Press Conference: UVa. football coach Mike London
Obviously Georgia Tech, coming off of a three‑game skid themselves, played a great game in which they scored 59 points against Syracuse. That offense has it rolling once again, and as a matter of fact it’s one of the top offenses in the country as far as rushing offense. Vlad Lee has done a great job running their offense. Coach Johnson has been at Georgia Tech and has been known for that type of offense and the style that they play.
Defensively they’re a good defensive football team. One of the things I think going into a game, the questions are always asked about when you’re playing an option team is about assignment football, how do you practice it and with our defensive staff, with Coach Tenuta having the ability to play against a style or a system like that in the past – knows how we want to practice. You practice with a Nerf football. You do different things to make sure you get a lot of quality reps. We will draft somebody to be an athletic type of quarterback. It could be a receiver, could be anyone to give the kind of looks that you would see from an athletic quarterback like they have in Lee.
You talk about some of the keys for the game, particularly for this one, is I went back and we looked at the time of possession. Georgia Tech is No. 2 in the country in hanging on to the ball, I believe almost 35 minutes. In contrast we’re fifth in the country in hanging on to the ball but only scoring 22 points, so Georgia Tech is averaging 36 points a game, and we’re holding on to the ball but we’re not scoring. We’re scoring 22 points a game.
In looking at us and looking at them, the time of possession is critical. When they have the ball, and they’re such a ground‑oriented team that they grind up the clock, they do a great job on third downs and they do a lot of things to keep the ball moving, and then they score points. It’s going to be critical for us to make sure that when we do have the ball, and we have it, because it’s documented as having a significant amount of time in a game, that we have to translate that into points. That’s one of the things that kind of stood out.
Again, we’ll talk about Georgia Tech, but just wanted to mention those things.
As far as we’re concerned, again, we have to put four quarters of football together. Obviously you saw two quarters with 22 points, long run, long pass, very good defense – you saw those things that we’re very capable of doing, but weren’t able to sustain that in the latter quarters, particularly in the third quarter when they had those opportunities there.
One of the other things is we are committed to winning. No one wants to win more than I do. No one wants to win more than the players. I think if you ask our guys, and you’ll have a chance ‑‑ I don’t know who you’re talking to today, the attitude about that and the aspect of preparing and practicing to win is still as high as it’s ever been because of the opportunities and because of the teams we’re about to play. We’re about to play some really good teams going down the stretch here.
So that is critically important to understanding is that everyone wants to do well.
We want to find ways to get the ball to people, the plays, the formations or whatever it may be is to do those things and make sure that we give ourselves opportunities.
And then, like I said, the players’ approach to this and the coaches’ approach is let’s go. The most important game is this game. This game is our Homecomings game as well, so we know there will be a lot of alumni coming back and a lot of eyes fixed on Charlottesville once again, so again, that’s very, very important to us.
Those are some of the things, whether it’s us, or getting ready to go into this game against Georgia Tech, some of the processes and some of the thoughts and some of the issues that we have to be concerned with.
With that I’ll take any questions.
Q. I seem to remember that a couple years ago you used your holder as the scout quarterback and ‑‑
COACH LONDON: Actually Jacob Hodges is our GA right now.
Q. That’s what I was going to ask you. Can you use a GA to do that?
COACH LONDON: That’s a great compliance question and I’ll ask that question. The biggest thing out of that probably is physically is he able to do that because he hasn’t been training like he would be if he was a player. But we’re going to try to find something very similar, similar to an athletic guy that can run a do a lot of things, but Hodges did run that style of offense in high school.
Q. You guys have had a number of games in the last two years, and the coaches are different, so that doesn’t seem to be the thread, but where you guys came out like gangbusters on offense, Louisiana Tech last year, Duke this year, Ball State this year, and then all of a sudden it was just like dead. I’m sure you look for answers to that. What do you find? What is it?
COACH LONDON: That’s a good question. It is always the one that you continue to try to answer and monitor. But coming out fast and playing with enthusiasm and passion, those things are critically important. And then sustaining it for four quarters – that’s the issue for us right now is sustaining that level for a long period of time because it is about four quarters. It’s not just about two quarters or three and a half quarters, and things you do to address it and talk about it and bring it to the players’ attention and bring it to the leadership’s attention about, hey, listen, we need that energy. We can only do so much from the sideline looking out there. A lot of it has to be self‑motivated and has to permeate throughout the team.
