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Press Conference: Mike London

Virginia football coach Mike London talks with the news media. UVa. (4-5, 1-4 ACC) hosts Maryland (6-3, 3-2 ACC) on Saturday.

What is your strategy on guys returning kicks from four or five yards deep in the end zone?

It depends on who’s back there, number one. And then obviously the returner’s got to see the ball. He also has to have a sense of the guys that are coming down field. There are a few factors that go into it.

What we want to do is advance the ball beyond the 20, to the 30, 35. You want to try to at least gain a first down, get beyond the 20. And so if you’re in three yards deep in the end zone and you try to take it out then it’s at least 23 yards you have to travel just to get it to the 20.

It’s a judgment call, but for the most part the off back, the other guy that’s there with you, your mate, should also be able to tell you, gauge the rushes coming down to be able to tell you to make a decision whether to stay in or come out.

It’s not just the guy who is returning the ball – it’s the guy that’s back there with him.

Talking about penalties, you mentioned that the refs notice that you have a lot of penalties and you get in a cycle. How do you break that cycle?

Stop having penalties. There have been games that we’ve had five penalties. I think Duke had three penalties against us. You’ve got to play a game where you’re not jumping off sides. You’re not holding – you’re not doing the simple things as far as when you line up at the line of scrimmage to make sure you don’t cover up another eligible receiver.

Those are simple things to alleviate. But some of the other ones, judgment calls of what’s a late hit, pass interference, those things. Obviously you have to keep teaching. This conference and college football, we try to protect the quarterback and defensive players.

So I’m sure that the officials and umpires err on the side of being safe with the players. You have to understand that and you have to convey the message to your team that that’s the way it’s going to be.

On the fake field goal, Robert Randolph ran past a DB or a back or somebody who had a pretty good angle on him. Is Robert does he test pretty well? I know he ran track in high school. Does he run well?

You always run well when somebody’s chasing you. And that’s just one of those plays that actually he broke the tackle he got the first down but he broke the tackle of I believe it was a linebacker who had backed off the line of scrimmage.

And Colter Phillips did a good job blocking the most immediate threat, which allowed Robert to get into the end zone. He ran fast enough to get away and get in there.

We’ve been practicing that for a while. We practiced a lot of plays like that because you never know when you have an opportunity to use them. And that one presented itself at that moment in the game.

Maryland was picked, I think, at the bottom of the Atlantic Division in the preseason, but they’re already Bowl eligible. What impressed you about that team?

They’re playing inspired football. They have a system and a plan of attack both on offense and defense now and have a consistency with their coordinators, with their coaches.

They have players that are very skillful. I know they don’t necessarily have a two-quarterback system but Brian is the one that comes in and then No. 11 comes in and does their wildcat type of offense. So they complement each other well.

Defensively they are under Coach Brown and are a year into his system, guys know what they’re doing; know where they need to be. And they play fast.

I think one of their linebackers leads the ACC in tackles. Kenny Tate, big free safety – also a leader for the team. They’ve done a good job of buying into and being around the same guys for a while, and they’re really playing well.

You guys seem to have bounced back pretty well from adversity all season long. What’s your message to the team bouncing back from this loss?

That’s the good thing about sports and playing games, as disappointing this loss was, whether we could have pulled it out – a loss is a loss, but the fact in competition you always have a chance to play again.

I will tell you no one’s hanging their heads. The guys are very upbeat, very optimistic. Because that’s the way I want it. That’s the way I am. And I want the team to reflect an attitude that we’re looking forward to this next game and the next game is a home game. It’s our last home game for our seniors.

It’s against a team that has become kind of a rival – it’s a rivalry game. No secret about Virginia and Maryland. We’re excited about the opportunity to play these guys at home. Our eyes are on the prize, and that’s an opportunity to get back to what it feels like to win again.

What’s your philosophy on fourth-down opportunities and taking these chances?

Hopefully when you have a team that you’re trying to infuse a little bit of mental toughness, when you’re 4th and short, we have the mentality that we’re going to go for it. I want them to know they’ve got a coach that believes in them – we practice these things, not just doing them to practice them, we’re practicing them to use them in the game.

And one day, and hopefully one day soon, we’ll get to the point where we feel like we can run, pass on fourth and short, fourth and longs. It’s not a brashness or cockiness. It’s just kind of a mentality that you have to have with a team that feels like they can make it on any down or any opportunity.

If it has to start with me, then so be it. And then you keep galvanizing the players around you that we’re going to do this, that’s what we practice for – then hopefully it catches on.

In the last couple we’ve been pretty successful with these fourth down opportunities. We’re just going to keep on trying to find ways to get us opportunities to keep moving the chains.

