UVA football coach Bronco Mendenhall talks North Carolina

bronco mendenhallCOACH MENDENHALL. I was really encouraged by the nature of our game on Saturday from a complementary football perspective. I thought we started very fast on special teams. The opening kick return by Joe Reed — which was welcomed and we’ve been working hard on that — it was nice to see us have some success there.

The field position created through special teams kickoff return, punt return, as well as some of our coverage units, I think that was the catalyst that allowed us to start fast and get a jump on Duke. Took them a while to recover, but we played cleanly and executed well enough down the stretch to make the critical plays to win.

So in summary, the catalyst and our special teams establishing field position and starting fast helped, and then our execution and consistency helped us close out the game as it went.

So plenty to work on. Another ACC game. So glad to be at home. It makes a difference. Looking forward to playing.

I’ll take questions if you guys have some today.

Q. You obviously like to talk about complementary football. That’s near and dear to your heart. Is that just an example, I mean, each part of the team being invested in the rest of the team?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, and it might have been the best example in quite a long time. When I watched it happening on game day and watched it again, where one side was stacking success off the next side, which was stacking success off the next side, and if there was a deficit there was a comparable effort being made to mitigate whatever the problem was.

So as well as our fourth side, which is our sideline in terms of their investment, so it looked, it was executed, and felt much more like complete football than it has to this point this season.

So I took that as a growth, a step forward in growth that we had taken. Again, it only matters if you continue it, but I thought that was helpful.

Q. You talked a lot this year about the emerging confidence of the team and how it continues to grow and all that. How dangerous is it to look at a North Carolina team that’s won one game as you guys are playing great, got a one-win team coming in here. How dangerous is that.
COACH MENDENHALL: Well, it’s dangerous up until the point where you turn on the film and see them. Then it’s like, Oh, they’re very skilled. The schemes are good. The players are good. When you consider the last two outings not only statistically against Virginia Tech, the way that game went and against Syracuse, they’re certainly capable of beating anyone in our league at any time on any Saturday, and for whatever reason just haven’t quite put the whole thing together yet.

I don’t think there will be any issue whatsoever. I think players will have the same exact response that I had as I turned on the film. It’s like, Okay, another really good team; another ACC opponent. That’s been my takeaway.

Q. We caught a glimpse of the depth in the running back room on Saturday. Can you break down the strength of those second-tier guys, [PK] Kier or [Chris] Sharp and [Lamont] Atkins?
COACH MENDENHALL: So with PK, PK is Jordan Ellis just kind of in a different body. He runs for power. He runs for first downs and he’s tough and durable.

Lamont Atkins is versatile, meaning he can run and catch the ball out of the backfield; a little bit more dynamic than Jordan or PK in terms of the way he’s built and probably for speed.

And Chris Sharp we’ve seen just kind of used his versatility throughout the course of the year. He’s a physical blocker. He catches the ball out of the backfield well and he’s good on the perimeter.

Q. Lamont seems like he’s been on the field a little more than the other guys. He’s been mostly a decoy or a blocker in pass protection. Is it more advanced than the other guys as a pass blocker? What do you see as his role right now?
COACH MENDENHALL: His role is emerging. He would be more of a traditional tailback in most people’s system. More of an every-down type of back. Again, with our intent to have the best 11 players on the field at any time, yeah, Jordan Ellis is hard to take of the field.

Lamont is just kind of biding his time and working hard and looking for opportunities, and wherever he’s scripted he goes in and does the best he can.

Q. You mentioned Jordan. Any update on him?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, so I don’t have the exact update in terms of for play this upcoming Saturday, other than it wasn’t as severe as they thought. They’re hopeful that we’ll have him at full strength Saturday. I’m sure it’ll change every day. Right now we’re hopeful.

Q. Last year just felt like — especially this time of year it was just a race to get to six wins, race to get to bowl eligible; whereas this year you’re sitting at 5-2; next three at home. This opportunity here in front of you, how do you manage that?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, last year’s certainly over, and I don’t see it nor has it really entered my mind as a point of reference. This is a different team, a different season. Our entire focus is on how we play well enough to win our next game.

