Press Conference: UVA football coach Mike London
Q. I guess you’re kind of reviewing the second half and looking at the interceptions. Was there anything that really stood out on those four?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, obviously when you have the turnover disparity that we had – to give them opportunities to get the ball back, as a matter of fact, three of the turnovers are in our plus territory. One at the 50 yard line there was an interception thrown. They return it to the 16. Give the defense credit – they make them kick a field goal. Then the fourth down play we throw it to the end zone. They get an interception there and then obviously the sack-caused fumble was another situation there. So it’s unfortunate that when you’re playing a good team like that that the balance of the game turns on the field position that they gain based on those turnovers. Thought we did a good job from the special teams standpoint particularly with Switzer and his return capabilities.
But when you have turnovers like that and you change the field – then the defense has to play on short fields and things like that – it causes issues. I thought that we played a good first quarter, first half, but believe me – Matt was like 8 for 12 – very efficient in the first quarter. Then that first drive as we started the third quarter – as we were driving, turnover, and then into the fourth quarter those subsequent turnovers were ultimately what led to us not being successful. And that’s something that, again, you want to make sure you minimize those seams, because those turnovers hurt in the end.
Q. Obviously Matt after the game was ticked off at himself and at the turnovers. How do you get him to play without thinking about it now?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, you have to move on. I mean, you have to obviously acknowledge and correct the things that you can. Matt’s the kind of competitor that when you look at I look at him, and I know he’s got 12 touchdowns, he’s got 12 interceptions and seven of them have come three came in the Boise State game and four in this particular game (UNC), so you’re only as good as your last game. But he has to have kind of the long haul memory or long haul trajectory of, listen, ‘I can play better, I can do better, and this is not a complete picture of who he is as a player.’ So as a quarterback, as any other position that’s out there, when you do make a mistake or you do create an error, you have to have the next play, the next opportunity and mentality and the next game mentality. And that is this one that’s coming up against Georgia Tech.
Q. Continuing with that, is he doing anything different? He was pretty accurate early in the season and then kind of up and down. In the last few games I guess he’s kind of dropped off. Has anything changed?
COACH LONDON: One of the things that you always want the quarterback to have is you have to have the awareness of the rush that’s around you, things that are going on around you – the ability to hitch up in the pocket – to step up. Not always feel like you have to be pressured or flustered to throw the ball to stay with your primary or secondary read. With Matt there are I believe they had one sack this game. It was a sack-cause fumble, which is a critical one. Again, just keep emphasizing the fact to trust the pocket. Rushers are going to come after you. Trust your reads and make the throw. We’ll continue to keep coaching him. Again, Matt’s a guy that has a lot of confidence. But we always talk about playing within yourself and making throws when the throws are there. Don’t try to hurry things. For his development, it’s critical that he do that in order for us to be successful.
Q. Micah Kiser is leading the league in tackles, been very productive. He had big shoes to fill. What’s made him as effective as he’s been?
COACH LONDON: The biggest thing for him, having sat in the meeting room behind a guy like Henry Coley that played, and Daquan Romero who is now a GA for us, so there is a lot of recall. There is a lot of Micah’s a smart player. I believe he’s one of the nation’s leaders, not only in total tackles, but also in solo tackles. His ability to be a smart player and recall and having now played the games that he has, has given him an opportunity to help us defensively. So it’s a credit to him, but it’s a credit to people before him and having a guy like Daquan in the locker room and in the meeting rooms, because he just played last year himself.
Q. Eric Gallon’s debut as a starter did not last very long.
COACH LONDON: It didn’t end very well either.
Q. How is he doing? And how did Mark Hall do for his stead in the rest of the first half?
COACH LONDON: First of all, I don’t know if it’s been released yet or not, but Eric is going to have season ending surgery tomorrow. It’s called a Lisfranc injury, and it’s unfortunate. A guy has his first opportunity to start in a college football game and then you have this issue that comes up. Also we’re talking about I know we were asked a question about what Mooney’s status was. He’s going to have a season ending injury surgery as well, for a knee, patella issue. Again, it’s unfortunate. It’s another offensive lineman that’s down for us. About four guys that have started games that are no longer with us, but that’s how Jack English got in the mix of things. So now, with the next man up mentality, you talk about a guy like Mark Hall. He’s got to step up and we’ll cover the ability, the opportunity to play multiple linebacker positions. As we said, Jack English has played the last couple games, and we’ll look at a couple other things here as far as moving forward. But to answer your question, Eric started out very promising, and then again, this game is unforgiving in that injuries happen at different times, hit different position groups, and happened to hit him. Then also it’s affected our O line quite considerably.
