UVA Football: Bronco Mendenhall looks ahead to UNC
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So after the comments I made after the Louisville game, many of my thoughts are the same. Ultimately after starting fast, really as we had two of the three road games that we’ve had where we held leads at halftime, ultimately down the stretch turning the ball over a couple times ended up being in a game that was that close was a huge impact on the game.
And really a few plays slash a few players that made plays in the game reflect the outcome. So in framing the next game as we go on back into the coastal race and Coastal Division versus North Carolina, lots of implications with this game, and we’re anxious to play again, anxious to improve our team, anxious to keep building our program.
Yeah, I love my team. I love the players I have. I feel really lucky to be the coach here. There are so many things I’ve just been reflecting on that I’m grateful for. I would really like this team, this staff, to have the success that I think we can have, but still lots of work to do to be ready for the next game.
So I’ll take questions.
Q. When Bryce [Perkins] had to leave the game for a few plays, came back, how big a deal is that knee going to be going forward? Do you know yet?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Don’t know yet, but it certainly impacted that game. Certainly impacted the plan that we had, which was altered immediately from that play on, and certainly has to because of the position he plays and the impact that he has.
So I can’t tell you yet what level or what percentage or what impact it will have going forward other than I was proud of him for how hard he competed down the stretch, for finishing the game and doing his best to help us just finish a couple plays short.
But I thought he gave a valiant effort.
Q. To follow up on that, we talked before after the game about play calling with runs because of the situation. How does it affect him in passing, if it does, in terms of planting his legs, planting feet, and throwing the ball down the field?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, not quite so much in terms of planning and setting up in the pocket, but certainly escapability becomes an issue. I think there is a tendency to be a self — to preserve yourself and to stay out of harm’s way.
So I would say a little more anxious in the pocket, a little less confident in the pocket, and trying to stay out of harm’s way at a little bit higher level than what Bryce would be under normal circumstances.
Q. You said after the game that the sideline officials near you when Jordan [Mack] got called for targeting indicated they didn’t really see that. What have been your thought since then? I guess you’ve seen it on tape. Seems to have been a pretty big blow. What do you think about the impact of that?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I’ll start in reverse order. The impact was huge. There was a third down stop. It’s a defensive captain on a play and a ruling I didn’t agree with, and still don’t. So impact it had not only on that game certainly at a high level, impact on the first half of the next game at a high level.
And so it had an emotional toll on our team, it had a performance toll on our team not only for that drive, but finishing game, and I don’t think the hit was in alignment with the intent of the rule is where I stand.
So I’m not being any more critical than anything else. I’m just stating exactly what I think.
Q. All three games you guys have lost it seemed like, you know, you’ve said two or three plays you win the game. But turnovers have a lot to do with that. I think people point to the absence of maybe a reliable or dominant run game. Offensive line issues. How much of all of those things work together in that? And the other thing is Bryce has nine touchdown passes and eleven turnovers. Is he trying to do too much?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think every one of those questions is right on pointe and interrelated. So if you’re looking at impact on our team for the 5-3 record we have with the chance to still finish at the top of our division and have a strong season, what will get in the way of that are — what this season has shown us in our three losses is what will get in the way of that is turning the ball over at a higher rate and not taking it away.
So the turnover differential right now has raised itself, our awareness of that. I can’t say that it doesn’t have anything to do with being on the road, but I think it has much less to do with being on the road than just we’ve turned it over.
Now, contributing factors to turnovers which I think were your next point — and maybe even before I get to that, statistically nationwide we’re giving it away at a really high rate, one of the nation’s highest, and we’re not taking it away enough, one the nation’s lowest.
So that combination is manifest in our three losses at a higher level more than anything else. Before we attribute it to anything else, the turnovers and lack of takeaways in those three games have certainly played a role.
