Press Conference: UVA football coach Mike London
COACH LONDON: It’s good to be back in the confines of Scott Stadium. Again, I wanted to say something about the effort of the team. I thought the effort of the guys was a great effort. We came up short. It was a learning opportunity for us to understand that when you go on the road and you’re playing really good teams that the margin for error is so slim, so slight, and we learn from this game and now have an opportunity to come home for the next couple games and play a Kent State team to start off. I’ll take any questions.
Q. 33 points the other day. 519 yards, dominate the time of possession. Final score notwithstanding, do you feel like the offense found a gear it hadn’t had before, and it’s something you can build upon?
COACH LONDON: It was definitely a good showing offensively. I believe that we had 35 first downs, and that was key in time of possession in holding the ball. It was good to see production in terms of scoring. It was good to see that 13 different players had opportunities to touch the ball and make some plays. It was good to see us throw the ball down the field. I believe there were eight passes that were 15 yards plus and three of them were aided by pass interference penalties on BYU. But it was a positive step for our offense. Obviously, there were no sacks, but they got to our quarterback. They hit our quarterbacks and did a good job on their rush. But it’s always been the mindset if you can be efficient on offense, move the ball and score some points, then play good defense and special teams, then you have a chance. Again, in this game unfortunately they had the long kickoff return that at that point of the game the tide had turned, but at that point the kickoff return was something that we just couldn’t overcome. But, as I said, the offense has done a better job, and we continue to keep looking for better production.
Q. Coach, going into the BYU game, you were leading the country in takeaways. Bronco Mendenhall spoke to the fact that that was one of the keys is that they took it away twice and Virginia did not. In your mind was it not enough opportunities or things they did that prevented you guys from become a signature this year, takeaways?
COACH LONDON: No, that’s been kind of a signature of the defense the way they played. Now the ball was out a couple times. We just didn’t have an opportunity to get to it. Going back and looking at the film, Max Valles when he tackled (Taysom) Hill from behind, the ball was coming out. He had a chance to grab it. That was a loose ball. There was a snap that was fumbled. We didn’t have a chance to get on that, but there was a muffed punt. We didn’t have a chance to get on that. Last week in the Louisville game, the plus territory, we were plus 46 and they were plus 22. Second half this game it was just the opposite. Our starting average field position wasn’t where it needed to be and theirs was in the positive. So that’s one of the things I said in the opening statement that the margin for error, and there is a fine line to winning close games against good teams like that. You have to be on the plus side of that and we weren’t on Saturday.
Q. I think a lot of people focused on the quarterbacks you’re using. But you’ve used a lot of offensive linemen, receivers and running backs. Just in general, what sort of advantages do you think all those moving parts gives you, and do you think this game on Saturday gives you more confidence in the offense overall going forward that you can maybe do more with it?
COACH LONDON: When you look at our offensive line, it’s the sum of many parts that make a whole for us. That is just the bottom line of who we are. You look at the receiving core, which, again, I still believe is the strength of our team, particularly on offense, there are a lot of individuals that play into that. You look at our running backs between Kevin Parks, Khalek Shepherd and Smoke Mizzell, there are good players there. And it gives us an opportunity, particularly on offense to play a lot of people. Now after this game we’re getting ready to get into league play, ACC play. The best way to provide depth going down the stretch is to have guys that have played in college football games. And offensively we’re there at that point. We’d like to do that more defensively, if possible. But some of the offenses you play, particularly last week precludes you from substituting, particularly when they keep the same personnel in the game and they go hurry up. You can only substitute when they substitute. So we’re still geared on playing a lot of players, particularly on defense, because going down the stretch, we’re going to need a lot of guys when we finish up the season.
Q. You mentioned shots down field. You had a lot of throws on first down. Is that a growth that we’re seeing, a trust factor or what’s going into some of more opening things up a little bit?
COACH LONDON: It starts where you have to self scout yourself too. Whether your MO is to run the ball on every first down. You have to be able to do things and look at yourself and game plan accordingly. The way the offense, and Coach Fairchild put the game together, I thought they put a smart game plan together and were able to move the ball in a lot of situations. As I said, a lot of first downs, I think the 102 plays was a program record. The third down conversions, no sacks on the quarterback, the points that were put up were very productive for us. So being able to look at yourself and what you do is critical, as we will go into this game as well looking at what we’ve done and what we did against BYU.
Q. You mentioned the offense and production down the stretch, particularly Khalek Shepherd played well. You mentioned him on Saturday. A guy that came here in a crowded running back, senior year, you still run a crowd at running back. Is this him kind of peaking? He talked about it. He seems to be a selfless guy. Doesn’t matter to him that he doesn’t want to be the featured back. How important is it to have a guy like that on the team?
