Virginia Football Media Conference
Monday October 12, 2020
Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Good afternoon everyone. Glad to be on to a new week. Lots to correct from our last game. After our opener and our game against Clemson, a lot of positive momentum and really optimistic and momentum generating beginning to the season with a lot to build for, and quite frankly, a surprise and I was not happy and disappointed with our performance on Saturday. A lot of mistakes really in every area. We didn’t play well enough to win the football game. And so it caught me and probably my team a little bit off guard after games one and two and where we thought we were and how we performed in that game. And so lots to work on, lots to refocus on and on to the next ACC opponent. So, I’ll be glad to take questions.
Q: What can you tell us about Brennan Armstrong going forward?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So, Brendan suffered a concussion in the game on Saturday, and he’ll have to work through the protocols this week. And from my understanding it is his first and so it’s possible that he could return, be ready for this week. So, it’s really day-by-day as he works through the protocol.
Q: Just curious if you also had an update on Joey Blount and Tavares Kelly?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, Joey should be good to go this week and Tavares Kelly, too early to say. I’ll get an update from the trainers probably tonight, tomorrow. So probably probable is what I would say. If I’m going from a doubtful-probable, probably be the probable category.
Q: Going back to last week, were there any silver linings or positive that you can take away from the performance?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Oh, just Lindell Stone. Lindell did not have many practice reps at all with our offense. He was really working with our defense and helping us in that regard. And just that he came in, and was effective and move the football team, I was encouraged by that. I really liked the execution of our fake punt. There was some play by individual players throughout. Billy Kemp IV continues to perform really well. Lavel Davis Jr. shows up in every game, doing something that seems to make an impact. Terrell Jana remains consistent. De’Vante Cross is playing well, Brenton Nelson is playing well, Nick Grant is playing well, our inside linebackers. There’s a lot of positive things happening. Turnovers and the slow start, especially in the first quarter, are things that we have to get addressed. And I would say special teams overall. Lots of things there to clean up and make better. But certainly, a lot of individual performances. I was just more disappointed with the collective execution and the number of miscues, which really eliminated us from having a chance to win the game.
Q: I don’t think, Shane Simpson was in the game after he lost that fumble or at least he didn’t carry but he appeared to have run well to that point. How does he differ from Wayne (Taulapapa) in the running game?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think Shane has exceptional vision. I think he’s dynamic and he’s very difficult to stop for a non-positive yard play. Meaning, it might not go where the play was designed but if the play – if there’s no hole, Shane has really good vision and he’s done that through so much experience. So, I like him a lot as a running back. I like him as a compliment to Wayne. I like having both backs contribute. After the fumble, he was shaken up a little bit after that play as well. It appears like he will be okay, but that was part of the reason.
Q: You mention Brennan [Armstrong] could be back for this weekend but given the little bit of uncertainty, what is kind of the breakdown in terms of Lindell (Stone) taking snaps with the first team this week? How is that going to kind of work?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, Lindell is our quarterback. So if Brennan can’t go then Lindell is next. We’ll be going day-by-day with Brennan, but in the meantime preparing Lindell.
Q: How much do you have to change the offense? I know Lindell is not, obviously, as mobile of a quarterback as Brennan is or Bryce Perkins was. It looked like y’all leaned a little bit more pass heavy when he was in the game. Is that just kind of what suits his style best?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It suits his style best but really we were playing from behind. And, you know, we were within 10 points or two scores until the batted ball that was returned for a touchdown and then that led to all throwing. So, it suits his style but that doesn’t mean that’s all we’ll do; however, the nature of the game, kind of just led to that’s what we had to do.
Q: When you guys were evaluating whether or not to bring Shane (Simpson) in, how much research did you have to do about the bad injury he had last year at Towson and how would you say he’s bounced back from that?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: We did a lot of research and we wanted it to be a great experience for him and us. Which means when you’re considering a graduate transfer, they need to be needed, meaning you need to have a need for them to play. And that’s fulfilling to not only the team but the individual. But that also has to be researched thoroughly as to fit and performance and health. And so we did a lot of work on that and to this point he’s done really well. Early in the week, he is stiff and sore and as the week goes on he becomes more fresh and healthy. And so we’re learning to manage just what that’s like for him, coming off the injury and getting ready for each week. And then still trying to find the right amount of volume and the right compliment, for him and Wayne (Taulapapa) as we’re still early in the season.
