Press Conference: UVa. football coach Mike London
COACH LONDON: The biggest thing is the amount of experience he’s gained, the confidence that he has, being bigger, faster, stronger, understanding the schemes, particularly what offenses try to do. He’s a very good tackler. Anticipating routes. He’s a guy we rely on defensively, not only to make the coverage calls, but you talk about playing eight in the box, the guy coming down, he’s that guy. He can play the deep third. He’s a very important asset to the defense.
Q. What was the thinking behind moving Whitmire inside to the guard position?
COACH LONDON: When you look at the depth that we had, we were playing the twos and they were basically three young men that were true freshmen. We talk about the left tackle, the left guard, the center, the right guard being very important positions as far as taking care of the quarterback, who is a right-handed quarterback.
Eric [Smith] is a talented freshman that we think we can do some things to help us out there at right tackle. We wanted to shore up the interior part to give us more girth, more strength, and allow some protection for David.
Q. Regarding the linemen, do you have any kind of timetable for Conner Davis?
COACH LONDON: A couple years ago when we lost Tim [Cwlina} and now this year with Sean Cascarano, a guy that played in games. Sean is not going to be back. It’s just one of those injuries, it’s in his best interest not to continue a football career. We sorely miss him. But sometimes like any injury, you have to move up and move on.
Conner is still trying to get back from a hamstring issue, just still not ready. When he’s ready, we’ll give him the opportunities. Right now we got to get ready for Ball State and put the linemen together that we think that can help us.
Q. Seems like the entire offensive line has struggled. Has there been that drastic a difference in the right side and left side of your line?
COACH LONDON: Probably the biggest thing is just the ability to make sure that the pressure that’s mounted on David is reduced.
Again, you look at the left side. You have two guys that have started in a lot of college football games. In addressing that particular issue, getting stronger in the middle, providing our center, whether it’s Ross [Burbank] or Jackson [Matteo], you have Luke on one side, you have Jay Whitmire on the other side, you shore that up. We think Eric Smith is going to be a talented player for us. There are things you can do with the right tackle in terms of protection, whether you’re chipping a defensive rush, slide protect, whatever.
I think right now with the linemen that we have now, we’re not discounting Conner, but we have to get ready with the guys we have and the guys we’ll start practicing with on Tuesday, the ones you see on the depth chart.
Q. How spirited was the competition between the younger guys at receiver?
COACH LONDON: What you saw was some athleticism there. But going into August camp, they don’t have the opportunities for the spring practice, but in the August camp you see the athleticism.
What the experienced guys have is they know how to line up as the X or the Z, they know how to run the routes, know what the alignments are. During the course of August camp, you get to see the athleticism. Now they’re learning the plays as well.
We’ve gotten to the point where we need to get production from that position. Again, the depth chart characterizes it as you see the names right there. There are some taller guys that can go up and get the ball. We need some guys that can get that done. The ones that will have the opportunities on Saturday will start showing us on Tuesday as we practice and start to game plan for Ball State.
Q. Talking about the blocking on Saturday, how much do you lose when you don’t have Swanson out there?
COACH LONDON: It’s critical not having a guy of his caliber that was kind of an on-the-line tight end. You characterize your positions, he was an on-the-line tight end that could catch the ball. Jake McGee, you could flex him out, catch the ball. When you have a guy that’s been a primary blocker like Zach, you do miss him. It’s critical to have blocking tight ends or blocking, period, whether it’s an inside or outside run play in order for you to be successful.
Zach has been out there. He’s walking around. Don’t know the timetable. But hopefully he’s back sooner than later. He definitely won’t be back this game.
Q. Last year you played Louisiana Tech around this time. Does this have a Louisiana Tech feel to it, non-BCS team, talented, coming to your place?
COACH LONDON: Anytime you play at home, anytime you’re competing against a team that’s in your backyard, you always have the feel of this is a game that we want to win, that we must win.
