UVA football coach Bronco Mendenhall talks NC State
COACH MENDENHALL: After watching the film and letting it sink in, really happy for my team and my coaches. The effort and prepartion they put in yielded a really positive result. Especially happy the victory was at Scott Stadium. Just feels good to be home. Felt good for our players and their families. Really gratifying experience to see our team and our staff happy. I think there is momentum being generated. I think roots are being established. I think we’re making progress. Plenty of room to grow in a lot of areas.
I was happy with Hunter Pearson and his kicking of extra points and field goals. That’s really a nice step in a positive direction. We did open the competition the past week, and AJ [Mejia] and Hunter went head to head, and AJ, by a slight margin, won throughout practice. But I did make the decision after the first miss to switch, and I was proud of Hunter and the way he handled that.
Defensively I think, watching on film our plan, was very good, but the execution and emotion and not necessarily just how or what the players did, but how they did it. The defensive players especially were emotional and they were really invested in their performance and the outcome. You could tell they wanted to win.
Turnovers ultimately were the difference in that game. So our takeaways and then the points yielded or the points that they accounted for I thought ultimately was the reason that we won the football game.
Bryce [Perkins] made some really timely plays that kept drives alive. We already know about the amazing plays that he made athletically. Kind of a back story though that maybe had me sleep better than anything else was Brennan Armstrong. I really liked what he did when he was out there. The game was not too fast for him. The reads, the poise, and quite frankly the initiative when he ran. He looked right at home.
As a first year, I was really encouraged by that. So, yeah, that makes me feel better. In the event that something happened to Bryce just when Brennan came in and what I’ve seen of him already just in four games, in two appearances, I really liked what I saw out of him. We have to have more production out of both Hasise [Dubois] and Olamide [Zaccheaus] in the ACC for us to have the success we want. I think we all know that.
We did have some of injuries that I’ll address: Richard Burney is done for the year. He has a medical condition. He will be fine, but he’s getting treatment for it. That’s really all I can pass on at this point.
And Jordan Mack also suffered an injury and will be out for looks like about six weeks.
So those two injuries are the ones of note. No players coming back that I can think of off of injury yet.
So we’re looking forward to our next game. Been working hard on NC State. Very good football team. We’re anxious and up for the challenge.
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Q. Is it a given in any football season that you’re depth will be tested, and how would you kind of assess the magnitude of this challenge with those two guys out? Could Malcolm [Cook] come back this week or still not sure?
COACH MENDENHALL: Still not sure with that, and best for me it present to you that it’s no, so kind of underpromise.
But we’re counting on him not coming back, at the inside linebacker position. That would be Mack and it would be Cook and Dom Shepherd, so three of our top four.
But matter of factly, Zane Zandier is playing really well. I like how he’s doing a lot. Rob Snyder now gets an opportunity, we really liked him prior to his injury.
Yeah, depth is tested. Sometimes, man, it all just happens at one spot. This particular year it seems like inside linebacker. Defensive line has been another challenge.
However, Aaron Faumui and Jordan Redmond, and now that Mandy [Alonso] is healthy — Richard is a significant loss; however, the depth that is being established with our first years is certainly going to help.
Q. Defensively you’ve only given up 16 points all year after halftime; I think just one touchdown. Is that adjustments at halftime? Is there an explanation for that?
COACH MENDENHALL: I would say that the time that I’ve been together with our defensive staff and what’s being seen in real time and what’s been communicated in real time kind of builds its way to halftime, which then gives a little bit more time to sort it out, which usually leads to the appropriate changes.
Not always, but it usually leads to the appropriate adjustments to give our players the best chance. Every game you’re not quite sure what the opponent is going to do until you see to play out. A half sometimes is — man, if you don’t get it fixed soon enough it’s not fast enough.
But each quarter we seem to be able to dial things in a little bit closer as to what the opponent is doing and why and how our matchups look and what might need to be corrected.
So I think it’s a result of time together, and I think it’s a result of time with our players of knowing what they’re capable of, and then how to possibly leverage all that through the second half. That’s what I think.
Q. Coach, you guys opened the season against a lot of inexperienced quarterbacks. Saturday you’re going to face a six-year guy in Ryan Finley. What have you seen out of Finley, and how does him being a pocket passer affect your defensive game plan?
COACH MENDENHALL: He throws the ball really well and he throws it on time and he throws it to good receivers. In my opinion they’re a throw-first team in terms of yardage and yield. Doesn’t mean they can’t run the football, but the ball is moved periodically and systematically through the air. So he’s poised, he’s accurate and he’s reflective of a player with experience.