But playing with that type of passion, emotion is very critical. It’s something that particularly this past game that we did not have and the capacity to help us in the last two quarters is something we definitely have to have with this game coming up and the type of team, the style of team that we’re playing.
Q. Can you tell on the sideline? That would seem to be fun for players, to come out and sling it all over the place and go downfield and score points and get the crowd into it. Can you tell on the sidelines when it’s going away? And how much of it is maybe a defensive adjustment?
COACH LONDON: Well, during the course of a game you can always tell if a bad thing happens or negative plays happen, then human psychology is just kind of how you react to that. And if it continues to happen a couple times, multiple times, then getting that psyche back up, getting that energy back up, that’s the challenge. Anything that happens from a negative standpoint, lost yardage, fumbles, bad snaps, I mean, that’s something that just adds to the exasperation or guys trying too hard or whatever it may be. But the focus is to get it back. If a bad play happens, then we’ve got to bounce back and move on to the next play, and that’s the challenge and the focus that’s always presented to the players, and we have to do a better job of responding to that.
Q. Jake McGee is coming in later this afternoon. Can you talk about the year he’s having, and with all the success he has enjoyed so far, are you guys trying to even expand his role and trying to maybe design even more stuff to get him open?
COACH LONDON: I believe that when you go and you find who your best players are, the best playmakers are, that if we had to talk about that, that Jake would be one of those guys. It’s no doubt that he has a very unique skill in catching the ball, two hands, one hand, over the shoulder, up high, whatever it is, and he does a great job of doing that.
I believe that he would tell you that he’s working on his run blocking. That’s one of the things he wanted to do with gaining weight and sustaining that weight.
It’s also unfortunate that during the course of this season that he’s had kind of these nagging injuries, shoulders, knees and things like that, but Jake is a gamer. He’s a guy that whether you go back to his high school playing career, basketball, football, playing with Russell Wilson, those days, that he’s one of the guys that you can count on to make plays because ‑‑ and he’s doing it here now, because he is a good player and he’ll be a great player before he’s done here. And I know that he’s not where he wants to be from a physical standpoint, and a lot of times at this point of the season everybody is nicked up, everybody is hurt. Again, I refer back to us, particularly defensively, with Brent Urban and Tra’ Nicholson, everybody is nicked. But you’ll talk to Jake and you’ll see there’s an immense amount of pride that he takes in his performance and with his team, and I think he’ll be ‑‑ when he’s done playing here, he’ll be a very, very good player.
Q. Along the same lines, you talked about it a little bit last night, but tight ends and backs have been basically the main targets a little bit in the passing game of this offense. Is that more a product of what you guys are trying to do, or is that a part of maybe receivers haven’t developed as you’d like?
COACH LONDON: We’re looking for development from the receivers. You have to be able to go deep with your receivers. Receivers are there to catch the ball, to block and do other things that can help your offense, your overall offense. That is an area that we’ve got to continue to keep working on and improving.
We are getting production from a guy like Kevin Parks, who’s doing a nice job. Had an opportunity to play Taquan Mizzell a little more, get more touches, and he was explosive there.
Yeah, the receiving part of it has to improve so we can ‑‑ Tim Smith did a great job on a long catch, but we want to make sure we continue using the receivers and they can be an advantage to our offense.
Q. You mentioned that Georgia Tech has the offense rolling again. They played a team on Saturday that had never seen them before. You’ve seen them, Tenuta has seen them and your players have. How much is being familiar with that offense a help going into Saturday?
COACH LONDON: It’s a large part of having played against this offense, because then you understand the splits, you understand the fullback who’s directly behind the quarterback and how hard‑hitting that midline dive is. The players understand the terminology of dive quarterback pitch when a guy is loading outside defender or he’s arcing.
So the terminology is something that’s guys understand, and having played against it, been against it for some time now, even with the defensive staff, there’s a familiarity with it. And that’s what we’re hoping on, that like the experience of having them two years ago when they came up here to Charlottesville, that a lot of those guys are still here that are playing, and hoping that we can take that experience plus with the knowledge that Jon has with the staff and then impart it to the players and come up with a game plan for that.
