Virginia Football Media Conference
Monday November 9, 2020
Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It was nice to have a break actually, even though we were expecting our bye week to be this weekend. We received, or basically we executed, kind of a mini bye week. A subtle change in routine. A couple days off. A little bit of a break for our players. A chance for them to enjoy just watching college football and having a really nice weekend in Charlottesville with beautiful weather. Just a moment to pause, reflect on the first part of the season and to prepare for the second part. So I think it ended up working out well, even though it wasn’t a full break. It was a partial break. They’ve been going for a long time, so it was a nice, just alteration in the routine. We’ll begin again this evening with meetings and then we’ll start practice tomorrow as it would be a regular game week. I’, anxious to move forward. So having the chance to give an update on what we accomplished during the week, or during the abbreviated time off, I thought that was maybe important to share before I took questions. So I’ll answer whatever it is you have.
Q: The injuries in the secondary particularly to Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson have forced some other guys into bigger roles, including Antonio Clary going into the season. Given that Antonio missed most of last year with the injury, how were you hoping to use him? And how do you think he’s done in this in this role?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I was hopeful that Antonio would actually have more time to recover, become completely healthy, learn and grow as an understudy to either Brenton or Joey. That just wasn’t possible. So with those injuries, and his recovery, and recovering status, man, he’s really smart. He understands the game really well. He’s a capable tackler. He has a really strong sense of competence. His football IQ, which is kind of a catch term, I think is really high. And so it’s just a matter now of gaining experience and becoming completely healthy. And so to this point, I think he’s done a really nice job all things considered. And you match him with the D’Angelo [Amos] and how he’s coming along as well as Coen King. Those three have kind of become the workforce that is now replacing the secondary players that got hurt.
Q: What is the status of the Louisville game?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I haven’t had any communication directly but, Dr. (John) MacKnight has. The conference office has. Kelly Pugh our trainer has. Our athletic director Carla Williams has. So there’s really been nothing between Scott and myself, nor does there really need to be. But at the other levels, there have been the exchanges and so the game at this point is on, as if it was just a regular ACC game. The reality is, they’ve had additional staff test positive, but their testing over the weekend allows them to move forward as if it’s like any of the rest of us that are getting ready to play a game. So that obviously is the regular testing Monday Wednesday Friday will have the normal bearing as it does on anyone, but there’s nothing now in the way of us playing that would have been in place that atypical in regards to just what the season looks like. So, both teams are anticipating playing now.
Q: How important are all of the transfers from JMU that you added to the roster in the off season?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Wow. Essential. And not only our two JMU transfers. Adeeb [Atariwa] is playing really well in the defensive line and is just getting quality plays and quality minutes and that’s been critical, as well as the D’Angelo [Amos] which we’ve seen. But then you add Keytaon [Thompson] into the mix and Ra’Shaun Henry into the mix. You add Shane Simpson, Tony Poljan. When you start naming those names, they’re becoming kind of the core of this year’s team in a lot of different ways. So I think we did a nice job of assessing positions of need and depth and possible volatility. And they’re helping our program. And now they’re seasoned. They’re immersed within our culture, even though it hasn’t been an entire year. And we’ve packed a lot of stuff into this season. And this onboarding process and the challenges through COVID. So I think they’re doing really well and I think really poised to continue down the stretch for us. Back to specifically the JMU transfers – vital. We would really be hurting without them at those two positions with limited depth.
Q: What were your impressions of Billy Kemp when you recruited him, and how much of a revelation has he been since then?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I was the primary advocate for Billy Kemp, meaning that he came to our camp. And I saw him play defensive back, and then I saw him play receiver. And then when he wasn’t playing receiver, he was hopping over and then covering the receivers and covering them better than the defensive backs that were there on that day. And then I looked up and I saw him over there catching punts. And then he jumped back in at receiver. He got more repetitions than any other player in the entire camp. You just simply couldn’t keep him out of the work. And he was making more plays than anyone else. And, yeah, I think the staff had concern possibly about the measurables – how tall, how truly fast. Basically it was my call. And Robert [Anae] ended up endorsing that or, or not merely endorsing but agreeing with. He was a really good football player. And so, I’m not surprised with how he’s performing because we saw that in person. But adjusting to college in terms of all the other things of structure and classwork and accountability within a program’s culture. That’s the part that really I’ve seen the biggest growth and development. Billy is, I would argue, probably been the most productive offensive player from the beginning of the season to now. He really has done a nice job so I’ve been happy with them.
Q: Did you watch much football this weekend?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So I did for, for the first time. ‘Much’ is a subjective term. I watched a couple of games. I’d prefer to be outside. My wife and I, we call it ‘work therapy’ for me. I’m just happier when I’m out working, and she’s happier when I’m out working. So that’s what I do most of the time. But we did watch some games together. I don’t watch the NFL much but we did watch some college games. I was intrigued just with the ACC. So I watched a couple of those games, not all of them, but some of those games. I did watch the entire Notre Dame/Clemson game which might be the first complete college game I’ve watched in years. And what a great game!