In terms of offensive front, has it had any implications on the turnovers? Certainly I think just by simple volume of times Bryce has been in the pocket maybe under duress and the urgency of then trying to do too much. A lot of those — and three I can remember — have been in the blue zone or end zone as we’re getting ready to score or finish a drive.
I think you want your quarterback to lead. You want him to push the envelope and make aggressive decisions. I think it’s been contributed to our struggles at the offensive front, which I see as getting better. In that game I saw one sack that was offensive line related. The others are really quarterback decision related or timing.
And it would be great to be able to alleviate some of that pressure with how we run the football. That has yet to come to fruition. In reality, under our current personnel and scheme, the quarterback run has to be a part of that I think to help not only the production, but also controlling more of the flow of the game.
So I think all those things you mentioned are contributing. The outcome still being we’re turning it over at too high a level in our losses and not taking away at a high enough level. So if you stripped everything else away, that predictive statistic right now is probably the core of one or two plays short.
How come? Extra opportunities for the opponents to have game possessions, or us not– or giving up possessions through not having the ball.
Q. Back to the linebacker situation. Obviously Nick Jackson went in the other day. Rob Snyder, you lost him earlier in the year. I guess that would’ve been helpful to have him the other day. Where do you see the linebacker crew right now?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Our roster, probably like everyone else’s going into week nine, is becoming thin and right on the verge of being functional for practice and having to modify practice to get the preparation needed.
So not only at the linebacker position for us, really at almost every position defensively other than D-line. So secondary and linebacker both are right on the verge for us of being not functional for practice and having to alter practice to be ready.
We’ve talked about our quarterback position and how that’s kind of altered. We do have Brennan [Armstrong] back now. Unsure of Bryce’s status.
And so certainly if we had Rob Snyder that would be a huge advantage, but we don’t. We really like our two first-year line backers, and not only Nick Jackson, but Josh Ahern. We like him every day in practice.
We like their capability, we like their mindset. What we don’t like is their experience as they’re getting experience. But this week of practice will certainly help. They both will have to step up because they are our depth now, at least for the first half, and one is the starter and one the is the backup, our third linebacker in.
And so it doesn’t take long now for you to start seeing more youthful faces as we head down the stretch. I would say that’s probably the same — it might not be the same position, but every team battling for the coastal now for these next four weeks, that’s certainly going to play a role, is who can remain healthiest.
Q. You mentioned after the Miami loss that you had done some self-scouting, made some modifications to the design, the organization. Do you have any of those same ideas coming out of this loss looking into some of the things in the way you’re doing what you’re doing?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think I just shared the main takeaway, is what are the considering factors more than anything else. I’m not talking location, scheme. I’m talking contributing factors, and at a much higher level, because there certainly could be the thought of Virginia, because our losses have all been on the road. And it is harder to play on the road. We all acknowledge that.
But we were leading two of the three games. Readiness to play, urgency to play, aggressive nature, that was all in place. I was looking at the mindset and the execution. What really has become a higher level of a little deeper dive statistically is the turnovers in our losses.
So rather than making something up or have some other giant implication or back stories or side stories, really it’s coming down to missed possessions by giving the ball away or not taking it away.
Then next part to that in our three losses is I trust — and I call and manage end-of-game decisions a lot based on strong our defense is. In each of those games there has been a successful drive by our opponent.
So as strong as we are statistically, there is one more drive that we need to get stopped per game for us to win the Coastal, to have the rest of the season we want, because that’s the nature of how our game is designed.
Unfortunately, we haven’t made the critical stop definitely at the end of the game, even though we played strong the entire year or the entire game.
Q. Just to clarify, you mentioned Bryce’s status. Any question he’s available?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: He’s playing and he’ll play. I just don’t know at what percentage, but it will be close to 100. Just the reason I say that without talking to the trainers is how he finished the game. He was mobile. He was active. Certainly there was pain and some limitations and certainly his aware of it. But where it is right now I’m not sure. He will play and he is our quarterback.