Q. Speaking of injury, I think Tim Harris went out early on Saturday. Don’t see him on the depth chart. What is his status?
COACH LONDON: Tim will probably miss this game with a shoulder injury. So we’ll see how he progresses. But I wouldn’t imagine him being involved in this game. I know we make the announcements on Thursday, but rather than wait until Thursday, I know those three things I just mentioned for sure.
Q. You were a defensive back in your day and we had discussion in here beforehand about the early play in the game where Tra’ Nicholson had the guy blanketed down around the flags down there and didn’t turn around. Again, people see that on the outside and wonder why don’t defensive backs turn around. What are your thoughts on that?
COACH LONDON: Obviously being a defender, you want to be close, because we play a lot of man coverage. You play a lot of coverages that quarterbacks have had the ability to throw the ball. We talk about between the numbers and the sideline and turn around and squeezing and using the different techniques that are taught as far as your body against the receiver’s body. When his hands go up, your hands go up. You play through the hands.
So there are things these guys are taught, and things they have to execute in order to be successful. Tra’ knows those techniques. And Tra’ has to use those techniques like any defensive back, any defender. So we’ll continue to keep teaching them things that are going to help a defensive back. You’re right, that was about maybe 25 pounds ago when I was a DB myself. But there are things that you do that are going to allow you to help track the ball and help play through the ball and end up with interceptions or PBUs as we call them, pass break up opportunities. We need to do that better – we need to get that done.
Q. But you see that at all levels.
COACH LONDON: Yeah, you see it at high school, college, pros – you see it in all different levels. There are different techniques that are taught. But the biggest thing is when the receiver’s hands go up – your hands go up through and play through the receiver as well. So those things are practiced. You go over and over again, you show film, and you’re right it happens at all levels. But for our situation, we have to make sure that we play the type of defense that’s going to allow us to be successful. I mean, they had very few third down situations. They were successful in a lot of their first down, second down opportunities. I believe it was eight third down situations that we actually held them to. So, again, we want to make sure that we continue to keep doing the right things – the players keep doing the right things to give them a chance to be successful on a play in and play out basis.
Q. I know during Syracuse week you talked a little about how Syracuse would show an element of some option. I don’t think they showed a whole lot. It was more of that speed option type thing. You face this Georgia Tech option every year. How much of a challenge is it this year? You have a couple of linebackers who haven’t really faced I know Bradshaw made that start against these guys a couple years ago, but really never got his feet wet against it.
COACH LONDON: Again, as we all know, it’s an offense that grinds up a lot of time. Their running back is a guy that’s averaging the young man is a true freshman, I believe. Marcus Marshall. He’s averaging 8 yards per carry, almost 9 yards per carry. It’s an offense that has wide splits. It’s an offense that you have to tackle your threat, whether it’s to dive the quarterback or the option: Coach Johnson has been running this offense forever, and as soon as you start doing certain things they’ll come back with the counter option or quick sweeps or play action passes. So they’ve done a really good job of just doing what they’ve done over the years. I know when we played them last year up until going into the fourth quarter, I believe, there was about maybe 200 or less than 200 total yards there, and then they had an explosive final quarter. So we’re going to have to again just make sure this is an option, responsibility oriented approach. For us, it’s a responsibility oriented defense. Then the execution of it is going to be critical.
Q. I know 2 and 5 isn’t exactly where you want to be. But at 1 2 in the ACC, still five games to go, do you feel like you’ve still got a good amount to play for at this point?
COACH LONDON: Oh, without a doubt. Again, you look at the situation that we’re in, 1-2 in the ACC. There are two other teams behind us, one is 1-3 – one is 1 4. We’ve played the two 6-1 teams right now currently in the ACC. Three of our last five games are home games, and I believe three of the last five teams are teams that are .500 or less. So again, there are still opportunities out there that this team can achieve. There are still games to be played. There are still games to be won. Individuals, playmaking, coaching – things like that to improve to allow this team to reach that type of success. So our players are very much in tune to that. Again, we talk about coach speak all the time, but definitely for us the one game at a time mentality, this one game is the next most important game for us because it’s a Coastal Conference game. It’s a chance to go 2 2 in our conference play. It’s a chance to add to another win to total the six opportunities that you have. So there are so many things that are still on the table there for us. We’re going to have to, like I said, play our best, coach our best to achieve those things, but it’s nonetheless achievable.
