Tuesday Press Conference: Mike London
COACH LONDON: I talked to different people that had opportunities to travel from the East Coast to West Coast, particularly when you’re flying, about the issues of hydration, that being important; that when you get there, trying to acclimate yourself to the time zone by – we’ll probably stay up a little later than normal, and then let them sleep a little bit. And then going Thursday helps and then being there Friday, another full day will help. And then playing in the evening on Saturday will help also.
You just have to get used to it. And we’ve talked to different people about nutrition. About sleep. About what you can do and how you can minimize the effects of traveling like that. But we’ll see. We’ll try everything we can to make sure that the guys have the best opportunity to perform.
Q. You were asked, I think, on the radio show last night about special teams. Could you elaborate on just your thoughts on that and how you did in coverage in terms of itself?
COACH LONDON: Special teams is such a huge portion of the game in terms of field position. And as much as we practiced the first opportunity, unfortunately, Raynard dropped the ball a little bit, and where you start is critically important. Even on the other side about where you limit your opponents.
I just thought that we could have done a better job. We were always a block away from getting the right guy or making the block that we needed. So we’ve got to do a better job of that, allowing Minnifield to catch a punt by having the guys run down unattended on him. We’ve gotta make decisions on when to catch the ball.
The part about the field position is critical, for that game. It’s going to be critical for this game. So we’ve got to do a better job there.
Q. Rodney [McLeod], is not on the two-deep this week. Is that related to knee injury and does this mean he’ll be unavailable?
COACH LONDON: Rodney will make the trip with us. It’s likely he’ll be available, but we’ll see how he feels on game day.
Q. Regarding the special teams, I assume you didn’t bench Hinkebein, but were you just looking at both options at kicker?
COACH LONDON: I think 50-55 yards in practice – both Hinkebein and Randolph have made it. On the first one, Hinkebein kicked it and it had plenty of leg, but it was too far left, far left. And Robert is more accurate, I would say, than Chris, but Chris has a stronger leg. Sometimes he’ll just kick it and he’ll just kick it.
We tried Robert on the second one. Hinkebein was a 51-yarder and Robert’s was a 50-yarder. Robert’s wasn’t long enough; but if it were long enough, it would have made it.
So we got one guy that kicked it long enough to the left, not accurate. The other guy was dead on but it was short. So we’ve got to get a little closer in order for these guys to have an opportunity.
But both of them had kicked at least 50-yarders in practice.
Q. I know you’re not going to divulge any game plans or anything like that, but it was a wild game in Hawaii, what did you see from Southern Cal that impressed you and what do you think of their team in general?
COACH LONDON: Well, obviously they have great, great skilled players. You look at a program that has star quality players. I mean, high school All-Americans, first, second, third-team. I know there’s a lot of talk about who is playing and whom they have lost, but the quality of the talent that they have is indicative of the fact they are one of the top programs that have players in the NFL. I think it’s over 450. It’s a program that has won 11 national championships. When you look at the game, you see athleticism – from everybody. Even the water boy is athletic and fast.
So we have to be able, as I said before, we have to play our best game and every one of us, coaches, players, have to make sure that we contribute to an opportunity to be in position to help ourselves.
So that will be the challenge. There are a lot of things going on we cannot get caught up – playing in the Coliseum and what’s going on in the news right now, all those other things, it’s a football game that has to be played between the lines there. So that’s the focus for this week’s preparation and that’s the focus we have going into the game.
Q. Coach, LaRoy Reynolds seemed to play well having made that move to linebacker. You talked about USC speed, size, athleticism, the 4-3 guys like LaRoy, Ausar (Walcott) and other guys that can run, is it helpful in a matchup like this to have linebackers that are faster to be competitive?
COACH LONDON: It helps being fast because they have some tremendous players from the running back, Tyler, I believe, and then Johnson, the wide receiver, who is a phenomenal athlete to the quarterback Barkley, everything is as advertised. We’ll have to play fast in all aspects. If you make a mistake you’ll have to play fast to try to correct the mistake, but they have speed. So we’ll have to limit as many mental errors and alignment errors that sometimes happen in the game like that because we get caught up where you are and your surroundings and who you’re playing with instead of just playing the game
So that’s what I said on your focus and attention has to be on the things we can do well and each player and coach can contribute as far as giving us a chance.
Q. You’ve got over 200 yards from your rushing game on Saturday. How satisfied were you with that? What do you feel like the running game is so far, just one game so far. How satisfied with what you got out of that?
