Press Conference: UVA football coach Bronco Mendenhall
UVA football coach Bronco Mendenhall talks with reporters at his weekly Monday press conference.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: A lot of positive things in our opener, especially playing as what I was told 10 true freshmen, 18 players making their college debut. And just starting the season on a strong note with a victory. I thought it was a solid performance by all three phases, and a nice starting place, with still plenty of room to improve. Always nice to win the opener and then apply the feedback, as necessary, to generate momentum going into week number two. So I’ll take questions.
William & Mary finished with nine tackles for loss. When you reviewed the film how many of those were missed assignments or missed blocks on your guys’ part and how many were really good plays by William & Mary defenders?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Probably seven of the nine were missed assignments on our part and two were calls right into the teeth of the play – that were just a nice job by the William & Mary’s coaches of calling the right play at the right time. But I would say seven of the nine were assignment and execution mistakes.
Was that Chris Sharp rush one where they were just in the right place?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah. So on that particular play, the technique they had and the assignment called versus that play was a really good match. And a nice play by them — he still had to make the play, even though his assignment took him there, he still had to make the play. It was a good play.
We got to look at the depth chart. Obviously, Tim Harris not listed. Doni Dowling wearing No. 5. It would seem to imply that Tim is done for the year. What’s his status?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, Tim is done for the year. He’s had a significant injury to his wrist. Surgery most likely in approximately two weeks when the swelling goes down and it’s not playable is what we have all been told. So, yeah, working with Tim now regarding his future and what that might look like.
Donni, in follow-up, Donni asked me yesterday if that would be appropriate or if he could wear that jersey, and I said I thought it would be a great idea and a nice tribute.
Germane Crowell was put in when Tim went out. I know you’re high on him, he came in here early, he battled a few injuries here and there in the spring. What have you seen from him and it’s not like you’re not used to freshmen corners, you had Bryce Hall, obviously, last year and some other guys?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah ‘G’ is, man, we have really, really like his ability, like his length, like his work ethic, like his competitive spirit, and like his potential. So, again, of all those young guys that we played, it’s just giving a glimpse of what direction the program is headed with what kind of people and players. And G is one of them. So how he figures into this week, he’ll have to compete to keep the spot that he had going when Tim went out. And we’ll look to shuffle depth the best we can versus a team that is really fast in terms of their tempo and the number of plays we’ll have to defend. But he will be in the mix.
Can you evaluate your running game at this point and do you feel like you’re going to have to step it up next year to face this next level game?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I think the running game was 2.9 yards per play, our calculations. We don’t consider the run game efficient or effective unless it’s 4.0 or above yards per play. So I think that is the answer. We need to get more production, more consistently, and against better people as we go forward.
Olamide had another touchdown catch the other day. Have you seen him grow and develop as a player in your time here and if so, how?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, significantly. Even from spring practice through fall practice, not even including last year, each step has been a sequential step in his development. And the more workload we give him, the more we find out what he can do and where his current level of ability is. As you saw, there was some really nice plays he made and some catches with bodies right on him and nice concentration. And then there was at least one play where there was a ball security issue and it came out — we got it back, but a couple really touch catches. And that in and of itself is different than what I had seen when I first arrived. Olamide was nice when he had some space and good with yards after the catch and getting open. But I think he’s becoming better at, or at least has shown through fall camp and in our opener, that in traffic or when contested, he’s concentrating and making the play at a higher level.
Jack McDonald, obviously a guy who came back late in camp and he didn’t play on Saturday. How is he, do you expect him to play this upcoming week? And then I assume Jack English goes back into a starting role or will he have to earn that this week at left tackle?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: He’ll have to earn his spot back, but we anticipate that happening, just based on how he was performing prior to his suspension.
Jack McDonald did come back late and we’re going to manage that the best we can. We have a long season ahead of us and there’s probably only so many plays that he’s capable of this year. And so Coach Tujague and I will manage that the best we can. I would expect some shuffling up front. We have more bodies and more competition than we had a year ago. And so that might be weekly now to leverage that performance as was already addressed in the run game. And protection is still an issue as well.
So with adding English and a healthier Jack McDonald, then hopefully you get a higher level of competition and more options in terms of possible front fives that you can put together.