Q. And at the risk of sounding clueless, which is not all that unusual for me, a Nerf football?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, so you don’t have to worry about the snap, the center snaps to the quarterback and if the ball is being fumbled and people worrying about stepping on the ball or whatever. With the Nerf football, it can bounce all over the place, and even if the quarterback doesn’t have the Nerf, you still go through the mechanics of running the play. You’re not trying to just hang onto to the football – because you can waste more time in a practice trying to simulate an offense of guys that do it every day and do it well, but the snap to the quarterback, if it’s not there, then you continue to the mechanics and you practice the plays, dive – quarterback pitch and those things. That’s why you use the Nerf.
Q. Have you used that in the past?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, we’ve used it in the past, as well. Jon has talked about using it at places he’s been, as well.
Q. In a situation with a team, always as coaches you’re trying to get kids to stay engaged and get through it mentally, but what about the players, specifically David [Watford] and others? Is there a group of players you’re looking at to help you get through adversity on the field and even at this point in the season?
COACH LONDON: Well, particularly the players that ‑‑ David is one of them, but also the six seniors that we have playing that have been in ‑‑ went through the 2011 season, guys that are here, gone through that, and pulling along some of these younger players, as well. You’re just dealing with adversity and how to overcome it.
As I said, you’ll have a chance to talk to ‑‑ again, if you’re talking to Jake today and whoever else it may be – you can ask those specific questions, but they’re highly in tune to making sure that the attitudes and the effort and things is on the uptick because with five games left, an opportunity is there still presenting itself. There are guys, not only David but there are guys that have definitely stepped up.
Q. When you’re going through a stretch like this, how does it affect recruiting, not only with the players you’re still out there pursuing but with the kids who have committed and whom other schools are presumably going after now?
COACH LONDON: Well, that’s a great question. You know – it’s one of those things – we had a recruiting weekend. We always have recruits come up to games and have guys that come to make their official visits. Other sports do it, as well. And in the midst of seeing what happened on Saturday and how disappointing that was, there was positive news that came out of that weekend, that individual who spent time with the coaches, with the players, with our people that support the program said I see what you guys are doing, and yes, I want to be a part of it and I want to come.
So that’s important. It’s significant to know that there are still young men out there that believe in what’s going on and are committed to that and are committed players that, as you said, I’m quite sure that there are still schools out there trying to influence them in one way or the other. But it was a positive to ‑‑ after this particular weekend for a young man and his family that spent time with us said yes.
Q. You’ve been a big proponent of David’s leadership, and I’m not throwing him under the bus, but just as a curiosity to me, there was a play, and I think it was the third quarter, I think it was like 2nd and 10, and he rolled left and had lots of space in front of him. You guys hadn’t gotten a 1st down in five series in a row, and instead of running where he probably would have gotten a 1st down he threw it to EJ Scott in coverage, and it was a good pass and EJ dropped the ball. But in that situation with five straight three‑and‑outs, would you like the leader of your team to tuck the ball and run and say we’re getting a 1st down?
COACH LONDON: I’d like the leader of the team to make the play that’s there and that’s called upon, and if EJ was covered, then what you say would be correct, to pull the ball and run and get the 1st down. If EJ was open and the ball was thrown and the ball was dropped … then that is another whole issue. The leadership part of that, or the decision making part of that, I think was the correct decision.
Q. And after the game, some guys say, they talk about we need to execute better or we need to do this better or that better. Henry Coley was a lot more specific, kind of didn’t call people out specifically but called certain failures out and just said, we need to stop doing that. Kevin Parks talked about how it was kind of embarrassing to give up 35 straight points to Duke. Do you need more players like those last two guys to get really ticked off and speak up, or is that not what you guys are looking for?
COACH LONDON: No, you always want players to hold other players accountable for their actions … coaches being accountable to coaches and coaches to players, players to coaches. You want people to speak up when things aren’t going to plan or when things aren’t going right. That’s part of being a good team leader or a teammate is you can’t idly sit by and watch things go on and on and on without speaking up. I think Henry along with Kevin and others are disappointed maybe that some of the things keep happening or saying, listen, if we’re going to turn this thing we’ve got to turn this thing in a direction that you guys know how to respond.
