Press Conference: Mike London

Virginia football coach Mike London talks with the media on Monday. Virginia (4-4, 1-3 ACC) plays at Duke (2-6, 0-4 ACC) on Saturday.

It seems as if Miami the other day was trying to get snaps off faster than Oregon does. Should I assume that’s in order to keep you from setting your defense, making adjustments?

It is part of an offensive philosophy to hurry up. They know what personnel they’re going to bring in the game before you do. You have to be reactive. That’s all defense is, being reactive.

If they have a tight end in the game, they know the very next play they’re going to send in three wide receivers, they let the tight end flanker stay on the field, let time run down to the last possible moment, run the three wide receivers on the field. What that causes the defense to do is either stay in your base defense or you try to hurry up to make a substitution to match the skill players on the field.

It’s a strategy that’s used. There are some rules in place that if the umpire or referee feels there’s an unfair advantage being taken, then the referee will stand over the ball and allow you to make your substitutions, and then resume play.

But there’s a fine line sometimes between waiting till the last couple minutes, then running one or two guys off which can change the whole complexion of an offensive formation. That is when the referee will stand over the ball.

With [Damien] Berry having so much success in the previous four games, how important was it to set a tone for your defense early in that game?

I think it was important that we were able to get off blocks and limit the run as much as possible. You got to choose one or the other. We wanted to make sure that we could wrap-up and tackle because they’re two strong backs. We knew if [Travis] Benjamin was lurking around; something was going to happen to try to get him the ball. It appeared that when Jacory [Harris] went down, the plan was to do something creative so maybe the quarterback doesn’t have to throw as much, short passes, hook-ups, curl routes, where it turns into a catch-and-run. Then actually he got us on the long run and long touchdown pass.

It was our goal to stop the run because they’ve been a very good running team. Then basically tell our corners, ‘you guys – you got to cover.’

I just thought even though we got the one sack, we were able to hit Jacory, we were able to make him move his feet. He wasn’t the type of quarterback that was going to pull it down and scramble, he was going to stay in the pocket. By making him move his feet, put air underneath the ball, that’s what happened with him and the other two that came in the game. We were very fortunate to get the interceptions out of that.

Coming off of a big win, do you feel the need to address focus?

We’re in unchartered territories. We have no reason to have letdowns. We have to establish some wins before you get to that point.

This is the second part of the season, as we talked about. The second part of the season allows you to compete, to play, and perhaps win another game. That’s the main focus.

This Duke team has beaten Virginia two times in a row. One time they ended the streak, an ACC streak of consecutive losses. Their students stormed the field. There are some memories there that our guys can’t forget. You can’t take anything for granted regardless of what the record says. This is another team that’s capable of beating this team. But if our team plays the way that it can play, because every game is a battle in and of itself, then we’re going down to Durham to play a good football team and we’re going down with the attitude and mindset that this is game number three for us for the second season.

For those of us who didn’t see the Navy/Duke game, the quarterback was 28-of-30 passing. Was Navy not able to get any kind of pass rush? How important will that be in your game plan?

I think part of that in the efficiency of the quarterback is he completed the first 16 passes. Their passing game reminds me a little bit of Texas Tech. We played them in a Bowl game a couple years ago, and they had a lot of high-personal passes, curls, hooks. Their receivers are very adept into reading coverages – knew how to break out their routes. Duke’s quarterback is good at knowing coverages, knowing where his primary and secondary receivers will be. I think that plays into the efficiency part of it. Experienced wide receivers and a quarterback that’s taught well of where to go with the ball.

Going 28-for-30, that’s really, really good. But you have experienced receivers. Interestingly enough, Michael Strauss played with both of those receivers. So, of course, I’ll be asking for tidbits on each guy. But that was a couple years ago when they were teammates.

They run an offense, pistol offense, then sort of a spread offense, and then sort of ‘we’re going to throw the ball type offense.’ They spread the field and attack you not as much vertically but horizontally. They make you defend a lot of areas from sideline to sideline and try to poke holes in your defense by throwing the ball, running the ball, quick passing games, use the quarterback, the other young man that comes in to play, he’s a runner, so they use him to run.

They have a neat little offense, for sure, and a good defense.