You talked last week about just how there’s always some surprises in that opening game. Any big surprises coming out of this one?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, one of the nicest surprises was Lester Coleman’s punting. He did a really nice job. In fact one of the biggest plays of the game I thought was the punt from roughly, or I think his feet were on our 15 yard line and the ball ends up on the opponent’s 6. So that was a giant play. He also, no fault of his own, there was a ball that could have been downed on maybe the two-inch mark from the yard line. We didn’t cover it as well as we would have liked, but that was a really nice pooch punt.
And there was another that was a foot inside the 10 or 12 yard line as well that I liked. So I would say his performance was a surprise to some extent that it would not only be positive, but that consistent.
Did you go into the game expecting to use Chris Moore in the nickel as much as he ended up playing?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: No. In fact there was one point during the game where I was on the head set, and I’m paying some attention to personnel, but I allow our coaches quite a bit of freedom. Brenton Nelson had been really holding that spot most of fall camp and going into game week. And momentum shifted a little bit late in the week and early in the game to where Chris Moore had more game experience and ended up playing well and playing well early and so Coach Howell and I just stayed with him.
So Brenton is still in the mix and can play any of our spots, corner, nickel, or either of the two safeties, so we haven’t seen the last of him. But Chris Moore’s performance, not quite in the surprising category, but he played strongly and so it allowed him to keep playing.
Anybody who watched Indiana the other night saw tempo, tempo, tempo. You’re someone who has a lot of experience with that. That hasn’t been something you guys have done so far here. How do you prepare them for that tempo? Will you do anything differently in practice this week?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: The best we can. It’s not possible to simulate. In the first half versus Ohio State, Indiana ran more plays than we defended the entire game the other night, so you’re looking at almost double the output in terms of energy expenditure and volume of plays. So, but you also have to have a healthy fast and fresh team. And so we have some ideas and obviously having defended our own offense for a long time at Brigham Young and a year ago we had a small taste of it against Oregon. So we have ideas. But, again, each team, each roster, you have to manage it a little bit differently. So we’re working on that now.
When you think of scheduling Indiana, it hasn’t been a traditional opponent, but do you like the idea of a Big-Ten team of that stature?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think the idea of that stature now, I think probably when the game was scheduled not having been here, my guess was that Indiana wasn’t as powerful or wasn’t as strong or wasn’t coming off a bowl game and was an opponent that might have had some intrigue as a Power 5 opponent, but one that wasn’t as strong. And that’s changed since the time it was scheduled to where they’re a very good team.
Non-football question, but on Saturday adventures of Cavman returned. You guys ran out of the tunnel, it was — obviously when you came here, you guys switched it up a little bit in what you did. You didn’t do things that they had done in the past that returned on Saturday. How much input did you have in that and how much say did you have in that?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It was — I had say. So Todd Goodale came to me – he’s manages the external affairs of the institution for the athletic department, and he said what do you think? And I said great. And he said, do you want to see it? And I said that would be fine. Day or two before the game, he said, do you want to see it? I said no. And that was to the extent. It’s really not the competitive work. I’ve got some great feedback though that fans loved it. At least my family loved it, which is the closest fans that I’m to. And so it’s just not my competitive work. And the number of things that I can manage or want to manage, I’m reducing those as I go, not adding them as I go.
You’ve touched on Indiana, but can you give us your overall impressions of them?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah. Man, really a fast team that’s been very intentional and specific about the type of players that they have selected and recruited with a very clear brand of how they want to play the game, which allows you to attract players when you’re very really clear about your brand and the type of play that you would like. Then you can select players and sometimes get a little bit higher quality in relation to what you need versus kind of the national competitive market place.
So I think they have done a nice job attracting and developing players in a style that gives them a competitive advantage versus their peers. Pretty unique in that league. And even though there’s tempo, they’re a physical football team. I think they’re tough, they’re physical, they run for not only yards, but with toughness and defensively, they play hard. And I think they’re physical as well.
So a great matchup or a great yard stick coming from, obviously, the state of Utah and our rival there, the University of Utah, played them in their bowl game a year ago. And Indiana ran the ball effectively, was physical against a physical team, and matched blow for blow and had a great chance to win the game. So that’s a pretty reliable metric for me in terms of a point of reference.
