Virginia Football Media Conference
Tuesday, November 3, 2020
Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall
BRONCO MENDENHALL: We’ve had an altered schedule this week that you probably already know about but if not, I’ll detail it quickly for you. No athletically related activities are allowed today, as the nation is voting, and the election is happening. So there’s no lifting, no position meetings, no practice that are happening today. As a result of that, we altered our schedule yesterday, which was Monday, and we practiced last night after a full day of preparation at approximately the same time the game would be. So that’s how we handled it. That basically gave us the one practice that we would have had today, and we did that yesterday. Then we’ll be back on track tomorrow. We’ve encouraged and done everything we know how to do to make sure all of the team members have a chance to vote. Coach [Marques] Hagans did a really nice job of leading an initiative and having the voter registration organizations come to our football facility, and everyone that certainly wants to will have every opportunity to vote today. But also, they’re getting kind of a just a nice break in schedule, and a little bit of an alteration as you know there’s a pretty simple message that, change in medium breaks the tedium. So even though this is a very important day, the players are also getting just a little reprieve from their normal schedule, which I think is a great thing. In regard to our win, I’m really happy for our team, our coaches, everyone associated with the program. I was really impressed with how hard our team fought, how long they fought, the collective effort and looking forward to working hard to try to accomplish that, again, against another ACC opponent, where again parity exists and just a handful of plays seems to determine outcome of every game regardless of what game it is. So with that, I’ll be glad to just address whatever questions anyone has.
I mentioned that I would bring up, Richard Burney after the game. Richard is done for the season with a health injury. Our team has been saddened by that. He was elected to be the player that chose his jersey first, team captain, got an extra year of eligibility granted, has overcome so much adversity and an injury sustained or health related injury really, after the Miami game is what led to this. So, again he won’t be with the team in an active way through the remainder of this season. He will be back with us, and hopefully on the sideline or just around, as soon as possible. So that was the announcement.
Q: Fourth down conversions, I think you’re 14 of 20 this fall. When you make a decision to go for it is that more gut-feel or more analytics based?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: More analytics based. We’ve worked really hard and some UVA students have actually helped us, as we’ve crafted our own, basically, choice scenario guide and really at different parts on the field. I then become more aware of, I’m likely to think four down territory here. And so what happens is on the headset I’m asking a pretty simple question ‘what does the book say,’ and the book will say something like, and that takes into account the time in the game, the deficit or the advantage we have, and about every bit of information we could pack into it, and it might say something like, ‘don’t go for it or fourth-and-eight or less, or fourth-and-two or less’ so it’s not only whether to go or not it’s within what yardage. I consult that, but I don’t defer to it. So, there are times where my intuition will say,’ I don’t think so,’ or other times, we’re gonna do it regardless of the book. So primarily the analytics with a little sprinkle of intuition, if it was a recipe is the way I would say.
Q: A challenging first half of the schedule, getting through that is there any sense of relief? And then also sort of going off the that. Do you talk to your team about sort of being a bowl caliber team, even though that eligibility is already there?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So kind of just in order of your questions. We really didn’t acknowledge the beginning being tougher or easier. I keep using the word parity but that’s how I see it. I’ve seen all the teams that we’ve played on film and I’ve seen all the teams we’re going to play. I really just don’t see much difference. If you watch them you wouldn’t know, sometimes I scroll to the end to see what the score was because when I’m watching it’s like ‘who’s gonna win this?’ And so I just I think it’s a trap to consider we played all the good teams or we had this really hard stretch. It just seems like, again, with a handful of plays any of these games could have gone any direction. So, I just see the next part of our schedule, I really don’t see it, and I know the analytics, or the results might speak differently to that but when I watch the teams play, I just don’t see that big a difference. So, it is just simply as cliché based as possible. It is really just this week, and this opponent and however we can get our team prepared to make enough plays to win the game. I think they’re all going to be fourth quarter-ish back-and-forthers that you’re just not quite sure, but you have to make the critical plays to win. In regard to the bowl component of it, we haven’t addressed that. We do know, and I have talked about what the world thinks. As you probably, I might have said or might not have said out loud, I really don’t think the polls matter until after about game eight. The rest is, I guess, fun for those that aren’t in the business. But there’s zero reality, no that’s an exaggeration, there’s a small amount of reality but the rest, is nobody knows. So after you play about eight games, the accuracy increases and it’s like, okay, yeah I could see where that would happen. So, we’re just trying to improve our football team, trying to have a magical experience and finish for this team. And then after all that we’ll see. But if the world thought, or thinks, Clemson was one, if the world thinks or thought Miami was 13, if the world thinks or thought North Carolina was 15, I think we’ve measured pretty favorably and battled tooth and nail in all those. But the body of work, the entire body of work, will be the answer, and we’re about halfway so I’m just gonna leave it there.
