Press Conference: UVA football coach Mike London
Q. I’m curious, games like Saturday, how do you get over them? How much do they hurt you? What is it going to take for this team and you to get over this hump and win one of these games?
COACH LONDON: When it happens, you hurt more for the players with all the hard work that goes into that preparation and the back and forth, the ebb and flow of the game. Obviously – you’re very proud of the effort. Leading that team at halftime, going down to the wire.
You just remind them that we’ve come a long way. There’s still yet a ways to go. I was very pleased with the improvement from game one to game two. We talked about that after the UCLA game. The biggest improvement was about us.
Moving forward, it’s about improving from this game we just played, regardless of the opponent. I believe this team, we have the mindset, we have the will, so many things that we have that need to manifest itself into playing out on the field, and then win games like that, close games out like that.
So to me it’s been the mindset, it’s been the will, it’s been the desire. We talked about the opportunity that slipped through our hands. At the same time now we can create opportunities and moments and belief that this team can play with the best teams that are out there. Now we have to do it on the field.
You got to get over it and you’ve got to move on to the next game. The great thing about a season, at the beginning of the season there’s always the next game.
Q. How have you seen the close friendship between Matt and Canaan kind of manifest itself on the field?
COACH LONDON: Well, it manifested itself in that Matt had a career day and so did Canaan. That’s a trust and belief you have in individuals on your team. I know Matt believes in other players on our team, as well. Canaan has emerged to be a big play player for us, a go to guy. He may not be the fastest guy vertically, but because of his athletic ability to go vertical, big frame, big body, you’ve seen the one handed catches, even if it’s man to man coverage, he has an opportunity to come down with the ball. That makes him an important target for us.
Q. Six plays of 20 yards or more on Saturday. Got creative with the wildcat trick play. Was that something you saw in the defense where you could take chances? How is Matt better maybe when you let him do what he can do?
COACH LONDON: We wanted to be able to be more productive on offense, not be predictable, do some things that not only could affect the way they were playing the run, but also the coverages.
When you have a fast, reactive defense like that, the reverse throw backs, the different formations, those things help.
My hat goes off to the offense in terms of the game planning of this game. We’ve got to continue to make sure that we execute to the best of our ability, but we also want to provide ourselves opportunities to do some things and create those explosive plays.
Very pleased with the fact we had more explosive plays obviously than we had the previous game. That’s the goal, is to get opportunities to get yardage, chunks of yardage. Not only is it a game changer, psychologically things happen for you and to you.
We just got to continue to keep improving from that standpoint from the production.
THE MODERATOR: On the subject of explosive plays, because this came up before, probably best to let you understand that by definition our defense says a play of 20 yards or more, our offensive coaches say a run of 10 or a pass of 20. There is no universal what’s an explosive play. When coach references numbers, sometimes I think people think it’s a universal thing. It’s unique to how they define an explosive play for their numbers.
COACH LONDON: For me, anything 20 plus, those are things when you’re observing the game, you’re seeing how the ebb and flow goes, the field change aspects of it, those are some things you always want to keep track of.
Q. With Mike Moore playing a lot of linebacker the other day, Chris Peace started and played more than he had here. How did he grade out? Do you see Chris being a big part of the defense going forward?
COACH LONDON: Mike had an opportunity to play because their personnel units where they use tight ends. Mike had a chance to play stand up outside linebacker, which allowed Chris Peace an opportunity to rush and do some things.
First significant game action, he did okay. Obviously you want to continue to improve from that standpoint. He played a lot of special teams where he did a nice job. So his development, along with other players, as you begin the season, is going to be important as we start practicing, continue to practice, and we start playing games.
Q. Through the first three halves of this season, the UCLA game and the first half Saturday, you were averaging about 2.7 yards per rush. The second half Saturday you averaged nearly 7 yards a rush. You had runs of 25 and 35 and 16. What clicked for you guys running the football in the second half Saturday and how do you kind of push that forward and continue that?