If you choose to play any one given coverage, there is usually matchups and talent issues that will eventually catch up with you. It’s very difficult to deceive or show him looks that he probably hasn’t seen, so execution matters. How hard you play certainly matters.
He’s seen about everything you can throw at him because of how much they throw the football, so ultimately will come down to making plays. I know that’s oversimplified, but the execution just gets you to the point where then you still have to make a play on the ball.
So playing the ball and tackling in its simplest form will determine outcome.
Q. I see on the depth chart that C.J. Stalker is listed as the backup at both inside linebacker spots. Guy’s been here for a while; had pretty good ratings coming into college. What can you say about him?
COACH MENDENHALL: C.J. is — there is a running joke on our team. Much like an arranged marriage where I’m not giving him a say as to what he does for his career. He’s going to coach on my staff at some point. I’ve already told him I’m giving him no letters of recommendation for anything else.
He can’t count on me for any other job than applying for a graduate assistant spot or being a football coach on my staff. I think he’s amazing. He’s an amazing person, an amazing leader, he’s tough and he’s completely reliable. I just really like who he is.
Q. He hasn’t played very much though.
COACH MENDENHALL: He hasn’t. He’s currently leading — even though he’s been here a long time — leading our defense that plays against our offense and doing it in a manner like he’s preparing to win the ACC championship. There is nothing about self with him. It’s all about team.
And so his experience and knowledge of the game and kind of just who he is, we’re counting on to provide the adequate depth necessary to get through that position with the injuries we’ve had.
Q. I think last week you mentioned something about you’re expanding role as a head coach. The other day you were talking about how you had given more responsibility to Nick and what a good job he did calling the plays. Can you just talk about how your role has changed this year?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah. So I believe as organizations and programs grow there are different stages of growth. With different stages, if you consider the business world, how the CEO fits in is different year by year.
I think and I have thought going into this year and it’s still being validated as we go — I can’t say it’s a finished product — but the best thing I could do to help our program at this time in year three was to make myself available to basically influence and advise and coach coaches.
That would expedite the performance at every position throughout the entire team. Not just on one side of the ball and not just in a narrow scope. I’m still getting used to it. Still determining the best way to have that influence.
But I can tell our offense exactly what the defense is doing and why on any given play, which is knowledge in real time to take advantage of that.
I can tell our defense on any given play what the offense is doing and why. I haven’t had the luxury to do that. I can now influence special teams, not only in personnel, but what the opponent is doing when and why.
On a game day it’s completely different, but I find myself now framing this is what’s happening, these are the counter measures, the possibilities, on a broader scope.
My hope is that we’ll continue to show dividends and results, and certainly Nick and Kelly and Vic and Shane, the defensive side, it was so gratifying for me to not have made a defensive call and see the guys that have been with me so long be the guardians of the way we’ve done it and have success.
I was happy for our players. I was really happy for those guys knowing that I was involved but not at the core and not making those calls and that they were capable.
Q. I asked you after the game, but having a chance to review the two freshman defensive lineman, Redmond and Faumui, how did they play and what has their development been life?
COACH MENDENHALL: Faumui played fewer snaps but had more impact; Redmond is becoming more consistent the more he plays. So the pace of the play, the physicality of the play and the consistency necessary, he’s stretching to meet those expectations and demands. It’s still inconsistent and he is still becoming an ACC football player, but they’re both capable.
The demand on conditioning, technique, the demand on assignments, is still something that’s just out of their reach and they’re trying to catch up as fast as they can.
Q. I know you told us the story about telling your wife that you thought you would win.
COACH MENDENHALL: She was shocked, by the way, because I normally am a little bit more of a — whatever.
Q. You normally aren’t that bold.
COACH MENDENHALL: I normally don’t say, yeah.
Q. I’m curious, what have you seen in terms of the development of confidence from your staff, from your players, and how much has that changed from year one, year two?
COACH MENDENHALL: I think the way to answer that is just the recalibration that’s happened within myself and our staff now that we know clearer who we are. It took the whole first year to have even a basic idea where the program and our team was.
We made some in roads in year two to address that appropriately. That showed in the record.
Year three we’re more clear than we were in year two of what has to happen and why.
So that’s leading to confidence, meaning that we’re clear about who we are. Sun Tzu said if you know yourself and you know your enemy you’ll never fear the result of a thousand battles.
We’re clearer now on who we are. Now that we’ve played ACC football for two years we’re clearer on who our opponents are, which means in general through four games, and including last year, we’re making better decisions with better plans that more effectively use our current personnel.
