UVA Football: Bronco Mendenhall talks FSU, ODU

Bronco MendenhallBRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, really, really pleased and gratified by the outcome of our game. Still lots to improve within our offense, our defense, our special teams, and continuing to build our culture.

I was thrilled with the attendance and the support we received in our stadium. Clearly made a difference for our team. But also, was symbolic just of the momentum we’re building within our program.

Anxious to continue to build, learn, grow and apply all the things we can to continue to improve our program. Yeah, grateful for the opportunity.

I’ll take whatever questions there are.

Q. This will be your fourth straight night game, third straight at home. All things being equal, do you prefer that time of day to kick off or does it matter to you?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think the night games — now that I’ve been here going into my fourth year, I think the night games fit really well at UVA. I’m learning enough about the community and the fan base and our student body, and just my sense in that short amount of time is that’s the best fit. It appears that that’s when we garner the most support. Seems to me that’s when our fans would like to attend the games.

The difficult thing for players is to manage the full day on Saturday before we play; however, part of developing and building a program is more of the primetime slots in television exposure. I view it all as a sign of progress, but I also I think fundamentally view it is as natural fit for this institution.

Yeah, so I’m for it.

Q. A lot of people made comparisons to the 1995 Virginia-Florida State game. We know you don’t watch much TV, but has your wife seen that game? What have you heard?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: That’s a fair question. No, Holly hasn’t seen the game, but I was told about it frequently and have been since our game in I guess the similar way that the games ended.

Yeah, I don’t know about the previous game, but if it was anything like ours, it takes a day or two to recover from a game like that. Fortunately, we were on the outcome end that makes you smile.

Q. Coach, a lot of things go into success. Wanted to ask you about one particular play Saturday night. There was a swing pass out to [Joe] Reed and looked like the way in front of him was clogged; all of a sudden it opened up because of [Wayne] Taulapapa and [Terrell] Jana were out there blocking. Another receiver was being very physical. Talk about what it takes to get guys to do that, buy into that and how little things might make a difference in success?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I know the exact play you’re talking about. In fact, I showed it to the team today. We pay very close attention to what personnel is in on every play.

While we aren’t the perfect, we work hard to have the best players in to do a specific job for each play that will give that play its best chance.

When you consider selfless and physical players and team-oriented players, when you put Wayne Taulapapa and Terrell Jana in the game at the same time, and especially if it’s in a blocking role, there is a great chance that play is going to be successful.

So it’s not an accident that those players were in. I don’t think it was an accident that the play was successful. Good design by our offensive staff not only in the concept, but the personnel to execute the concept.

Q. Do you have an update for us on Brennan Armstrong?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I don’t. Day by day is basically where we are.

Q. What do you do in terms of backup quarterback?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So we have Lindell Stone and we have RJ Harvey. Yeah, we’re three deep and I like both those players.

Q. Wanted to ask you about ODU, their quarterback being very mobile. What do you see from him? And does having Bryce Perkins prepare your defense, or is that like a media myth that if you have a mobile quarterback you’re more prepared to face a mobile quarterback?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I don’t think it’s a myth. I think is does help you prepare, especially when you’re going against yourself in fall camp and spring practice. You identify concepts you like and you just simply hold on to those, and when appropriate you pull them back out for a quarterback that might be similar.

So I think it certainly helps. And then if you have players in your program for that given week that can replicate that look, that also helps. In our case, RJ Harvey as a young and very mobile quarterback helps when we do that. I really like that possibility, not only of the concepts that are already in place, but the chance to then have a player you’re working on to reinforce those concepts on a weekly basis.

Q. Billy Kemp had been very sure-handed on punts until the rough stretch Saturday night. Was he down to his third strike when he went back there? And also, what about the game he had at receiver later on? He had a couple big plays.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, there is not a long leash as a punt returner. I believed and still believe he’s sure-handed and confident and capable as a punt returner. Chalking that up right now to an off night. Time and consistency will tell if that was the case or not.

We’re hopeful that it is. He’s becoming more and more effective and integrated within our scripts at receiver and proving to be capable there. Yeah, I’m encouraged by the versatility, but we recruited him because of that. We thought he could do multiple things. Regardless of height, we don’t think he plays small. We think he plays big and dynamic.