COACH LONDON: It goes back to the explosive play conversation. It goes back to having an opportunity to be wide open a little bit. When I say ‘wide open’ you saw the jet sweep. You saw the dive play off of the fake jet sweep. You saw the fake jet sweep pass, misdirection.
You soften a defense up, get them to defend vertically, horizontally, when you have a guy like Mizzell, then Olamide, I was very pleased with his game and his ability off of those actions, it opens things up for you. I was very pleased to see that part of it open up for us.
The possessions are important for us, but the points per possessions are important, too. You can have a lot of possessions and not score points. The improvement was from the UCLA game to this game, to find ways when we have the plays, whether it’s through explosive plays, how we run the plays, execute it, to try to increase those opportunities. I thought we did a good job with that on Saturday.
Q. Mike, the theme has been finishing all through the preseason. Given the way that the game ended Saturday, how do you keep that message going?
COACH LONDON: You keep it going. You’re 12 seconds away from beating whatever ranked team they were. You’re 12 seconds away from having an opportunity to really catapult this program. There are still a lot of games to play.
Our mindset is, again, regardless of the opponent we’re playing, the ability and the process and the mindset to continue to finish games. You see the result. If you don’t finish and play four quarters all the way to the last minute, you see things that can happen against you.
If you can turn that into a positive, which I believe we will and we can, is you finish those games and you have an outcome where everybody’s happy about it.
We’ll continue to keep talking about the mindset of finishing.
Q. Mike, Canaan said after the game he had studied a tremendous amount of film on Notre Dame. Was he just finding holes in their pass coverage or was it something that you guys had seen on film and did Notre Dame do anything to try to adjust to hold him down?
COACH LONDON: I believe it’s a couple things. One, he’s a veteran player. Two, Matt is a very capable player of reading coverages.
I think one of the things that Canaan does well is be able to read the soft part of the coverages, whether it’s cover three, cover four, man to man, whatever it might be. Remember, those guys all spring and summer, seven on seven, threw the ball. Got together as a team, T.J. Thorpe, all those guys. I believe when you have an older team, a more experienced team, that those type of things manifest themselves in a game. There’s a couple times Matt came to the sideline saying, They’re playing a lot of cover two. Next time they do that, I’m going to throw the ball to you, Evan, or I’m going to throw the ball to you Canaan. To watch that unfold, that’s a veteran quarterback out there playing. They’re guys you hope you achieve the goal, and that’s to complete the pass.
I believe Matt had a career day in terms of completions. We talked about completions, facilitating the run after the catch. Those are things he’s been working on. That’s game two. Now we’re on to game three. We have to improve in that area as well.
Q. Can Canaan, what does it say he was able to come up with those catches when they were throwing a lot of bodies at him? Is that something he’s going to have to get used to?
COACH LONDON: When you become a focal point or target, teams will start doing something to affect you, which is going to make sure that we also provide, you know, other throwing opportunities to other players or do other things to try to create other matchups.
As I said, Canaan might not be the fastest guy out there. But if there’s a defender covering him, he’s so big and long, the accident to throw the ball up in the air, for him to go get it, that’s what he’s doing, that’s what he’s done. I am very happy for him.
If you talk to him, he’s not satisfied. We’re not satisfied as a team. We got a long ways to go. That game was a game that said, Listen, this season can go off in a whole ‘nother direction for us if we stay the course. I believe this is the type of team that will respond to that.
Q. With Mike Moore in that stand up spot that Max had last year, what are his coverage responsibilities and how comfortable are you in him succeeding in that position?
COACH LONDON: It’s still a learning process for Mike, as well. Obviously he played more snaps at that stand up position. As I said, Notre Dame’s personnel, Listen, we need to get a big guy that can play over the tight end. He has work to do on it as well. We’ll continue to keep finding ways to utilize his skill set.
