UVA football coach Bronco Mendenhall talks Duke

bronco mendenhallCOACH MENDENHALL: We’re onto Duke. My message to the team this morning, they had Saturday night and Sunday to enjoy a really nice victory at home against a very good team; that’s all they get.

So now every bit of attention and focus and energy goes on to improving the things we can improve, controlling the things we can control, and work hard to prepare for another ACC opponent.

Our opponent is skilled; their record is strong; I think they’re coached really well; they’re clear about their identity; they’re playing with confidence; we’re on the road. So all those things make this week’s preparation really important. Our focus has to be at a really high level. That was my message to our team.

I’ll take questions.

Q. What was the difference in the defensive performance the other night compared to the NC State game?
COACH MENDENHALL: Simply play making. Some of the balls that went down field against NC State they caught. If you remember one of the first plays, it looked like Brenton Nelson might intercept in the end zone, and their player caught it.

If you think about, man, the back shoulder throw that Bryce [Hall] was on their receiver and he catches it for a touchdown, we just simply made the plays that we were in position to make as opposed to not making them.

We still had errors, we still missed tackles, and still had some of the other things that were the same in both games. The difference simply was the plays we were in position to make, we made, and we made at a high level and they just happened to be at critical times.

I would also add there were two fourth down stops. At NC State there was a fourth down. What appeared to be a stop that wasn’t. Those things change the game. So those games were more similar than not other than the handful of plays we didn’t make in that game we made in this game.

Q. Juan [Thornhill] said there were no real adjustments defensively from one game to the other. He said, We just played harder.
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah.

Q. Did they play harder, or is that just a function of the outcome?
COACH MENDENHALL: I think that they played harder, with more confidence, and their mindset is becoming — the right word is hard to say. Angry isn’t the right word, but they’re more determined. It bothers them when they get scored on. They want to be very strong defensively in terms of not only outcome, but their own performance. They’re taking more and more pride in playing in Virginia’s defensive system.

The NC State game bothered them because there were plays they left out there they knew they could have made and they didn’t. So, yeah, there weren’t a ton of adjustments. There were some, but there weren’t a ton of adjustments. It was just simply not necessarily what we’re doing, but how we’re doing it. That’s probably what he was talking about.

Q. Also, you commented on the atmosphere being probably the best it’s been here since you got here. And Juan said after the game also, We can win the ACC. As a guy that has been around a little bit, what do you need to do on the road so they’re not relying on that and don’t need that, it’s just 85 guys or whatever it is that travel?
COACH MENDENHALL: We talked about that this morning also. While the internal environment can influence, it doesn’t determine. There is a difference. It was just the team was happy and just short of surprised that the turnout was strong for our game, but also our student section was awesome and the noise. There was a home field advantage.

That was a really cool environment to play in, and we were so appreciative of our fans being there. The strong teams and the teams that are consistent and win — and what I shared with our team this morning, is we mature and grow. The internal is acknowledged, but that does not determine outcome.

We talked about the difference of what playing at Duke will be like. Been there once before and won. Some of those players are gone, but some remember. So that atmosphere will be distinct and separate and much different than we just had. That does not mean the outcome and the internal drive and the performance needs to change. That requires a higher level of maturity and consistency and program development. That’s right where we are, and that’s what we need.

I framed it exactly like that to our team. Where they go with that will determine a lot of what the outcome of this game will be.

Q. One of the NFL draft board things that comes out early came out the other day and Daniel Jones the No. 1 draftable quarterback in the draft. You guys have had great success about him. What do you like about him? How have you been able to negate him?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, so I certainly like his size. I like his arm strength. And for the most part, with the exception in our games, his decision making has been really strong. The main difference in the two games that we’ve beaten Duke is just, for whatever reason, the ball has been thrown to us. So some of the decisions the quarterback has made and just simply through the turnovers, that really has determined the outcome.

I can’t say that it’s some wild or elaborate or unique scheme. It just has happened that in our two games the ball has been turned over from them to us more than maybe what it has in other games.

But back to the original point, their quarterback is certainly capable of making any throw. Certainly has the size to handle pressure, vision, arm strength. He’s been coached exceptionally well by probably one of the best offensive minds in quarterback coaches, David Cutcliffe. His preparation has led to his performance, and now he is more mature and older, and so every year he plays he gets better and better.