Q. Going back to the summer and probably even the spring, you talked a lot about situational work. How much have you seen that pay off?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, I think it is paying off. The final yield is too early to tally, but the situations that we’re in for our team – maybe not the head coach – seem to be pretty poised and confident and react appropriately. The head coach seems to be struggling on occasion now with that concept. (Smiling.)

I think they’re more confident and seasoned and more experienced, and the level of preparation is able to be more detailed; I think that’s showing up.

Q. If I could follow up on my earlier question. When you showed the team that play, what did you tell them? What goes into getting wide receivers to be physical in their blocking and running backs to know to get to the edge to throw their blocks?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, so our guiding principles are more than just words. We address them every single day. One of those concepts, as you already know, is will before skill, where you’re not — in my ideal program and timeframe not really allowed to play football until you demonstrate how hard you’ll try not only for yourself, but your teammates.

So if we have developed the culture correctly, you should be able to put anyone in that concept. I think we’re pretty close in terms of how many players would try. Who then is capable and has the skillset to execute, that’s something else.

So Wayne and Terrell just, they not only have an absolutely phenomenal mindset, but they are capable and skilled when it comes to physical play and blocking as well.

So my point to the team just simply is we are a team-first program, and I and everyone else I hope feels fortunate to be able to contribute in any way possible.

All those plays matter and all the roles matter.

Q. We talked a lot in the preseason about the added depth on the defensive line, making your guys fresher late in games, rotation. How has that played out and is it what you envisioned?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, it’s playing out, not played out yet. We are deeper. Seems like every team we have played to this point is tempo, which means they just go fast and there is no huddle. Yeah, each time the opponent is substituting we’re able to substitute and put in one, two or three other defensive linemen, which I think is contributing to — I think the catch phrase right now is havoc, which is tackles for loss and sacks and disruption, and we’re doing that at high level.

I think one of the contributors to that is more depth and ability to rotate players for the tempo teams when they substitute. That we’re able to be fast and physical and disruptive.

Q. I was going to ask about the havoc piece. It seems like you guys are getting in the backfield and creating havoc. That seems to be something you guys have a much greater focus on or maybe it’s just a manifestation of having the depth that you have. Has anything changed on that front or are things just sort of the clicking better for them?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think it’s both. We are deeper, but it’s also more intentional. It’s part of our self-study as well as growing our program. Disruption with so many offenses now that are rhythmical and read oriented, when they would prefer – and these are most offenses – where they know what player is in what position playing what technique, and then they can read that play and either keep it, give it or throw it.

So havoc or disruption is usually something most offenses don’t want to see. Disrupts the timing, disrupts the recognition, it disrupts all the things that the offenses now in the RPO system are based on.

Yeah, there is an intentional effort based on what opponent it is, but the depth and freshness of our players is helping.

Q. You’ve said several times how much you like this first-year class and the potential. Of that group, I think [Jowon] Briggs is the only one who is really playing regular minutes right now. Does that speak to maybe where the program is? In year one or two would you have had a half dozen or more of these guys in prominent roles?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think it’s where the program is. Doesn’t take away from our first-year class at all. Yeah, we have a pretty high standard currently to get on the field. I still expect possibly up to ten of those players to contribute. Some are on special teams now. Others are backups. Some are getting minutes here or there.

So it’s not hard to spot where the climbers are and who could end up having a more significant role as we go, but it certainly speaks to a different stage of program depth than years one and two.

Q. Coach, if I’m not mistaken, you have the long snapper duties split. Might have done that with [Zach] Bradshaw and [Joe] Spaziani at one point. What’s the difference between the two and what do you like about each?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, not to make light of the question, but the difference is just distance. We have one snapper that in all the charting and all the metrics we have is simply better in PAT field goal; and with the same two competing, the other is better in the longer distance of punt.

So I’m not sure how frequent that is. It’s a disadvantage when it comes to travel by the number of specialists that we travel, so it’s not ideal in that regard. While we have the ability to do so, operation time matters, and so we’re going with two.