Is Bowl eligibility something you still are talking about?

I think the only talk about being Bowl eligible was coming from this room right here. It wasn’t coming from the players or us. Obviously you count the number of games left and number of opportunities. I think any reasonable person could assume that.

But it is what it is now. We have three games left. And our record is 4 and 5. And again you can put together what you need to do in order to move on.

But as I said back then, in the same room here, our first and foremost goal now is to win a game, get back on a winning ledger, and that’s to play a Maryland team that’s coming to Charlottesville. That’s the biggest thing right now.

Is it easier for you for this game on senior day since you helped recruit them?

It’s always tough when your seniors are transitioning out. The fact that I know all of them, there’s emotional connection to it. But as I look at this whole thing about building a program, as we are here today, as we’re moving forward, it’s a transition of players that are moving out with the transition of players that are being recruited that are being redshirted that are moving in. That’s just the evolution of football.

And as a first year coach myself and trying to teach a culture as guys are leaving, but also the guys that are here trying to maintain that culture and teach it and then try to recruit a culture with guys coming in, that hopefully one day becomes a mainstay of the program.

Anybody who knows Jim Reid knows how hard he works and how many hours he puts in and how important football is to him. As defense goes through these growing pangs, have you had to try to keep his spirits up at all and how has it been for him and working with him?

We’re all very competitive. You’re right – Coach Reid is as hard a worker as there is out there, caring, dedicated to his job. It’s tough that you look back and because you always try to second guess yourself, could you have done this, could you have done this better and critiquing ways of doing things.

I think one of the things we talked about was in this process of, with a new defense and new players, that as we finish up this year, you know, he was in the box. And I think what we’re going to do is bring him down on the field and kind of give a presence again defensively to the guys to kind of bring again that energy and that passion that we started out playing with that we do. And we still play with.

But I think that’s something that we probably talked about doing about having him on the sideline. I think Bill Lazor’s presence on the sideline as a coordinator offensively, although Marc threw the interceptions, through the fourth quarter Marc did a great job of directing those three scores, particularly after they scored again.

I think there’s a benefit for the guy that’s calling the plays to look into the eyes of the guys that he’s in charge of and directing the plan. We’ll do that. But the question about Coach Reid is undeniably he’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever been around and bleeds football and wants these players to succeed and do well.

And so we’ll look at some things to try to help them so we can play better.

Is he coming down this week to the field?

Yes. We’ll start this week, yes.

I’d like to ask you about the defensive line play Saturday, the five sacks. You’ve again getting sacks with the linebacker, what about the interior guys and how they have taken a step forward?

When you can pressure with four guys, obviously Cameron [Johnson] is our leader, but I think when you add Nick Jenkins, and Zane [Parr] who had two sacks – there’s a level of improvement there between those guys. I think Matt Conrath is still finding himself from the 3 4 defensive end, head up, toes on toes, beyond the edge three technique player.

And I think he’ll get it. But it’s assuring it’s good to know that even with three games left – all four of those guys are coming back again, playing in the same system and scheme.

But when you get five sacks, and I think there was seven hits on the quarterback – that affects a lot of throws and hurries and pressures and other things.

I think we are getting better from that standpoint.

Question about the defense, from an overall standpoint, at this point in the season are you seeing the amount of progress you would either like or expect?

There’s always room for improvement in a lot of things. And you like to be at your best with your personnel and with your calls and with your schemes. It’s kind of unfortunate going into this game that our leader in interceptions tries to go and test a lower leg injury and can’t go.

But as I said before, it’s no excuse. That’s football. That’s what you have to do. I think that there are still ways that we need to go in terms of getting better as a defense overall. Run fits – but there’s no substitute with how the guys play with energy and how they run around to the ball. And that’s something that you can always, always build on.

And if you have an occasion to talk to them during the course of the week, ask them about it. Because it’s maybe something they decided themselves that perhaps last year at this time they decided to go south as far as attitude and effort.

But I’ll tell you what, not now. Not this group.

Do you coach differently when you have a team like this as opposed to last year, Richmond, where a team like this you need to be more upbeat keep them in that level of upbeat. Where when you’re having success you can be more critical and nitpick with the mistakes when you’re winning games?

When I was here before, there was a term that was used. We’re all ruled by the psychology of results. And if you’re losing all the time, then it’s easy for you to associate yourself with being a loser. If you’re winning all the time, then your mindset associates yourself with being a winner.

I think trying to change the mindset of we’re losing games 4 and 5, we are what we are, but at the same time very easily two games during this year could have been a different story if we played better.

I have no choice but to be positive with these guys. If you’re trying to change a culture of who they are and what they are, then that’s what we talk about, about the positive, about what will happen when this happens and if you keep working then this will happen.