We have another team, William & Mary, that comes in. They do a lot of different things. As we put the game plan together, we’ll see if Mike or Chris Peace or Trent Corney, whoever those guys might be, whether they’re standing up, hand on the ground, that’s best for game planning for this week’s opponent.
Q. On the health of some guys. How is Thorpe? Any update on him? Also Andre Levrone? With Mike playing more strong side linebacker, where does that leave C.J. Stalker?
COACH LONDON: In terms of the injuries, I don’t really go into the depth of the injuries.
I can say this. It’s hard trying to hold T.J. Thorpe back. Again, we’re going to make the best decisions doctor wise for him. We’ll see what happens. I mean, like I said, we’ll just remain silent on that and wait to see what happens here.
With Andre, Monday is a day off for our guys, so we’ll see Tuesday his level of participation.
C.J. is fine. He’s a special teams guy right now. Again – he’s a midyear guy last year. Now he’s basically a freshman that’s playing. He’s getting his feet wet. He’s having opportunities to be out there. But we hope to have a chance to play him, whether it’s this game or as games go forward, because you’re going to need a lot of guys going down the stretch, even before we get into conference play.
Q. Kwontie Moore would have grew out of linebacker, took him a while to grow into something else.
COACH LONDON: I’d say that too.
Q. Where does he fit with his ability to play inside or out?
COACH LONDON: Kwontie, obviously he was a highly touted linebacker coming out of high school. He’s put on a lot of muscle mass, weight and strength. He’s kind of that guy that Mike Moore was last year, being able to play inside and outside.
His role is a guy being a disruptive guy on the defensive side of the ball for us. So we play a lot of different personnel groupings based on whom we play. At the same time, Kwontie has become a guy almost like a quiet leader as well. He’s a member of the leadership council. There’s been some instances with him in terms of growing that he’s had to overcome. He has a story to tell. I don’t know if he wants to tell that story, but it’s a remarkable story, life story. You see a young man like that overcome the adversity that he’s faced, to be in a position to now be a voice on the team, he deserves it.
We’re going to continue to try to find ways for him to help us. Kwontie, I’m very proud of who and what he is right now and how much better he’ll get as we continue on.
Q. After games like Saturday’s, are you able to sleep? Given everything that goes into coaching, how do you sleep during the week? How do you keep coming in here with such a positive outlook? If there’s a prescription involved, can we get the name of your doctor?
COACH LONDON: It’s tough. It’s tough when you lose games like that right on the cusp of something great happening for these young men and the amount of time they put into it. I love these guys. When they hurt, I hurt.
Part of life and part of coaching is the fact that you never can define who you are at this particular moment, particularly when you’re on the opposite end of the ledger. You always have to keep coming back. You always have to stand up and face the fact that life goes on, the next opportunity’s going to present itself. There’s a never quit, never die attitude.
You guys know me. Faith, family, football, that’s who I am. You can wallow in self pity of what might have happened, what could have happened, or you can say, that’s happening, now how do you embrace the next challenge? For us the next challenge is the next game. The next game, regardless of the opponent, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Laycock, I coached for him – I think he’s a great man. He gave me my opportunity to be a full time college football coach. Actually Lou Anderson hired me at Virginia Sate for about a cup of coffee, then Coach Laycock hired me.
Again, adversity strikes at all times anyplace. You guys know the personal stories, the life stories and stuff like that. But there’s got to be a model hopefully to the players of resiliency. I believe I’m a resilient guy. I understand the importance of this season and what’s going on. If I don’t model that to these guys, I don’t know who will. We embrace the next challenge. The next challenge is William & Mary. Out there in life there’s so many challenges that people crumble on. This is a game. I love this game. I talk to the players about the way the game is played, the ebbs and flows of it. That’s life that’s outside there. Things happen in life – we lose people – we gain people.