COACH LONDON: I would say that we’re satisfied but there’s always room for improvement. We wanted to make a statement in terms of the running game opportunities with the two styles of running backs that we have with Perry Jones and with Keith Payne. We have to be able to run the ball, as I said before, in order to set up the play actions that come off of that. Later on in the game it was apparent that we could run the ball because we were just wearing them out and having a dominant attack. With Perry, and then Keith, we had a very good game, a strong game. It was good to see that there were opportunities to make holes and for the backs to get through the holes. So the running game has got to be important. It’s an important aspect of our offense because it sets up so many other things.
Q. Do you think it will be tougher to do that against Southern Cal than Richmond?
COACH LONDON: I do know this – you’ll have to take some time off the clock against Southern Cal. USC is a team that plays fast and that tries to capitalize on the things that you don’t do. So we need to make sure that we can keep the clock running, with the running game, short passes that are caught, keep the clock moving, keep the chains moving.
Just play the game. Play the way we know we can play. And let all the other things outside of external things, let those things develop. But the only thing we can control is what we’re doing, what we do and then we’ll see.
Q. You take away the one long touchdown run Richmond had – they didn’t do a lot on the ground. Did your guys think the play had been called dead?
COACH LONDON: I think it was more of an assumption on everybody’s part that the play was either going to be blown dead or the guy was up for so long and so many bodies around him that maybe someone stopped and we shouldn’t have. We need to keep playing until the whistle blows. The bottom line was he came out of that huddle there and ran 70 yards.
So the whistle wasn’t blown. So we’ve got to do a better job wrapping up and taking down to the ground.
Q. Saturday was the first time to evaluate your 4-3 defense in a game situation. Can you talk about your thoughts on that from the sideline and when you went back and looked at tape?
COACH LONDON: It looked like – I thought our front four guys did a nice job of run gap responsibility. Other than that long run right there, that was something that obviously we have to do better at.
They did a nice job with their play action passes. I think we had a couple of sacks and according to Coach Reid and Jeff Hanson we had a couple of hits on the quarterback, a couple of pressures. Sometimes you don’t see the pressures or the hurries, but that is something that you have to have. You have to have a pass rush that can affect a quarterback’s decision as to where to throw the ball and how much time he has.
With Rodney and Ras-I both being out, I thought Devin Wallace and Michael Parker, Chase, they did a great job holding their own. We’ll play man coverage. We’ll bump and run and we’ll do different things, challenge the throws and those guys are – they were up there and they were challenging the wide receivers. Tre Gray and Kevin Grayson are really, really good receivers.
I know Tre Gray is fast, I know that for a fact. And Kevin Grayson is an NFL prospect because of his size and his athleticism. But it was good to see those guys were not – they weren’t scared. They weren’t as challenged as receivers. So I think it ties into the rush and we’ll have to do a better job, once again, because you can’t give a Matt Barkley all that time because he’s got a great arm. I think he’s like fifth right now in passing efficiency. So he knows where to go with the ball. So we’ve got to do a good job at least trying to get to him.
Q. Specifically in regard to USC’s secondary, fairly young and inexperienced group that had a rough go of it on Thursday. What have you seen on the tape from them so far?
COACH LONDON: That they’re young and they’re fast. There are four new guys there. A true freshman, I think the freshman is starting – playing as USC’s first freshman starter since 1960 or something like that. And if they’re playing, then they’re good.
And so like any freshman, you want opportunities to play and playing is the opportunity that you’ll get. Where you gain your experience. They’re tall and athletic and they can run. And so again we’ll have our work cut out for us in terms of how we attack the schemes that they present to us.
But like I said at the beginning, overall, their athleticism and size and speed is very, very respectable and obviously so because of where they are and where they’ve been.
Q. You said on Saturday that maybe the plan wasn’t originally to run Keith Payne as much as you did, but it was working and so you went with it. Is that a big difference from the old regime?
COACH LONDON: I can say that as one of the rules or one of the things that captains wanted to address with the team was no matter who you are, everyone’s opportunity to play is always going to be evaluated. The players wanted it that way. So if someone wasn’t getting the job done in practice or they weren’t performing, then no one’s going to look over the shoulder and say I should be playing because I’m a fourth year or fifth year or first year. So I think the message has resonated with the players, if you perform in practice, then you’re going to have the opportunity to play. And whether it’s Keith or Perry Jones or Dom Wallace or Ray Horne– I thought Ray Horne would have a good game.
But this case, you know, Keith Payne came out and he was the guy, the hot back. But Ray had done a nice job in practice and scrimmages and all that, and then Keith, you know, was a guy that runs downhill and was breaking tackles. He became the guy. We said let’s keep getting the ball to him.
