Virginia Football Media Conference
Monday October 19, 2020
Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Good afternoon, everyone. I am really excited to be back with my team this morning and have a chance to start toward our next opponent. ACC opponents keep rolling through, which is an amazing challenge, but also great motivation for myself, our team and our program. Looking forward to this challenge, looking forward to playing in Miami and, and moving on. So I’ll take whatever questions anyone has.
Q: As you assess where things stand through four games, what is your biggest concern right now? I know you’ve been hit hard at probably the two most important positions on the team.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I don’t have a major concern, or an area of concern. The contributing factors, I would say if you start from the outside in and just look from the record and a results oriented business and trace it, that’s exactly how we played we haven’t made enough plays at the critical times to win. Early downs, balls going over our head or deep down the field for our secondary has been an inconsistency we have to address. Getting our quarterback position solidified, which we had and then having Brennan [Armstrong] go out for the last game and a half, that certainly has been a challenge. And then just the ball security, making sure we hold on to the football. And there really isn’t much more than that other than the time it takes to develop a new quarterback adjust to the rotating parts of injury and/or COVID, and just time and execution. And so, I love my team. I love who they are. I love how they prepare. And yeah, a handful of plays each week are what we need to make to continue to grow and improve our program. But those areas are, I would say a consolidation of where most of our focus is right now.
Q: Do you have an injury update? I know a couple guys in the secondary went out against week. Will Brennan Armstrong and Ronnie Walker be available this weekend?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I don’t know yet. I get a daily report, but the next chance I’ll have to kind of announce or talk through it will probably be Thursday. But no, I don’t have a report. And that’s part of, man, this unique challenge. And so not only COVID-related, you have the normal wear and tear injuries. So, no updates to this point. We’re hopeful for all but I don’t know.
Q: How would you assess the passing attack?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: There’s a lot of factors that go into it. I think part of it is the Brennan [Armstrong] has been out for a game and a half. I think that in kind of compensating with the approach we took last week with different players at that position and a run emphasis, that certainly contributes. So I think it’s one of those statistics where it doesn’t take long to kind of sort out why it looks like that. But our throws downfield to this point, with Lavel Davis has been the primary target, as we’ve seen. There are other opportunities. There are other throws, but just as we’re kind of starting to dial in that identity with Brennan, then he’s been gone. So it’s going to take a little time for those numbers to kind of balance out where they really are, but that’s where they are today for sure.
Q: Could you describe the mood of the team right now?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, there’s resolve. They know they’re capable of more. They’ve experienced more, but they also understand what they need to improve. And they believe that the way to progress in terms of outcome is totally within their control through their assignments and through their execution. And so, again, as I mentioned before, the ball security component, I think 47 points so far off of turnovers against us. And that’s relevant. As well as big plays against our defense, downfield, usually in the throw game right now that has to be more consistent, which is totally correctable. And those two things primarily have a huge influence on outcome. And so again our focus is not so much still on who we play, there is just internal issues and our own execution that have to be cleaned up. And we’re expediting that as fast as possible. And they’re resolute. They’re, I would say driven. They’re focused. And yeah, they’re pretty encouraged, to be honest. And they believe that it’s totally possible to have the same kind of results that they’ve had before. And they just they would like that to happen now. They’re also realizing that Brennan comes back, right? He’s played a game and a half, excuse me two games and about a quarter, and that’s, yeah, they they’re standing by him and want to help and support and anxious to get him back whenever he comes back.
Q: You’ve talked so much in the years you’ve rebuilt this program about unbroken growth. And I know you don’t just measure it by wins and losses, but does it feel like this year is still part of that trend? Does this feel like a potential hiccup?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: No, it feels like a hiccup. Certainly, you know, it feels like there’s been a break. And holy cow, you could you could easily say or attribute to the reasons. I’m not willing to say that. I understand the contributing factors, but to this point, we haven’t started fast. Our record certainly reflects that. I like our culture. I like the direction. I love my team. But our execution certainly isn’t performing or isn’t being demonstrated a level that reflects the next stage after four years. And again, there’s contributing factors, but that it seems like a step back or a hiccup at this point. The rest of the story will be written the rest of this year. Sometimes that happens when you when you put a new quarterback in and you kind of start. We’re still searching for identity with Brennan, and just unfortunate injury. And that doesn’t mean that was the reason we lost the last two games. There’s certainly other factors, but it has been slowed a little bit. The outcome of the year, that’s how it will be measured. But yes, it feels like a step back or a hiccup at this point, just as a collective execution and program, which we’re trying to address as fast as possible.