That has taken some time. I wish I could have accelerated it, but it’s taking some time.
Q. We hear all the time about defenses trying to make a team one dimensional. When a team comes in one dimensional — NC State doesn’t run the ball very well — what makes that work for them instead of you guys taking something away?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, talent and execution. So they have good schemes, but who is involved in the schemes? The one that’s delivering the ball and the ones that are catching the ball. When you have exceptional personnel, sometimes regardless of exact correct positioning, plays are still made.
That’s what’s happening with NC State. They’re making plays even when they’re covered and even if there is pressure. They’re making plays even when it looks like on film the defense should be good here, but it doesn’t end up that way.
They just have good players.
Q. It was only one catch, but was that an important moment for Devonte Cross who had gotten off to a slow start? Do you expect more from him?
COACH MENDENHALL: We would love for Devonte to have a larger role, as Joe Reed. As much as Devonte’s catch was impactful, Joe Reed touchdown I would say in a similar vein was more impactful for what we need from him.
So Joe made a critical play at a critical time that put points on the board. So from Joe, and then it would go to Devonte and then you saw little tastes, a little touch of Tavares Kelly.
That trio right there, when we can get that elevated to go with a high performance from Olamide and a high performing Hasise, that then becomes more formidable. We need that happen as fast as we can work.
Been working that way. We just saw a few signs in that game that kind of manifested.
Q. You talked about having a clearer vision of ACC opponents. That doesn’t apply to NC State really. What’s your familiarity with them?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, I have no familiarity. Last time I even paid attention to NC State I was coaching at New Mexico. We went there and played, and that was a long time ago. I do know Dave from the coaches’ meetings and know and respect the job he’s done there.
Really when an opponent isn’t on your schedule in any given year you just forget about them. You have to be so engrossed in the opponent you are playing. It’s been a busy morning familiarizing myself with schemes, personnel, history and why they’re doing what they’re doing, how they got to that point.
So just now starting to kind of feel like I can talk maybe confidently or comprehensively about them. Wouldn’t have been able to do that before this morning.
Q. Faumui showed pretty impressive pursuit on Saturday. How are he and Redmond different as players?
COACH MENDENHALL: Faumui is more active and I would say more dynamic, and Redmond is more between the A gaps; just going to be no movement.
So more physical and maybe more run stopping oriented just as a starting point.
Q. All ACC wins are important obviously. How important was it for you to get a comfortable win early in the season in terms of both confidence and getting a look at some of the younger guys like Armstrong you mentioned?
COACH MENDENHALL: Really important, considering that if you go to last year and our ACC wins — and I’m going to try to remember them. North Carolina we had to sack the quarterback at the very end of the game to win.
Georgia Tech they were driving and I think there was a sack on the last play to win.
Duke may have been the same, right? This would be the first ACC game, at least in our staff’s time, where we were able to separate from opponent and keep it that way. That’s not easy.
So that was I think significant; certainly there are opportunities to explain that away based on perspective and how you choose to report it, but I think it’s significant and I think was earned and hard to do. But I think it was a really positive step for our program.
Q. You’re at that four-game mark. With this new redshirt rule, how many conversations are going on about guys? And then kind of as an aside, does the plan change or is there a plan with Brennan based on what you saw on Saturday?
COACH MENDENHALL: I would love to say that the conversations have been extensive, but really we’re playing players that we need to play to help us win games this year. That’s where the program is.
Bobby Haskins is playing, doing a nice job in the offensive line. We’ve already talked about our two freshman defensive lineman. Brennan Armstrong, I don’t know how he can’t play the rest of the season and not be available.
So yeah, we’re managing it the best we can, but really the stress point is immediate progress and trending upward versus long-term planning. I don’t think we’re yet to the point where long-term planning can trump the immediate need.
That’s just where I currently am operating from.
Q. You may have some wood to knock on here, but on the way up here, heard about Jimmy Garoppolo being out for the season, I guess the 49ers quarterback. You have a quarterback who has broken his neck earlier, dislocated his finger the other day, and then went out and hurdled a couple people. What did you tell him about that?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, I don’t know. Just that we’re a better team when he’s healthy. Already he is smart with when he slides and when he goes out of bounds.
So that hasn’t required much. Almost anything I say in addition might make him overthink many of those scenarios. I think he’s managing himself and our team really well.
In fact, Robert and I were visiting this morning, and he’s been one the most consistent parts of our team, which is atypical for a new starting quarterback.
