Press Conference: UVA football coach Mike London
COACH LONDON: We, obviously all know the game time for Miami is seven o’clock here at Scott Stadium. It is another opportunity for us to play in a nationally televised game. We took last week’s open date and had an opportunity to work on ourselves, get some guys back, get some guys healed, and look forward to playing these last two games, and particularly this one because it’s our last home game for a group of seniors that I consider great young men, and a lot of them, most of them who will graduate and do big things in life.
This will be an important week for us to get ready, and I know our seniors are looking forward to this as well as the whole team. It’s another opportunity to play here at Scott Stadium, and a chance to win a football game. So I’ll take questions at this time.
Q. Did you find self-scouting during the bye week to be beneficial?
COACH LONDON: It’s always good to self-scout yourself and you take that information and you’re very cognizant of what you do and how you do it. For the most part a bye week is a chance for some guys that have been nicked up to get well, to get better. Even going into this week we’re still looking at some guys, getting themselves back to being a hundred percent. Even at this point sometimes you’re not always a hundred percent.
You kind of just look at yourselves and you get ready for this particular game, which is a very important game for us. And you look to improve. We’ve been improving. As I said coming out of the last game that we played against Florida State, the number two team in the country, you saw some good things that we did. But obviously you always look at things that can cost you opportunities and the turnovers that have occurred in that game were significant. But it’s been this team, as I’ve said before, it’s has been fun to coach in that they’re very competitive. You see improvement, and this is a game against another opponent who, by the way, just played the last team that we played that you see some things that occurred in that game as well that you have to make sure yourselves that you handle. So this week of practice will be very productive for us as we go into the Miami week.
Q. Phelps is back on depth chart, what is his status for Saturday as well as the linemen?
COACH LONDON: Again, he’s back on it. We’ll see. We don’t practice on Mondays. We’ll practice tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday. So we’ll have the opportunities to kind of gauge where he is, as well as the other guys that missed the game or came out of the game because of injury. It’s always important that Tuesday following, that tomorrow being an important day for us to see kind of where these guys are, and based on the advice of our doctors and trainers about where they are and where they’re projected.
Q. Duke Johnson missed this game last year and two years ago you got an eyeful of him. I’m sure you’ve seen an eyeful on tape this year. No disrespect to James Connor, is this kid the best back that you guys will have seen?
COACH LONDON: Well, he is definitely one of the more talented backs in college football. I mean, you look at him, he runs hard. He’s a physical runner. He’s a downhill runner who can also jump cut and run to the outside. So he’s a special talent. In the games that you watch, you know he gets his yardage, he creates yardage. He runs away from guys, he runs through arm tackles. So you see why he is one of the best running backs in the country, and I will give him that. He’s a talented young man and not just arm tackling or guys getting around the ball. I mean, you’re going to have to hit and wrap up on him because he is a guy that can make extra yardage for himself just by sheer effort alone.
Q. You have a number of marquee players in the senior class: Kevin Parks, Ant and so on. You have guys like Fitch, Gallop, Stephen Lawe who don’t play much, if at all, how important are they to an organization, the guys who are behind the scenes and don’t get the headlines?
COACH LONDON: They’re always important. The names, Fitch, Gallop, Stephen Lawe are guys that have been here in the program for a while and particularly Fitch and Gallop were walk ons that I felt happy to give scholarships to. Stephen Lawe has been here for a while. Hasn’t gotten a whole lot of playing time, but he’s been a guy that’s a selfless guy. Whatever his role was on the team, he embraced it. He’ll be a graduate of this University, and you want guys like that to have an opportunity to, one, play, if possible, and two, go out on a positive note. It’s always the guys that are behind the scenes that kind of fill in the roles of other guys that don’t want to play, whether it’s a scout team role or an extra lineman, if you need a lineman. Those guys that you mentioned, I could name along with five or six others that have been good teammates – have been good students, have been good people – have been good student athletes for this University. Their success doesn’t just lie on the football field, it lies in the fact that they will accomplish ask get a degree here. They’ve done things in the classroom and in the community that I’m proud of, and I know that they’re proud of.
Q. Does your approach to a bye week or open week change depending on when it falls? The last one was smack dab in the middle of the season. This one is a little bit later. Did you do anything much differently than you did after the Pitt game in that week?
COACH LONDON: Well, after the Pitt game we took some elements of the Georgia Tech offense and looked at some things like that. This one basically for us was to get guys that are nursing injuries, to get them healed. Also kind of self evaluate yourself again and so to speak, go back to fundamentals. We did a lot of that. We had a chance to do extra Miami work because they’re a team that runs the ball well and they’re a team that will also throw the ball vertically. There are some teams we played this year that have similar kind of concepts and as we focus on those.
Q. Darius told us today that he’s requested to wear No. 17 this week, Miles Gooch’s number, and says he ran it by you.
COACH LONDON: I know that the reasons why Darius wanted to make the change to Miles’ number was one that was just born out of love for a teammate and the fact that Miles’ final few games were lost here rather abruptly, and that that’s a guy that he wants to honor by wearing his number as we play one final game at home.