Q. Old Dominion brought in two junior college quarterbacks to compete for the starting job. What are the benefits of going that route to find a quarterback and the challenges that come with that?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think the benefits can be experience and immediate help, which is usually why someone would consider a junior college player and/or a graduate transfer.

Challenge is most players have a very specific reason why they are a junior college player, how they end up there. Could be academics, could have been social, could have been just developing late. Whatever those reasons are, they do exist.

Then when you match that against the type of institution that you might currently be coaching at, junior college player with whatever those issues might have been sometimes restricts their ability to fit appropriately at whatever school you might be coach at, at Division I level or et cetera.

I think specificity fit is the best way to describe whether a junior college player or graduate transfer has a chance to be successful not only on the field, but in the classroom and in the community, which ultimately all those things should drive the decision in my opinion.

Q. Just RJ Harvey, where is he in terms of his development?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I’m not sure yet. We haven’t played him enough and he hasn’t had enough live game reps or live scrimmage reps to give an accurate assessment.

We know he’s dynamic and he can run, and he can throw. In terms of composure, maturity, making the reads, handling all the things that are required, way too early to tell other than capability is there.

Q. We haven’t heard you use particularly bad language in here. What can you share about with your penalty the other night and how did your wife respond to it?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, so I didn’t use bad language then either. I make it a point to not do that. I didn’t know I had the penalty. Coach Howell said, Coach you’re out on the field and they just threw a penalty on you. I looked and I saw it.

Yeah, there are times where it just seems right to defend your players and the way they’re playing and maybe the outcome of a call. So obviously I crossed the line, but there was no profanity used. Rarely, if ever, do I do that.

Holly said, ‘Holy cow, you got a penalty for that? It’s like the first I’ve ever even seen that in your head coaching career, and one time you do that you get a penalty’. She thought that might be some injustice. There wasn’t a scolding tone, but I don’t think she was really happy with me.

Q. Speaking of justice or injustice, you’ve had a chance to watch those plays now on that final drive. Curious your take. In the moment was it different than what you saw on replay?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, the best thing I can say is I thought there were mistakes and the game could have been won and was won at least two other times besides the last play is what I think.

Q. Very diplomatic. When I re-watch the game on TV I notice that your postgame interview was interrupted by Coach [Vic] So’oto. Curious if there was in any penalty for him on that.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: When you have been with Coach So’oto as long as I have, there is really nothing he can do that’s going to surprise me. He was my first commit when I became a head coach. He’s been we me a long, long time, and we’ve been through a lot of things that were more surprising than that instance, and so that didn’t even reach the threshold, even though my face might have shown it. In relation to our history together, that doesn’t register.

Q. You touched on it Saturday night after the game, but offensive line might be taking a step forward. Watching the film, what impressed you about them?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It wasn’t just the offensive front. Our offensive staff and the adjustments we made that led to the number of consecutive completions and the consistency that then led to 21 points in the fourth quarter was the ideal script. We believed that by playing our style of football with the time of possession and with the execution and making critical stops on defense and limiting their time of possession, eventually that style of play would place the burden on the defense to where they’ll end up not being able to execute either through consistency or being just tired.

That had shown in the first two games and manifest again in our game, so it was 21 points based on adjustments we made executing those things. Our offensive front, being asked to and execute things they are more capable of doing, and that led to productivity that allowed us to win.

So I saw improvement I guess is the bottom line. I also saw a clearer identity in who we are as an offense as a core, and then our branch-outs and off-shoots will come more from there. That was pretty much manifest in the second half, more in the fourth quarter.

Q. You obviously can’t talk about kids until they sign letters of intent, but another Louisiana connection in play. We’ve talked about Coach Brumfield and Jordan, but it’s not normal for Virginia to recruit Louisiana as well as Virginia is currently recruiting now. Is that something you guys think can be sustainable going forward? Is this just a handful of kids that really connect? Are you guys changed the way you view out-of-state recruiting in general, specifically in that state?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Our view of Louisiana is not state specific. Our view of Louisiana is people specific in Coach [Ricky] Brumfield and Jordan Arcement, and those two people — I believe it’s who first and then what.