Q: You kind of listed a number of things that you’re happy with in terms of guys playing well, position groups playing well, conspicuous in their absence, I thought, was the outside linebackers. How would you evaluate that position and just the pass rush in general that you’re getting?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So the pass rush I was really excited with. It seemed right on track in game one. Game two, a lesser, but still effective. And North Carolina State’s quarterback was hit a lot, but not sacked. Pitt also had trouble sacking him the week before so their (NC State) protection held. Our outside backers have to be more productive. That’s just where we are. Our defense thrives on production from those two positions, and to this point, while they’re both playing solidly and capably, the impact on the game isn’t to the level that we would like it to be, what we expected to be. So we need more production I guess is probably the bottom line there.
Q: In understanding what you were explaining with Lindell on his style versus, you know, Bryce or Brennan. The way he plays the game, is there more of an emphasis to run the ball successfully with the running back if is Lindell your quarterback?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, it has to happen. In the game last week, quite frankly, with the percentage of drop eight that North Carolina State did, which was a high, high, high percentage, both teams have to pay through getting the ball run against them, to not be able just to drop eight consistently. And so our effectiveness in running the ball kind of caught me by surprise because I really thought we’d done a nice job in the first two games. Again, yeah, surprised that we didn’t, couldn’t or, or just weren’t effective in doing it. So yeah that would help in terms of Lindell’s play and the offensive production overall.
Q: You mentioned the slow starts, you guys have trailed by at least 10 in every game. How much does that change what you’re doing? When you fall behind like, can you tell me the kind of difference in the team’s psyche?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: We actually addressed it this morning. To be clear, we’ve been outscored 34-to-nothing in the first quarter this year. That’s atypical for teams that I’ve coached, but we’re winning the second and fourth quarter. And so, what’s happening, for whatever reason – and we started to address it last week in practice that was kind of a theory, but it kept going – is we’re playing with more urgency and more focus once we’re behind. It can’t take us to be behind to play with that urgency and focus. Certainly, we’re demonstrating capability because we’re doing so in the second and fourth quarters. The biggest discrepancy is in quarter one. And so, it might be inexperience at quarterback and just facing the different looks and getting acclimated. There might be other factors as well, but it’s making it difficult right from the beginning to have the kind of start that we want. So, we’re addressing it and considering the best ways to address it moving forward.
Q: It seemed like one of those interceptions he [Armstrong] threw was, was god awful, but it seemed like maybe the receiver ran the wrong route. Is that a fair assessment?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s a fair assessment. Yeah. Both are fair assessments. It obviously looks worse when the receiver and quarterback aren’t on the same page. So it was one of those where, when the receiver was coming off, both hands were up and pointing and, so miscommunication, which usually looks a lot worse on the quarterback. But yeah, there was confusion on the route.
Q: Did anybody give you any suggestions to help him start faster?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: You know, we have we have some good ideas. It started last week. We’ll continue on that and hopefully, they’ll gain traction here. Traction takes repetition. But I feel like we have some good ideas and rather not share, but hopefully it’ll manifest at some point and you’ll say, ‘man, it looks like those work’.
Q: Carlos Basham is a local kid from here in Roanoke. What do you know about him? What challenges does this Wake Forest defensive front present to you guys?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, still pretty early and just right off the top of my head, I don’t know much about him. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t or didn’t at one time, and just kind of drawing a blank right now. I think Wake Forest collectively as a football team is really, really well coached. I think they’re so methodical in their design. I think they’re so clear on their identity. I think there’s a purpose for everything that they do, not only as a football team, but in the setting they are at Wake Forest. I think it makes complete sense. So I just, I think their program model is architected, designed and coached really well from Dave [Clawson] and his staff. So I’m just impressed with their use of resources and, and the way they go about running a program with the schemes especially that they used, including their defense.
Q: When teams max protect like, NC State did the other day, how does that impact the way you play defense? Is it business as usual? Or do you have to come up with some different stuff?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: You know, so there’s different tempos of defense, right. There’s kind of, for lack of a better word, the everyday tempo or every play tempo, which is your base. Obviously, to get to the two minute there’s kind of a prevent tempo. There’s then zone pressures, which is somewhere between your base and man pressures, and then all-out blitz. And so there’s different tempos. And dropping eight is somewhere between base and prevent. So anytime that you start getting heavy, heavy protection, then the different tempos have to be blended to account for that. So it’s a great feeling to have max protection and only three rushers because then the offense has limited resources going out. And there’s all kinds of defenders down field. And so yeah, just blending the different tempos versus the protection is something we need to keep doing and doing more effectively.