I know you spoke about Crowell having to hold on to that spot. But he came in with some expectations and overall his development, what have you seen and what do you like about him at this point?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Man, I like everything about him. He’s competitive, he’s fast, he’s long, he has great ball skills. I would like as many more players like him as we can get to come to UVA.
You spoke so much in the pre-season about Andre Levrone and his potential if he can stay healthy and what he can provide for that offense. Obviously, we saw a flash on Saturday. Is that kind of what you saw in the pre-season and how encouraging was that and now how big is this next step now to keep this going for him?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It looked like practice. The couple plays that he made, the getting behind the defender on the fourth down play, we had seen that a lot of fall camp.
And then there was a ball he caught and then made some positive yardage after the catch which was not as typical. He’s been more consistent running by defenders than yards after the catch. Really there’s, for all of our skilled players, I’ve been using three words for all of them and that’s consistency and durability and productivity. And it applies to him as well.
And so for Warren Craft, for Donni Dowling, for Andre, for Joe Reed, for Olamide, for Hasise, all of our wide receivers, yeah, week in and week out, that’s, they have got to be durable. Playing a certain position doesn’t mean any less durability. Receivers are expected to be durable and tough and consistent and also make plays. And we need them and want him to do that the entire year.
I’m curious, I don’t know if you have a sense, but did your guys watch Indiana/Ohio State?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I didn’t ask them. And I don’t even remember what night they played. Thursday? Yeah. So I didn’t see it and I don’t know how many of my players watched it.
The fact that they were competitive at least for a half does that, do you think, grab people’s attention, does it grab your attention?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Oh, yeah, it didn’t take that game to grab my attention. Again I watched them play in a bowl game a year ago. That’s not by accident. It’s a good league, they’re a good team, and I mean our players are smart. Again, we use the phrase real recognizes real they only have to watch a series or two of film and they know that it’s a good team.
Last year you didn’t have an obviously your field goal situation was very unique and –
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I appreciate that descriptor.
Your longest field goal was 36 yards. Didn’t attempt anything I don’t think in the 40’s. You had a 42-yard attempt that came up short on Saturday. Where is A.J.’s range and was that more on him or snap or anything that was off there?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I think mechanics a little bit. Also just kind of a mis-hit. So that was the first kind of one of those that I had seen from fall camp on. So kind of a surprise, but there’s first game is what I’ll chalk that up to and maybe some mechanics issues again in the snap and the hold. But it didn’t limit my confidence at all because I had seen so many really nice kicks and what his range can be and AK (Andrew King) is consistent from similar range as well. So, I think that is going to be an area we’ll see grow pretty quickly would be my guess.
On the plays when you were in your base defense, how did the front three do?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: They did well. Average rush per our front three was 2.8. And significantly different when you add in the quarterback scrambles versus our nickel it was 6.8. So, quite a discrepancy there as we — but again our biggest issue against the quarterback was with as much pressure as we were sending keeping him contained and then he got out of the pocket and eluded us and our rush lanes weren’t very disciplined. So it’s a little bit misleading. But in our base I was, I thought it was a solid start.
You called this game a good measuring stick. No disrespect to William & Mary but from that perspective how important do you think this game is figuring out what you have moving forward?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well I think every game’s important and I still think there’s huge value in our opener. I think every college football game is hard to win, has its unique challenges, there’s always potentials of upsets as we learned this week as well as last year. Every week you are managing your current team, assessing where they are. So I have a better idea and I’ll have even a better idea after week two and then I’ll have a better idea after week three and then I’ll have a better idea after week four. So the puzzle or the season and our team is much like a jig saw, you can kind of see pieces come together and a little bit more of the picture is formed. But it takes time.
You mentioned options for Tim Harris. Is your understanding a possible sixth year could be —
BRONCO MENDENHALL: First of all Tim has to decide if that’s what he would like to do but he would certainly qualify. Any time seasons are lost and the number of seasons he’s lost, because of a season-ending injury and if they’re all within those early weeks, so this would be week one and last year it was within week two, I can’t speak for the NCAA, but I think the precedent’s been set many times if he wanted it to happen, the sixth year.