Q: There was tremendous expectation for the defense because of everybody you bring back and you mentioned there’s still a lot of football ahead of you, but are you disappointed in what you’re getting from that unit?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Not necessarily. I really like our run front, there’s the front seven, there’s it’s 3.6 yards per play, currently. We did have a ball that went out the gate with a missed fit in the Wake Forest game that really hurt us. And you can’t ever take that away. But that would have been, man if you did or if we could, that’s 40-something attempts and about 100 yards total. So our run defenses been stellar at this point. Our inconsistency right now is in our secondary. And that’s our topic and our focus right now. So not disappointed, but more clear on where and if opponent moves the ball where it’s happening. And right now that’s our area to target.
Q: Are you happy with the guys who are the leaders on the team and how they’re handling this? Lindell [Stone] said after the first game he played that you guys clearly weren’t ready. What’s your assessment of that?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So the North Carolina State game would have been the game that he was referring to and it didn’t feel, and I’m talking from an emotional and mental standpoint and it might have been just be coming off of the Clemson game and after our first win where we believed, and possibly were under the influence from outside sources, accepted that we are better than what we were at that time. So I think that took a little bit of an edge off for that game, which is referring to the NC State, but I love my leaders. Both Charles Snowden and Terrell Jana, as well as Richard Burney, they’re just consistent. They’re solid. And they’re resolute. There’s nothing other than just work happening, your targeting areas that need to improve and just pretty matter-of-factly focusing on the things that we have to get better at, and not really acknowledging anything bigger than that. Because these things are pretty tangible, the numbers reflect where the areas to work on are. And that’s just where the team’s mindset is, is they’re looking to me. ‘Where Coach? Where do we need to get better?’ I present that to them and then we go to work on it. In the Wake Forest game, back to your question, I loved our competitive spirit. I loved our energy. I love the support of our team, and quite frankly the execution was pretty solid. I liked how the game was going up until th 23:23 mark, about two minutes in the fourth quarter, then we have three mistakes pretty much in a row and those are all addressable and that’s what we need to do.
Q: You have two pretty daunting opponents next up. Do you worry about how the next two weeks could maybe negatively impact the team psyche if things don’t go well?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think there’s always kind of a fortune telling part, but my man my team is resilient and they’re tough. They’ve been through an amazing journey here already and these guys that have been here the longest, it hasn’t been easy. There hasn’t been anything that’s been easy. We have had continued success and we’ve had continued growth. The bottom line is they know that’s possible. They know what’s likely. They’re just trying to expedite with this team how fast that happens. They don’t know how fast it happened or what happened, nor do I, but they believe it can happen, and that’s a huge part of it. So I don’t see any reason to think they’ll come off of that, especially when they know what they can control that will help us. Having said that, any human being, even grown-ups, there’s a threshold where it’s like ‘how much longer will this be’ or ‘can we’ or ‘will we.’ I Love the part of coaching of developing young people and grit is right at the corner of that. It’s how long will you keep trying. And so that’s one of our focuses. And hopefully that will show regardless of outcome.
Q: Do you worry, how the next two weeks could maybe negatively impact that (the team’s physique) if things don’t go well?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think that, there’s always kind of the fortune telling part. But man, my team is resilient and they’re tough, and they’ve been through an amazing journey here already and these guys that have been here the longest, it hasn’t been easy. There hasn’t been anything that’s been easy. But we have had continued success and we’ve had continued growth so, the bottom line is, they know that’s possible, they know it’s likely, they’re just trying to expedite with this team how fast that happens. They don’t know how fast that will happen, nor do I, but they believe it can happen which that’s a huge part of it. I don’t see any reason to think they’ll come off of that, especially when they know what they can control that will help us. Having said that, any human being, even grown-ups, there’s a threshold where it’s like, ‘how much longer will this be’ or can we or will we. And my job, I love the part of coaching of developing young people and grit is right at the corner of that, is that’s how long will you keep trying. And so that’s one of our focuses anyway and hopefully that will show, regardless of outcome.