Q: Scoring is up markedly in the ACC, around the country, even in the NFL. Do you attribute that maybe to virus issues and the truncated training camps that everybody went through? And does it surprise you?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: And that’s been on my mind a lot. I don’t know how much to attribute to the virus, but I think some and I’ll say from our own experience, it wasn’t a normal fall camp. It hasn’t been a normal spring, it wasn’t a normal summer. And so a lot of the culture and extra training and kind of that fierce conditioning and edge, that you have the time to do an additional scheme just didn’t seem to fit. I think that it might not be only schematic, it might be cultural and conditioning are also contributing. And then I also think, wow, the nature of the game, and who’s playing quarterback, and how it’s being spread out. That was already happening. But I think it’s been exponentially influenced by the setting and the circumstances and we feel that as a team as well. And there were the choices we made along the way of do we get ready schematically, or how long can we do cultural things and we’re going to play a game or are we going to play a game and so all the normal kind of sequential building wasn’t normal. So I think the cultural and an effort and conditioning, mental and physical, for defensive players was different and is different and could possibly have been affected, in addition to the nature of how offenses are becoming more dynamic. So I think it’s both.
Q: I noticed Keytaon [Thompson] has a big giant or between him and Tavares [Kelly Jr.] at the WR-H position. I know he played this past weekend, is it safe to assume that he has officially changed positions? And if so, what is it that has transpired at the quarterback position to precipitate that move? Is it just the fact that things haven’t quite worked out for him? Or is it Lindell’s [Stone] progress that sort of created an opportunity to put Keytaon elsewhere? Or what’s the what’s the deal there?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: When Keytaon first came in, he was really impressive at quarterback. And wow, on any given day between him and Brennan, it was close. But very, very early on he had a shoulder injury that was aggravated and that really precluded him from being able to play that position, effectively at that time. But he also was a great athlete, and we wanted to have hope, hopefully, him have a great experience and us find a place for him. So it really wasn’t his performance. It was more of an early shoulder injury that was the reason for the move. We really liked what he was doing a quarterback to start.
Q: To follow up about the outside linebackers. You said more production. But looking at the pro football focus grades, Noah Taylor is in coverage more than he is pass rush. I think Charles Snowden only played 38 snaps this past weekend. So, when you say production, what are you targeting, specifically?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, it’s a really good point. So after games one and two. We felt like Charles needed a little bit more rest. And in terms of the season coming, it just, the volume we were putting on him as well as special teams and how hard he practices, it looked like he was gonna lose ground rather than gain ground over the course of the year. So that’s why. It wasn’t his performance that didn’t have him playing more. We just have to manage him and his workload because he tries so hard. And then yeah, with some of the injuries, with Joey Blount, then Noah Taylor is a very versatile player. And so that then had him become a secondary-ish type of player last week more than a rush player. And that influenced his production up front. So those are contributing factors. When you put them with games, one and two, we just think collectively, those two positions can and need to be at a higher level. And we also can use them differently. And last week, again, for different reasons that I just shared, it kind of got in the way of the production as well. So really good question. I appreciate the chance to explain them.
Q: You had Bryce Perkins the past two years and Lindell wasn’t going to get much time. How surprised Were you with his performance the other day?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, so not surprised, nor was our team. Lindell is, he wants to be a coach. And quite frankly, he knows the offense as good or better than any of us. And he sees it in real time. He understands it in real time. He’s a very fast decision maker, he understands coverage so quickly, understands the pre-snap and maximizes his resources. So going against our defense last week, which was most of his preparation, he’s throwing and completing balls and putting it in the right place all the time, which frustrates our defensive backs like crazy. And so really none of them were surprised to see him, you know, execute the way he did. And really, that was without hardly any preparation with our offense last week.
Q: On the punt that got blocked, was that a missed assignment by a blocker or did Nash [Griffin] get it off slow? And kind of an unrelated note, just how would you assess overall special teams three games into the season?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It was a missed assignment. The operation time was fine. What was even more frustrating is the punt wasn’t, they did not have a punt block on, it was just a return. They had two edge rushers, but one of the edge rushers, there was an assignment mistake on that edge rusher, and he came hard enough to block it. The ones they actually came after, where they tried to block it, they didn’t get any pressure. And surprisingly enough, the one they don’t come after, we have an assignment mistake. So I think our special teams have been poor collectively, where our kick return is not close to where it was a year ago. I was really happy with our punt fake. And really like our punter and our field goal kicker. So that part is strong, but our coverage units and are they really changing the game? Yeah, we just need to be significantly better in all phases. So I think we’re off to a slow start with our special teams collectively, and that’s affecting field position right now.
