Virginia Football Media Conference
Monday October 26, 2020
Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Regarding our game against Miami, I really like the competitive spirit of my team. I liked their resilience. I liked how they competed. And I actually think we took a step forward in a lot of directions. I think [quarterback] Brennan [Armstrong] played very well. I like Keytaon [Thompson] as well as Ira’s [Iraken Armstead] contributions as well. We continue to run the ball effectively, and our protection offensively, with our offensive run, is holding and doing well. Defense, our blue zone defense, red zone defense continues to be strong. I thought our offensive effort was effective and limiting points have given us a great chance to win. Areas to improve defensively, containing the quarterback, he was an active player and then a plastering on the routes as they converted down field. That’s a part that hurt us. We had a great chance to win. Still some critical penalties that interfered with the best spurs to win. I was encouraged by what I saw and viewed it as progress.
Q: You’re going to be facing another elite quarterback on Saturday night. The run defense was outstanding the other night, you didn’t give up a lot of yards. In the passing game, was that just a matter of Miami receivers making plays or was that a product of the inexperienced secondary?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: More of the second. Our secondary over the past couple of weeks hasn’t been as consistent in their execution or communication, and so big plays have been more than what we would have liked. And so, execution, execution, execution in the back end will lead to consistency, we just need that to happen sooner rather than later. Some new pieces, but that’s just the way college football works. And so we need to get them caught up to speed and executing at a high level as fast as possible.
Back to the first part [of the question], the run defense has been consistent all year. I think it’s 3.3 yards per carry, which is usually at a pretty elite level in college football. So on that part continues to remain strong.
Q: Rare is the college football program that returns 2000 yard receivers, its top two running backs and its quarterback. Is North Carolina offensively even better than the team you saw last season in Chapel Hill?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So, man when you have returning talent, with that much production, and the system that’s preparing them, certainly. Because of more experience and the chemistry continues and so the amount of points and productivity is more likely to continue, right? That’s why it’s so great to have returning quarterback every year. But then if you happen to have running backs and receivers also, that’s a man it’s a blessing. Rarely does it happen with that number of players coming back. So, yes, I think they’re better. It’s one of the main contributing factors for their success.
Q: To clarify, Saturday night, Grant [Misch] gets called for being ineligibly downfield, but it was because Tony [Poljan] was not lined up properly, is that correct?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, that’s correct. So we had two tight ends on the line of scrimmage. Grant was next to the offensive tackle. Tony was outside of the number one receiver position, but was on the line of scrimmage. And so that covered up Grant. And simply an alignment mistake by a yard. Took a touchdown off the board. And it is a mistake. And it’s totally correctable. But some of those are showing up at really inopportune times for us and I have to help our team prepare at a higher level. Especially in critical moments. Especially down there on the opponent’s end of the field.
Q: Brennan [Armstrong] had mentioned that the team was moving the ball, wasn’t just quite scoring. Would you agree with that assessment against Miami and maybe what were the causes for that?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I think the yards as well as the time of possession, a lot of those things were pretty favorable. Not many big plays. The play to Terrell Jana was probably one of the main big plays in the game. Keytaon had some nice runs. So more methodical. The ground game was working well. The passing game, in terms of short and intermediate but not many significant chunks. And then it’s kind of stalled with, I think, mistakes and penalties, the miscues on our part. I was encouraged there weren’t turnovers. That’s disregarding kind of the last desperation play. So the performance of the defense and lack of turnovers really has been something we’ve been targeting and that got us really close. Then miscues and kind of penalties at the wrong time got in the way of it. So I think the assessment is right. Maybe not taking anything away from Miami but some of our own mistakes kind of got in the way of us having a touchdown taken off the board and then unfortunately we missed a field goal. And so, and that’s more like the game we expected.
Q: [North Carolina head coach] Mack Brown said this morning that they counted 27 tackles that their offensive players broke in their game. What do you see in that dynamic of their offense, the ability to pull out tackles.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, it’s usually ability. What we believe is that really good football players on defense beat blocks and make tackles. An average player makes a tackle when he’s unblocked, but good players big blocks and make tackles. The same thing, I would say, applies offensively. If you’re tackled by one person, you’re an average player, but when you break the first tackle,
then you’re a very good player. And so, that’s a similar standard on the other side. And so, if it was 27 of those that means there’s a lot of good players with the ball in their hands.
