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Nov. 8, 2004

Al Groh

For weeks now we’ve heard about Miami’s speed, but there must be some other things that impress you about them. Can you talk a little bit about them?
There are, but it’s hard to get past that. It really is. The speed is tremendous. It keeps on coming. There are all sorts of guys who have it. It’s not just, `This is a fast player.’ There’s just a whole lot of them who can get up and go. So, nobody’s ever tired. It creates a difficult match-up at every spot. It’s not just one player that you`ve got to take out of the game. Say, for example, last year we played Pittsburgh WR Larry Fitzgerald. Here was a dominant-type receiver that you could maybe rig some things for him, as we did, and take your chances on the other side. That’s very difficult to contemplate doing in this circumstance. And, while there certainly are lots of things on both sides of the ball, that issue dominates. It dominates on special teams. It dominates on offense. It dominates on defense. Now, you’ve got one of the very fastest players, DB/WR Devin Hester, who shows up on all three units. So, he brings his speed to liven up things at all three of those places.

Miami has given up more yards in recent weeks than it had been accustomed to. How much, when you look at their tape, has the injury to DL Santonio Thomas… did that take a big toll on their defense?
He was a very good player, and a veteran player in that group. I can only relate it to our circumstance. Certainly, we lost our playmaker down lineman. It removes some of those plays. Most particularly, it removes some of those negatives. It may not seem like a major play in the game–hey, he tackles a guy on first down for a three-yard loss–but that you have second and thirteen instead of second and five is a big difference. Just for that one play you’ve got a better chance to win on third down. And, you get off the field before the trouble ever starts.

Speaking of your defensive line, have you seen continued progress from DE Kwakou Robinson and the others who have seen more playing time?
Yeah, we have. Certainly on Saturday, which really is the best judge, what have they done recently, and on Saturday, in that particular game, they did everything that was required of them in that game.

What about the way that NT Keenan Carter has played on the line?
Good, he’s making some contributions, whereas he didn’t before. I think he was up to 16 plays the other day, out of 50, that’s the most that he’s played.

You said a couple of weeks ago that LB Darryl Blackstock was pretty much doing everything that you wanted him to do. Is it important at all to get a tangible reward in terms of sacks?
Good, you know, I told Darryl today, I said, `Darryl, this is easy.’ I did, I told him this about two hours ago. `Now when I go to this press conference at 1:30, I won’t have to ask the weekly `What’s wrong with Blackstock’ question.’ Maybe I’m going to change your first name, it’s not Darryl anymore, it’s What’s Wrong With. That’s what everybody always want to know.’

But, isn’t that kind of a tangible reward other than being told he graded out on film?
Sure, it’s what all pass rushers play for. It’s the home run. And, he had four of five pressures in the game to go along with the two sacks. That’s nice for him to get, because now everybody’s not bugging him and asking him about it anymore.

What are your thoughts on Miami QB Brock Berlin? He seems to have had a pretty solid year.
He has. Obviously, if a fellow is the quarterback for the University of Miami, he’s a high profile player in college football. So, Brock Berlin is a player that certainly, as a coach as well as a fan, I was well aware of Brock Berlin, but really didn’t have much occasion to know many of the specifics about him up until this season. And, with him now being in the conference, with their team being in the conference, obviously, we’ve become a lot more knowledgeable about many of the Miami players and the schemes that they run. But, it’s quite apparent why he was one of the most recruited quarterbacks in the country, why he’s become the quarterback at a quarterback factory like the University of Miami. He’s had more success throwing the deep ball this season than any quarterback that we’ve played against so far. Now, those guys get down the field pretty fast. That’s good news, but that’s challenging for quarterbacks too. You know, they’re down there pretty fast. They don’t stay in one spot for very long. You’ve got to get it on that spot right away. And, he’s been very effective at doing that. And so, he has reinforced their team in the value of running a lot of deep routes with fast receivers, because there’s a payoff on it. They’re not just long foul balls. They hit a lot of home runs when they do that. He’s got good calm and good presence in the pocket. He’s obviously a veteran player. He’ll move within the pocket, avoid the rush, reset, and throw fundamentally sound. He does a good job. He’s obviously a player that has earned the trust and the confidence of the players and coaches by virtue of what we observe him doing.