Q: What do you think of the depth of the defensive line now?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, we’re, thin there, as big as Ben smiley is currently out with an injury as well. We have five healthy defensive linemen that we had for last game. So, we are thin. However, many teams have issues at different positions, either COVID or health related. I’m only acknowledging it because I’m asked right now. We just know what it is and what it takes, and we just go on. We don’t have many, but we have enough. And that’s, that’s where we are.
Q: Guys like Perris Jones, Hayden Mitchell and Coen King, those are guys that either former walk-ons or current walk-ons that have worked their way to get on the field. What do guys like that I mean to this program?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It is the most gratifying part to me of coaching, to see players that choose to join a program that they love for simply an opportunity to demonstrate and contribute in any way they can. It’s the exact idea, and I think the perfect way for a young person to choose their college and then they’re rewarded on their merit, and what they accomplish. And in this case two of those three have earned scholarships, Coen King and Hayden Mitchell and Perris, if I had another one that would have gone there. So when I award those scholarships, it’s usually, the staff is usually tearful, the players celebrate wildly and that’s not what happens when a normal scholarship is offered in the world of recruiting, That in and of itself, speaks volumes as to possibly how there’s a more compelling way of how it could be done. I don’t think it will ever happen, just to go on record, but to see young people try that hard, and that long for the sake of just contribution-based and belonging and contributing, it’s my favorite part of the selection process or the assessment process. So, I love those guys.
Q: When you pursue a graduate transfer such as Keytaon [Thompson] in a condensed window compared to a high school prospect. How do you go about attempting to discover whether the young man will respond to not getting the playing time immediately that he might have desired?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: that’s a really good question. So the graduate transfer process is flawed. Like many leadership decisions, they’re critical in nature without complete information and usually under a time frame. In Keytaon’s case, and I’m going to use a pretty specific example here, who we’ve had the most success with is a graduate transfer that came and had a successful experience here. I normally reached out to them they were so thankful and chose to come within about a 48 hour period. We’re just barely getting to know each other. But, but there’s this, we have this thing that real recognizes real like they’ve been either disillusioned lied to or something just hasn’t happened the way they wanted it to. And there kind of becomes this, they feel what they want to feel wanted, but that’s not my main intent. I want them to know that there is a role, that’s real and tangible, that’s available. We have a need. Otherwise, why considering graduate transfer, they then have to assess that so I love to be really transparent and say this is the need, this is the situation, I think it could fit you really well. Otherwise I wouldn’t be calling you. Now you have to assess it think if it will fit you really well. And if that works everybody’s happy, right I love these guys like Keytaon coming. He came with a mindset of how can I help our team, how can I get on the field, what can I do to contribute. He went from punt block, to kickoff return, to throwing a pass, to the quarterback. It changes every week. And he just smiles, and he says, ‘you know I feel like a little kid again. I’m just playing football, it’s fun.’ And it’s kind of a rebirth. And so, with players like that that are so authentically motivated to help the team. I’m inspired to like, what else can you do? And I make a suggestion to the coaches, ‘hey what about the reverse, maybe he can kick return or maybe can punt return, could he do a fake punt?’ You know. It didn’t start like that, but in a short time right he’s kind of built his resume by his mindset and his ability. The ones that don’t do well. They come with a very specific really narrow niche. I’m only going to be happy if this many touches in this exact role. That can work, but that’s a smaller target to hit. I’ve had those, in fact I just had one this past week, a player was basically what can I do for my role to increase. My response is usually how honest you want me to be. And then once they say completely honest then I share. Then, if they apply that, it’s amazing the immediate burst they have and ‘Wait, where was he, where’s he been?’ If they never ask, it’s hard to teach someone that doesn’t really want to know, because they think they know, and usually the season comes and goes and they’re just disgruntled, and that’s not good for anybody. So anyway, back to the beginning, not much time to make a decision. The very best way is complete transparency and honesty, and then you hope it works out exactly how the player would like and exactly how our needs are, then it was a great decision for everybody.
Q: Have you noticed that every Virginia game this season has been on the ACC network, and in a state where many folks can’t even get it?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yes I’ve noticed that every game has basically been on the ACC Network. It’s completely altered my bedtime. I’m an early to go to bed-er. Seems like we’re not only, but the eight o’clock window, which that’s like a red eye flight for me, it takes like a three day recovery to get that thing going again. And I hadn’t really even thought about ACC Network, other than I was at home because it was an eight o’clock game, and I was trying to find games in our league and I couldn’t find it on my own TV. I had to ask Holly [Mendenhall], what channel is this on. Even though we have it, it was not an easy find. So, I don’t know if that answers your question or not.
Q: It’s possible that Olu [Olusegun Oluwatimi] could end up being a four-year starter at center for you. What expectations, did you have for him when he came here, and would you have envisioned him having such a prominent role so quickly?