Q. I asked you last week about the kickoffs, research, the concussions. I am curious, in your career, how have you handled practicing that play and has it changed as that research is out there? Do you do less full contact kickoff because of that?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, we did an extensive study a year ago in kind of a partnership with the organization here in Charlottesville that works with the NFL, Bio Core, and the different statistics and research and concussion information they have.
Then I went back and looked at our incidents in practice a year ago versus game and where and what plays and what surfaces and every possible way you can imagine they happen, because I want our players to be safe. What I learned is there were concussions happening in practice as we practiced kickoff and kickoff return and they were happening at a rate that didn’t make sense.
So it’s valuable to practice that play and practice it at a fast tempo. The return on that investment through health though yielded that it’s really not worth it. So, yes, it’s changed how we practice it. We’ll continue to change how we practice it based on our study a year ago. Applied it for this season. We continue to apply it at higher level than even what the research says we need to.
Q. A lot of people look at the ACC as Clemson and everybody else right now. They and Wake are the two teams qualified for on a bowl. There are I think ten other teams with at least four wins. You’ve talked about the brutality of fighting for the Coastal Division Championship. Some people wonder why people want to win that to go play Clemson. Is the parity in the ACC — a lot of people view that as maybe uniform mediocrity, but is that is that? Is it a quality of football that’s unrated?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think the way I would answer that is I would go right to post season records and see what that looks like. That will probably validate the ACC versus other opponents as those postseason games occur and maybe even in season versus other conference opponents and what does that look like.
So in that data probably lies how strong the league is. In my opinion, the level of coaching, talent and the parity, wow, every single week, and you could crossover every week and it would be the same.
Wake right now, who has already qualified, was the team Louisville just beat prior to us playing them. Any given game just seems like the talent and the coaching and their available roster you have as well at continuity and emotion, it’s much like the NFL, within a touchdown or less overtime.
Continuing to have each team — have your team’s heart and mind captured and giving them their best chance is really an endurance test and a resiliency test for everyone in all the organizations that are competing.
It’s wide open with four weeks to go, which I think is great for college football. At some point the number of teams that play Clemson in our league, the learnings that come from that, will improve the programs. So as well as they’re playing, we saw North Carolina have a great chance to beat them. The other one is slipping my mind of a team that just played them close.
Anyway, I think that there is still a gap there, but it feels to me like it’s closing, and that just happens through exposure to that opponent. So you can measure your talent, measure coaching, measure culture, you can measure your everything as to where you might need to learn and grow at a higher level.
Q. Wayne [Taulapapa] has carried the ball 82 times; only has seven yards in losses. How would you assess what he’s given you this year and also in the game Saturday he only had three carries in the second half. Was that by design or is that because just of the way the game was playing out?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So I love Wayne and I love his consistency and I love his reliability; I like his production. Four yards per carry would be my ideal for him, and we’re close to that. If you give him the ball three times in a row, it gives you a first down. So while it might not be the flashiest and most dynamic and we would certainly like to complement that with our quarterback carrying the ball, which I think would enhance both of their production, man, he is steady, resilient, consistent, and he’s helping our team.
In relation to the game, yeah, game management, it just seemed that we became, through personnel and through some of our formations, fairly predictable, and needed to fix that. That best way and easiest way to do that was through the throw. Our highest yielding players this year, Hasise [Dubois] has done an amazing job. I really am happy with how he’s playing. Joe Reed. And Terrell Jana was inconsistent through the game, which is acharacteristic, but very consistent at the end when we needed him.
So I really like who he’s becoming as well. So that just seemed to be where our best opportunity was to score.
Q. Going back to the turnover margin, how difficult is it to fix that? I’m assuming you don’t just say to the defense, go get more interceptions. How difficult is it to actually fix those?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Started after our self-study week after our bye week. I would love to say just our emphasis yielded Duke’s result, but we can’t take credit for that. That just happened. But it was emphasized.