Halftime on Saturday, Micah had one tackle and your defense had a shutout through two quarters. Is that looking too much into it? Do you think that there’s more around him and more guys have been developed around him now that maybe he won’t have to — obviously Quin’s numbers were still high in tackle category but is there enough around him built around immaterial him so where Micah doesn’t have to be everywhere at all times?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: There’s becoming more around him. And Micah played well. A few misfits in the run game, but he played well and he played consistent. But we are having, through technique and through assignment, and through maturity and through production, we are having more players, probably the most probably the most impressive player defensively for that game was Juan Thornhill. And so Juan replaced Kelvin Rainey from a year ago. Juan, not only defensively but on special teams, was all over the place and making a lot of plays and in a lot of different settings, in the pass game, in the run game, in the cover game, he was impressive.
I was going to ask about Juan. What you asked him to do in the saber position, how much different is that from what he was expected to do last year as a corner?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s a lot. He’s just way more involved in terms of all facets and all types of plays. The farther away you are from the ball, the less impact you can have, but when plays do come to you, the impact one can have on that play is usually higher. The volume of plays that Juan is involved in, from the Sabre position is just much higher. And it’s much more diverse. You have to cover the slot, which means have you to have corner skills, you have to tackle like a linebacker, you have to have range like a true safety, you have to have blitz skills. It just is a true football playing position and it suits Juan really well. I knew he would play well and but I didn’t sense when I visited with you all after the game — I saw flashes, but then after seeing it consistently from beginning to end and then on special teams as well, he was, he did a really nice job in that game.
With the offensive line you guys were moving some pieces around throughout the preseason, so I know that issue of chemistry, cohesion was somewhat in question going in. Based on what you saw with Pertile – how did you do you feel the group gelled for the first week?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I don’t think gelled, but I think they have a chance to become a strong unit. Pertile did a nice job in protection and certainly is really athletic and handled the space really well. Pertile the same. Once he was targeted cleanly and accurately and effectively, he did a nice job. There’s still some uncertainty between the group of five of coordination and just absolutely certain of the communications and watching them come off they’re a little bit hesitant at times and so we’ll try to accelerate the coordination of all that as fast as possible, and again there will be some new pieces that we have a chance to add back in too.
Talk about Indiana’s pace. What about specifically their quarterback, a guy that put up a lot of yards last year, did some pretty good things against high state on Thursday, obviously an older guy as well. What are your impressions of him?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: You’re not going to rattle him and he’s going to throw it really, really well. Doesn’t get sacked. He is really poised in terms of maturity to get rid of the ball effectively. Yeah, he throws it really well in a system that’s really clearly defined of where they want the ball to go. Lots of run/pass option ideas where he has a specific defender that’s in conflict and he makes a decision right a lot of times. Has two or three really large targets on the outside and they throw the ball up to them, not only in fades but back shoulders and a crafty and little quick slot receiver I would say little but six foot, like 195, so but in relationship to the 6′-4″ guys on the outside, they have recruited really well and specific to what they do. And same with that position. I think he’s very effective.
What kind of statement does it make that Ben Hogg made had your first reception of the game the other day?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I couldn’t have written the script any better. And that the ball went to him might not be an accident because I like the ball to go to people that are trusted and they’re going to catch it. And he’s just seems like that’s all he does. Whatever setting we put him in, he catches the ball. So it was a nice start. We have something to do with who catches it, but our quarterback also has something to do with who he throw it’s to. So pretty strong statement I think from our quarterback also.
Talked about now Crowell going into that spot, what did you, before last year, how many true freshmen corners had you had and can you gain anything from what you went through last year with Bryce and Gibson did it, some other guys did it as well?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well we’re in a similar cycle. I think we’re just hopefully adding stronger and maybe more capable pieces as we build the program to the level that we would like. There’s no accelerator other than time and repetition. And so practice is helpful, but it’s not the game, and just to make it clear, G will be battling for a spot as we consider the right guys to put out there, but we have confidence in him and we really like who he is. What matters to me, not most, but what matters a lot to me at that position is, as a young player, does he think he can go out there and do it and how bad does he want to. And G’s not hesitant about saying that he’s ready and wants to be out there. And at that position, that’s important because it’s very difficult to give someone the confidence to go out there and play on the island and because that’s where they’re going to be.