Our team certainly doesn’t feel — and in visiting with them today, this isn’t to where one more is enough. They’re anxious to see how many and how strong they can finish. I think they’re very determined. I sense just more and more focus and intensity on helping our team continue to improve.

So, yeah, they’re really in the moment right now I would say and very focused and dialed in on how to continue to improve.

Q. Bryce [Perkins] hadn’t had many interception issues until the Miami game. Obviously you won that game. I don’t think you had any turnovers this past Saturday. Talk about what you might have said to him after the Miami game as far as interceptions.
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, didn’t take much. He was talked to pretty forcibly after halftime by Robert [Anae], and that usually does it. It did in this case.

Q. You were talking about the complementary football and how much special teams have contributed to that. How much of a difference has (special teams coordinator) Ricky [Brumfield] made, and does he do anything different than a lot of special teams guys?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, I would say this past week was — I can’t say the first manifestations he’s making a difference because we’ve seen it behind the scenes — but that was the first game this year where I thought all phases of special teams performed in a manner that I think I have both hoped for and expected.

What that ha allowed, having Ricky here, I couldn’t be in the current role I am without Ricky doing that, because that would mean either Kelly [Poppinga] or Nick [Howell] or someone else is doing special teams as well as position coaching, and that workload is too fast too soon. So the ability to add a tenth coach really allowed me to change roles; allowed the defensive staff to function at a higher level because Ricky is here.

Now, in terms of yield, yeah, I push hard. I love the numbers and I want success. We targeted a number of things during the bye week, and that has been the catalyst for improved play, I think, on this past Saturday. Continuing it is everything, but I’m encouraged by some of the changes we made and what the results were.

Q. Speak a little bit to Tim Harris. He made a couple of plays we took note of in this game. If you look back at them, he kind of got beat and recovered. As a coach, how do you evaluate that? The recovery was impressive, but I guess…
COACH MENDENHALL: Sure. I start with the end in mind and I go backwards. Did he make the play or not? If he made the play then there is praise first at a really high level, and then eventually ends up to the correction. If he doesn’t make the play the correction is first.

So Tim, after a slow start this season, continues through practice habits to establish and reestablish a role on this team that will help us. There is still a fierce competition between he and Darrius Bratton, and Darius is playing well. That keeps both of them performing and practicing at a high level, and so I think it’s a great situation.

My ideal for our team would be to have that kind of construct at every position. Eventually we’ll get there.

Q. Bryce Hall is becoming the kind of corner that teams don’t throw at; they kind of avoid. That’s awesome to have. On the flip, does that put more pressure on Darrius and Tim?
COACH MENDENHALL: Sure. Yeah, there is one side that is more consist than the other statistically, and so any time an opponent perceives a weakness and probes it, it will quit being probed when it withstands the probe, right?

If there is weakness as the boundary testing kind of happens, they, yeah, they keep drilling and they keep going. Right now, as the defense continues to play more and more consistently and is really doing well not yielding points, the number of places you can look to generate points is shrinking.

That means that any place that there is vulnerability, man, we are targeting it hopefully before our opponents. That’s part of our job as coaches.

Q. It’s not uncommon in college football for multiple running backs to get carries. You obviously have a lot of confidence in PK. What is it about Jordan that makes him a guy you just kind of want to keep using time and again? Is he better as the game goes on when he has a heavier workload?
COACH MENDENHALL: I’m not sure he’s better as the game goes on; he’s just the same. I think to summarize, he’s just so consist. He’s so fiercely trained condition-wise that he doesn’t get tired. I don’t see the yield or burst or aggression or the competency diminish over the game. If that’s the case, then he just stays in.

Different than sometimes where a player is tapping his helmet, and after a long run he can’t sustain it. Jordan is not like that, so there really hasn’t been a huge reason to substitute mostly because of his preparation and his conditioning.

Q. Bryce Hall and the way he’s grown and emerged; how much work has he put in to get to this point?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, I don’t think you can — I don’t know if I can describe that. He’s in our office every day. The best players that I’ve coached have been in our office every day.

He doesn’t walk through to be seen. He goes in the back way and I usually hear he’s there because someone else tells me he’s there. He’s not there for the sake of appearance or praise. It’s more like he’s going to work. So he goes in the back entrance, slips in the video room, and he’s studying current players, NFL players, opponents film, past BYU film of guys we’ve coach, and he’s studying the upcoming game. He’s very methodical.