So him saying what he said, you can see that being said by a handful of guys, by more guys, and rightfully so. So when you have guys that are willing to speak up and speak out, you’re right, not calling anybody out but just calling it as it is, that it has to turn, and we have to take accountability with the ball and what we do with it, how we tackle, whatever those aspects are, then it’s okay to talk about the things that need to be done.
Q. Georgia Tech’s offense, you mentioned the ball control, things like that, but their defense has been pretty exceptional this year. They made that switch from that 3‑4 to 4‑3 middle of last year and now back to it, still in 4‑3. What’s different about them defensively this season compared to last when you faced them when they were still in that 3‑4?
COACH LONDON: You’re right, they’ve moved around a little bit more. Attaochu is a guy that’s very, very active. I think their leading tackler is one of their DBs – but plays close to the line of scrimmage. I think they’re fourth or fifth in the ACC in total defense. As I said before, they’re giving up, I believe, 19 points a game. Right now their defense is playing in lockstep with their offense in terms of offense, ball control, ground game, 36 points per game, and then when their defense goes in, they’re playing well enough to limit teams to points and doing a nice job on the rushing yardages and things like that.
They’re changed. Their style of philosophy suits them. It suits their offense that, again, is No. 2 in the country in controlling the ball.
Q. Also back to that game last year, I remember afterward a lot of talk, I think you mentioned about when you faced that option, it’s not so much that front seven but even the back four has to deal with different looks, as well. Obviously they were young last year. How do you see them facing it this year and might be some new personnel there anyway.
COACH LONDON: Yeah, there’s a high probability of that, too, young on the back end again. But again, its ‑‑ the assignment-oriented part of it is something that’s critical. You’re right, your secondary players have to discern the run versus the pass, and what Georgia Tech is doing more this year than in the past is throwing the ball downfield, play action, play action passes off the running game. So we have to be on top of that.
Q. Early in the game the other day, there was a pass to Darius Jennings high, went off his fingertips and I guess may go down as a drop, and I think you’ve conceded that David’s accuracy at times has tended to be a little bit up and down, but he’s had a lot of overthrows. What are you seeing from him from a technical standpoint? I know you have mentioned that he needs to be more accurate.
COACH LONDON: Well, one of the things is just the release factor, when you’re releasing the ball and just knowing that ‑‑ anticipating routes and where they are and throwing over coverages and things like that. Again, David works on that every day with Steve Fairchild, and he knows it’s a point of improvement that must be made. You don’t want to overthrow receivers because obviously it affects the way the game is flowing. As far as an area of improvement, that is one that he continues to need improvement on.
Q. You mentioned the attitude still being really good among the players. I was wondering how you gauge that. There’s a leadership council. Do you meet with them formally, informally, or are there guys you go to in order to get the pulse of the team, where they’re at mentally?
COACH LONDON: Sure, we have the captains and we have the leadership council and I ask about how guys are going, what’s going on, how is the team responding, because you always have coaches’ meetings, but players’ meetings, players being consistent with other players, that’s always important, and to gauge the attitude, the atmosphere about those players is vitally important, and our guys have been doing that, and they stay strong and committed into making sure we stay together as a team.
Q. You’ve received several votes of confidence from your superiors. Is it still kind of awkward to have people questioning your job security or future?
COACH LONDON: I believe that I’m the right man for the job. I believe that the process that’s going on here is one that, although painstakingly slow, is a process that will be successful. I’m very appreciative that the administrators and people that make those types of decisions have the utmost confidence in me. I’m 100 percent committed to winning, to producing a product that’s on the field of guys that want to win, to learn how to win. I know how to win.
So I’m always excited about the challenge that presents itself of whether there’s negativity or whatever it may be. It’s embrace the adversity, embrace it, look it in the eye, and tell the players, let’s go, because the only thing you can do is get ready for the next game, get ready for the next challenge. And if they see that in me, if they see that in the coaches, then they have an opportunity themselves to show that when they play on the field and we start moving forward here.
Q. We often talk offense, defense, but there’s a third phase to the game. Can you talk a little bit about what you’re seeing from Coach Lewis and that unit and maybe specifically the punt return game, what you think of the decision making, the blocking, that type of thing?