Our quarterback is doing everything he can to help our team win. Most of the turnovers are quarterback driven on the other side, and so that’s — from him trying to lead, push, and help our team win, which is a delicate balance.
So what I can say is that just now after eight games with eight exposures with this team for this particular team and our complementary version of football, the turnovers certainly are in my opinion an indicator or maybe the prime indicator of winning and losing with this particular team at this time in our development.
That’s come through just now enough volume with this team to see the results.
Q. Got a two-part questions. Really not related. First of all, five of your first opponents failed to rush for a hundred yards. Louisville rushes for 227. How does that happen? How is Jordan Mack’s mood? Seems to be a pretty serious guy and this probably hit him hard.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, so in relation to the first and how it happened regarding the rushing, we had three assignment mistakes. Two big rushes in the first half, which I think accounted 124 yards. I hope I’m accurate with that. [one was technically a pass play]
Oh, okay. So anyway, the two big plays and then there was a quarterback run and a short yardage situation at the end of the game. Assignment mistakes. We had three. And volume of rushes, right? So the volume of rushes, and that’s who Louisville is and they have a dynamic quarterback and running back. We played really well for so long through the course of that. Few assignment mistakes at the wrong time on dynamic players; didn’t take much.
So just three plays in particular which were three assignment mistakes is how. Within that, probably by the time the game is over they still rushed for over 100, but their yards per rush would’ve been a really strong performance defensively still if we don’t make those mistakes. But we did.
And Jordan, yeah, he’s serious and he wants to win. He’s frustrated because he couldn’t — I mean, what a time to come out of the game. It certainly impacted the game. Impacted our team and impacted the outcome.
I’m not saying it determined, but certainly influenced. So we’ll be playing the first half of this upcoming game without our two defensive captains in Bryce Hall and Jordan Mack. There is a great opportunity for other players to step up and fill that void with Charles Snowden, Zane Zandier. Eli Hanback has been the most consistent player on our defense the entire year. He’s graded the highest, performed the best, and no one even knows who he is, which is why I like him even more.
He’s really, really played well, so his constant leadership will need to be relied on also. So those players are kind of the next tier of players already leading that will have to be relied on more not only emotionally, but from their production.
Q. Curious, when you talk about the depth at linebacker and Ahern played in one game, is this the exact example of where the redshirt rule helps a program?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I’m so thankful for the chance to play first year players and have a chance to still redshirt. At the power five level, and I’m sure at any level because I’ve been there, when you get to weeks eight and nine, with the nature of the game, the strength, size, and competitive nature that it is, the reality that you can make it with 85 scholarship players, it’s not a reality.
Fall camp starts with 110 now. No reason that shouldn’t be every player on your roster coming in for fall camp. So I’m a proponent for increasing not only the number of games a first year can play in or redshirt player can play in, but also the size of the roster for student-athlete welfare. I think we’re not an isolated case. It’s just college football.
The numbers versus the workload in terms of physically just don’t match currently.
Q. Specifically Nick Jackson, what did you see from his play? Where has he made the biggest strides?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Nick is really smart and him being able to keep up with the insertion, not only physically, but mentally, and he has the ability to play and make plays, and he tries hard. So he’s adjusted to the culture, embraced the culture, he’s a capable playmaker, and he’s smart.
When he came in it was not Jordan Mack and there was a drop off, but understand the circumstances I was happy with the way he played and proud of him.
Q. I don’t know if Mike Hollins qualifies as still redshirt-able. I think the last time we saw him he was about to break a long run and forgot to bring the ball with him. How long does it take for a guy like that to kind of earn another opportunity, as opposed to the consistency of Wayne? He seems like somebody who has breakaway ability.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: He does and he’s dynamic. We watch every carry every day in practice measuring that same thing, so I can’t put a define timetable on it. We measure if the ball is on the ground in practice and we simply measure demeanor, confidence and outcome as well, and then risk.