Q: Is that a good thing for the ACC what happened in that game [Notre Dame/Clemson]?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Clemson has been so dominant. I think parity is valuable. And I think that change is necessary. And I think growth happens through both of those things. I think there’s a lot in that game that can be said. Quarterbacks matter. There is no position that matters more in the game of football than the quarterback position. Notre Dame’s quarterback was very competitive and really showed a lot of competitive greatness, which is just being at your best when your best was needed. I was really impressed with Clemson’s young quarterback. That was his second start. It wasn’t Trevor Lawrence, however, right? That’s part of this season. As part of any season is what does your succession planning look like at that position. I think Notre Dame probably learned a lot as to how many fans you let in the stadium and what that looks like in a pandemic. So there’s lots of things that one game probably encapsulated into this season of pandemic. Injuries and matchups. And I also think for Notre Dame, and I can’t speak for them, but if it, for instance, became a member of the league, and we’re on the coastal side. Then, you know there’s an amazing kind of intrigue now, and maybe even a higher level than what there already, is with the league that I think is growing maturing, expanding and becoming more and more representative of an elite level college football. So I see a lot of value in it. But again, I can’t speak for Notre Dame, and nor do I understand all of their issues.
Q: You described last week how you use metrics in terms of when to go one fourth down when not to. Are you similarly, based in in data when it comes to game management clock management. When to use time outs and how difficult is that process during just the normal chaos of a game?
Q: Do you have anyone upstairs who talks to you about timeouts before you call one and have you ever had difficulty getting an official to hear you say, I want timeout.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I haven’t had any issues with the officials. Jason Beck, whose pulse stays about 38 regardless of like an apocalypse, he helps with timeout management and he’s very data oriented. He communicates with our analysts upstairs. So you’ll see him a lot of times, come to me on the sidelines, he’s on the sideline as well. That’s what we’re talking about. I trust him to be monitoring and managing that and being objective source of information, in addition to what I’m seeing. And so he owns that process. And then I end up making the call.
Q: You talked a little bit about the defensive backs last week saying that you hoped you wish that they had a little bit more time to get healthy. How did this kind of unexpected by week help allow you to get healthy not only there but across the field?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I don’t think it’s gonna be enough time. Again, we haven’t practiced yet, so it will help some, but it won’t help completely. But that’s okay. We’ve kind of accounted for that. And again, I don’t know exactly when we’ll return to full strength back there, nor can it be our primary focus, so we’re working hard to develop, grow, learn, expand and execute at a higher level with our existing roster. And then just whenever other players come back that just becomes a bonus. But in relation to your first question, it’s probably not enough time for that to happen for this upcoming game.
Q: Is there a negative with the unexpected bye week last week in losing this week of rest?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I think there’s probably positives and negatives for any team that has the bye week or modified bye week, or game canceled. For us that’s probably one of them. But there’s some other benefits as well. And it really is what you make it with your team. And so, I think, I think it was helpful from, if nothing else, just from a routine break or freshness and then return to play for the final stretch. As few days as it was, it still helped. And so I’m going to focus on that.
Q: You talked a little bit about the transfers. I know its kind of a tight turnaround especially with the D’Angelo [Amos] and Adeeb [Atawira] when they came into camp, about how much do you get to know these guys especially focusing on the D’Angelo? How much did you get to know about him before he got to UVA?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: The grad transfers, they’re making a decision on a fast timeframe as are we. I just frame it for them really clearly. We don’t even frame it as recruiting. I use the term ‘self-selection’. This is what we are. This is what our need is. I hope they do the same. This is what I am. This is what I’m looking for. And then if everything is open, then it gives you your best chance, at least the start. And then there’s a discovery process that happens after that. But in all these cases so far, though I can’t say it’s perfect, I think those are transfers are having a good experience they’re contributing at a high level. They fit well into our culture. They’re not selfish. They’re team oriented, and they’re contributing. Playing is more fun than watching. So that’s a critical part when I invite one of them to come to our program or ask them. I’ve assessed that we need them, and they’ll play. And that’s more fulfilling, especially in their stage of their career. I think so far so good, and maybe even better than what we could have imagined. And with more to come. And they’re all needed and they’re all showing that they contributed well, or contributing at a high level, which is I think good for everyone.
Q: During that process with the grad transfers, this year’s specifically, is that a Zoom conversation with them that you sort of just try to go through what the program is about how does what does that sort of look like?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So the position coaches start the process. They do all the background work, and when they think the prospect and the relationship has been vetted or is promising enough, then I’m called into it. So I don’t get involved until it looks like this could go. And then I kind of come in and do additional vetting. And I assess the film as well. I’d love to say that’s not the most important thing, but it is. They’re coming into play football, first. We have a need on the football field. And then immediately it goes to the academics and character part. Because who wants to be with people you don’t like every day. I just have quick conversations like we’re having and if they’re bright and engaging and motivated and it seems like that would be a great relationship, then ultimately, I sign off on it. But there’s not much time and it’s more than a first date but not much more than a first date is kind of how it is with a lot at stake. So, yeah, that’s how I frame it.
Q: When you watched Clemson/Notre Dame, are you able to watch that as a college football fan or do you find yourself sort of dissecting scheme and things like that when you watch?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s the second and my wife, it’s just so frustrating to her. So we have a rule and I don’t even know if I should share this, but I’m going to. When we watch the games, we have the announcers turned off. Because, how I react to them and what they were seeing and what I think is accurate really doesn’t match most of the time. She just turns the volume off. It happened before, when my family is watching games of ours where I was the coach, and they might have said things that were more inflating or more degrading than what my wife thought, and so we just don’t have the volume on. So when friends come over to watch, which we don’t have friends that come over to watch but if they did, they’d be wondering why are we not having the volume on, but that’s why. So it starts with how I was being talked about over on my career, but now it’s if I am ever home to watch a game, which isn’t much but when I do my wife, Holly, can’t stand what I say back to the commentators who can’t hear me anyway on how inaccurate the comment was, they just made. So we turn the volume off.