This is something we do because we love it and there’s a passion for it. But we all have to understand to keep things in perspective. So for us, game over, next game, William & Mary, chance to win a football game. That’s what we’re focused on.
Q. Sleep patterns?
COACH LONDON: No, I don’t sleep that well. I wake up in the middle of the night, those types of things – that’s part of coaching. I’m a passionate, energetic guy. When the players hurt, I hurt for ’em. Now the job is to, ‘Okay, that’s over with, let’s find a way to get it done.’
It’s not counting sheep, its not taking Ambien. I don’t know what it is. I’m excited about getting ready, moving on to the next game. That’s the focus right now.
Q. After the game the other day you said your impression of the touchdown pass by Notre Dame was that you guys hadn’t taken correct rush lanes. What kind of dilemma were you facing there where you couldn’t really play a prevent defense because if they get a catch up the middle, that’s a field goal. What are your thoughts now that you’ve seen it?
COACH LONDON: Again, it goes back to providing a proper rush lane making the quarterback step up in the pocket, making sure you stay deep as the deepest. There are a lot of things we could talk about.
Obviously they out executed what we were supposed to do – I’ll tell you what, that’s two weeks in a row No. 7 has been a pretty good player for both teams. They were fortunate enough to make the last play when it counted and we weren’t.
Q. Two long touchdown passes allowed, notwithstanding. Zaire came in in two starts, completing 80 percent of his passes, 7-for-18 on the day. You made him uncomfortable for the day. Overall do you think your pass defense improved on Saturday, and specifically Tra’, who I believe had three pass breakups, I know he got beat on one, but he seemed to play one of hesitate better games against Notre Dame.
COACH LONDON: That’s a great question. It’s one of those things that I thought defensively we did a good job of disrupting some of the throwing lanes, taking away primary receivers. I believe we got two sacks on the day.
Obviously want to get a chance to get to the quarterback, hit the quarterback. Zaire was highly efficient in the game against Texas. We did some things to try to affect his primary and then sometimes the secondary throwing receivers.
When you’re playing a DB, which I had the good fortune to play 30 pounds ago in college, everybody see as deep ball when it gets thrown behind you. Tra’ did really make some really good plays on pass breakups that were instrumental for our defense. Also Tim Harris graded out probably played the best game he’s played in a while. Everybody remembers the Florida State game. He played a pretty good game himself.
The biggest thing for us is to generate that pass rush getting to the quarterback, attacking him, getting to the quarterback, and providing sacks, those types of things. You can’t cover a guy all day long.
But at the same time there were enough things defensively we did that affected him. Obviously there were some things we didn’t do well enough. Prosise going for 150 yards, those types of things – we have to shore those areas up.
As I said before, we’re looking for improvement from this game to the next game to the things we need to improve on, and that’s an area.
Q. Tim Harris was the coach’s defensive player of the game. There have been a lot of elite pass rushers in this program over the years. Any young guys right now, whether it be Peace, Darrious Carter, Wright, who you feel could grow into that role? In the short term, is Corney close to getting to the quarterback when you review the tape.
COACH LONDON: In the long term, Chris Peace, Darrious Carter, there are some guys that are very capable of the maturity level and the strength level that will give them opportunities.
Right now we’re worried about the right here and now. That’s Corney, Mike Moore to a certain extent, Kwontie Moore has gone inside and outside. Chris Peace. Finding that mix of guy or guys that can help manufacture coming off the edge speed rush we’ve seen the last couple weeks, we needed to continue to develop that ourselves.
This practice, this week of practice, all of it is will be geared towards finding who can we match up, who can we provide opportunities to come off the edge and affect the quarterback.
Q. What was the mood of your team yesterday when you met? You have an FCS background. Given all that’s going on with the Power 5 conferences, how much longer do you anticipate playing an FCS team?