What is your specific philosophy on guys returning from injury? In other words, if a guy is out for a short amount of time, does he automatically come back as a starter or does he have to prove that he’s ready for that role again? I’m referring to Landon Bradley?

What you take into account is the fact that when you’re out for a while, whatever body part may be injured or hurt, arm, leg, whatever, that first – you’re at a level of conditioning that you can go in a game and play. If you’re not ready for that through practice and demonstrated performance in practice, you probably would be more in an ‘I’m going to play you, but you’re going to be in a backup role,’ as Landon has been the last couple of games in emergency situations.

It will be interesting to see this week with conditioning, running, nine-on-seven, what level of conditioning that he has. Our strength and conditioning guys do a great job. If you come to our practices, if a player is not practicing, then they are over on the side doing some really strange things to stay in shape. It makes you want to practice and stay away from Brandon Hourigan.

It will be interesting to see where he is, what level of conditioning he is at, and when he mixes it up, where he’s at, left side or right side. Then ultimately make the best decision for the team. Those other guys that have been in have been in the groove playing, getting to play calling, conditioning – all those things.

We’ll see Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday practice where everyone fits into that.

Regarding players not running out of the tunnel but walking, how that fit in with everything you’re talking about.

Particularly the last couple weeks, we’ve had Coach Poindexter lose his grandmother yesterday, she had been sick. Another one of our player’s father is on life support system. The other day I asked the players, ‘how many people in this room have relatives diagnosed with something, not doing well health-wise?’ About three-fourths of the room raised their hand. It was a significant number. It may be that way anywhere, maybe in this room if you were asked to raise your hands.

The fact is – football is a game for two hours. You get a chance to concentrate on what’s going on. Everything else, you can block it out of your mind and play with energy and passion.

For that game, the mindset was, ‘we’re all family, no matter what anybody says about us outside of the McCue Center walls.’ Rather than just running out like we normally do, I told them to grab somebody’s hand, ‘we’re walking out in unison.’

That was kind of the idea for the day. Even when they start coming back, it was guys still saying, ‘hey, we’re family.’ You could hear it on the sidelines. We are instilling a new dedication to the second part of the season for these guys. A little bit of an awakening, that if you play hard, you play well, you play selfless, it goes back to who is going to play, is it Landon Bradley, is it Morgan Moses, if you play for the guy next to you, that’s all that matters.

That’s kind of where we are. That’s the process, the work in progress that we are at this point going into the Duke game.

The Duke quarterback had a good game Saturday against Navy. The weeks prior to that he’s not been particularly good. When you’re scouting an opposing quarterback, how do you balance their most recent performance with their body of work in recent weeks?

Well, that’s what you do. You look at kind of the body of work. You may be playing against a 3-4 defense. That’s a little different attack. You may be playing against a team that may play a lot of press man. You take the accumulated amount of things you have on film and try to find out maybe there’s a favorite side that he likes to throw to, maybe there’s a favorite receiver, maybe there’s splits of the receivers, linemen. You look at things and try to game plan off of that. Do we need to rush him? Drop, play maximum coverage, make him make a decision? Do we want him to run?

When you look at it, this past game at Navy – he was very efficient because he had enough time to stay back there and throw 30 passes – completing 16 passes in a row, a lot of catch and run, passing routes. Maybe that was their design. Maybe Navy’s design was to keep everything in front of them. So you don’t know.

That’s what we do on Sundays and Mondays, we start game planning about what do we have that we think they try to do. That’s what we’re doing now.

Morgan Moses, right tackle, Allen Bailey, left defensive end, how much was he on Bailey? How much help did he get? It would appear that was a crucial matchup for you. What’s the inside on that?

You want the inside, Doug (laughter)?

I think Morgan said there was a lot of trash talking going on out there – not from him. For the most part I think he held his own. There are some things that just by sheer strength that Morgan had to contend with. When it came to pass protecting, not letting him get close to Marc, point of attack blocking, some cuff-off blocks, Morgan said the guy got away from him.

For the most part I thought he did a nice job. That guy is probably going to be a first-round draft pick. All-ACC performer. Morgan’s football is way ahead of him. The weight room, all the things he’ll learn to match that massive side will catch him up to being a really good player himself.