Q. Everybody knows you’re in a ‘what have you done for us lately profession.’ But what enters your mind when a guy like Al Golden was fired like he was the other day? You know Al. How did it hit you?
COACH LONDON: Al and I are good friends, personal friends. Our families know each other. My thoughts and prayers are with him. This is a profession that we’re in. I wish him success and things that I know he’s looking for and wants to have in this coaching profession. But at the same time, it’s what this profession is about. I don’t know the particulars, but I know Al to be a really good friend. I hope everything works out in the end.
Q. I think your opponents are a combined 26-7. You were talking earlier about how you face the two 6-1 ACC teams. How big would a win with Georgia Tech and getting back to .500 in the ACC be for the psyche of this team going forward?
COACH LONDON: It’s big. As I said, you can look at where we are and you can talk about what’s going on. Again, the reality of it is in the ACC were 1 2. We have a home game against a very good Georgia Tech team. For whatever reason, whatever they were suffering from beforehand, they put a game together that beat Florida State. The ability to go 2 2 in the Coastal at home and then continue some momentum from that is important. As I said, this game is the next most important game for us because, again, we just talked about the different elements of who we play, when we play them, where they are right now, where we are. You just have to make sure you bring in your A game every time, and that’s important for us.
Q. What was your reaction to that final play of Florida State against Georgia Tech the other day? Do you hesitate to try a field goal in that situation?
COACH LONDON: Just watching it unfold like everybody else when you’re a fan. I saw Coach Johnson let it go – because normally if you block it and it goes beyond, you let it go. It’s the last play of the game. The young man there had the wherewithal to pick it up, and I guess he saw green grass and he returned it. It speaks to the other side of it that at least you cover it. If it’s blocked and you see a guy going towards it to pick it up, then to cover it. But this scenario, most teams people teach get away from it and that’s it, you go into overtime.
But there have been some strange finishes in college football. Obviously – our triple overtime – one up in Blacksburg – quadruple or whatever it is, overtime. Just last play scenarios in these different games in college football that have occurred, it’s been really something that’s bizarre, but at the same time, it’s such a fine line between winning and losing.
Q. 30 touches for Smoke this past game. Is there a number out there that you would want him to touch the ball as far as he was returning I guess some early this season? Do you take him off that duty because he’s getting the ball so much elsewhere?
COACH LONDON: We started out with him getting as many touches as possible, which involved the kicking game. Smoke is arguably our best offensive player I would say in that he’s our most explosive. He had a great game running the football. He’s a type of guy that can also you can flare out and get the ball out to him as a running back. I believe he’s, again, whether he’s fourth in the ACC in receptions, but he’s first in the country as a running back with receptions. It’s important that the amount of touches that we give him we continue to keep doing it with the screens, the flares – all different kind of ways.
We’re trying to get other guys opportunities to get touches. One of them like T.J. Thorpe, what you saw in this game, he returned kickoffs. They had five touchbacks and one opportunity to return the ball. T.J. was also involved in our special teams unit. One of the things that we did pretty well was to limit Switzer, as I said before. T.J. was involved in the two tackles down there because they tried to hold him at the line of scrimmage. And like a wide receiver getting off a jam, he was able to defeat it and made some pretty good plays down there. So finding touches for Smoke is going to be depending upon the rest of the crew as well. Canaan, Olamide, T.J. But we have recognized and we do see the value of what smoke brings to our overall offensive unit.
Q. We’ve talked about obviously the importance of this game upcoming. But what do you think the keys are for you guys to actually come away with a victory?
COACH LONDON: This is an offense, again, time of possession will grind up the clock, and they’ll go for it on fourth downs. So it’s important that our opportunities that we’re on the defensive side of it, that we do play assignment oriented football. On the other side then when we have our possessions, we take care of our possessions and it ends up in scoring opportunities.