COACH LONDON: We look at the team as a whole. There are a lot of guys that are selfless, and we talk about this whole unity concept, and it’s still prevalent among the guys. Khalek, we talk about our running backs, he’s a multi dimensional guy with a skillset that we put him in the game because of what he has. Kevin Parks, the same way. He has a skill set. Smoke Mizzell. He has the same, different kind of skill sets, but Khalek has been a guy that’s been here a while. Fifth-year guy. Graduated. Going to take grad classes. He’s a selfless guy. He, along with Greyson Lambert were our players on offense of the game. Ian Frye was the special teams player of the game. And Brandon Phelps was the defensive player of the game. Khalek has done a nice job of taking whatever role there is and embracing it, and trying to help the team win.
Q. If I’m not mistaken, your quarterbacks rushed for 71 yards the other day, and Matt Johns, well, I guess they’ve both had successful runs earlier. Is that something you can do on a regular basis? Or when you look at Greyson going down on a pass attempt, does it make you anymore weary of having them run?
COACH LONDON: The type of offense that we’re playing right now is the type that at times dictates the quarterback to pull the ball and run, if possible. Again, I go back to the game before. There was a play that Greyson had scored a touchdown on that that was the correct read. There were a couple times during the course of the game that there were reads that the quarterback should pull the ball, and there were a few they scrambled. One particular run, Greyson took off to the left side near their sideline, and I would have preferred he ran out of bounds, but he wanted show how tough he was and tried to get extra yardage. So we’ll talk about those things. But it’s a process of taking what the defense gives you particularly when you’re in that near back read set type of offense. If it’s there, they’ll pull it. If not, they’ll do what’s called for as far as executing the play.
Q. You’ve gone through a challenging stretch with three ranked opponents in the first four games. Do you expect that to pay dividends having gone through something like that the rest of the season?
COACH LONDON: I do. I believe the experience that you get from playing the caliber of teams that we just played also shows you that as we talk about the margin for a win and loss, the UCLA, BYU game, versus the Louisville game, the things that you have to do in order to execute and perform. So these guys, we’ve played some tough opponents, very good opponents that have had skilled players, big players and fast players. Now I know our opponent is Kent State this week. But a lot of this is about us getting better, eliminating mental errors and assignments and things that cause issues for some of these games that we didn’t win. So it is a learning it’s been a learning process for us, but at this point in the season, going into the fifth game, it’s about us taking our game to another level as well.
Q. You averaged almost four and a half yards a carry Saturday against a defense that was allowing about two yards a carry. Was your run blocking significantly better Saturday than in the first three games? If so, who really stood out to you in that group?
COACH LONDON: It was a different style of defense, a three four defense that was kind of a two gap kind of defense. Part of the plan was to spread them out and try to use the passing game to stretch the field vertically. But at the same time it lends itself to running the ball to the inside and to the outside tackle gaps, and that was something that was there for us. The players that blocked, particularly alignment up front, did a good job.
I can call a lot of guys out, but Ryan Doull has been a starter every game for us. He’s a guard that goes unheralded about what he’s done, and what he’s contributed. But he’s done a really good job as well. O line men go unnoticed and bear the brunt of a lot of criticism. But in this situation for us, being able to run the ball was critical, particularly getting those first downs. I mean, that was very impressive to see those guys block a very, very good front seven. Again, the strength of what we can do now going down the stretch is we have nine plus offensive linemen that we have to play with.
Q. A random question. It looked like the referees ruled there was a shift when it was clearly their guy was three or four yards down field and not a motion penalty. What are your, I guess, tools to reach out to figure out what that was all about in terms of that call?
COACH LONDON: There is a process in place through the ACC that any plays that you might see or disagree with that there is a process that you go through. They look at it, and decide you get feedback as far as the mechanics of the play, was it correct, was it not. So there is a process that we go through and I’ve gone through that process.
Q. What did they tell you on the field at the time? What did they say?
COACH LONDON: That they didn’t see any movement.
Q. You alluded to this earlier. Your defense has played really well, but when it’s given up things, it’s been in the second half. What specifically will you do? Is it along the line? Is it in the secondary? Wanted your opinion or your evaluation of the third cornerback in that BYU game. How did DreQuan and Tim sort of what do you do there going forward? Because they had some moments where they played well and some moments where they didn’t play so well.