Miles had his operation last week. He’s still on crutches and he’s kind of getting around, moving around. But one of the great things about Miles Gooch is the fact that I was able to give him a letter sent by the NFL Players Association to an All Star Game, and he, along with Anthony Harris, were elected to be members in that game and obviously he won’t be able to play in it. But I hope there is a way that we can still send him for him to experience that atmosphere there, although he can’t play. If there is a way, we’re hoping that he can still travel and enjoy that recognition and kind of end this thing in a positive way for him.
Q. Miami has been starting a freshman quarterback all year Brad Kaaya, but he’s been playing well above a freshman quarterback. Can you talk about how he looks and how you’re approaching playing him this week?
COACH LONDON: Brad Kaaya has been surrounded by a dynamic and talented group of players. You’ve got Duke Johnson, and Dorsett on the outside. You have a tight end that’s really good. They’re playing with a defense that’s played well. Brad is a guy that they do a good job protecting him. Not many sacks against him. He’s a tall guy that’s been accurate for him and not afraid to throw the ball down field. So he’s done well for what they’ve asked him to do. He’s turned himself into being a guy that’s very reliable and dependable for their team. Obviously he’s a significant player on a team. I don’t remember if they played a second quarterback. Every game I’ve looked at them I’ve seen him playing most of the snaps there. But he’s done a phenomenal job for them, and I’m sure they’re counting on him to finish up their season as well being productive.
Q. Denzel Perryman is a guy that’s been around for a while and kind of that star role as a linebacker from Miami. Henry’s kind of emerged on the scene here at least league wide this season. How would you compare those two, their games? Are they pretty similar? Would you rank those two guys top of the ACC in terms of linebackers?
COACH LONDON: Well, obviously Perryman, you’re right. It seems that he’s been there forever. He’s a very, very good football player. He’s involved in a lot of their special teams as well. You see him running down, whether it’s kickoff. He’s a very physical player. You can see that he’s kind of the emotional leader defensively for them. Henry has emerged for us as a guy that’s gotten better over the years. Last year first time calling the defense. We all know this defense is predicated upon the linebackers getting the players in position, and he did a good job last year, but he’s done a better job this year. His numbers, his contribution to the team is something that’s very, very important for us and to us. He has done things I believe he’s our sack leader. So there are a lot of things he’s done to put himself in a position to be considered in that group of good linebackers in the ACC. A two time academic performer. So there is a complete package of what Henry has done in his career here and also the last few years he’s played here in the ACC.
Q. What kind of reaction do you think that game the other night will have on Miami? As you’re watching the game, does that enter your thinking as to, gee, will Miami be more fired up if they lose or if they win or that kind of stuff? Or do you totally have that out of your head at all?
COACH LONDON: Well, I’m out of the prognosticating business of how people feel after wins or big losses or whatever it might be. I do know Al Golden personally. We’re friends. We were on the same staff together at Boston College. Same staff together here. Our families are friends. I know that was a big game for them. I can also see the fact that if you’re playing well, although in our case in the second half, we did a great job second half wise in limiting them to two field goals. But you do know that you feel as the ebb and flow of the game goes and you’re playing against one of the nation’s elite teams, that sometimes you feel like you have them on the ropes and then things happen. The tipped pass that fell into the running back’s hands. Sometimes the ball bounces different ways, and it’s when you’re watching the game you kind of see that those are momentum turners, or things that happen in a game that change the complexion of the game.
They played a good team. We played a good Florida State team, but Florida State, until somebody else beats them – is playing well enough to win all their games. So I have no idea about what their mindset will be. I know our mindset will be it’s our last home game for our seniors. And it’s a seven o’clock game. Our students and fans have an opportunity to come out on a Saturday night. Hoping we’ll come out and play this last home game for these seniors.
Q. Did the Miami game last year give you and the staff the first real glimpse of confidence that Greyson could handle being a starting quarterback when you threw him in there at the end? And this year as a starting quarterback, what do you think is keeping him from being consistent all the time?
COACH LONDON: He did play in that game last year. There were some things that he did that were obviously positive for him. This year the reality of it, he’s a first time, first year starter in the ACC. You always look at quarterbacks and you look at completions and the percentage and efficiency, and I know that he knows he can improve in that area. I just think the opportunity to play. I mean, whether it’s Matt Johns or Greyson, they’re still first year guys that have taken a significant amount of reps against some pretty good teams or our schedule that we played. They’ll get better as they keep playing. We’re going to need them need him to play his best game against a Miami team that’s coming in here this Saturday.
Q. I guess we hear a lot about Miami’s offense because of all those dynamic players. But talk about their defense. It seems they’ve made a lot of improvement there.
COACH LONDON: Defensively they’ve done a pretty good job. You go back and look at Perryman, you look at Chickillo – you look at their defensive line. They’re rushers. They can rush four guys that are very athletic and can put pressure on a quarterback. Their corners are guys that don’t mind playing man coverage. So their defense has done a very good job for them in keeping them in games. Their formula again, their offense is pretty dynamic. They play good defense, and you see that the ebb and flow of how the offense and defense plays for them. Not only Perryman, but there are other guys that you can point out as being guys that are pushing the pocket, that are playing man coverage and making great plays. You saw some plays, again, being made a game against Florida State on the back end, interceptions and pass break ups. So it’s a team a Miami team that’s improved, and that’s what we’re looking to do, continue to improve in the next game to show that we’ve improved coming off the Florida State game against a very good Miami team.