BRONCO MEDNENHALL: Nick Howell remembered and was responsible for Olu, who went off to the Air Force Academy and after just a short experience there, probably like many young people or older people you try something and you thought it was going to be for you and no, it’s just not going to be for you, and coach Howell found out about him, or relearned about him after he went to the Air Force and he was available. We believed he was a scholarship player out of high school. So our interest in him, it wasn’t a promise in advance, but our interest in him was, we think he’s going to be a scholarship offensive lineman for us at center. It wasn’t a surprise and that was part of our scholarship accounting, even when we brought him. I would say he’s exceeded expectations though. We thought that would happen, we just didn’t expect that to happen that fast and for him to be that consistent this long. It’s really just been, it’s been a great thing for Olu, in terms of being able to have a role that was needed and for us just having consistency at a position with very, very few miscues in terms of bad snaps or things you even notice the center. That’s usually when you notice centers is if they’re not doing something well, and he’s been remarkably consistent, and we’re lucky that he’s here.
Q: Ira [Armstead] was not available last week, and Brennan [Armstrong] obviously got banged up late in the game against Carolina, where do things stand with the quarterbacks this week?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: That’s a good way to frame that ‘Where did the quarterback stand this week, or maybe even today.’ Man is it an ever changing dynamic. So, the other announcement is Ira will now be gone for the season as well. He has an injury. He was not available for the last game. That’s become clear now, so we have Brennan returning to health. We have KT and we have Lyndell Stone. At this point, which is Tuesday is where we currently are.
Q: When Tucker Finkelston recovers a fumble you win.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I’m gonna add that to our pillar data right there. No pressure on him but that’s now going to be part of our plan with
Q: You had Enzo [Anthony] transfer out last year, I think Lee Dudley has some injury stuff this fall. How important has Tucker been considering how things have unfolded, aside from the fumble recoveries?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: See those are the kind of information bits that I rely on and I normally bring back the Holly and say did you know that when Tucker recovers a fumble we win? So I don’t think she’ll text him, but she’ll be hoping now that Tucker recovers a fumble.
We also brought in Danny Caracciolo from JMU and those two guys, because again Enzo transferred out, we haven’t missed a beat. Lee Dudley just had a surgery. But those two, we haven’t noticed them because we haven’t noticed them, which means the snaps have been accurate and we probably added some ability in coverage both those guys have done a really nice job that way. Really fun to have opportunities with players that are earning a role or carving out a niche. In Danny’s, case always wanting to come to UVA, and he sits out on the bench, every day before and after practice, looking at the mountains over the practice field like he’s on his porch, after he’s lived his life and retired. He just has this appearance like it can’t be better than this, which is good for our team for players to be that appreciative of being on the field for us. So both of them have done a really nice job.
Q: He’s [Finkelston] a snapping on that play then gets down the field to make it [fumble recovery], is that one of the more impressive effort plays you saw there?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: In reality, it was just one of the plays, that was the collective hardest our team has played this year. I’m talking all phases, more players, just the overall entirety, so it was just another one of the plays. But going back to Tucker for a second, as you probably have heard I do interviews in the offseason, and the interviews aren’t words based they’re effort based, and I just make him as hard as possible to see who someone really is and where they currently are in their development. I give them really blunt feedback, by the rankings and Tucker, was one of the highest achievers in the interviews, regardless of any position. He endeared himself to me after that and I came up and told the coaches ‘oh wait, that guy he’s going to do something for us. You just wait, he’s going to do something that’s going to help this program,’ as he was still crafting his snapping ability. Just his sheer will, and stress tolerance and work capacity. You could just see it happening, and here it is just then a few months later.
Q: Has the topic of next season come up for Richard Burney yet, maybe a seventh year?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It hasn’t come up yet and I really haven’t broached that topic with any of my players. There will be a time and a place for that, and it doesn’t mean they aren’t talking about it, I’m sure they are. There is so much, it takes everything that we have to be ready for each game and so I haven’t wanted to add to that narrative. Maybe during the bye week I’ll make more transparency of how that process will work. But there’s only so much capacity we have, and once I add other things in there it’s just too distracting. So I’ve avoided it intentionally, but I’m not saying that players and coaches haven’t thought about it. I just haven’t felt it’s the right time yet. So I’ve wrestled with when and how to do that. No, we haven’t talked about it, not only with not with Richard but with anybody.
Q: You were optimistic last week about Ronnie Walker coming back, what’s that look like and what kept him out last week?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Ronnie was still not available last week, he is available now. He was with us, practicing yesterday. He’s been out. He was not, he was not available for about two weeks about 14 days now he is back.