Q. Talk about your two sixth year guys. I guess they could have packed it in, but they’re still around contributing.
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, they’re still around. Probably the best way to frame it is Malcolm [Cook], he grabbed me afterwards and just said, Man, it’s been six years and I finally — he said I — I finally am part of winning that game or beating them. Those are the coolest moments for me as a coach. When players are really and authentically touched and appreciative of what’s happening, and to feel part of it and genuinely, yeah, moved and thankful.

So that was one of the few comments that really struck me during the game. Another one was a first year. If you take Malcolm as a sixth year, and then Tavares Kelly is on the sideline. I think there was a timeout or a TV break, and he was standing there just looking across the field at some of his former competitors in high school and possibly teammates.

Rarely am like this in a game, but I just said, ‘Man, I’m sure glad you’re with us’. He said, ‘Man, it’s the best decision I ever made’. I don’t think he had an offer to go to Miami, but I could just tell he was looking across and liked where he was, liked how the current game was going, and was appreciative of being on our team.

Yeah, so those two moments were gratifying to me as a head coach.

Q. One quick fact check. Did you do your walk-around the stadium before the Miami game?
COACH MENDENHALL: Absolutely.

Q. Just checking.
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, it’s non-negotiable.

Q. Going back and looking at the way you ran the football, they came in No. 1 in the league stopping the run. Is it as simple as the line played better or is there something different that made it work?
COACH MENDENHALL: It’s just the first point. So when I visited with our offensive staff today, so on Monday I usually have a chance to catch up offensively. Give them my thoughts and vice versa, defensively and special teams. First thing that [offensive coordinator] Robert [Anae] said when he came in was, I was really impressed by our offensive line play. So that doesn’t mean we were dominant, but it means we were effective. When we can be in third and manageable and run the ball for first downs, we control the game. That’s really what we want to do.

Then Bryce [Perkins] can be more effective, and certainly his legs are helping us with our run game. But traditional runs, the Jordan Ellis runs were blocked better, more effectively. Back to the original question, it was wasn’t necessarily what we were doing it’s how we were doing it. They played with more confidence, a stronger mindset, more physicality. That was the difference.

Q. You credit Anae with being on the sideline. What made that decision?
COACH MENDENHALL: Really was his idea. He thought that at NC State, at Indiana, we were a little hesitate and tentative offensively and more reactionary rather than dictatorial, meaning this is what we’re going to do and how. He’s certainly not afraid of anyone, anywhere, anyhow and that presence seemed to match where we currently are and need to be as we get ready for now the — it was the seven-game stretch — the six-week ACC game stretch — I guess it’s five of the six — and what mindset that’s going to need to have.

So sometimes when the words aren’t enough, right, then example is more powerful. So that was the genesis behind it.

Q. You had the big win at Boise State last year; this one at home. What’s it been like for you this weekend walking around among people who saw it in person?
COACH MENDENHALL: Gratifying. You know, not one minute personally. It’s just people were glad to be at the game, and to see them happy. I was getting comments like, ‘Wow, the stadium hasn’t felt like that in a while’. So those kind of comments, there is a sense that this actually might work. You know, wait a second. This team and program and approach and staff, we could actually have really good football again at UVA and it could be a consistent winner.

We see this happening. I think that was kind of the sense of me, not the comments that they were making, but just how excited they were that they were there, saw it and liked it. I would love this community and institution and the state to have, again, a great place to come watch and participate in an amazing college football experience. That’s what we’re looking to build.

Q. Neither Charles Snowden or Elliott Brown had much of a football resume when he arrived here. Each had played basketball. We know what Charles has done. Where is Elliott in his development? Looks like he played a significant amount the other day, along with Matt Gahm.
COACH MENDENHALL: Elliott I would say is exactly where Charles was one year ago. So Elliott’s football resume was similar to Charles’. Charles has just, through opportunity basically, had more opportunity and more experience. And so where Elliott is now — which is a great compliment, that he makes his debut and earned his stripes against Miami. He has impressed us enough now to do what Charles was doing a year ago basically, and we’ll kind of launch from there.

Some of our depth concerns at inside backer have had us looking, Okay, who else? That led to Matt Gahm, which was already getting some action in as a backup and is solid and consistent and reliable, but then Elliott was next.

So we framed and designed a nice role for him, and he did really well in that role.

Q. Inside and outside or…
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, hybrid is the best way to say it. We have so many personnel groups now defensively. Just really working to highlight the best players we have versus the situation the game calls for at any time. We’re not deep enough to have just one group that can play everything, so we’re becoming pretty hybrid as a defense. Quite frankly, versus different offensive looks and personnel groups, we’re basically playing different styles of defense with the best players we have on our roster. That gives us enough then to get through a game.