Q: You had a lot of guys on defense coming back, a lot of guys on offense coming back. How much more are you okay with how things are going knowing that you have those guys that fall back on and that those guys can be relied on?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I guess the best way is I’m hearing kind of the line of questioning, there’s just resolve there’s no panic, and it’s just really dialing in what are the big issues, what are the small issues that are having an emphasis on the big result that can be worked on by our team. And so they’ve been through this before, and man I know the program is consistent it doesn’t go way up and way down and as a head coach I don’t go way up and way down and so they just, each time I visit with them in the mornings, I just share what it is we can work on and they believe and trust that will help, and then we all know it’s just a matter of time. They control that part I’m talking about, my team, on how quickly they respond, and we get that execution right and sometimes something else shows up. But now after four games, and then with seven remaining of regular season, we’re a third of the way. The sample size is big enough now for the majority of the team, not quite big enough at the quarterback position and Brennan because we haven’t had him for a little time, but they just, they believe, trust and know they’re capable and will have success. They’re just relying on me to help point them in the right direction of the core issues. It’s just workman like is the best way to say it and they’ve been through so much and they just kind of know that’s how it works, and it’s been a while since we haven’t had results show that this early in the season. And so that’s a little bit new, but they reflect this as the outlier rather than normal, you know, so that’s kind of where their mind is I would say.
Q: Do you think it’s really just those individual mistakes or there’s something more underlying there with the mistakes made this year?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: No, it’s just that they’re coming in different areas. Like I said there’s kind of a core area of ball security, but that’s coming from different players, right. Kick return has had two of them on the season which, and those are tough field position things to battle, but our defense is holding the opponent right about at 50% touchdowns in those blue zone turnovers, which is just about right. If you’re saying how would you like it to work out. But the reality is, with a lot of new players touching the ball and different roles, so Billy Kemp, he’s done an amazing job and really been reliable, Terrell Jana. So they have some experience but Billy’s role is bigger Terrell’s role is bigger, and then you add Lavel Davis and then Brennan. On punt return, Perris Jones was our returner, and made a poor decision and unfortunately, that hurt us. But it’s pretty scattered, and it’s a little bit more individual than collective, other than some new faces, new positions and new experiences, all at the same time in pretty contested games and moments, right. My job is to get us to where, man, our execution holds at a higher level, collectively, and so, again, there’s a couple areas that are showing up and that’s what we’re racing to get addressed as fast as possible. And that’s what the team is focusing on.
Q: How different is the preparation for this game than a year ago?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Completely different. This same coordinator was at UConn when we played them a number of years ago, if you remember that. UConn came here. And so, we had done a lot of work for that game, but also preparation in the summertime. And so, it’s completely different from an offensive perspective. It’s very similar from a defensive perspective. And then the personnel, is, is we’re known at a much higher level because they’re on our side of the division. So kind of two of the three main points are known. The third one is known from a different opponent, but now when you add the quarterback into it, that’s a little bit different. But a lot of work has been done in advance, which a lot of teams do in summertime.
Q: Have you and your staff decided how you will handle election week and the mandatory Tuesday day off from practice?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, we’ve acknowledged that as a team. We’ve, man, we’ve had the voting registration service, I’m sure that’s not the official name, but they came, and all of our team had the opportunity to register. So I’ve already chosen to mail in my voting ballot so the team has that option. But that is a core issue that has significant value to us and there are some things certainly that are more important than football. And that’s kind of the priority that we’ll use, but we also are a program of AND, so anytime we can do both, we can do multiple things at the same time but do them in priority. That’s our intent based on principle. So I would like every player on our team to have the exact, have the very best opportunity to have his voice be heard and to cast his vote. And the preparation model can always adjust. Players, man, they’re flexible and resilient and tough and they adapt so fast. So much faster than us older, or me older, I’m not going to tie everyone else into it. But they just kind of matter of factly just acknowledge it and they go, and so the plan isn’t exactly set, but it will be. It’ll be in place by then.