Everyone knows you’re always evaluated how you’re doing and trying to make practices hard so that come game time, games are easier in terms of having to run and do all those things. And I think the guys responded well.
Q. The two tight end looks, Joe and Colter, what are the advantages for that transformation?
COACH LONDON: You have a bigger body that’s there to block or capture the edge. You have Joe Torchia who is athletic enough, that if you do spread him out, that a lot of times he’s either one-on-one with a safety or an outside linebacker. And you try to take advantage of those match-ups.
In that particular case, we wanted to get different looks with the tight end and run, maybe run some passing plays out of it. Most teams figure two tight ends means you’re going to run the ball.
So first game you try to do see things that maybe hopefully teams didn’t prepare for as we will this game coming up. But I think Colter and Joe complement each other very well.
Q. Obviously it was tough on the coaches on both sides, but how much of a benefit was it to play it as the first game at home in front of a big crowd rather than on the road at USC?
COACH LONDON: Well, I know that having the first game at home and the opportunity to compete and win this particular game did a lot for our players’ psyche, morale, things like that. It’s been dually noted about our fourth- and fifth-year players not having a chance to win a home opener.
And I think that above anything else, the home opener, the first time of the last opportunities for a lot of fourth-year players is happening right now.
Being able to play at home, Richmond was the opponent, regardless who the opponent was, having a chance to win was important. Now it’s the first road game. Now we’ve got to go on the road and have to be able to perform on the road against a very, very good nationally-ranked team.
I’m always interested in seeing just how much of an improvement we can make week-to-week, and this will be a big test for us to see what the caliber of team as USC, about how much of an improvement we can make.
Q. Mike, you’ve noted many times, you coach with a lot of passion. What do you see is the role of emotion in the college game compared with the pro game?
COACH LONDON: All of us are a sum total of our life experiences and sometimes you can tap into or draw into situations that these young men have gone through. Just the other day you had another player, Chris Broadnax, lost his uncle Sunday night driving home from his business in Richmond. That’s real and those are raw emotions, raw feelings. And you think about who you play for. You think about why you do things.
Everyone knows my story about my daughter. And you just – you have to find something that is compelling to you as to why you do things. And if you can address that with players and they understand that whether it’s for mom, dad, uncle, whatever the reasons may be, that that’s part of an emotion, part of a feeling, part of a passion that you can tap into that’s going to help them. It’s going to help them play better and help them deal with whatever they’re dealing with.
So that’s important to me. Sometimes you have the best players that are athletic that they don’t play their best game. You take a player that plays with passion and energy and does it all the time, then he has a chance, and I’ll take players over that a lot of times.
Q. Is it different in the NFL, players are more mature?
COACH LONDON: You look at a guy like Ray Lewis, passionate and energetic about what he does. I can’t speak internally how some NFL guys approach it, whether it’s for the money or love of the game. I just think college players, they’re vulnerable but they’re accessible, they’re available and you can tap into them, because, as we said before, some things about college players, particularly freshmen, the good thing is they don’t know what they don’t know but the bad thing is they don’t know what they don’t know.
Sometimes you can tap into some of that and help lead them down a road to a discovery about it. If I can just be energetic, be passionate about what I do, I have got a better chance than just sitting around and just trying to play with the cards that are dealt.
Q. You said Sunday you wanted to see how Ras-I’s body would respond to treatment. Where does he stand now?
COACH LONDON: We’ll see today. A hamstring injury for a skilled athlete is something that can tie you up for a while. We just want to be smart with him and about it. He knows his body better than anybody else, and we’ll look to see how he feels after today’s practice and then tomorrow. He’s going to make the trip with us for sure. So we’ll see how he progresses.
Q. What have you seen from Darnell Carter – it looks like he could be pretty dangerous?
COACH LONDON: Darnell is another guy of a number of guys that embraced the change with a new lease on life – what he did in the classroom, what he did in the community, and what he does on the football field.
In embracing that change, he changed his body. He got in great shape. Academically, he’s done the things we’ve asked him to do because we’re requiring him to do that. And he loves playing the game. And it’s something that goes back again to if you’re motivated and passionate about doing something, then it can change your performance. I think Darnell is one of those guys that really looks good playing and he’s definitely in the strong mix of the rotation of the linebackers.
Q. Even with what Colter [Phillips] been through this summer, how much were you hoping during the replay that it was a touchdown?
COACH LONDON: I was hoping that it was indeed a touchdown. But the thing is, when he got up and you looked at him, and this is the type of player he is, he looked to celebrate with his teammates. That’s what this thing’s been about with him and so far with this team.