COACH LONDON: Defensively I don’t know as much as getting tired, but one of the things we definitely have to work on is the red zone defense. When you get down there you want to stop or limit teams to field goals. Then there have been we played really well in some moments and in other moments particularly at the end of the third quarter they scored some touchdowns there. But that is always a process we continue to work on. The sudden change after a turnover. What can you do there? Can you hold them? I believe we’ve done fairly decent at that point too. As far as the corner position, Tim Harris and DreQuan Hoskey, Divante Walker, we’ll look at other things to try to get the best players on the field to give us the best chance to win. We have to perform there at that position and I’m sure we’ll have a competitive practice this week as to who will have that opportunity.
Q. In your career here, have you ever been more confident in setting up for 40 plus yard field goals than you are right now with Ian Frye?
COACH LONDON: You know, there have been some good kickers. Connor Hughes was a guy that was a former walk on that ended up doing a really good job from Lafayette High School that I had a chance to recruit. Ian Frye is emerging as a guy that we stuck with, believed in, that’s why I put him on scholarship by believing in the young man. And he has delivered in a lot of situations, and it was good to note that he was the ACC Specialist of the Week because he’s done a phenomenal job thus far, and I’m happy for him. But you do get to that point of where are you on the field? The 34 or the 35, you can punt it or you can get a guy with a leg that Ian has and say ‘let’s get three points.’ Thus far he’s proven that he’s fairly accurate, and we can get to that level and rely on him.
Q. The last MAC team that came in here, Ball State last year. Obviously, a pretty good team and they beat you. Will you remind your guys that this is a team in the same conference?
COACH LONDON: What we’re reminded about is the opportunity to win a football game. We take it, again, you guys always say that’s coach speak. But for us, truly, this is a chance to win our third game. To us, it’s been a ladder. Every game, every situation has kind of been another rung on the ladder, spring practice, summer, and August camp, the games that we’ve had. This is another process for us. What is standing in front of us having a third win is Kent State, regardless what conference they come from. To us it’s about another win opportunity.
Q. For all the games you’ve had on offense and the things you’ve been able to do and how well Ian’s kicked, is it a concern that you had to settle for four field goals?
COACH LONDON: We just talked about when you get down in the red zone you want points. That is something that every offense wants to have the ability to do is turn that high red zone or medium or low red zone into touchdown opportunities. So we’re very cognizant of that. That is something that not just our offense, but also every offense wants to benefit from. However, benefiting from getting points is also critically a component of being successful once you get down there. I think we were five-for-five down in that red zone area. So we’ll keep working on it. Keep trying to find ways to get touchdowns once we get down there.
Q. Darius was here before and he said that he thought at this point last year even at 2 2, that guys started hanging their heads when things weren’t going well and stuff, and there seems to continue to be this real resolve that they’re not going to get knocked off course. What do you attribute most of that to?
COACH LONDON: We talked about earlier about going from the four seniors to the 22 plus. Talked about unity, talked about accountability and responsibility that the players really want to have. That’s been a strong, strong theme and an undercurrent that we want to do well, want to play well. The seniors want to lead. As I told them yesterday – after this game, it’s about halfway done for some of you guys. It’s come quickly for them, and you realize that you have your own fate, your own destiny that you can control. There is more of a resolve and resiliency and mindset that ‘why not us?’ And that’s the biggest thing right now that’s been the difference.
Q. Coach, I don’t know if you can speak to it or not, and you were asked on the teleconference if there are any updates on Greyson, and a second part to that, do you feel like you’re in a better position than some teams that you have, whether you want to call them a back up or alternate, that can run your offense as efficiently as the one who starts the game?
COACH LONDON: Sure, Greyson was in a walking boot after the game. He was wearing it yesterday. We don’t practice today – we’ll practice tomorrow. So we’ll evaluate where he is at the appropriate time. So as of right now, Matt Johns and David Watford will be guys that are getting reps in practice. It does benefit us that Matt Johns has been in college football games. It benefits us that David Watford has been in college football games. The position that we’re at and asking our guys to do offensively, how our quarterbacks operate – both of them can handle that as well. So we’ll see what happens to Greyson. But if not, like any other position, the ‘next man up’ mentality.
Q. Kevin appears to be running just as hard as he always has, and giving you the effort. But the yards have not been there for them. Are opponents keying in on him more than they have in the past or are the holes just not there for them?
COACH LONDON: You know, it’s probably a little bit of everything. Giving him enough carries. As David (Teel) mentioned early on, the runs per average weren’t as high as what we needed, personnel, game planning. So Kevin is another one of those selfless guys that just one of our leaders who just wants to win. Whatever it takes. You notice one of the ways he was productive is we threw the ball to him. He had a decent number of catches with his screen passes, so whatever it takes for KP, as we call him, he’s a guy that’s bought into that and he’s a guy that demonstrates that with his actions and his attitude to the rest of the team.