And so I pushed hard to give him an opportunity in the game where he went without the ball, and I pushed hard for it for about five weeks. I am the head coach, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to mandate. So sometimes I’m wrong and sometimes I push or want things to happen faster than they’re ready for.
Man, Mike has such a bright future. We are measuring the short-term outcome versus long-term development within our program, and those are some hard decisions. All I can tell you is we watch him every day with that in mind, what you’re talking about.
Q. The redshirt rule, is it four appearances or four consecutive appearances?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Appearances. There are other players, to your point, that we are tabulating right now. Man, measuring again, knowing our roster, knowing what our capabilities are with three Coastal games left and another and a strong season still available. Now who and how can we, those are all in to play right now as we frame the game plan going forward.
Q. You mentioned you are a proponent of expanding the roster number. When you go to coach’s conventions, is there a lot of talk about that? Do you see anybody pushing for that any time soon?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: As you know, I sit on the board of trustees for the coach’s association. David Cutcliffe sits on one side of me and Pat Fitzgerald sits on another side. I don’t know of a single meeting I’ve been to where that hasn’t come up and it’s a unanimous decision. All coaches want it.
We pushed really hard for five years of eligibility. We got the redshirt rule, which I’m thankful for that. It stopped short of addressing the problem though, but certainly does help.
Q. And North Carolina has had its struggles too. Lost three in a row. They seem to have improved. What is your analysis of where they are right now?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think that, man, North Carolina looks like about every other team in the Coastal, and that’s a compliment. There is quality coaching, quality players and they’re competing hard. Most games are going right down to the final possession.
Coaches and players are exhausted at the end, and hopefully you make one more play than the opponent to win. Their season looks a lot like ours and vice versa. Ours looks about like anyone else’s at this stage.
Luckily we’re still at the top of the division. We know within four weeks that thing could flip upside down, sideways, in about 20 different variations. Yeah, race to the finish, one game at a time. It’s an intriguing matchup. Meaningful matchup for both teams.
What can you want more in week nine than playing these kind of games that are meaningful and what you’ve worked the entire year to do.
So I’m proud of our team for earning the position they’re in and really would like to help them continue to advance and grow. That’s what we’re working on.
Q. You mentioned you don’t mandate who plays on offense. In your kind of CEO role, how do you evaluate the offense? What is you input there in terms of game planning?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So my role is quite a bit different. I headed down this road a year ago. I watch all the opponent’s film on offense, defense, and special teams, and then I meet with the coordinators of those sides. I usually start with our offense because the defensive analysis is so much faster and easier for me.
I’ve watched North Carolina’s defense and I tell our offense what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, when they do it, and what tendencies they have prior to the game plan.
Then defensively they have already started, and then by the time I meet with them, my thoughts either validate or don’t validate what direction they were going. Again, I’ve trained all four of those guys, so usually there is additional information that enhances the direction or makes it move a little bit based on my analysis of their offense.
When this meeting is over I will meet with your special teams coordinator. So I do all that. I watch all the opponent’s film, have my analysis ready, and then after each practice I do the exact same thing based on what does the plan look like versus what they’re doing. So every play on each side of the ball, and then with my suggestions and recommendations from there is how I do it.
Q. How do you evaluate looking back at the games?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, usually whether it works or not. (Laughter.) It usually comes down to my own self-assessment. Was what I shared accurate? If it was, then were the plans effective in addressing the strengths or weaknesses of the opponent? If not, how come?
Those questions happen after the game, usually on Mondays, and then if there is anything we missed or in any unintended consequences for what i have recommended and advised.
So I would say that the influence is much more far reaching than what I’ve ever had. It’s in a different capacity now as I’m trying to help the entire organization reach its potential and design a program with our current personnel in a style of play that is complementary that gives us our best chance to win.
A lot of times that’s maybe not what other people’s ideal is, so I try to make the hard decisions that will give this team its best chance in regards to style and decision making that will help us.