COACH LONDON: The mood wasn’t somber. Nobody is walking around, wringing his hands, ‘woe is me.’ The last two weeks this team has played some really good football teams. To get down to the last 12 seconds of a game that you were very competitive in, this season can go in either direction. It can go in a direction where it’s an impetus to take us further on, or guys can wallow around in what just happened, woe is me, and then fall.
I believe this team is a team that embraces this challenge and is ready to move forward and move on and move up.
I had been on the other side, an FCS coach, playing a BCS school. I’ve been on the side of winning those games, as well. The thing for us is even what the captains talked about is, ‘We don’t care who we’re playing.’ This is more about us winning the football game, playing on all cylinders, offense, defense, special teams wise. We scored touchdowns in the red zone, which was the issue from the UCLA game. That was something that was very positive. We did a good job defensively on third down, that was positive, but still we lost the game. Now to complete a game, as you mentioned, to finish a game, in a fashion that’s commensurate with setting the goals for us is winning football games this year and having an opportunity for post season opportunities.
Q. You mentioned resiliency. From an individual standpoint, did you have to say anything much to Maurice? He’s fought these battles before. He’s had a lot of ups, a few downs. How do you see him bouncing back?
COACH LONDON: I believe in Maurice Canady. I love him. He is a great young man that takes a lot of pride in playing well. You talk about a guy that was distraught and highly upset, he was one of them.
I would say, Listen, got to have a short memory. You can’t forget, but don’t let it linger. He’s going to play against the other team’s best receivers. That’s how good he is. You win some and you lose some. This one cost us.
As a defensive back, you got to have a short memory, then move on to the things that are going to allow you to be successful, whether it’s man coverage, zone coverage, whatever it is. Maurice Kennedy will rise to the occasion. I believe that.
Q. Based on your earlier pronunciation, regarding Olamide, what did you recruit him as? Is his long term future at wide receiver? Could he also be a runningback, a return guy?
COACH LONDON: What did I call him?
Q. Called him O.
COACH LONDON: O is a young man that was the offensive player of the year coming out of his high school – very athletic guy. He lined up originally, came in with the running backs. Proved shortly after we started training camp that he’s got exceptional skills.
We started talking about play makers, we lost a couple, a couple, T.J., Doni – how could we make that up. That’s one of the things we saw early on, he has a chance, an opportunity. It goes back to running the ball. Sometimes it’s downhill direct, other times in his case it was on some jet sweeps.
He is a guy that will continue to get more reps and more opportunities and not just on jet sweeps, but we will game plan other things to give him other opportunities.
Q. William & Mary personnel, a half hour in.
COACH LONDON: A half hour already (laughter)?
Q. I know it’s about your team. It’s a very experienced team that’s been one game out of the playoffs each of the last two years. Abdul Saboor is a pretty good back. What are your impressions about their personnel?
COACH LONDON: I spent several seasons with Coach Laycock, have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a football coach, football mind. He’s definitely one of the deans of college coaching, having been at William & Mary for several years, but he has just had success over the years.
The teams are always well coached. He surrounds himself with good people, good coaches, Kevin Rogers. I know a lot of people on that staff. I know the type of kids they get because I was there. They’ll be well coached, excited about this opportunity, they won’t be intimidated coming up and playing in Charlottesville. They have a quarterback and running back – with a couple wide receivers that are very productive for them. Defensively they got two safeties, a linebacker, a guy up front, they play hard.
They’ll come to play. As I said, you can look at FCS. I mean, we’re not looking at it that way. We’re looking at it as another opponent, the chance for us to compete and win a home game here in Charlottesville, get moving in a positive direction coming off these last two games, particularly this last game.
Again, no disrespect to them, it’s more about us than it is about them. But understanding about them, they’re a well coached team. Like I said, I’ve been there, so I know what’s being said and how those kids feel about it. They got a chance to come in here and compete and do well.
Q. Did you talk to them about Auburn and Jacksonville State?
COACH LONDON: No, I did not. Our guys know about it. Between social media, Twitter, blogs, they probably knew about it.