I think these guys have bought into it. They want to do it. They want to play well – and we just have to do it. We just have to get on the field and do it.

But from the mindset mentally, teams are different. Things that happen to you rule you, and you can either continue to keep pointing them out that you’re not this, or you’re not that -or you can try to talk about what you can be, what you are. What you mean to teammates and bring those things up. And that’s the plan. That’s what I’m doing.

On the fake field goal, where your holder just has to flip it kind of over his shoulder, how many reps in practice would you estimate you’ve done and to what point are you confident that they’re going to actually execute it properly?

There were times he flips it and he flips it back into the stands. He flips it and he dribbles it back on the ground. You’re like ‘this will never work.’

But you just keep trying it. And the holder has to take a little bit off and just act like he is tossing it over his shoulder and not get excited about the moment. You hope when you call it, everybody’s going to be calm, but you never know.

But we’ve done it enough times where I don’t know if it came second nature, but Robert did a good job of catching it and running. So whatever the rules are, we try to take what’s allowable and take it right to the edge about what you can do, alignments and all that, and try to utilize that.

So sometimes Anthony Poindexter has the officer’s smoke coming out – because he’s doing some stuff back there and he says ‘Coach I think this will work this week or these two things will work.’ I say if they’re there, let’s do it. So we’ve had, what, three opportunities, I think, to do it in the game where there have been a couple others where we’re getting ready to do it, had shown another look and they never lined up in that formation again.

When you look at films of this in practice you say I need to do it 10 times in a row before we do it or 80 percent is good enough, how do you calculate it?

It’s just a feel thing. When they do it and it looks natural if it looks unnatural and they’re straining trying to do something, I may say ‘I don’t know,’ but it was an easy catch and just toss over your shoulder and we just timed it up. And it looked good enough that after a couple of times we said let’s go with it. And Robert – guys were joking with him because when he got in the end zone he actually tripped into the end zone, fell on his stomach and had no celebration dance or anything.

But it was fun to see him score and our guys celebrate with him. He started out kind of rocky, but I think he settled down and he’s really doing a nice job.

What makes the Wildcat so difficult to defend and how does Maryland’s differ from Duke’s?

Again, you talk about offense that spreads you out across the field by your receivers and splits of your offensive linemen and you’ve got pull in guards and guys going in motion.

You have to address it with your linebacker reads and the keys that you use. When you have a quarterback that can run it, then that makes it even better, because now basically the quarterback is the unblockable guy because you’ve got guys on the line of scrimmage that are accountable for everyone else.

And I think Jamarr Robinson does a great job for them when they do employ it. It’s another offense that you’ll see, you’ll probably see O’Brien and you’ll see Robinson come in. I’m sure they’ll mix it up. And I’m quite sure they’ve seen some of the success that other teams with this style have had here against us.

We will see that offense because that’s what they do. We will have to prepare for Danny O’Brien and also the slash Wildcat spread offense.

Heading into the last home game, is it disappointing to look up and see a lot of empty seats and what do you think the reasons are behind it?

That’s a great question. I think it has a little bit to do with a little bit of everything. Economy – people’s discretionary income – who we’re playing on a Saturday. What options they have. How we’re playing. Just all those things I think have factored into it.

But I’m hoping that this Saturday being the last game for our seniors, a guy like Ras I [Dowling] and those guys have been around for a while, that people come out, with our students and get everybody out to support these seniors. They deserve at least an acknowledgment of thank you for the four years or five years that they put into this program.

And I believe all of them are close to graduating or have already graduated. So that’s another accomplishment in and of itself.

I’m going to try to win the game – other people have to do things to deal with what is the attendance. But like I said, it’s a lot of other issues, too, to add on to it for sure.

There are guys who are seniors in school but juniors on the field. You analyze during the season, how your numbers are going to look like next year or just wait and see whom you invite back?

Obviously the first and foremost are the ones that exhausted their playing eligibility, number one. Two, you look at those who can graduate through picking more hours in the spring.

And then you make a determination of how many numbers you want to bring in the fall. I’ve had that conversation last spring with five particular players and all five of them came back. Trey Womack. Raynard Horne, Darnell Carter. I’m drawing a blank on the other two guys here. But it will be the same process again. Guys that the NCAA allows you to put on a one year renewable scholarship to pay for four years of a guy’s scholarship. Fifth year is not always guaranteed.

It comes down to just having a conversation with myself, where he is academically and other factors that are involved with it. But still either way we want to I think there are about 28 guys that we’re going to acknowledge on Saturday that will be seniors and then have also exhausted their eligibility.