Q. The Pitt game being the last home game you guys had at night, it was also your last win. It seemed your guys really fed off that whole night thing and had that really good first half. Can you channel some of that again to have it repeat itself? What do you like about your guys embracing the whole under the lights thing?
COACH LONDON: Whatever the game time is you want them to be competitive. You want them to love the opportunity to play in a competitive football game. This happens to be a home game for us. It happens to be another night game. I know the guys have expressed some excitement about playing on the national scale again and having an opportunity to play as we talked to one of the best running backs in college football. A very dynamic football team – our last home game for our seniors, so there are other reasons for us also to want to play well here, and that is the focus for us is to play competitive, play well and enjoy the atmosphere. Here’s another opportunity, again, to show who you are and what you want to be.
Q. Rosters, turn over of course in college football. But having won three of the last four against Miami, is there a sense of at least confidence there and do you use that when you talk to the team?
COACH LONDON: There are players here that have been part of those wins, and they’re players that have experienced a win both in Miami and obviously the games here in Charlottesville. But it all boils down to still executing on game day, the game that you this Saturday night against them. So there are a handful of guys that have had significant roles or played a part in that victory, and there are some that were here on the team but didn’t travel, some that were being recruited and saw the game. But this is a different Miami team, and I believe we’re a different team. I believe we’re a different team that’s improved over as the season has gone on. But we’ve got to play our best football game now. As we finish up these last two games, we saw turnovers, and three turnovers in the red zone is not going to get it done for you against a team.
So this game against Miami here at home still has to be about us executing and about us making what is quarterbacks or receivers or coverage guys making good decisions about what we do and executing. That’s what we’re looking for to show improvement from this last game to this game. This game, again, is in the spotlight of a lot of people. If we want to be better as a football team to move forward, we have to be able to do this.
Q. Just piggy backing on what you were talking about as far as the week is concerned, is there anything differently you did in this bye week than the previous one you had? Obviously you would like to play better coming out of that, but this time is there anything you did differently and talking about a bowl picture as a goal for this team?
COACH LONDON: We always talk about taking care of ourselves – the question was asked earlier, and I kind of give the same sort of answer in that the first bye, because we’re playing a team like Georgia Tech, we kind of used a practice, at least for that because of the difference of that style. This one was more so of taking care of ourselves and getting guys healthy or trying to get them healthy and just doing the fundamentals just over and over and over again, no matter what scheme you have, no matter what you do. If you’re not fundamentally sound, you have to keep preparing that over and over again, but that is how you get better as a player, and then the player gets better, and the unit gets better. The unit gets better – the team gets better. And that has been the focus for us.
Q. You talked about Duke Johnson in that challenge. But what do you like about your run defense? You’ve only given up one, 100 yard rusher all year. It was days from Georgia Tech, and normally they go over 100 on teams because of their style. What do you like the most about your run defense, and how much confidence do you have going into Saturday?
COACH LONDON: That’s got to be one of the big components for us to have success is our defense has to play well. I believe we are in the top 30 of total defenses. That’s been a big improvement as well. I believe up front guys have been very physical and have been very productive in terms of creating negatives, tackles for losses, and things that you can disrupt running lanes. That’s going to be critical for us, because, like I said, Miami is a team that will lineup with two tight ends and a fullback in the back and say we’re going to run the ball right here and you’ve got to stop us. There is no pretense about what they do. So it’s going to be important that when we lineup, whatever defense that we have called, that we beat blocks. We have our hats in the gap and then we tackle Duke Johnson. Not only Duke, they have other running backs that come in as well. But defensively, it’s an improved defense and it’s one that’s going to have to keep us in the game.
Go back to that hits on the quarterback sacks, go back to trading turnovers as it did in the Florida State game. That’s one of the formulas for us to have success, is we’ve got to play well defensively.
Q. You got a lot of questions in July and Greensboro about your job, future, etc. We haven’t asked you much over the course of the season. Have you been able to put that out of your mind totally or does it pop up from time to time?
COACH LONDON: My biggest focus is on this team and during opportunity for this game against Miami. That’s all I concern myself with. As I said, this team has been competitive, improved, and now the next opportunity to show how much of an improvement coming out of a Florida State game is this Saturday. So that’s all I concern myself with.
Q. Following up on that, I know you’re a really positive guy. How frustrating is it to you and some of the other coaches when you’re sitting around thinking about it. A play here, play there, you guys could have five, six wins or more if things had broken differently for you?
COACH LONDON: You always look at things that if it could have, should have, would have – the bottom line is they didn’t occur. Football is always a game of four or five plays away. Again, this is a season for us outside of the Georgia Tech game that bounces here or there and we’re looking at a different set of circumstances. But the reality is we are where we are right now. The only thing we can control now is the next two games, and the most important game of the next is the next game that’s coming up, again, against a very good Miami team.
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