Q: As you go through your coaching career, how has this [mental health] been something that you’ve had to learn to look out for with your players, your guys, something you’ve talked to your coaches about. How has learning about mental health and student-athletes been an education for you?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Hmm, well, this could take a whole show. Yeah it is not just student-athletes that struggle with mental health, grown-ups do as well. And in a stressful and visible position, like I have, I understand it. I’ve kind of made it one of my life’s works to learn and study and try to understand that at a higher level, for a lot of different reasons. That has endeared that topic to me. And has allowed me to have dialogue with players in a manner that I think is safe and non-threatening and that I’m fairly well prepared for to help them understand and to work through. With COVID it has increased the challenge. So social media is, I think negatively and adversely affects mental health. Human connection is absolutely necessary. Um, man, exercise and medication certainly help, but there’s so many things on a daily basis that can be done in terms of best practices, that kind of add vibrancy and a different mindset. The world of cognitive therapy really intrigues me, kind of act your way into thinking, because normally those that are depressed don’t feel like doing much and that’s just really the opposite of what is helpful. And so, yeah, you’ve hit a topic that I, I care a lot about, and, so much of the approach around the country or the world or families is, you know, just suck it up or just get over it. That, that makes zero sense, nor is it possible just to suck it up and get over it. It takes a lot of work, a lifetime worth of work and focus and education and diligence. I’m glad to help any of my players that, come to me or that I see signs of, and I reach out to them.
Q: I know a lot of people are asking about the pass rush but just wanted to get your thoughts on the secondary so far. I know cornerback was a big question who was going to be starting at those two positions this year? What have you made at the secondary so far?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, our corner play is very, very good. I like our corner play through three games. Brenton Nelson is also performing really well. When Joey Blount has played, probably has been the highest, most productive level performer on our defense. Then the next defensive back in the rotation at this point is DeAngelo Amos, our transfer from JMU. And he’s acclimating to our system, this level of play and learning and growing in trial by fire. So, collectively strong, occasional breakdowns here or there with DeAngelo kind of growing and learning on the run while Joey is a recovering.
Q: Matt Gahm is a player that doesn’t make a lot of headlines at times here but it seems like you guys have always had a high confidence level in him. What do you like about him and what is his skill set?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah really, it’s accurate. I don’t like, I love Matt Gahm. He has the same mindset as Chris Peace. His motor just runs all the time. He’s an effective pass rusher. He’s 100 percent reliable, and he plays on special teams and he’s tough. And so we have zero hesitation putting him in the game at any time and we’re using him to spell Charles. And Elliott Brown is also a player that’s confidence is growing and so between Noah and Elliot and Matt and Charles, that gives us a better chance to have possibly production increase, fresh bodies and to go the long term of the season. And so that’s where we are going into week four.
Q: When you look at this Wake Forest team, what do you see offensively from them?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well first it’s a very unique style. The really kind of slow and methodical zone reads really requires discipline for all front, seven defenders to maintain and hold in their gaps and the first time someone becomes undisciplined or pokes their head on the opposite side, the ball is given and the ball goes there. Really it can go anywhere. And then right as a run-front becomes more aggressive, then the RPO game opens up and so then there’s occasional shots on the outside. It’s just a very well designed and intentional and methodical system for them that yields, in a lot of cases a lot of points, which those things usually don’t go together, so it’s very unique.
Q: How much after how poorly that game started was him [Lindell Stone] coming in and not batting an eye, was that maybe a settling factor because you have a lot of new guys on offense besides the o-line.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, it was a settling factor and what I have on my side in terms of negotiations is he’s still a student and the name, image and likeness hasn’t passed yet so he has to go through the graduate assistant route, possibly an intern then we will talk assistant coach status, but it buys me a little time.
Q: Could you also address Wake Forest’s defense and what impresses you about them.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I just met with our offensive staff and it’s as sound of scheme and as well-coached a defense that I’ve ever seen. So, everything is done for a reason and complements something else. It looks similar but isn’t similar, and it’s just very well designed. They staffed it well with their personnel. But I like the design. I like seeing coaches that are intentional about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it and the different traps they lay. And I just think that, again, Dave Clawson and the staff at Wake Forest, they’ve designed great systems for their school and their players that compliment defense, to offense to special teams that gives them their best chance to win. And I think the design is where it starts, then I think their personnel that is the second part of why I think they’re effective.
Q: Didn’t see Bobby Haskin in on Saturday, did he have a setback or is he still continuing to get stronger?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: He is still getting stronger and that will certainly change. Practice certainly influences that, but not quite as far or as fast as we were thinking but growing in capacity daily. So I think that will look significantly this week just as I am watching.