Q: What is the challenge of not figuring out how good you are, what you can do, but once you kind of know who you are, what is the challenge of getting a team to be consistent at that level week in and week out.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think what’s happening now is players like Brennan. Players like Billy Kemp. Players like Tony [Poljan]. Players that are touching the ball more frequently now in different roles than maybe what they have before. I would include Lavel Davis, Grant Misch, really most of the ball handlers on offense, other than Wayne [Taulapapa]. What they’re realizing is what it truly takes, the level of preparation, the level of consistency, the level of durability and the level of productivity needed week in and week out to win in the most challenging schedule we’ve ever taken on as a staff down here at UVA. And so, and it can hold for time or a time or three quarters of the time or even longer, but to have it hold all the way through, and manifest week in and week out game in and game out, we’re struggling a little bit more with the consistency and the appreciation for preparation and what it takes to be consistent. And so I think your point is relevant, not only regarding Brennan [Armstrong], but anyone else that happens to have their hands on the ball.
Q: Can you talk about Nick Jackson’s play to date and what you see ahead of him.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Nick Jackson is currently our best defensive football player. In terms of his production, his consistency and how he’s playing. He’s dynamic. He’s fast. He’s assignment sound. He’s an excellent tackler. He’s fast. He’s benefiting by kind of being mentored and tutored by Zane [Zandier]. But our inside linebackers right now have played at the highest level of anyone on our defense. Nick’s jump from last year to this year has been the most significant jump up any player on our team this year. We knew he was consistent. We knew he was solid. We knew what he was capable a year ago. We didn’t know he be as fast, as dynamic and as physical and as good a tackler. And he’s making lots and lots and lots of plays. So I really am impressed.
Q: You were real positive last week about the team’s attitude despite the outcome. Four losses in a row is pretty heavy stuff for your confidence. How do you feel about that this week and what kind of concerns or what kind of things do you look for in a situation like that to see if it’s withering at all?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think it’s a fair question and I really like the chance to approach it. Man, I told the team this morning this, this is one of the toughest things I’ve ever coached. I mean they are so physically tough, but also mentally tough. We talked a week ago, or last week after they came off of Wake Forest. What I’m seeing is the North Carolina State game, I think was the lowest in terms of emotional energy that I’ve seen this team play with. After it kind of built from Duke to Clemson, then it’s it bottomed out, and it kind of caught me by surprise, as I mentioned versus NC State. I saw an intentional increase versus Wake, and another intentional increase versus Miami. And so, man they’re motivated. And they believe they’re a good football team which is really important.
The statistics on the season in relation to opponents, man there’s not much difference. And they realize that there’s some things they have to correct to have the outcome they want, but we’re really not focusing on the outcome, which man, that’s hard for grownups sometimes too, myself included, in an outcome driven business. So we have just a simple mantra right now, and so many in the human performance business. ‘It’s process not outcome.’ That’s how you perform at your best. When outcome is just so ever-present and that’s what you’re kind of measured on. So this has been more, what we’re just calling ‘output not outcome,’ focusing on what you can give every single play, knowing that the outcome will manifest, at some point, it always does and always has in our program. When, I’m not sure. With this particular team this particular year, but the output, like what we can contribute is really where they are. And man I, we had a meeting this morning early and they’re resilient, they’re tough and they’re anxious to play again, which is… I’m really, really encouraged and proud of them, because this is kind of uncharted territory for a group of guys that’s won a lot in the past three years and had expected to and now it’s, it’s been ‘well this isn’t what we expected.’ And it’s harder, but I’m impressed so far. So, through this stretch, I guess is what you’re asking. No signs yet. What I’m looking for body language is a really strong indicator of truth. Not what the words are. But if I’m talking to a player eyes go down. If their eyes are cutting away. If their posture… The words aren’t as powerful as how they’re carrying themselves and when I saw my team this morning, they’re leaning forward, they’re engaged, they’re taking notes. They’re watching closely and vibrant, I guess is the word I’d say. So yeah, I’m proud of him for that because it’s not easy, you know, when you’re having setbacks.
Q: Having Brennan back at quarterback, does that kind of feel like a return to normal for you guys?
BRONCO MEDNENHALL: Oh yeah. We’re a different team with Brennan. The throws he can make, how tough he is when he scrambles, just his leadership style. I watched from the sideline against Miami and this team, this year, went to Miami, as well as going to Clemson and played with more resolve and more consistent spirit than playing Clemson and Miami a year ago. Even though we didn’t have the outcomes that we wanted. Man, I liked this year’s team’s effort and mindset better and I think Brennan has a lot to do with that. So he makes a difference for us, even though it hasn’t shown on the outcome yet.
Q: You talked about the effort defensively, do you kind of see that as a baseline moving forward for what this defense can do and do you see this kind of as a bouncing off point for them?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I think it’s been a mark they’ve been shooting for, in terms of the points especially. It’s a little bit misleading again, in some of those games where the points were high, the points off turnovers has to be acknowledged, not as an excuse, just as a matter of fact, contributor. So this was so positive simply because it’s a high powered offense. They were scoring a lot of points, we were on the road, dynamic players at a lot of different positions, and they found a way to give us a great chance to win. And we found a way not to turn it over, even though we’re giving up some big plays. So it’s still a long ways from playing to the standard that we would like, but it did show a tangible mark with progress. Now, the points down and lack of turnovers and fewer big plays is more likely what we had expected. And that would be more like what we think every ACC game could look like, because there’s so much parity.