Q: Looking back all the way back to 2009 and BYU, turnovers have been pretty high for your offenses in terms of the national rankings. Is there something philosophically there or design-wise there that needs to be looked at you think?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think so. And I love the reference because the outcome to me is, rarely accidental, to your point. I think we’re designed, and players play as they’re prepared to play, right, and there’s two parts to that. The preparation we give them, and then the preparation kind of commitment they take upon themselves to execute that. So there’s two parts. But that also has to be within an emphasis that the leader is giving and that comes from me. So sometimes the emphasis is there yet, maybe the mechanism how we’re delivering that isn’t the most appropriate way to have it translate. Sometimes its simple as new personnel coming in and out. But either way, to your point, if those numbers are significantly higher than normal over time, certainly it’s an organizational or emphasis thing that has to get better. This is just the next opportunity for us to address it at a higher level, seeing it manifest again and that’s, well, I’ve tried a lot of things in my career and man, plenty of them haven’t worked, and doesn’t mean that there wasn’t emphasis or intent. So I just simply, we haven’t found all the right answers to address that on a yearly basis to give us our best chance. And I’ll keep working on it but, yeah, I certainly believe there’s organizational design and emphasis that contribute. Absolutely, which is my responsibility.
Q: it’s only been 10 months since you were down here (in Miami) for the Orange Bowl and the whole world has obviously changed. How has this changing world changed the perspective of your kids? And I know you’ve always had football in its right place as well, has these times changed your perspective at all on the game?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, they have, and man this could be a long, a long segment. Our players are, right, so they’re not having the typical or ideal college experience right now. Not only ours but anyone. And they literally, for those programs that are following protocols, right, and staying masked and socially distanced and limiting their contact with other people, it’s a pretty lonely existence. So there’s heavy issues with the social injustices that are happening. Then there’s just the reality of the pandemic and then there’s the protocols within an organization. And then there’s this team setting where they really want to be with each other, but they can’t. They miss the camaraderie, they miss just being together, where they’re not in a team meeting or a position meeting or playing the game, right, they’re craving these moments to be together. We go on road games, and the meals are grab-and-go, and no one’s allowed in the room, and they’re following these things and our numbers reflect it from a COVID standpoint, but holy smokes are they missing, you can just see they want to linger, they want to be, they want to just have a college experience. So you have heavy issues weighing, with protocols kind of forcing a little bit of an isolation approach, and then sometimes there’s distortion that happens with that. And then, get ready to play a football game. And I know the world wants just to look at the outcome of the game. But to me, I just, I want them to have success on the field. I’m also working really hard to try to acknowledge what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling and how they might make a difference. And there’s a lot to that, right, and what that truly looks like, and it just, our world shifts really fast to score once you play games, and I totally understand that. Every team wants to win, we do more as much as anyone, but I have more empathy, maybe than I’ve ever had in my life for our players, as I watch them just day-to-day stay to the protocols and remain diligent and be disciplined. I admire them, they’re handling it so well. I really would like to have them have success on the field, just as another reward, right, it’s just for all the other things they’re doing and acknowledging at a really high level. So they have a lot on their plate, and it’s not just our team, it’s all the teams. And I think empathy is the way that it’s manifest most in me. I find myself thinking more about individuals and texting kids at night because they like texting better than phone calls, which is, that’s not my generation, but just thinking about them. I just find myself with names pop into my head and I text him and I name pops into my head and I text him and there’s more of a parental kind of ownership, rather than a business ownership that, I’ve kind of moved that way through all this is would be maybe the main takeaway.
Q: How special and encouraging is it for you personally to see that this team is not giving up and you’re still battling, they still trying to fight to still have a successful season?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I am most gratified by that. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to see them have success. That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss seeing them smash the rock in the locker room and celebrating and just having that moment to reflect and be together. But this past game we started down 14-nothing in no time at all. And they didn’t seem to blink, and they didn’t seem to do anything other than just keep playing harder and supporting each other. And the sideline was noticeably different in terms of their energy and their support and I feel like drawing them closer together and not farther apart. And that’s gratifying to me. Even though we haven’t had much to show for it yet in terms of result. I do pay attention to those things. It matters to me that they’re becoming resolute, that they’re focusing and tha, they’re undeterred. That matters to me and has to remain, right, until our execution and our results comes, and it’s more likely to come if they remain that way. They know that, so I am gratified by that, I’m encouraged and inspired by it. And I’m thankful for it because I get to coach these kids. These guys, they’re amazing. And they’re just more capable than I think any of us could imagine and that the obligation and responsibility I have, to help them. I just I would just love to see them have success sooner rather than later.