Morgan, I tell you what, he’s a confident guy. When you talk to him, I mean, he’s like, ‘Coach, I got him on lock, don’t worry about it.’ Okay, Morgan. I don’t know on lock. But he is a very confident player. He’s going to be something special here.

What kind of feedback did you get from recruits who were at the game on Saturday?

Well, you know I’m not allowed to speak on recruits. Let’s just say that I thought it was a good day. It was very positive for us. It was very positive for those that were there to see that this is a team that is playing well together. We can play well together.

Virginia is the best of both world opportunities, academically and athletically. If you were a young man out there looking for a school to go play and consider, with the type of staff I have, all the other things that go with it, this is a great place to be. Winning the game, and the students storming the field, that was awesome right there, too. That was pretty neat to see something like that. I thought they were going to tear down the goalposts. I think they fixed them so they don’t go down there anymore. Having them out there, that was neat.

I hope I don’t get in trouble by saying having the students out there was something special. We don’t want people coming out of the stands, but for a moment I thought it was nice celebrating with the players.

For those that didn’t see the Duke/Navy game, Duke’s defense seemed to struggle most of the year, but they must have stepped it up. What did you see that impressed you?

They have a lot of long, lean players that they look athletic and can run. Coach Cutcliffe has done a good job over the last couple of years recruiting the model he’s looking for.

Navy is kind of that style of offense that does the dive quarterback pitch, and after a while they would break some open with play-action passes, great plays by the Navy quarterback throwing the ball or the quarterback just running the ball. They did a great job catching up and almost pulling the game out in the end. I believe on a fourth down play, just on the other side of 50-yard line, and couldn’t convert. It’s a tough game.

Saturday is going to be even a better game for both teams. Both of us are hungry. They’re hungry to get back to winning games again. We’re hungry because we’ve won two in a row. We’ve lost two in a row to them. So we’re looking forward to traveling down to Durham.

You talk a lot about making progress. Keeping that in mind, your defense’s performance on Saturday, can you talk about the progress they’ve made so far?

I think it’s important to note that when you want to stop the run, then what they’re going to do is open it up and throw. I think with Anthony Poindexter, Chip West, Coach Reid and Vincent Brown to handle the underneath coverage part of it – they did a great job defending the pass routes, where the ball is going to be thrown.

All week we worked on, if the ball is on the air, on the ground, it belongs to us. I know a couple passes were deflected. It was one of those things that the rush, although it wasn’t a hit or sack, when you have a guy feeling pressure and he throws off his back foot, he puts air underneath the ball, the receiver stretches out, he tips it, we’re in position, we get it. I thought they got some yardage, particularly in the fourth quarter. They scored those 19 points.

To this day, on that on-side kick, we had the ball. I’ll say that. That’s been corroborated. I won’t tell you by whom. Again, it’s one of those things that happened during the course of the game ’cause they scored immediately right after that. We had to buckle up then.

It was good to see Corey [Mosley] and Chase [Minnifield] who is tied nationally for the FBS lead in interceptions right now – get picks. It was good to see Rodney [McLeod] get an interception.

We talked about having the ball. I think we had the ball 13 minutes more than they did. That’s almost a whole quarter right there. With the five turnovers, having the ball 13 minutes more, we got in the red zone, 3-3 in the red zone, we scored. I thought the field position of Jimmy [Howell] being selfless, punting rugby style, we didn’t want Benjamin to take it and turn it all the way, because he’s done that a couple of games. Even Robert Randolph kicking it down to the five yard line, you had those three components, and they were significant in our chance to compete, play and win.

You mentioned Chase. Talk about his production, what he’s brought to your defense this year.

Chase has the kind of belief, ‘throw my way – I’ll guard you. Put me on the best receiver.’ He’s also our punt returner. You got to be fearless to be back there, have guys barreling down on you, to have the presence to catch the ball.

It happened twice. One of those punts, the ball is in the air, he went to go catch it. He said all of a sudden the nose of it just started twirling around and it hit the ground behind him. Same thing happened on a kickoff with Torrey Mack. A swirl of wind got it, blew it over his head.

It’s one of those things that Chase, game after game, is guarding the best receivers, running deep, tackling, and taking on linemen. Fourth-down situation is going to go back down there, say, All right, kick the ball to me, take some shots at me – I’ll try to return some punts. He has a special mindset for sure.