Ball State is an excellent team, they’re 4-1. They put up a lot of numbers on some of the teams they played, 50 points, 40 points. Our best effort is going to be needed regardless of where we are at this stage in the season.
Playing well, trying to fix things we’ve looked at to get fixed, is important. This game is that next game. So playing well against Ball State is important.
Q. Keeon Johnson has had good moments in training camp and practice, have you been tempted to use before this?
COACH LONDON: As the earlier question was asked about guys that come in, they show they’re talented. What they have to gain is that experience. If you go back, you look at a guy like Max Valles, very talented, short on experience. You start trying to put him in positions where he can accelerate his learning process and you limit what you call. I think Max had an outstanding game, along with basically the entire defense.
It’s one of those things where you recognize that type of talent. Without the benefit of spring practice, the development of him, who is already there, you see things, you wonder if you want to speed that along.
I think Keeon has been one of those guys who you’ve seen make remarkable catches in practice against our defense. So now we’ve just accelerated his timetable, as well.
Q. How difficult will it be for David to be looking at new targets?
COACH LONDON: I don’t think it will be difficult. Still going to run the concepts, whether it’s high-low, the different routes you run.
I think being able to throw the ball and having guys – we look at the average height of these receivers, I mean, there’s some go-up-and-get-it ability. That may be different in terms of how you see them go up and get it, see some of that athleticism come to fruition.
But as far as it being something different overall, still David will throw. He’s throwing passes to those guys in practice. We’ve done the same type of things in terms of one-on-one, individual team periods, where the other guys weren’t getting the reps they were.
But we’ll see. I don’t think it will be difficult at all.
Q. You mentioned Keeon Johnson being an athletic player. What does he bring that some other guys don’t?
COACH LONDON: We don’t want to exclude other guys. You look at Kyle [Dockins], you look at Canaan [Severin], you look at Miles Gooch. Then you look at the abilities of what they’ve done on special teams. They’re in two, three phases of special teams. They’re in there blocking, running, mixing it up.
It’s interesting, always talking to Evan Marcus, our strength coach, about how the guys are doing in the weight room. He sees a lot of things. He says that Keeon is freakishly strong, gifted and talented. What’s happening in the weight room, you can see it happen out on the field as well.
Now again, we’re at the point where we want to see some production. We’ll give him an opportunity to show the things that people have been seeing thus far in camp.
Q. Did Ian Frye get hurt in pregame?
COACH LONDON: We go to the pregame sites, the home field area and the visitor’s locker, you kick versus the wind, want to see different things going on. We try to find that ceiling. We went out early. Coach Lewis had an opportunity to watch them kick. You ask them how they feel. He was feeling okay at that time.
It’s that first kick, when he kicked off, exasperated his issue with his hip flexor. It went downhill from there. It’s unfortunate. Anybody that makes the trip is making the trip to play and contribute.
But that situation, it revealed itself, became a factor later on in the game.
Q. Has Jay Whitmire every played guard?
COACH LONDON: Early in his career, when you’re trying to find out who the five are, who those guys are, he’s been there. You move him around. He was a tight end in high school, T.C. Williams High School.
He is agile enough having been a tight end in high school that putting him in the guard position, whether we’re going to use him to pull, get on the perimeter, speaks to his abilities. That’s the biggest thing. Plus he’s a big guy, he’s a big man.
That’s another thing, again, we wanted to shore up the opportunities for our centers, whether it’s Ross or Jackson Matteo. You look at guys that have played in the past, Brandon [Albert], Elton [Brown] that played guard, tackle, all those things. We’re hoping that Jay can make an easy transition, as well.
Q. Eric Smith played basketball in high school, will that help him on the perimeter?
COACH LONDON: That’s exactly right. It speaks to kind of the athleticism when you’re recruiting guys about what they’ve done in their high school careers, other sports that they’ve played. Eric was talented enough, he’s pretty good, we’re going to play him. Now the issue is to give him plenty of playing time being a backup. Now he’s a starter. He’ll get all the opportunities that he’s asked for and that we need.