Q. After Delaney’s performance on Saturday, kicking competition still open in practice or would you say he’s earned the job?
COACH MENDENHALL: No, he’s earned the job. Let me rephrase that. Yeah, he has earned the job pending just consistent performance practice. So it won’t be now head-to-head in practice versus another one of our kickers; however, I am known to — if a player then doesn’t perform well in practice or looks lackluster or the consistency doesn’t seem to be there, it opens up again. Brian controls that now. If he practices like he just did and performs like he did in our game, it’s his job.

If at some point in practice he’s not consistent or doesn’t seem to be on, then I open it back up. It’s his now to lose.

Q. Having a chance to have gone back and watched the film, can you talk about Bryce’s three interceptions?
COACH MENDENHALL: Let’s see, the first one was throwing back across his body, so all the front side looks were covered. Olamide [Zaccheaus] then pivots and opens himself away from coverage. But as Bryce stopped and then stopped to deliver, that then gave a defender a chance to then catch up to him.

So trying to do too much versus the look that he had, rather than just throwing it out of bounds. A player flashed open on the second one as well. He just threw the ball high.

Oh, third one. Man, that I was a great play by the corner. Our receiver, and he’s got an outside release, released inside and then worked his way back out. The defensive back undercut, and just — Hasise [Dubois] has been playing really well, and the defender took it away. First two were more quarterback driven. Third one was a really good play for the defender.

First two, what they had in common, was working to do too much rather than just — you know, some players just aren’t going to work. Bryce has been pretty consistent with ball security throughout the year. That one I think just pushing a little too much, trying to accomplish a little too much too early.

Q. What did you think of the job Vic So’oto has done developing the young guys on the line, and also what’s his role in recruiting?
COACH MENDENHALL: Vic has his hands full. His development, continued development of Mandy Alonso, that’s a full-time job in trying to get him as active and consistent and productive as he can be.

Then you add Aaron Faumui to that. That’s where Mandy was a year ago, which was a full-time job then. Add Jordan Redmond in addition to Aaron and Mandy, so that’s another full-time job. So equivalent of maybe a single mom or a dad who has a job during the day and then does something else at night. That’s Vic’s world right now.

Vic was my first commit when I became the head coach at Brigham Young, so I’ve been with him a long, long time. He has an engaging, dynamic and charismatic personality. His wife, Ashley, was my personal assistant or secretary at BYU. She’s phenomenal. They’re just a young kind of power couple.

And Vic, he has to be able to, which he is, attract and bring great young players, especially defensive lineman, to our program. When this upcoming recruiting class is signed, I think you’ll see that there is significant progress being made. Kind of when you enter this profession there is a road warrior element. That’s one of the things you have to do.

Besides being skilled on the field, you have to demonstrate your ability to bring in good players. That’s where Vic is right now. He’s got his hands full developing players. Any minute he’s not doing that, he’s recruiting. That’s a big job.

Q. I think the official count is 86,000 people claim to have been there on Saturday night?
COACH MENDENHALL: (Laughter.)

Q. Two years ago when you got here, and just from the reaction you’re getting around town, to hear a player talk of winning the ACC championship is unheard of. Pretty heady stuff. You guys do something different in that you get Sunday off. You gave them a day, almost two days, to kind of celebrate this. What do you do to get them back into focus? You hear about one loss beating you twice. How do you not let one win beat you?
COACH MENDENHALL: It’s the next challenge in our program. Number one, the players haven’t been asked or to say that they think they have a chance to win the conference. That’s an outright goal for every league in the team. That they actually believe it enough to say it, that’s a significant step. That doesn’t mean it’s boastful or bragging. They adjust at a lot different level that they actually have a chance in every game they have remaining on the schedule. That’s a powerful thing that’s come through a lot of work. It doesn’t guarantee or really predict anything. It just means they think they can do it.

Along with that comes maturity. A lot of times things are better left unsaid and you work and let the outcome speak for itself. The best way to not have one win now affect the next game is by the head coach framing a real demanding practice tomorrow to where it’s almost all they can do to survive it.

So that’s what I plan to do.