Q: When using multiple quarterbacks in a game, what’s the most demanding thing from a coaching perspective in terms of making sure each one of those guys is ready to play at his best.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: There’s only so many repetitions, and the week goes fast. There’s hour limitations, and there’s health restrictions of just trying, how much can you practice, and how much wear and tear can your team take. And each quarterback requires touches. So we’re trying also to make sure that we’re not predictable by identity, when players, you know, are at that position, and there’s enough complimentary plays. We’re maximizing resources, right. We’re looking for every possible way to move the chains, and score points with the resources we have. Quarterback runs are really effective for us right now in terms of yards per carry and moving the chains, being able to throw off of those runs has to happen so we’re not predictable. While we have the core of our offense still developing with Brennan, to make sure that that moves on. So it’s just time and repetition, and that limitation. When you start dividing it, you have to be really careful otherwise, rather than preserving the core of what you’re trying to do you kind of start carving away at that and don’t really have an identity. When the other identities should be complimentary to the main identity. And so that’s the challenge.
Q: The final timeout of the first half, it looked like you call that in hopes of getting some clarifications on the no call, what looked like to be targeting on Terrell Jana. Did they give you any clarification, was that ever called in?
BRONCO MEDNEHALL: Yeah, so I did. I wanted to time, because I thought they missed it. And you know, they’re supposed to look at every one of those plays. And I would say that my competitive spirit got the best of me. I just couldn’t believe that they looked at it, clearly, clearly enough. And so, I had them look at it more.
Q: Any injury updates on Joey Blount or Brenton Nelson for this upcoming game against North Carolina and, can you add anything on missing out on Ryan Swoboda and Darrius Bratton in the game against Miami?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, no injury updates on Joey or Brenton, and probably won’t be until Thursday. And I haven’t been told, man, Mondays. So I don’t meet with the trainer’s usually until later in the day and so this time on Monday I haven’t received any injury updates. So I don’t have anything new to report there.
Q: When Ronnie Walker is able to resume practicing and is able to play in a game, do you expect him to have much of a role, given how much he’s missed and how well, Wayne [Taulapapa] has been running?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: We hope so. And so, Ronnie is eager to come back we’re anxious to have him back and anticipate. his possible return for this week. And, and then just how he looks and time will kind of tell us where he fits. We are encouraged also by how Shane Simpson runs the ball, and we’re still trying to build that right blend of niche between here and Wayne, as well so man our depth at that position will really help. Much like the quarterback position, though, finding the right complements, and the right time to practice and make sure we maximize those resources is something that, we’ll be working on as soon as we can have him back which, again, it looks like it’s going to be this week.
Q: Do you feel like there’s still a home field advantage in some respects in 2020 and if so, what are the benefits of playing at home.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, man. That’s a really good question, and we hadn’t lost at home for so long. Our game against NC State I think that’s another reason it caught me off guard. We’re just kinda used to going in there and we just win. And there’s this energy and there’s this chemistry that almost overtakes you. Yeah, I’m not saying that had a negative effect but when we walked in, when I walked in, it was like whoa. Wow, this doesn’t feel like, I can’t say don’t feel like home, but it doesn’t feel like Scott stadium normally does. So I have noticed at Clemson, they have 20,000 there, I did notice it at Miami. So the presence of fans seems more normal, and it seems more home field-ish, but I can’t say that’s changing the outcome. I don’t know if that answers your question. But we still value being at home. We love being at home. We love being in our own stadium. But to say it’s the same, I don’t think that’s fair because it’s really not. We miss the support, right, and so we’re really focusing on the fourth side which is our own players, because we know there’s another fourth side supporting from afar, but we’re really trying to help that become our advantage as well.
Q: Charles Snowden mentioned that he personally feels like a guy who needs the crowd, or really feeds off it and he thinks it’s affected him. Have you seen specific players like that who are more impacted by having empty seats?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, I haven’t really considered it in depth, but what I can say is there are personalities, on our team where it’s certainly there’s an energy that’s drawn from connection. The extroverted kind of engaging, right, performing. There is a draw, an energy that comes off of that, the more introverted focused, not so much. So there are different personalities, and I can’t say, or speak for my team members but if Charles said that I certainly trust him. And there might be others, it does feel different on game day, and that’s for every team. To me, once the game starts, I really haven’t noticed it as much. But, you know, the players man they know what it’s like. And so, I just haven’t asked them.