Q: As you assessed the quarterback rotation that you had at times this past weekend. Was it as organized as you would have liked it to have been in terms of shuffling guys in and out and different personnel groupings?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: it actually was. And that was the intent, is we thought, what the intent is and being a defensive coach matching up and adjusting to different tempos, different styles even within the same drive. It’s a challenge. And so I thought we did a very strong job of rotating the different players we had within drives and within the game, to use the skill sets that they have to help move the football and keep the opponent off balance. I love the run game results. I love the time of possession results. I love the different kind of approaches that we used. And so, yes it was a chaotic, but it was by design. And I actually endorse that because of being on the other side. Once it becomes rhythmical and once it becomes predictable, I think it’s actually easier to defend. So my answer is I liked it.
Q: We’ve seen Ira [Armstead] play obviously before this weekend, but that was the first time we got a chance to see him throw the ball a little bit the game. How would you assess him over this past weekend?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Really, really like IRA, not only how he’s playing but I like his future. He’s fast, he’s long, he has a really strong arm. He’s smart and driven and motivated and he’s, he’s just young, so I just really encouraged by not only how he handled the week of preparation, the role he was given, but then how he performed during the game. I’m optimistic about him and his future.
Q: Is Brennan still in the concussion protocol now and if he’s not able to go, would it be the same kind of plan at quarterback this coming week in terms of rotating players in and out?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, still deciding, and we don’t know on Brennan yet. Yes he’s still in the concussion protocol, I don’t know when he’ll be released. Nor do I ever know. And it really never is something I even come close to influencing, you know. There is way too much at stake, so I just wait, and whenever they our training staff and the medical community says they’re back then that’s great. So we prepare as if they won’t ever be back and then when they are that’s great. Very well could see a similar approach, if that’s what happens. But again, to go any further would probably not be on the best interest of my team in terms of having something to have to be uncovered on game day, but it’s a possibility you could see something similar.
Q: How valuable it is to have a couple quarterbacks with [Ira] Armstead and [Keytaon] Thompson, who are mobile and how valuable they’ll be in potentially simulating D’Eriq King of Miami?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, it’s a great question and so much of it, also relies on who and what happens with Brennan because you have to split reps. if they’re going to be playing with our offense, then you know they need repetition there, which can’t be then preparing our defense. I’m still sorting that out and that has a lot to do with Brennan’s status. So too early to say, but if we were able to it would really help, because it’s so difficult to adjust in real time to that. having already seen Trevor Lawrence, and even though he’s a different type of runner. He’s fast, and he’s a great athlete. And so that at least gives us a point of reference that’s helpful. Um, this is a different, different quarterback, different style but still really athletic so we have one point of reference how we manage it in practice, we’re still working on that which is kind of what Monday’s are for.
Q: I know [Fentrell] Cypress got some time and Antonio Clary played extensively. Where are those two and the other young DBs in their development?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, really, really coming along well. So I thought Fentrell and Antonio did a really nice job. They’re at the front end of their growth, front end of their development and front end of their experience but it didn’t seem too big for them. Their assignments were sound, their demeanor looked good. They were confident. And so it wasn’t moving too fast and it wasn’t moving too big, if that’s even the right word. It wasn’t too big for them. So they looked prepared and they played like it, so I was encouraged by that. And most likely you’ll see Coen King as well. So he would be another one to have in a similar mix and you’ve already seen D’Angelo [Amos], he’s been playing. So that part of managing injury is normal. When you add the COVID and the three tests, right, that could happen any week so we’re currently down at that spot. When they come back, I don’t know, but I was encouraged by the players that we saw, which I think is to your point. I thought they did a nice job.
Q: How did Thompson handle the increased throwing workload physically and will that continue this week? And then, did you play Charles Snowden a little more to the field and what did you see from him Saturday?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, we did. We use Charles differently and as we continue to keep identifying the identity of this team right 2020’s team, not just 2019 or 18 or 17. We keep trying to find the best place to put each player within the scheme to make the most impact on the game. And so yeah, Charles was moved around more, yes. And that was probably his most productive game so far, not probably, it was. So I was encouraged by that, he was encouraged, it was a nice boost. [Keytaon] He handled it well. In a text, again, because that’s what these kids do right, he told me, he’s a little bit beat up and sore, just wants to win so glad he’s here at UVA. But man, he certainly looked right at home carrying the ball and making decisions. So, from the tackles and hits he took at about seven yards of carry. He probably reflected the type of hits that he took. A little bit sore, but still, ready to go for this week.