Q. Pace of play was a real hot button topic last season, and then after West Virginia ran, I think, 120 plays against Maryland, Randy Edsall voiced some concerns. You ran 102. Do you have any concerns that the game is too fast in any way?
COACH LONDON: You know, it’s important that, as you guys know we first started this thing, and one of the things we changed, my mindset was the whole recovery process of how you go about practicing and what do you do to train your players. The old adage of you keep going until you can’t go anymore. It’s not sports science. It’s not smart. So our practices have cut down. Our strength and conditioning coach have facilitated what we’ve done in training. What we eat, when we eat, how we sleep. There are so many different things that science lends itself to, that in actuality we’ve been in Scott Stadium and guys have had to go in and get IVs at halftime and postgame coming out of the BYU game with all the talk about elevation, there was one guy after the game, and that was Mike Mooney, that had to get an IV. I believe from my standpoint that as the game has evolved, then the way you approach the game with what you do with training your players becomes even more important. If you don’t do that, then perhaps you’re setting your guys up for a physical failure because it’s just you can’t outlast an offense that’s out there that’s going play after play. They’re going play after play as well. But I do believe there are things that you can do.
Q. I don’t know if noticed, but Al Groh is going to be the color commentator for this game on Saturday. I wondered what that relationship is like I don’t know if you knew that on Saturday leading up to the game?
COACH LONDON: I had no idea. I do know Coach Groh. I have a profound amount of respect for him. He hired me here and promoted me here, so there is always that deep respect for Coach. His knowledge of football, his love for the game is unmatched. So I don’t know if we’ll talk face to face or by telephone, or whatever it is. But it will be interesting. I’d love to talk to Coach and see how he’s doing.
Q. Lots of teams go through adversity and some teams go through tragedy. What were your thoughts when you heard the Kent State player that died suddenly in August? What kind of respect do you have for that team having battled through that at such a crucial point of the preseason?
COACH LONDON: Your heart always goes out, your thoughts and prayers go out to any team, any player and any family that has to go through things like that. And one of the things that we always talk about is ‘who do you play this game for?’ Because in a moment whether it’s a tragedy, whether it’s an injury that ends your college career or whatever it is, you just never know. So your appreciation of your family, people that are significant to you should always be verbalized. Told the guys yesterday, call your parents, tell them that you love them. Our hearts and prayers go out for Hannah Graham’s family. Just things like that. You just never know. So to be appreciative of the things and opportunities that you have, don’t take it for granted because you just never know. But Coach Haynes – I will make sure that we, again, express our feelings for him and his program. But never take anything for granted.
Q. Have you ever had an analyst give you advice about something on defense?
COACH LONDON: Yes, my wife, thank you.
Q. It’s been a while since we heard anything about Andrew Brown. How is he coming along? I guess he made the trip to BYU. For a guy that’s had nothing but the highest level of success, how is he holding up? Have you had to sort of pull him aside and tell him hang in there?
COACH LONDON: No, the biggest thing with a lot of players sometimes is managing the outside influence of others that think you should be playing more and what’s good for you. If you were to ask the guys, particularly the four freshmen that are playing for us, Quin Blanding, Doni Dowling, Andrew and Jamil Kamara, if you were to ask them how they’re being treated, ask them how they’re being coached, how they’re being brought along, the answer would be they’re bringing me along fine. Andrew will, again, have another opportunity to play this game as will Jamil. Jamil played last week in a special teams role, but their mindset and mentality has been really, really good. Again, it’s always for these top players to manage the outside expectations that others have about them and for them.
Q. Finally, Coach, your general impressions early in the week on the Golden Flashes as the opponents coming in this weekend. Things you’ve seen and expect to see from them?
COACH LONDON: Offensively they have multiple formations. The quarterback is a good player. They’ve got a receiver that’s a guy that can go get it. They use their tight end a lot. They’ll line him up all over the place and try to get the ball to him. Defensively, No. 7 for them is very active. He’s a very, very good football player. They play multiple fronts. They’re a type of defense that will game plan you as the game has gone or coming into the game. When you look at the games they’ve played, they’re in different fronts and different blitzes which leads you to believe they’ll look at what you do and try to game plan that. I know their punter averages about 41.83 yards per punt. Last week this young man that kicked those two 65 yarders was only averaging 45 yards. I’d never been involved in a football game where a guy surpassed his average by those kicks. It was unbelievable. But you have to manage what happens during the course of the game. As you asked about Kent State, they’re a team that’s hungry for a victory. That is the thing you can never overlook the fact that teams want to taste success, and we want to taste it as well.
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