Q. You said on the ACC conference call last week that Joe Reed was something of an enigma. Didn’t have a big game from a stats standpoint the other day. I assume you just meant that his numbers weren’t what you would like, not that he wasn’t contributing.
COACH MENDENHALL: That’s exactly right. Sometimes as a teacher, as an educator, there is a student or students in the class that you’re just really working and you haven’t connected with our found their learning style or what really all of a sudden has that light bulb come on. Man, okay, that’s how I communicate or how I teach or that’s the role where this individual really blossomed.

So that’s more what I was referring to. Man, we had a lot of nice designs for Joe in the game against Miami. It’s not an issue of capability nor desire on his part. For whatever reason. We’ve just struggled finding the right niche, the right presentation, to have everything click for him to become who he is.

It’s just something that, man, I wish I could put my finger on it, but it’s absolutely worth pursuing and continuing because of the ability and the capability that Joe has.

Q. You’ve mentioned several times over the past couple seasons that Evan Butts always seems to be open and maybe the best hands on the team. Are defenses treating him differently now because of that history, and what do you do about that?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, I would say yes they are. They’re certainly more aware of him. Those are really consistent chain-moving throws. We had one early in the game and then, man, didn’t notice Evan much until he gets the on-side kick and might be the play of the game. And he was in that spot for a reason. Our level of trust and reliance on him is where we think the action needs to be or critical play needs to be made in a moment where we just need a possession we need a first down. Where he was on the on-side reflected that as well.

So he’s getting a lot more attention, the coverage is certainly tighter. That makes it harder on us. However, what we have to be able to do — and it is happening — Hasise then is getting less coverage. Because if there is an extra player on the inside and the outside maybe of Butts, that is one less outside.

Or if Olamide is on the same side then — and so, yeah, Evan has earned kind of the awareness, but that has also contributed somewhat to Olamide and Hasise’s role they’ve had this year. Hopefully can get that all going at the same time. Again, if we can get production from one more outside receiver at the same time as the rest of that, that’ll be — that’s more of what we’re hopeful for.

Q. I don’t know how often you rep that full contact, that on-side, but had he broken one?
COACH MENDENHALL: No, he hadn’t broken one, nor really had there ever been an instance where that kind of bounce happened before ten yards. So if you were to see it on film, Miami’s players are getting out of the way because they know it hasn’t gone ten yet.

They’re kind of uncertain as to what to do. Evan just saw an opening, got the right bounce, and realized — because some of those players were already behind him, so it was — a lot of players even on our team would’ve just caught it and went down.

That yardage that he got instantly put us in field goal range. One of the differences in the game was that yardage on the on-side kick return, but also our interception returns. Field position really swung on interception returns and an on-side kick return. That doesn’t happen very often.

That was just a heads-up play by an experienced player.

Q. In the big picture, a year ago you open up I guess 5-1 and struggled down the stretch. Obviously a difference in the opponents. But did you see anything last year that has changed your approach to practice, schedule, pep talks, anything going into the second half of this year?
COACH MENDENHALL: No. Words won’t determine anything. What is similar is the depth on our roster is very similar. It’s affecting practice right now. It’s affecting rotation right now. It certainly will affect how we have to manage our team down the stretch.

What’s different is our confidence continues to grow. Our capability continues to increase. But it’s slow and steady and methodical. Most of our ACC wins, if you look at last year, we were on the field right at the very end against Duke, against North Carolina, Georgia Tech, the one we just had. That’s how this is going to evolve. We’ve only had one that wasn’t a last-minute type play and that was Louisville.

We’re preparing more for the four of the five, how those look, than what the Louisville game looked like. So that part will be similar. Ultimately it will come down to those handful of plays. When we make them, we’ll win. If not, then it’ll be frustrating and sad and then we’ll refocus and again try to get the right players in the right spot at the right time in the right scheme to be able to deliver what they can do.

That’s where the roster is versus any opponent and what we’re working hard to do.

Q. This past week you had Eli [Hanback] at nose tackle; Jordan I don’t believe played a snap. Was Jordan banged up, or more as you looked at things you wanted to play Eli?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, matchup versus Miami; really athletic front that was offensive front in my mind and more of a side-to-side run game than downhill run game.

Jordan is pretty strong at the point the attack. When you go right down hill, when you now start talking about running to the edges, our best configuration, that didn’t match Jordan’s current skillset. Matched more Eli and Aaron Faumui, as well as Mandy. Then, as we have already mentioned, a few extra linebackers.