Could you talk about the career of Danny Aiken?

It’s interesting that you never notice any bad snaps or anything. Find some wood here [Knocks on table]. Because the snapper just does his job. And we’ve had NFL scouts out there that come and look at him because if a snapper is being noticed or punts are being blocked then everyone’s trying to figure out, what is it?

I think that Danny’s done a really nice job of just short snapping, long snapping, getting out and covering with the style of punt team that most teams employ, particularly that we employ. And the thing for us now is to make sure we cultivate snappers that are in the program now that can get it back there with the type of velocity that he has.

Because he’s done a nice job in his career and he has a chance making a living doing that at the next level. Someone like Ryan Kuehl made a long living snapping. Danny has a great future in front of him.

What have you learned about time management during your first season?

You know, it’s a little bit of wear and tear, particularly the first year when you want to make sure you get out get the message out. We traveled all over the state of Virginia – from Rhode Island to Florida.

We took the show on the road. I think the head coach has got to take a lot of that responsibility. So it’s been it’s been tough, but that’s the way it is. You’ve got to. Recruiting – being out there in front of the players and parents and representing this University at alumni events. Whatever it takes is part of building the program. I’m more than willing to do what I need to do to make sure as we finish up this season and as we sit in this room next year talking about games, that we’re talking about a lot of games that we’ve won.

From a coaching perspective, how unusual has Ras-I’s situation been this year?

Well, again, when you’re dealing with your own body and how you feel and you’re playing a skilled position where you rely on backpedaling and turning, and he’s a veteran player. I rely and defer to ‘how are you feeling today?’ ‘I’m feeling pretty good today.’ The next day it could be a little stiff, a little sore. Game day it could be ‘went out there, tried it. Just didn’t feel right.’

With him I know it’s frustrating, without getting into his personal history, there’s a lot of issues with him. He’s obviously has every NFL scout coming by to see him and they know about him. His junior year stands on what it is and what it was. Frustrating that he hasn’t had a senior year opportunity to do some of the same things. But his skills are not diminished. Still great character person. A lot of the things they liked about him then, back then, they still like now.

Selfishly you like him on the field but at the same time you have to understand that you’re dealing with your own body. You’re dealing with his future. You’re dealing with pain tolerance. It is what it is right now with him.

Again hopefully, last home game, that the practices that he practices and the time he puts into it that he feels he can get out there and give us a few reps or more.

Your team is going to face one of the most dynamic kick returners in the ACC in the history of the ACC in Torrey Smith this weekend. Can you talk about the challenge he presents as a kick returner and also as a receiver?

Yeah, we’re going to try to kick it on I 64 somewhere so he doesn’t get a chance to return. He is the most dynamic that we’ve seen on film and played against. There’s nothing against Benjamin from Miami or the guy from USC. But he’s definitely an outstanding punt returner and he’s fearless. Will run up and catch it. If he gets hit, he gets hit.

He’s so athletic in the way he moves, jump cuts, pirouettes, and runs, does all those things that cause nightmares for special teams coordinators. We’ll have to come up with a plan again for a guy like that not to just kick up there and wish and hope that everyone’s going to get down there.

So respect the talent, and we do.

What has B.J. Cabbell done to help the younger guys move up the ranks?

I think with B.J., another guy that just doesn’t say boo. But he just plays. He’s a warrior. He’ll play hurt. Play nicked up, whatever it takes.

He’s got a great disposition about him. And I think he’s helped Morgan [Moses] become a guard, play better as a guard. When Morgan is playing tackle, he’s helped Morgan with the communication that a guard can give to a tackle about what you see.

He’s been in kind of a coach on the field also. I can’t say enough positive things about B.J. Cabbell and what he means for this team?

Speaking of this class, have you been pleased with what they’ve contributed and what they’ve shown in terms in of leadership, the seniors that you’ve had this year?

A lot of the seniors that are here, may sound kind of strange, the first time they’ve had to step up and have significant roles in playing or significant roles with the special teams, offense or defense.

And so you learn leadership skills by being in a position, being put in position of leadership. There are a lot of guys, take a guy like Aaron Taliaferro or someone who didn’t play a whole lot. Or Jared Detrick, playing a lot that you talk about the leadership part of it, maybe not as much of that as looking and seeing a guy that has had an opportunity that’s trying to make the most of it, that plays hard, that’s very appreciative of the opportunities that are given to him.

There’s a lot of guys, as you said, that are in that situation where this could be it for them. And the transition of those guys leaving, with the transition of the ones that are here, the transition of the ones that are coming in, it’s just – you always want to make your college football playing days experience positive. Hopefully with three games left we can make it positive for these guys.

augusta free press
augusta free press