COACH LONDON: The special teams part of it, actually the punt return part, other than the one decision of catching the one and trying to go ‑‑ Tim trying to run lateral and then go vertical, you don’t want to do that. I mean, obviously he’s fast, but he’s not that fast. You can’t run out of issues sometimes. Sometimes you’ve just got to catch the ball, go vertical as prescribed by the type of return that’s set up.
Darius Jennings is doing a nice job in returning kickoffs. There are a couple kickoffs not only in this game, but also in previous games, that he’s done a nice job hitting the hole. He’s back there with Taquan Mizzell, and it seems like all the kicks are going to Darius, but it’s one of those things you see positive things from that standpoint.
Alec Vozenilek continues to ‑‑ although there’s a missed field goal, but as far as his punting and handling the ball, being athletic enough on the fake punt to make things happen there, so there are signs of improvement, and you see what’s going on. We’ll continue to keep doing that, the two‑point play, part of a special teams issue.
And probably the biggest surprise out of everyone is Dylan Sims. No one asked about when Ian Frye went out, they were worried about the field goals and all that, but Dylan Sims has done a really nice job of handling our kickoff duties. In fact I think he had three touchbacks in this game. So that’s the type of improvement and progress that you see, and it’s a guy, it’s a walk‑on guy that came in and said, here’s your role, and he’s embraced it, and again, I’m proud of him. He’s done a very nice job of handling that chore.
Q. What was going on with Luke [Bowanko] on Saturday? His snaps were going all over the place, on the ground, over Watford’s head.
COACH LONDON: There was two or three, obviously, that ‑‑ one was a significant one, and it’s just that he double gripped it and just couldn’t get it back there, and that’s not indicative of Luke. And not to be funny, but that was a fluke. I’m quite sure his snaps from this point on will be on target because he takes a lot of pride in what he does and being able to play guard and be center. He takes pride in being able to snap the ball back there and not cause any issues.
Q. You talked about Darius Jennings and Tim Smith playing roles for you. As their receiving role is a little diminished from what it was before, what is their confidence level right now, those two in particular, guys that were veteran guys coming into this season, I’m sure they’re expecting a lot of themselves and you’re expecting a lot from them. Where are they at right now?
COACH LONDON: All players want to play, and they are guys that had had significant roles. But what they have done is embraced the roles that they have right now, and they know in the special teams unit, kicking game, that’s a one‑play opportunity to change the course of the game, and they embrace the fact that if that’s their role right now at this point of the season, then they will do the best they can to make it happen for us.
Tim had the one long punt return, Darius, as I said, has had some good kickoff returns, and we’ve just got to get in position to block for them so we can utilize their speed and ability. They’ve been great teammates.
Q. You had talked about the process being a little bit slow in your estimation for a guy that is so optimistic. How frustrating has this process been with it being so slow?
COACH LONDON: It’s disappointing that it’s not happening fast enough. The young players that you put in the position to make things happen, there’s a thing called experience, but you want them to do well, they want to do well, and you’ve just got to believe in the process. It starts from everything, from recruiting — there are so many different things I could talk about if we had time. But the process is something that I know a lot of people are ‑‑ you can get ‑‑ we want it to happen right now, right now, but you’ve got to do it the right way, and I believe that’s what’s going on.
We’ll continue to keep working on this. We’ll just ‑‑ because that’s all you can do in this profession is you can listen, you can hear, a lot of things can be said, but you’ve got to believe in yourself and believe in your coaches and believe in the players, and just keep edging forward.
Q. Defensively, the line, you don’t have Urban who’s got his big stats and pass deflections. Can you speak to what you saw from Donte Wilkins and Mike Moore on the edge at that defensive end position based on what you’ve done with Jake Snyder?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, the two of them had to ‑‑ particularly Mike Moore — because we moved Jake Snyder a little bit inside, he played a little bit inside, but you can’t replace Urban inside there, but he did a nice job, and then Donte, a true freshman playing, got some snaps in there and was able to get involved with a couple tackles and a couple knock‑backs.
That’s an area that we’ll continue to keep trying to improve because I don’t know when Brent will be back. Michael Moore and Donte and others will have to continue to keep contributing to us up front.
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