Q. You were referencing earlier about Hasise and Olamide’s production being imperative. What can they do specifically? Technique? Scheme? When teams are game planning for a guy that had 247 yards receiving, what do you want to see from the two of them?
COACH MENDENHALL: Consistency. Louisville did nothing to account for either one of them that was atypical. They just simply weren’t as consistent as the week before. Sometimes that happens when players are building into new roles and they have significant games. Sustaining and maintaining that is sometimes a challenge.
Our program is approaching a new area of growth, which means, yeah, that’s new, and it’s a little bit uncharted. Part of my job is to help build in the messaging and consistency metrics and feedback to make sure that each week is similar, rather than a highly productive week and then not so productive and then another high…
So we’re kind of in that cycle a little bit right now. That is part of growth. My messaging and immediate feedback on the metrics that I see has to be more blunt and more timely to help us in advance of maybe that.
Q. Ryan Swoboda has worn two numbers and played two positions this year. Ultimately would you like to move him back to tackle at some point? If so, is replenishing the tight end pool a priority?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, Ryan will be at offensive tackle for us. He still practices there the majority of the time. We really like what we see from him as an offensive lineman or potential offensive lineman. We like what he’s doing blocking-wise.
Yeah, certainly it’s been a unique challenge within the selection criteria and the attraction process of whom to take and at what positions. Sometimes it’s just simply taking the best availability. Even though a position need might be screaming to take someone, I won’t do it just for the sake of taking someone.
That’s kind of led us to the situation we are. I think we’ll be able to address it, and there might be a work-around schematically for a while until we find the exact right tight end or tight ends we want.
But offensive line to me is still a priority, maybe the biggest priority on the team in terms of recruitment.
Q. You mentioned last week that you were still kind of learning your offensive identity. How much did Saturday help solidify that?
COACH MENDENHALL: I think every game and every series helps us solidify as to how we can not only score, but maintain possession time. The second half was especially powerful in that we had a great time of possession advantage and we still scored.
Ultimately, we want to be able to maintain and control the tempo of the game, and we really like to control the game period. You can do that by moving the chains, methodically doing so, holding on to the ball.
Man, when you start taking it away defensively, yeah, that’s a good combination. We’re becoming clearer, and this Saturday helped, I think, add another piece to that.
Again, quality of opponents and different styles of play against us are still helping us shape what that’s going to look like. Again, you would say in year three, how come? Well, because Bryce is our quarterback. It’s a different system. We’re still redefining and defining ourself a little bit.
Q. With Jordan Mack out, I think he does a lot of the calls in the middle and lines defensive lineman up. Can Chris Peace do that from the outside or do one of the young guys have to step up?
COACH MENDENHALL: Both. Chris can do it from the outside, but Zane is capable inside. All of our players are taught to do that. Just have been used to hearing one voice, and that voice has had experience and been playing in there a lot.
There will be a significant change, and we’ll miss Jordan at the highest level you can miss someone. Now that we’ve said that, you go to the next person up. That’s where we are.
Q. To follow up on that, are any of the outside guys candidates to move inside? Could they do that in a pinch?
COACH MENDENHALL: A pinch is the right way to describe it. The positions are really unique and really different. So it’s not my preference.
A pinch, a really big pinch — a pinch itself wouldn’t be enough. A really big pinch would be what it would take.
Q. The offensive line, you’ve talked about the development you want to see. Talk about what you’ve seen mentality-wise. I think I witnessed Bobby Haskins driving one of the Louisville linebackers ten yards to the point that guy got annoyed. We saw pancake blocks. Are you pleased with what’s happening upstairs?
COACH MENDENHALL: The two players that are most reflective right now of the culture that I would really like offensive line-wise, Dillon Reinkensmeyer and Bobby Haskins. Both relatively young, but Bobby is playing a significant amount not only because he’s blocking well, but his mindset.
He likes to play, he likes the physical part of it and he likes to keep blocking guys. He likes to, once he blocks one guy, finds someone else to block.
He usually thanks me after every practice and game for letting him do that. He likes running into people, and he’s grateful that he gets to. It’s kind of nice to be thanked every day.
Q. Obviously one way you can take a linebacker out and put a safety in. We haven’t seen Chris Moore yet.
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, still not healthy. I don’t know, and I haven’t been told yet the exact return day. He’s frustrated. We’re all frustrated that it’s taken this long. Man, there has been a lot of care and assessment going on. Wish I could be more clear of when he’s coming back.
We would love to have him right now. I don’t have a date or time yet.