Q. Ball State’s quarterback is not a big running threat and you did a good job of putting pressure last weekend. Do you have a similar type of game plan for this Saturday?
COACH LONDON: Without going into the details of that, he is a very good quarterback. They run a style that’s what they do, they throw the ball a lot. They’ll spread the ball all over the field. You look at their record, they’re top 25 in passing offense. They’re very productive.
He is that pocket presence type of guy that distributes the ball to other players. There will be a lot of pass-rushing, a lot of packages, nickel, dime, all the things you use to try to dial up the different blitzes and coverages. They do a good job with the scheme that they use.
Q. Is the offensive problem an easy fix or was there a combination of problems?
COACH LONDON: You never want to get three points. You always want to have the opportunity to score given the opportunities you make for yourself at the time. Not only that, you won’t have the opportunity to score when the defense gives you the ball to do that.
The fix is, we talked about the offensive line situation. It’s the wide receiver situation. You can’t have 10 drops in a game. There’s a lack of production that needs to be done and there needs to be accountability for that. The ones that are there need to understand if the competition is there, if you produce in a game, you deserve to play.
of the explosive plays we showed, David Watford was involved in over half of them. So there are some things, again, that he can do that can help us in the running game, moving the football.
It’s kind of a culmination of things, but at the same time it’s about putting those right people, giving those guys opportunities to be productive and help us play and win.
Q. I know you want to be a power running attack, but have you talked about opening up the offense?
COACH LONDON: You have to make sure that you use what you have to help you. We’ve played four games now. We’ve seen we’ve had opportunities to run the ball. BYU, not as successful as you want, but that was a pretty tough defense. We’ve had chances to throw the ball and get a lot of points versus VMI – No disrespect to them. Now we played against a very good Pittsburgh team that had a dominant three technique in No. 97, Donald. You have a chance to identify, What is it that we have to do in order to be successful?
If it is spreading out just a little bit more to create a running game, if it is putting two tailbacks in the game, whatever it may be, we have to find those things that can help move this team, not so much worry about whether we’re going to run the ball right here.
We’d like to be physically rugged and tough, but you also have to be smart about what you do, how you utilize the guys you have to help you be successful.
Q. Have you considered to move Luke Bowanko back to center?
COACH LONDON: We looked at that. One of the things, if you were looking at an offensive line, building an offensive line, you’re looking at your left tackle obviously. Your center position is important. Then with a right-handed quarterback, the right guard. In a three-step drop, slide protection, the three techniques the guys are playing up front, when they get that push, the right guard is the guy who negates that push and allows the quarterback to throw the ball.
When Conner was there, he did a good job for us. But Conner is not there. In order to help that situation, we put Jay there. In order to help the outside rushers versus Eric Smith, we’ll do some other things to help him.
We just wanted to take care of those things that must be addressed immediately. Moving Jay to the inside was the first thing we had to address.
Q. Jon Tenuta wasn’t hired when Max was first recruited. His pass-rush skill set is ideal for the defense.
COACH LONDON: Like was mentioned earlier, when Max first got here, you see that raw ability. He was a tight end, then he was a defensive end. As we went on, being able to stand up, the first-step burst, he’s got one of the quickest I’ve seen in a while. His ability to dip and lean. There were a couple shots there, if you can recall, he came around the edge, dipped, had the quarterback by his jersey, still pulled him down. There was one he ran right by the tackle. There was a play that they came to kick him out, and he was flexible enough to kick block, down on all fours, popped up, tackled the quarterback. There were some pretty athletic things he did. As we go on, his development will give him more opportunities to play.
As we say with Keeon, you don’t have time to keep on developing it, but we’re going to keep giving him the opportunity to make those type of plays. We think Keeon is that type of guy as well.