I know it’s only been one game, about team efforts, about team accomplishments and Colter will get his chance. He’ll get his chance to get in the end zone. We’ll make sure that happens for him. But he’s an ultimate team player.
Q. I think you talked about going out early and hopefully get players ready. What do you have to look out for in the players’ regard in making this trip?
COACH LONDON: Well your hydration, what you eat and how you sleep, and to get acclimated to the time zone that’s out there. Other teams from the East Coast have gone out to the West Coast and vice versa.
So we’ve talked to our trainers, our nutritionists, coaches that have been there before, have gone over to the West Coast and just talked to them about when you sleep, what time you sleep, about making sure that you stay hydrated.
It’s trying to get acclimated as much as you can to the time zone the day after you get there. By going to bed by the time that’s out there, not what your body is saying. That was the reason for going out Thursday, to give yourself a chance.
So I think the guys are buying into it because they’re listening to the fact that other people have done this and we’re going to have to do this in order for them to play well Saturday night come game time.
Q. How many guys you plan on playing?
COACH LONDON: Anybody that’s going on a trip has an excellent chance playing the game. We’ll need everybody. This is a very, very good – it’s a nationally-ranked team that we’re playing. And you have to be able to have guys in there that can take reps off of starters, because it’s a big offensive line, big defensive line. Like I said everybody is big, the water boys are big, the trainers are big, everyone’s big.
We’ll have to take everybody that’s going on the trip and they’ll have to contribute.
Q. With the depth chart, starting over the weekend teams listing guys that weren’t playing the game and injuries, when you’re filling it out, what’s your thought regarding gamesmanship or game advantage through that?
COACH LONDON: When you truly don’t know and you’re dealing with hamstrings, you’re dealing with ankles or something like that, I’ve seen players being in a boot one day and the next day out there practicing, whatever. And it’s important that guys on game day, they know their bodies better than anybody else, are allowed to be a part of making that decision. It’s not so much gamesmanship it’s one of those things I listen to players.
We’ve got a great training staff. I listen to the players because I’ve been places where guys have torn their ACL and are back. That’s the six, eight-month deal being back in four months and playing the season. It’s just one of those things.
So as I said, Rodney’s opportunity might not be – may not have one this game, but opportunity may present itself. And those are the only two guys that are now affected. Everyone else is ready to go.
Q. Can you talk about Kris Burd, his development as a wide receiver?
COACH LONDON: Kris has done a nice job. Kris is from outside of Richmond and has done a really nice job of becoming a complete player. When I say that, being able to run the routes that are necessary. He has the requisite speed. He can block. He’s on two of our four core special teams units. So he’s pretty good in that regard, too. So he’s done a nice job of just wanting to play and wanting to play well and just saying, Coach, give me the ball or I’ll block for you or I’ll try to block a punt. We really appreciate his effort and hopefully, at the end of the season we’ll talk about him again, about how good of a season he had.
Q. Do you know Lane Kiffin personally and what are your impressions of him as a head coach?
COACH LONDON: No, I don’t know Coach Kiffin personally. I know people who know him or have been associated with him. I know he’s a very good coach, very accomplished. He’s been a lot of good places, been an NFL coach, his dad is a very well respected, longtime NFL defensive coach. I know his staff that’s assembled is a very good staff.
There’s some guys on our staff, Bill Lazor knows a little bit of him and knows him and also Coach Kiffin’s father. But this is like any other game. Sometimes we get to know each other because we’re in the same profession and you’ll talk to each other after the game and maybe at next year’s convention you’ll also get a chance to talk to each other. We’re looking forward to getting out there to California and playing a great USC team.
Q. The Virginia Tech quarterback exchange had a significant impact on the game. Can you talk about how their chemistry has been? Because you haven’t had to face an issue like that – what you thought and how they seem to get along?
COACH LONDON: It was an issue early on during camp. Later in camp, just a simple quarterback, center exchange, and as simple as it sounds, it can be devastating as far as turnover that it leads to. I think it’s always important. The center wants to be able to snap and step at the same time to get his assignment. The quarterback wants to get out quickly because he knows maybe a guard is going or crossing his face.
So both of them are culpable sometimes from the ball security aspect of it. I think in the game that both Marc [Verica] and Anthony [Mihota] were very cognizant of the fact, hey, listen, we’ve got – first and foremost I’ve got to get the ball to you, and then once that happens, then you’re all on your own you need to do what you need to do.
But that’s a point of emphasis. You just hate to do things that you do routinely all the time and sometimes you take for granted. You guys that come out to practice, the first thing we do in the on the line period is quarterback center exchange and you do it and you do it.
