteran quarterback to do, be able to move the ball, distribute the ball to their playmakers.

They have a lot of running backs. [Johnny] White has done a fantastic job. They’ve got some wide receivers that are really fast and very athletic. And they have a tight end, I think, is the number one reception leader for them.

It’s not uncommon that in one of their games, first quarter, second quarter, that you see five or six different guys have catches because of the way he distributes the ball. That is the way the offense is set up.

Yates runs their offense well, and he’s very efficient at it. We’ve got to do a good job of making sure that we take care of ourselves defensively in understanding some of the things that they’re trying to do by playing better coverage, rushing, putting pressure on him. And then just knowing that a guy like White is coming out of the backfield he makes some big catches in some big games for them.

But running a simple wheel route out of the backfield, or an angle route across the ball. We’ll have to have our work cut out for us, but, again, that’s why you game plan. That’s why you get ready to play.

QUESTION: It doesn’t look like Matt Snyder is the kind of guy who runs by people. Are you consciously putting him in jump ball situations, especially during that last drive at Georgia Tech?

COACH LONDON: I tell you, I’ve talked about Matt before about being one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around. Has something to prove to himself about being able to play. I think with Matt, he’s on a couple of special teams packages. He’s very prideful. Believe it or not, he’s not fast, as you say, but he’s got enough speed that he can run the deep routes. But I think what Matt has is something you can’t measure and that is heart and determination. On two occasions he went up and jumped higher than wherever the DB was guarding him and he came down with the ball.

I don’t know if he was a one-star or two-star athlete coming out of high school. I know he’s a walk-on here that caught my attention because of his work ethic and his heart.

He had a couple of good catches in the game. Does well as a special teams player. It means something to him. He just went up on those two occasions and he made some plays there.

Matt has earned a right to get himself in the game and in situations that require somebody being reliable. Require him being able to block and crack back on a big linebacker or something like that. I’m very, very happy for his success, for his sake, because he earns it and deserves it.

QUESTION: You’ve won pretty much everywhere you’ve gone. The Virginia players seem to have taken on your positive attitude, but how far away in your mind are they from having the same winning mentality? It seems like you and coaches like Anthony Poindexter have more of an edge since you’ve been part of winning programs before – what can you do to get their mindset their?

COACH LONDON: It’s always a process in trying to get guys to believe in the fact that you’re always one play away from that completed pass, being an intercepted pass and running it back for a defensive touchdown. You’re always one play away from a frustrating – I can’t block this guy on the edge, to you make a great kick step and you block the guy.

Then when you start having success one play at a time. Having success one play at a time is what we’ve got to build this program on – being able to have success. A play at a time – and it starts to catch on and people look to the left and to the right, they see other guys having success. It’s hard, it’s discouraging, and as disappointed as we are, everyone can look and point out what we’re not doing, we’re not catching, we’re not blocking.

In order to change the mindset of guys, you’ve got to start with them saying, listen, you CAN. Then we address it in other more tangible ways by recruiting, things like that. That’s what happens when you take over a program and you start trying to rebuild. There is all different kind of aspects that you have to approach the program. I think we’re doing it the right way. And I know people want us to win, and that will come. But right now you’re looking at a guy that is extremely confident in his players and coaches and, that’s the way I’m going to remain because I have to be. I can’t look at it any other way.

We’re hoping and looking to respond better this home game, this next game. Regardless who the opponent is, it just happens to be North Carolina, but we’re looking to respond and play better.

QUESTION: Jake Snyder was much more highly recruited player than his brother Matt was coming out of high school. What have you seen from him so far, and what do you thin of his potential?

COACH LONDON: I think what’s happened with Jake is that he’s playing behind guys like — Cam Johnson who has done a nice job playing well. Zane Parr. And then Billy Schautz has really stepped his game up here a little bit. Jake’s just kind of a victim of being the third, fourth defensive end. We talked about our guys playing, and giving the guys the chance to play whether it’s special teams: We talked about some roles for Jake, so he feels like he’s contributing also.

But the plan is for this particular game for us to play enough players – also so that everyone feels they’re part of this thing. Because we’re going to have to on offense, and defensively we want to do some things particularly with Jake and Will Hill, and guys that haven’t played as much but they’re practicing and deserve to go in the game, so we’re going to give them some opportunities to do that.

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