His preparation has led to his consistency which has led to his production, and he does it every single week. I think his influence will have a lot to do with the development of our program, especially in the secondary. As the next generation of guys want to know how to be a good football player or how to play early or how to be consistent, all I have to do is just say, Follow him. That really helps.

Q. Has he always been that like?
COACH MENDENHALL: He’s grown into it, and with each successive year I would say more time and more focus. It’s one thing to watch film. It’s another thing to watch it intentionally for things that really make a difference. That’s really where — I would say his time spent has not only increased, but the specificity has also increased.

Q. Talk about the defensive line. Albeit Duke was in predictable passing situations, there were multiple players in the backfield on critical possessions. Can you talk about the process with Coach [Vic] So’oto and what you’re pleased with in the development of that unit?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, just that it’s developing. More than probably any other unit on the field, there is so much volatility on this group. We played basically two players almost the entire game in Eli [Hanback] and Mandy [Alonso], so their workloads were very high. We have specific units for specific personnel, and trying to get the best 11 players on the field not only by circumstance, but in terms of context of the game.

So, yeah, Coach So’oto, Vic, is working around the clock, and it’s development, development, development and trying to find and match the right setting for the right skills in the right situation to get everything out of that group that we can.

Q. Last year you talked about becoming bowl eligible; this year you talked about beating Virginia Tech. Do you talk much about the Coastal Division Championship?
COACH MENDENHALL: We know that our program is being built sequentially. We know that building fortitude in people is our first goal. That means that it’s one of my favorite words and definitions, but those are the kinds of people we want, resilient and courageous and take on hard things and keep doing it.

So that’s the first thing. That usually leads to then enough wins where you not only go to post season, but you win in post season. That then over time — that does not mean that it could not happen this year, but over time that usually leads to a Coastal or an ACC championship normally — not normally, sequentially — and that then usually leads to your ability to knock off an in-state rival who has been to I think 25 straight bowl games.

Then eventually the program becomes and is where we all want it to be. So I would love for that to happen in one year and this year, and I’m not taking anything off the table, but I’m a realist. Right now it’s North Carolina, and the more we focus on that, the closer we become to fulfilling however many of those remaining building blocks we have left.

Q. Bryce’s deep shot to [Ugo] Obasi during the game. Is Obasi guy you would like to integrate more into the offense over the second half of the season, and what does he bring?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, I’ll mention two players at the same time. Both Obasi and Billy Kemp are emerging as players showing up on the scripts more and within the plan more. How they handle that will really determine what their role becomes as the season goes.

The capability of, meaning either athleticism and/or ability and/or work ethic, or collectively, those two players have — especially with Devonte [Cross] moving into the secondary, that now has all come together for those two to have more opportunities to contribute. Whether they do or not now is up to them.

Q. You mentioned Jordan’s status. Joey Blount also seemed like maybe he had a stinger on Saturday. What’s his status going into Saturday’s game?
COACH MENDENHALL: I don’t know the status of Joey at this point, and probably won’t be until Tuesday or Wednesday. I did not hear specifically on him this morning otherwise I would pass that on.

Q. Going back to pass protection by the runningbacks, Jordan and PK are both pretty well-built dudes; Lamont is not built the same way. Is it usually as simple as the bigger kids are better pass blockers, or are there other things that go into that?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, there are other things. Balance I think is really important, and balance with aggression. So bigger doesn’t always mean better. Sometimes bigger guys are lungers and get off balance easily. Aggression with balance are two important things.

I think anything you do that keeps your body between your defender and our quarterback. That takes movement as well enough strength and quickness and aggression to pull that off. So, yeah, it is a difficult skill. It’s a unique talent. Has something to do with size but not everything.

Q. Specifically North Carolina, you mentioned earlier they have people who are capable. Can you talk about what you’ve seen on film? They play two quarterbacks sometimes.
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, so I like the scheme; I like their talent. I think they’re explosive and capable. The same thing on the defensive side. It’s, I think, very good ACC talent with strong coaching and execution within schemes that probably just hasn’t been quite as consistent as they would hope.

But, again, the capability is certainly there. They’re probably just looking for a little more consistency.

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