Q: Is there any concern on your part of the offensive staff about kind of disrupting Brennan’s rhythm, or you mentioned his leadership and how good you are with him. Just the idea of having him on the sideline, is there concern?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, all those things are in play all the time, the friction point in trying to find the exact right balance. But the run game boost and play action boost we’re getting from KT [Keytaon Thompson], and then some of the things that Ira’s [Armstead] bringing, man, we think they’re really helping us move the football. They’re added weapons and athletes on the field at a time where, yeah, some of the skill players that we have, especially at wideout are a little bit limited or hurt or the depth isn’t quite what it used to be. So yeah, we love Brennan as our quarterback. As you saw, Keytaon got a really nice pass in the game, as well. Ira was on fly sweep or fake fly sweep reverse and so I love the innovation, but not at the expense of Brennan. And there’s no threatening, or there’s no threat to his leadership. The team knows that. He knows that. We all know that, so that part is not really at risk. It’s really trying to have the right or maximize every player on our offense that can help us, have them help us. But you’re accurate in making sure that doesn’t become out of balance, and then affect Brennan, and the core of what we do. So we’re aware of it and working hard to dial it in as tight as we can. I would say it’s still a work in progress, of having the exact identity, just because we didn’t have Brennan for two weeks. And so, but on Saturday. I like the direction, and I thought that first drive we had was masterful, that was as close to how I kind of envision what’s possible. That was the best I’ve seen, but matching what I hoped it would look like, looks like going forward.
Q: Just trying to get an update on Lavel Davis Jr.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah Lavel wasn’t available for the last game and really not at liberty to say how come, and most likely not available for this one as well. It’s nothing punitive. That’s why he was not involved this past week.
Q: How much of a factor was it not having him [Lavel Davis Jr.]?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, it’s a factor because we really like, as you saw our ability to stretch the field vertically, he’s been the most effective player for us doing that. Ra’Shaun Henry stepped up and did a nice job a couple of times for us, and kind of filling in for Lavel. It did affect us for sure.
Q: What do you make of your mix at wide receiver and, you know, how does that factor in when Lavel is out.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: it was fun to see if Hasise [Dubois] develop into who he finally developed into and how competitive and how he made contested catches consistently so that was really his niche, the big play. Joe was so good with the ball after he caught it, you know and kind of had a dynamic player ability. He scored his first touchdown, by the way on Sunday, which was so cool. And then Terrell Jana was kind of a third, you know he was kind of the complementary part. Billy Kemp, who was kind of a role player a year ago has become the leading receiver, Terrell has kind of become the running mate. Right, those two, and then a first year, Lavel Davis, has kind of become the next one. And so, we’re younger, we’re less experienced where we’re kind of less mature as a group. And, and currently less effective as last year’s group. And so we’re trying to catch that group up as fast as possible. But certainly, that’s one of the groups that, the early loss of Dontayvion Wicks that was one of, man, was another dynamic player that really would have helped us. And so we’re really working with Ra’Shaun, we have TK [Tavares Kelly] back and trying to have those roles expand to add to that group currently, as well as Demick Starling. So those three, we’re pushing hard to try to catch up to give us some more depth at those positions.
Q: From what you’ve seen from this offensive line, how pleased are you with what you’re getting right now?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I like them a lot. We’re running the ball effectively and our quarterbacks have time to throw. I mean it just, they are allowing us to be consistent. It doesn’t mean they can’t improve, but I like what I see. As Brennan continues to mature, which he’s been he’s the benefactor, right, because he has more time. The run game options we have are allowing the clock management, our time of possession is good, our efficiency is good. We just need to add some bigger plays, some bigger chunk plays and eliminate some of our mistakes and miscues along the way through penalties. That kind of combination is where we are to take another step forward but man, they’re deep and they’re performing well consistently regarding who we play. There’s very little pressure on our quarterbacks consistently.
Q: Ronnie Walker did lose a number of games a number of weeks while you guys were waiting. Is there an inherent flaw in that system?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: We’re learning about that system. And, again, he was denied twice. And we kept trying to get feedback. Normally twice, I didn’t even know, there happened to be another 30-day period where you can try it again. I didn’t even know that existed and it ended up being as you send in the appeal, the wording, how you list it. Each time we sent it in we said, how come? And presenting the case I’m learning is really important. And it can’t be fabricated, it has to be factual, which we wouldn’t ever fabricate it. Ultimately, to not simplify it, it was almost as if we just finally got the wording right. I think, yes it can be improved, because the intent, and the information was the same from the beginning. But in the meantime, he was waiting, and we were waiting. And yeah I don’t think that’s okay. So that’s what I’ve learned. And that doesn’t mean that’s fair or accurate but that’s my perception of what it seemed to be.