One of the positive things for us is when we get down to the red zone that we are pretty efficient in the red zone. On the other side defensively, when teams get down in the red zone, we are pretty efficient in red zone defense as well. So it’s important that when we do have the ball that we advance the ball to the opportunities to score points. Knowing that from their standpoint they’ll hang on to the ball, go for it on fourth down – use up a lot of clock. It’s going to be important that both sides operate on our strengths from that standpoint and in the kicking game perhaps be one of the game changers as well.
Q. A couple of weeks ago you talked about simplifying the defense, and it seems to have improved. What can you do to simplify the offense – less rotations there?
COACH LONDON: It’s about scoring points as well and being efficient. You’re right. Sometimes you have personnel groups that you try to bring in and call particular plays. One of the things that we will do and we must focus on doing is let your best players play. If another guy goes in the game, he’s going in just to give a guy rest or whatever it might be. But that’s something we talked about this Sunday. We talked about the importance of these games going down the stretch here and letting the best players play, whoever the playmakers are, giving them an opportunity to do that. You’ll see more of that, as we start moving forward. Because this is, as I said, the most important game is this game and getting the ball into the hands of a guy like Smoke, Canaan, and I think Canaan is among the leadership group in receptions as well in the ACC. When you have guys like that, then you figure out fun ways to get it done.
Q. You mentioned Tim Harris’s injury, and I may be mistaken but it seemed like Tra’ got more action this week and was banged up or dinged up for a while, forced a fumble. Where do you see him right now?
COACH LONDON: Right now, Tra’ is in the mix of things. He’s going to be the starter right now going into this game. He’s a veteran guy that’s played against this offense before, and Darious Latimore is another guy that he played in this game (UNC). So we’ll defense the squad in terms of how we can best defense what they do. It was good to see Tra’ back and making it – it was a forced fumble, couple tackles – really good hit on one particular play. So you’d like to be at full strength, but at this point of the season, everybody’s dealing with injuries and issues.
Q. You mentioned you guys have been scoring a lot in the red zone. But only less than half have been touchdowns in ten times and 19 tries there have been touchdowns. Evaluating that particularly from Saturday, a couple chances and no one came away with field goals. Is there anything in particular that’s not allowing you to cross the end zone? And the emergence of Charlie Hopkins of late, can he help you guys score in those red zone opportunities?
COACH LONDON: Sure, obviously, like we talked about before, going into a couple weeks ago was with just the field goals. And we’re 4-for-5 in a particular game that we scored touchdowns in. Those things are about execution. Those are the things about executing the plays that need to be – the techniques that need to be done in order to be successful there. That will be important. I was asked about the keys to the game for this one, when we do get inside that red zone area and we get to the plus 40, that the points per possession are critical for us, because they do hang on to the ball for such a long time.
Charlie’s emergence down in the red zone or his ability, infield play has improved. I think it’s probably one of his better graded out games. Evan Butts, we need to continue to keep looking for opportunities for him. But just keep focusing on the things we need to improve in order for us to get those touchdowns, the seven points or the things that are key right now for us.
Q. Talking about getting your best players the ball. Did we see a fade in option to a Severin or anything like that? Do you experiment with guys like that? I know you did it with Levrone last year, and we haven’t seen as much of it much year?
COACH LONDON: There is all kind of options like that. When we have a height advantage like that, we’ve done that. The overtime session you saw we threw the ball deep and Canaan went and got it. So when you see those one on one opportunities, then we just have to make sure we take advantage of those guys, and I believe we have some guys that can go get it.
Q. Back to the triple option. Do you worry at all when you have obviously, Micah has been around and a lot of experience. But last year Georgia Tech you had three really experienced linebackers and they had some big plays on you. Is it a little more worrisome when you’re up against less experienced guys facing that look?
COACH LONDON: Well, you always worry about the issue of taking your assignment and doing your job in this particular manner. What I thought is not an option in this type of offensive attack because they are proficient in what they do in their reads. You’re closing to the dive – then make sure you take the dive. Don’t all of a sudden think the quarterback wasn’t going to give the guy the ball, and all of a sudden you pop up, take the quarterback, but the ball has been handed off.
They’re really good at reading those type of things. There are all kinds of schemes you try to do defensively that obviously you can tell that they’ve seen almost everything, almost every defense that’s been designed for it. So again, for us, it’s the fine-tuning and the discipline of playing your position or playing your technique that’s warranted. So if we’re going to have success, then we need to have the type of success guys doing their job.