Q: Is there any more consideration of revisiting the multiple quarterbacks more often and trying to limit some hits that Brennan may be taking?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yes, there is every game every series, everything. Yes, yes, yes, and tricky because he’s so tough, so competitive and so effective. But we know durability, we know sustainability, but we also don’t him to not be him or to have become passive or soft so we’re just educating as best as possible and we’re managing as best as possible, the situations we put him in. That’s just one of the unique things about playing that position, and the game of football.
Q: Are those decisions made in game or do you have something going into the game too and then kind of, you know, both sign off?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah there’s a clear plan going in. I don’t ever remember a plan going in remaining the same during a game of any game that I’ve coached, and I don’t know, there’s a lot of games. It’s much like the military, the plans are great until you have your first exposure to the enemy, and then it’s like, yeah, things change, they change so fast. So yes, we have a plan going in. Yes, we have a plan during practice. Yes, we have a plan for the season. And none of them really end up being exactly as planned. That’s when we try to adapt as best as we can. Once we see what the game looks like.
Q: How are you trying to address that part of it [explosive offense] and what do you see from Louisville relative to some of these other teams that you’ve gone against?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: They’re very dynamic at the running back spot, at the quarterback spot, at the receiver spot and it’s a run-based offense so play action and bootlegs, and then max protection and throwing downfield. It’s an ACC, Top 10 explosive offense, in the country. Which is, we’ve seen Clemson, we’ve seen UNC and there are matchups that are in our favor and there’s matchups that aren’t in our favor. There’s emphasis in terms of leverage and cushion and call and strategy. Then there’s preparation, additional preparation from coaches, players and scheme. Very few of the offenses are the same. So, this is a new challenge, a new offense and collective football, complimentary football and complimentary defense is the way. You don’t fix it with one player, you fix it with 11. Or you fix the game plan with offense, defense and special teams. This year’s team is a complimentary team, it takes everybody. In this past game, the two turnovers and the fake punt essentially got us, we stole three possessions. And that’s how you do it.
Q: Going back to the fourth downs, how do you determine whether you’re going to do a fake punt or go for it normally?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: That’s a really good question. Therein lies, I thought lied the most critical question of that game, it wasn’t whether we’re gonna go for it or not. It was winning the game. I woke up in the morning knowing we’re gonna go for it in a critical situation, but then it is which is going to be more effective, an offensive play or a fake punt. And so I chose the more risky, but also the more likely is what I thought. And those two things might not be able to exist at the same time. I thought the element of surprise would you have a better chance them an offensive play. Luckily on that occasion, it worked. So we’ll just see how the next one goes whenever that is.
Q: The virus protocols, I was curious if those changed after the Clemson game and sort of how you would assess those results.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yes, they did change. Without getting into every detail, we restructured our locker room, we restructured the number of buses we take, we restructured the number of players that we take, and the transportation method the games, the airplane seating, every possible, the way we serve meals at the hotel, increased measures for visitations everything that we possibly could consider, because the issue really wasn’t the virus contraction. It was contact tracing. Now that we’re becoming clearer of what the contact tracers are asking, it’s allowing us more clarity on at least we can address those things. It took a while to know what truly they were going to ask and what really was being emphasized. I think we’ve done a really nice job with that, and I’ve addressed that in every possible way but the primary reason, we were already I think really doing a nice job in terms of the COVID, or possibly managing COVID if that’s even possible. This was really our effort once we’ve learned more about contract tracing like, what then do we need to do. I think it’s been effective, not perfect. It doesn’t mean we still couldn’t test positive or I couldn’t or someone else, but I think within the scope of what we know, I think we’re doing well.
Q: When he’s [Charles Snowden] playing like that, that level, what does that do for the defense? How does that change things?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It impacts the team in a lot of different ways. His leadership becomes stronger. His presence becomes greater. His messaging becomes more impactful. And our team becomes better. He’s playing a position that we have production from. When you get to a quarterback and sack him, as frequently as we did with their quarterback and then causing fumbles that’s one less time he can throw it about 50 yards downfield to really fast and talented receivers Those are huge plays that we have to have in order to have success with this year’s team and really almost any team and so his ability to do that. We’ve learned to manage him at a higher level. He’s learned to manage himself at a higher level, but the last two games have been kind of a launch point for him and our team has noticed that and we needed for this season.
Q: You have a bye week coming up, are you hopeful of getting any of those DBs [defensive backs] back before that or is it more likely that if they come back, they come back after?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I get a status report every day and I really don’t know. I’m hopeful they were back like three weeks ago, but the reality is I really don’t know. The nature of the injuries and how, it’s really healthier for me, not to ever expect them back. That doesn’t mean wishing them not to come back that’s not what I’m saying. But then when they come back, I’m surprised, rather than each day waking up ‘are they back yet.’ Then if I get the answer, no, yeah, that’s not so good for my mental health. So easier for me to plan on after the bye, then to have for this game. And if they are for this game, everybody celebrates.