So those two individuals on our staff, when you consider now where could they make the biggest impact, where could they be great, not just good? So there are profile schools and there are profile players that fit the University of Virginia that are in Louisiana. Those two coaches, personnel members of our staff, are exceptional in that state and in those communities.

The yield is so clear that there is no way that we can not consider staying and bringing more players from that area. Again, they’re UVA specific. The profile nature of the player and the school and the young people and the families are being identified really well by members of our staff at level that — and with connections in that state that are stronger than some in other states.

So it isn’t necessarily geographic. It just happens to be personnel related with my current staff.

Q. When you look at the Monarchs on film, what type of challenges will they present for you?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, they’re a good team. I think Coach Wilder does a really good job. The schematics offensively are very sound. Same on defense, same on special teams; and the personnel is strong.

So it’s just the next college football game. I know there is intrigue because of the in-state matchup and the game versus Virginia Tech a year ago and this year. I think that’s a fair assessment to say what could this game look like. That game was close and contested and competitive.

Yeah, the decision or the decisive nature of how it finished wasn’t really clear until the fourth quarter, so I think that would be a fair assessment.

Q. ODU, like Liberty, is a new coming to FBS. How involved are you in scheduling and identifying opponents, and do you like the fact that there are more options in-state and nearby than there were five years ago?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I was not involved in the ODU scheduling. That happened right as I arrived, if I remember. There was an announcement early on that that game was scheduled. I didn’t realize the significance or know much about the state nor ODU at that time.

Liberty was more clear and I had some involvement in that. So I like the idea of in-state, close, regional, because of the intrigue. If I have my choice to travel across the country to play Oregon or stay in-state, I would much rather stay in-state.

The ACC is hard enough. There is enough travel. Academically UVA is an amazing challenge and opportunity. I think that’s the right decision for the University of Virginia at this point. I would like to continue with that philosophy in place knowing that we won’t be able to execute it perfectly, but I think it’s a natural fit for — yeah, Virginia Tech has already grasped the same idea.

Now when you have Liberty as an independent, ODU as Conference USA member, man, the quality of FCS teams that are close, it just makes sense, and I think it does for all parties.

Q. Follow up on that. Wake Forest and North Carolina played a nonconference game this past weekend. Would you ever consider that route as a possibility?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I really wouldn’t. The chance to match up against them is frequent enough, so doesn’t just — there is not enough about those matchups that then make me say, Yeah, I want to do this in addition to other regional games that are already in the ACC.

Philosophically that doesn’t seem to fit as well knowing that we have the annual crossovers games and Notre Dame mixed in as well.

Q. Coming off a super-charged emotional game, are you worried at all or how do you in your career manage the idea of the emotional letdown?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I’m not sure letdown is the right word, but there is an emotional effect, yeah. I think the staff and the team and maybe the community are tired today, which how can you not be? But we value the process and we know exactly what the process has to look like, what work has to be done today, what it has to look like for us to know if we’re on track or not, and for certain metrics to be hit.

There isn’t a way around that. So the volume of work and the level of work that has to be done today happens whether you play late and win late or play early and win early. That still has to happen on Monday. So just a stark reality. I work really hard with my team and usually on the sideline to be even, not so up, not so down. Because for every one of those there is a recovery process.

I think the team matter of fact knows that Monday is Monday. This is the next game. We’ve already moved on and have to. So that’s the reality, and tomorrow will be a difficult practice. Very hard, challenging, as Tuesdays are. Tomorrow will be no exception.

Q. I don’t think this was his first snap, but first time I noticed Dejon Brissett on the field. Heck of a spot for a dude that has not had a whole lot of reps this summer. What have you seen from him?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Before he got hurt we really were impressed and still are. So, so glad that he’s back. We lost [Dontayvion] Wicks to a concussion last week. Just so happened that Dejon was coming back and that just matched perfectly. So it’ll be better when they’re both back at the same time, but, yeah, Brissett now is available, and I think it shows the confidence we have in him for the situation we put him in.

I would expect more touches, more inclusion in the script, and usage for him going forward. So the timing is really good for us. And hopefully Wicks will come back also soon.

 





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