Q. Brian Delaney told me he had never done an interview and he found himself sitting in front of a dozen reporters and TV lights. I asked him what he thought of that. He said, ‘It’s fun’. What does that say about his personality and level of coolness?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, I wouldn’t say it would shock any of our team members to say it’s fun. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, which in a game like that where he just steps up and kicks in that role in that kind of setting with the pressure on him like he did, yeah, I think it will endear him to his teammates and certainly the coaches.

He doesn’t seem to be too rattleable. I’m going to go with that until he proves me otherwise.

Q. In the pre-season, RJ Proctor had the injury and took a while to get back. He played a lot on Saturday. Did he get more healthy during the bye week? How much boost did he give to the line?
COACH MENDENHALL: So I was just talking with Robert and Garrett [Tujague] before I came over here. I thought he had the strongest game of any of our offensive lineman. It was the closest that I’ve seen him back to 100% since the injury. Been a long haul. We need extra push at the guard spot. We need targeting and aggression and more movement.

So he had a strong game, and we needed him. It was a bright spot to finally have a player returning to full health at a position of need. Had a lot to do with some of runs we had.

Q. When you were just talking about Evan’s kickoff return, you said that put you in field goal range. You haven’t always known what the field goal range is.
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah.

Q. What does it do for the offense if you can feel comfortable from, say, 45 and in?
COACH MENDENHALL: It does a lot for all of us because we know there’s points, and that changes play call, it changes the way the game is managed. We haven’t had that in place until Saturday, at least in the time I’ve been here.

Now, whether it will remain in place, that’s still a question. One game is not enough to then say Brian has arrived and now UVA is strong finally in the field goal area. At least it’s a start. With the expansion of how far out we can kick the football, that, again, will lead to game management decisions that we haven’t been able to make for a long time.

Q. As you look back at the defensive performance last week, one thing that stood out was the play calling was a lot more aggressive; a lot extra blitzers on the pass rush. Was that something you saw prior to that game that you wanted to have more of? What are your thoughts on the kind of risk/reward, blitzing more guys and having man-to-man coverage on the outside?
COACH MENDENHALL: So the real kind of story behind the story was the illusion of pressure. So the same number blitzers, rushers, were incorporated, but just different bodies and different looks. So very little changed other than the initial presentation. The illusion of pressure actually ended up creating pressure, and so as we add different bodies and different matchups, yeah, it appears like, ‘Wow, what are they doing?’ It’s basically the same.

Q. 20 or 30 minutes after the game Juan Thornhill was still showing a lot of fire in the locker room. Just talk about his drive and what you can see that game meant for him.
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, Juan wants to be good. He wants our team to be strong. Now that Quinn [Blanding] has gone and Micah [Kiser] is gone, what you really hope as a program is that your best players also become your best workers and your best leaders.

So Juan is emerging and he’s learning how to fill all those roles. He plays with emotion, he plays with passion and he’s certainly a capable play maker. He’s best when he is on edge, so that it takes him a while to get down is a positive thing. When he’s on edge and emotional and when he goes to that place that he was on Saturday, as long as he’s practiced fiercely in terms of his assignments and the responsibilities he has, when he adds that edge play making is the result.

If his practice habits and work ethic during the week hasn’t been strong, that can lead to missed assignments and missed cues that lead for the opponent to have success.

He’s just now starting to get the right balance of preparation and the emotion that then leads to play making. If he makes plays, much like Bryce on offense, we have to have him make plays for us to have success as a team and defense. When he does, it makes a clear difference.

Books from AFP

2018-19 UVA Basketball Preview: Just $1.99 on Amazon!

UVA Basketball finished the 2017-18 season ranked at the top of the national polls. Augusta Free Press editor Chris Graham offers his insight and analysis on the 2018-19 'Hoos, breaking down the roster, the legacy of coach Tony Bennett, and how the loss to UMBC could fuel a run through March Madness next spring.

The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever: Just $3.49 on Amazon!

Chris Graham offers a glimpse behind the curtain of the pro wrestling business in his new book, The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, the inside story of the 2011 Night of Legends, a live pay-per-view event featuring stars including WWE Hall of Famers Kevin Nash, "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan and The Rock 'n Roll Express that was met with almost universally negative reviews.

Mad About U: History of University Hall available on Amazon for just $5.99!

Mad About U: Four Decades of at University Hall is a comprehensive book covering the players, coaches and memories of University Hall at the University of Virginia. Join us as we look back at the memories from more than 40 years in U Hall.


News From Around the Web


Shop Google



Comment