And then in the game, sometimes for whatever reason, the ball’s put on the ground. So that’s one of the things that you hope to try to eliminate by just doing it so many times it becomes second nature.
Q. Mike, how would you assess your offensive line, pass protection the other night, and what kind of things are you going to have to talk to them about to caution them about?
COACH LONDON: I would say, again, with the run game and the zone plays, you know, it’s no secret, a lot of teams do it with the zone plays and the pass action off of it, you try to make the passes look like your running game. I thought we did a nice job.
On the drop-back passes where you have to provide a cup for the quarterback to either step up into and make sure that there’s no movement or push-back into his face, we can get better at that. We’re going to have to get better at that, because USC has two big inside players that can just bull rush and take you back and all of a sudden put you in the quarterback’s lap. And they’ve got two outside rushers, tall, athletic, that can collapse the pocket.
So it’s always the goal to protect the quarterback, whether it’s play action pass or drop-back pass. But, again, this is a very talented group that across the board has very good players that can get active. We’ll have our work cut out for us.
Q. It seems as if Minnifield took a challenge to provide leadership with other guys out the other night, and talk about his game, watch him on the playback, he’s talking to Gray the whole night.
COACH LONDON: We haven’t talked to Minni about talking a whole bunch. But he’s taken a leadership role, particularly when Ras-I was out and Rodney was out, because if you look back there, he’s played in games. I know Mike Parker has played in games, but Minni has played in a lot of games and being a punt returner, that’s a job that’s for the courageous, because you’ve got guys barreling down on you.
So he has a vested interest in making himself or his feelings known to his teammates when they’re not doing well. And he did a great job of doing that the latter part of the last couple of weeks in August, and also during the game. Talking to players on the sideline and getting guys ready to go.
So I’m very, very pleased with how he’s played and his approach to the game and everyone has seen The Building the Program, where he gets an added boost from having a great defensive back from his dad Frank who played in the NFL. So maybe there’s some of that in him also that he has that other players aren’t afforded.
But I think he will become a good player in his own right.
Q. You were on the coaching staff here the last time the team played out west. I know altitude was a factor in Wyoming. Won’t be a factor in L.A. Anything you took from that trip that was helpful in planning a trip this long?
COACH LONDON: I don’t know as far as a trip this long. But when you’re going away and then playing in someone’s first home opener, I mean the things about crowds and the excitement and all the other distractions, you’ve got to make sure that you do as much as you can humanly possible not to make that part of the issue. This is a long trip with all the issues going on.
Focusing on the game and the blocking and tackling, the things they do. We’ve talked to the players about that already. We’ll continue to keep trying to educate them on the fact that it’s 100-yard field just like it is at Scott Stadium, and whatever else happens outside of that, that’s out of our control. We can control how we can play.
Q. Marc Verica played a really solid game Saturday. I know you want a quarterback that can complete every pass – how happy would you be to see him play the way he did against Richmond the rest of the year?
COACH LONDON: Well, we’ll take the next game as the benchmark now. At the end of the season we can look back. But I think with Mark, that this is the type of game that we’re going to have to rely on the fact that he is a fifth-year senior, that he’s played in games. That he’s seen coverages. That he’s made throws. Not ask him to step out and try to win a game or be heroic. This is a game that a guy that has experience can distribute the ball and make the calls and do the things that are necessary to give you a chance. And if not him, there’s no one else on our team that could do that.
So if Mark can handle what he does and what Coach Lazor has as far as the menu, you know what he needs to do, then Mark can help the team and not try to do too much.
So we’ll deal with this game and then we’ll deal with the next game after that. So as I said we’re all looking for a one-game improvement from the first. And so we’re done with the first game. Now we’ll move on to the second.
Q. You talked about Trey Womack a little bit on Saturday night. Seemed like he played as many passes as he ever has. Four tackles all last year. How does he play?
COACH LONDON: Trey, he’s another fifth-year guy that, when I first came in, I had a conversation with him and said, ‘Listen, with the new staff and what I’m thinking about doing is perhaps not bringing you back. But I’m going to allow you to go through spring practice and see how you do. There are some classroom things and leadership things that I’m looking to see if you’re worth bringing back, that you can add to our team.’
And Trey did an outstanding job of being reliable, being dependable during spring practice, playing fast.
So he made a believer out of me. And I told him, ‘Listen, you were just a decision away from me not asking you back, but you made me eat my words, because you did all the things and some in order to put yourself into position to be where you are right now.’ And I appreciate him and told him I loved him because that kind of resolve is not going to take him far just in the football world but life after football.