We keep ticking off the list of things you accomplished. First was winning a game, then a FBS game, now I guess it’s to on the road in the ACC. It’s a good thing we’re ticking these things off.

You guys are full of ticking stuff off for me (laughter). It is what it is. It’s a road ACC game. This will be my first year. A lot of firsts historically with wins, with opportunities, with players. It’s really special.

Like I said, after the game, after I just explained to you about what was going on during the year, ‘Coach, what happened, did you pass out?’ Just a culmination of a lot of things with this team and I know this team very well. To see the success, I just went down to say ‘thank you, Lord.’ I’m very humbled – I’m very thankful, very blessed, very humbled to be here, to be the head coach of this team, this University. To know the story of what happened prior to, then what else could you be?

Now we’re focusing on trying to go on the road and try to win our first ACC away game – so ready to go.

A Good portion of your team has not won at Duke. What do you remember about last year’s game while at Richmond, the accomplishment of the FCS team going down there and winning?

Well, like we did this past week, you have to start early and fast. I remember with Richmond, we blocked the punt. That started things off. I think we scooped and scored. That started it off.

There’s nobody on our team that looks at anybody’s record from this point on and look down his at anything. All we’re focusing on is what we need to do. Our quarterback, again, needs to play his best game. Our wide receivers need to play their best game. I am happy for Kris Burd – over a hundred yards receiving – our running back situation, Keith Payne still plugging away.

I think Anthony Mihota and Kris Burd were our offensive players of the game. There’s one more. I can’t remember who it was. But defensively it was obviously Chase and Corey. Special teams it was Jimmy Howell just for field position.

Somebody always stands up or stands out. We talked to them on Friday night. Hey, somebody in this room is going to have to be a guy that’s going to have to stand out. Corey Mosley, I wish he could have got the INT and taken it down the sideline like he’s supposed to instead of all over the place. But it was great to see him have some success, considering what happened prior to the Eastern Michigan game.

After the game, Marc said in the latter part of the fourth quarter where Miami made their run, he felt players might have been a little bit lax. Given the outcome was what you wanted, how much stock do you put into that?

I don’t think it was lax. Obviously one was a reverse that they utilized, their playmaking ability with Benjamin. Not many people catch him, regardless of who they play. They got us on that particular play.

Then the deep curl was one, Mike [Parker] just missed the tackle. Tackle it, the clock is running, we’re still living to see another day. As I already said on the onside kick, that’s already been determined to have been a missed call.

They are allowed to make plays too. We knew going into the game that they had a bunch of playmakers – Hankerson, the running backs, Benjamin, even Jacory with his arm. We did a good job minimizing what they could do. In the end when it counted, we rose to the occasion, got the two third-down conversions, and that was it.

People have been known to pass out after being on Rugby Road.

On Friday I was on Rugby Road. I went there to show my support for the group because they’re raising money for Habitat for Humanity. So I went there, stayed a couple minutes, shook some hands and everything like that, because I wanted to show the students that they’re important to me. Going out to some of their events, even though it was a Friday, means a lot.

Have you met with other students about attendance?

Well, not about the attendance, but their attending the game. Just one faction at a time, with the Pi Beta Sigma fraternity, which is a fraternity I’m a member of. I started one at the University of Richmond. Fraternity council, they’ve been at the Wild Wing Café for my radio show. They’ve been there and we’ve recognized them. Just several groups – I go over to O Hill while the students were eating, kind of having a raffle over there with a loud microphone, doing some crazy things.

To me, that’s what it’s all about, is getting out there among the students. It’s great just walking across grounds. Hey, coach, good game- giving high five- all those things. We’re going to continue doing that. We have one more home game left. Hopefully we’ll have a lot of students that will travel down to Durham, not a long drive.

But it’s been fun. We’re going to work on continuing to do that, to get people to come out to support us. Those that were there, we appreciate it, want to keep everybody coming back. We got one more home game left. Hope we can get that thing up to 60,000. But, God willing, next season that thing is a packed house because everybody is going to see what we have, what we are, the kind of kids that have coming in, the recruits, the whole nine yards. That’s the work in progress part that I’ve been talking about.

Have you thought about the possibility of bow eligibility?