But Max is learning, learning how to be a linebacker. Jon is coaching him up to be a linebacker, but also a guy that can rush the passer.
Q. Have you looked at changes of responsibilities within your staff? If so, what kind of things?
COACH LONDON: We’re discussing everything. We haven’t made any decision about who is going to be on the field, whom is going to be up in the box. Coach Fairchild was up in the box early, we brought him down.
We’re going to do whatever is best for the football team, for the players to get that coaching, teaching, whatever they need, when they’re coming off the field.
Q. A lot of people don’t understand how complicated it was to change systems in such a short time period. Can you explain this more?
COACH LONDON: It’s disappointing about where we are. The facts and the statistics don’t lie about that part of it.
This is a new system. It is a new scheme you try to get acclimated to in the spring, in the August days of practice, as we’re going into the fourth game.
We want to see production. We want to see improvement because you see it defensively. You see a new scheme that’s being played, that’s being executed well right now. So there is a level of disappointment with the new offensive scheme that’s not as productive, is not showing the type of production that it needs to help us particularly with the pass game and winning that [Pitt] game.
The changes, the fixes, the things that we’re doing, are all addressed to make sure we can be productive.
If you play good defense, you have a chance to win as long as you can hang onto the football. Again, turnovers being the issue – we turned the ball over twice, one on the snap, then one on the muff, on the punt. If you cut back on those things, you’re going to have some drops sometimes in games, but you can’t have 10 drops in a game. If you eliminate those things, we feel it can give us a better chance of being more representative of how this team can play.
Q. Can you comment on Vozenilek’s game this weekend?
COACH LONDON: Alec Vozenilek, that’s why I call him Vozey (laughter), I joke with him a lot. But I saw him come out of the Taylor Swift concert with a tight spandex shirt on a couple weeks ago.
He’s done a really nice job of handling the ball, there was a low snap he got off the ground [against Pitt]. He had the one coming out of the end zone. He punted one that went 50 plus yards in the air, the rest on the bounce [to finish at 77 yards].
He’s probably one of the hardest-working guys on this football team when it comes to the weight room, when it comes to everything else you expect a player to be not only on the field but off the field.
He’s one of those leadership council guys. He was elected by his teammates because they saw what type of person he is, how he represents this program. Earned a scholarship because of those qualities. He is continually getting better. He’s definitely become an asset for us in the special teams part.
Q. Were you at the Taylor Swift concert?
COACH LONDON: I was there picking up my daughter. Not there for any other reason. Let’s go on record for that (laughter).
Q. I saw mention Ball State scored in first possession of every game they have played, only team in the country that’s done that. Given that, what is the importance of setting an early tone?
COACH LONDON: First of all, not letting them score on the first possession, obviously that’s important. But it is a very productive offense. They do a lot of things. What they’ve been doing, they throw the ball, they throw it all over the field, do a lot of things.
I think this is a good game for our defense. You look at the passing defense, what we’ve been doing, I think we’re in the top 10 in third-down defense. We talked about total defense. Passing efficiency defense, we’ve been pretty good at that as well.
This will be that type of game where the challenges will have to be met. I’m quite sure defensively that we’ll rise to the occasion.
Q. You made changes on your offensive line. Looking at changes for your wide receiver. Have you looked at making changes for the punt return as well?
COACH LONDON: That is open as well. You have to be open to being productive in that area. It’s a critical moment that happened in the game that led to a score. Again, we all have to be accountable for the production we have, or lack thereof. If there are other guys there that can help us in that capacity, we’re going to look at that to do that. That’s what we have to do.
We got great kids. Love all of ’em. You got to produce. You got to be productive. As you alluded to, the positions on offense, but also back there catching the ball. Nicki [Dominique Terrell] is a great young man. He probably feels as bad as anybody. At the same time he understands the critical errors in a game that happen like that, that lend itself to the other team winning, you got to look for ways to be on the positive side of that, and that’s what we’ll do.
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