You’re way, way, way ahead of yourself (laughter). That’s not even a consideration right now. The consideration is this team beat us twice in a row, and once to end a streak that to them probably was not very enviable, we happened to be the trivia question for that. That’s first and foremost.

Truly, this game is the opportunity to go on the road and win an ACC game, then we’re on to the next one.

Talk about Marc’s progress over the last couple weeks all the way back to Carolina up to this point. 2008 as a starter against Miami, game doesn’t go well. Come full circle back to Saturday and two third-down conversions against Miami. What has it been like for him and how big do you think that is for him from a confidence level?

Well, it’s amazing that in life, football, sports, there’s a lot of things that go full circle. All people want a lot of times is for you to believe in them, give them a chance. I know Marc has had chances. People say he’s had more than a couple chances.

There’s something about, in our particular quarterback situation, that the need for us required him being the guy. The other two are not ready to play yet. Some want to start playing young guys and forget about it.

It’s amazing when someone believes in you, that you go out and you want to perform. That’s what happened with Marc. He made some throws with guys hanging all over him. Zone matchup with men all over and the throws had to be right on the money – and they were. If they were underthrown, they would be interceptions.

You get that from a guy you keep giving confidence to. ‘I believe in you, you can do it.’

I’ll take the heat on any of that Marc quarterback controversy. Not Bill Lazor, I want him to play. In this particular game, he did a very, very good job in directing our offense. He’s going to have to do it again, though.

That’s what a fifth-year quarterback does. He’s going to have to do it again. He’s not off the hook. We got a lot of games to play. He’s got more games to be his best game, you know. And until he disproves that he can’t make those throws, under-throwing, then we look at the alternatives. Right now he’s not even looking at the alternatives.

We’ll practice in a prudent and smart way to make sure guys are ready. But he gave us the best chance to win this game and he proved it.

You had great success in November and December at Richmond. Most of these guys have not had that success in these months. Can you talk about that, winning games in these months?

Going back to this being the next most important game, not thinking beyond that. I think as you get into November and December, everybody’s sore. Everybody has players that are hurt, that are missing. I think it’s smart about the way you practice.

Sometimes you go Tuesday, Wednesday full pads, Thursday half pads, you hit – little things like that. I’ve just come to learn your body takes a number of hits during the course of a season. Then who becomes the MVP is Brandon Hourigan and Kelli Pugh because strength, developing and conditioning, and the rehab for the treatment aspect of it from Sports Medicine.

I think at this point it’s the ability to recover. Sometimes players don’t recover from injuries or the feeling of fatigue in their legs.

As you practice and you go into the latter part of the season, I think it’s important that you maintain a level of strength, you maintain the conditioning, but you’re not running the way you used to, because that’s why you ran during the summer. Just managing the practices I think are important. Hopefully I’ll do a good enough job as we go down the stretch of making sure these guys are ready to play come November, hopefully December.

Keith Payne, 12 rushing touchdowns, five yards a carry, 70 yards a game. Even being an eternal optimist like you are, would that have been more than you expected going into the season?

Going into the season, he wasn’t a thought. Put it this way. Going into spring, he wasn’t a thought. Going into the season, as he started proving himself, it was apparent that the styles of running that Perry Jones has, Keith has, even Raynard Horne, Torrey Mack got in the game a little bit. It’s apparent that he’s a big back that can get you five yards. That one touchdown run, he ran away some people, secondary, safeties.

We’re going to keep on, I don’t know what nicknames they have between the two of those guys – Perry and Keith, but we’ll keep on using those guys in the roles that they’re playing now because it’s been fairly productive and also allows them to go in and play fresh instead of being a 40, 50 carry guy a game.

Would there be a case that Ras-I Dowling at 80 percent is better than somebody else as a hundred percent?

We play a lot of bump-man coverage. You’re up on a guy – you’re pressing him. He moves, you move, you got to move quickly. Last year we played a lot of off-coverage, back pedal where that may have been true.

Ras-I wants what’s best for the team. People will be looking at him, if he plays this year, and I think he will, I feel pretty good about that, but NFL team will be looking at his junior year, he’ll still be a high draft pick because of who he is, what he means to our team, what he’ll mean to any other team.

Right now he’s still got a story to write. He’s not finished. He told me ‘coach, don’t let anybody count me out. If he says that, then I believe him.’


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