TB Wali Lundy’s role has changed a little bit the last couple of games. How has he handled the change? Do you have any concerns about that?
Not really, no. It’s not the best news any player gets. Either way, he’s responded to everything. He’s a pretty gutty guy. And, we’re very pleased with him for that. As we can see, his role is considerable. He had one or two touchdowns at Duke. He had two the other day. He had 24 carries the other day. Now, that’s a pretty good day’s work. I thought it was one of his very best, if not his best running game since he’s been here. I really liked the way he ran with the ball.

Is he your designated touchdown scorer? Is there a reason that you bring him in to do that? I mean, TB Alvin Pearman has scored 20-something touchdowns in his career, but it seems that when you get down into the red-zone, you immediately call for Wali.
No, most of those came because he was already in the game. If anybody was going to get the ball, he was going to get it. He went in the game the other day, because Alvin had five, six carries in a row, had worked pretty hard on them, we were in a scoring area, so we just put fresh legs in there. In fact, the comment was made, `Let’s get some fresh legs in here.’ So, he had the fresh legs.

That second touchdown of his obviously drew some oohs and ahhs. Was that just a good job of a guy making something out of nothing?
Absolutely, that falls under the category as many plays did on Saturday, which is why I said very quickly in the press conference on Saturday, `players make the difference.’

Was there an element to that run of guys holding their blocks downfield or finding new guys to block or was that just Wali?
I’d say the big element was Wali. None of those guys knew where the ball was going either.

It looked like your offensive line probably could have blocked for another 60 minutes the way they were going on Saturday. Can you just talk about not just their athleticism but their level of conditioning?
Well, they were pretty fresh. I don’t know how much further we could have gone, but we could have gone further than that, that’s for sure. But, when you look at them, they have nice size to them, but this isn’t a big, heavy line. Really, as line’s go, it’s common for lines to have 300-pounders on it for example, well, this line’s got one guy over 300 pounds on it. So, it’s not a mammoth line. But, one thing that many of the NFL scouts say when they come to practice is they remark… their statement is something to the effect of `Well, you’ve got a nice-looking team. I mean you’ve got a lot of nice sized, trim guys. You don’t have a lot of big, heavy, sloppy-looking guys.’ And, as I say on a number of occasions, there’s a certain model now that we’re trying to build the team up against. And, it’s built with players who look like that. That’s one of the reasons.

People talk all the time about watching OG Elton Brown through the binoculars and how entertaining he is to watch. Is he entertaining for the coaches too? Do you see him do things that you just don’t see lineman do on a regular basis?
Oh yeah. Obviously, he’s one of the very best. And, he does all of the things–he gets on the edge, he runs, he can provide movement at the point, he’s a good pass protector. He’s a very complete player. He’s worked very hard to do that.

How much credit can you give strength coach Evan Marcus for the physicality of the team the past couple years?
Oh sure, I thought we certainly played a very physical game the week before down at Duke. We played a very physical game on offense and defense. We recognized how physical we were down there by giving Evan one of the game balls.

You mentioned Miami DB/WR Devin Hester earlier, can you just talk about… I mean, teams don’t kick to him anymore. How difficult is it to take him out of the equation on kickoffs and punts?
He’s proven what a dynamic player that he is. He’s certainly dramatically changed the course of two games. With this team, their firepower is such, offensively, that if they’re able to add a kickoff or a punt return or, in the case of one of those games, two of them, then they’re probably going to have a prohibitive point total. So, that’s how significant his production is. Now, if he was doing this on a team that was a moderate to low-scoring team as it was, you certainly wouldn’t want it to occur, but maybe if it did, it would be possible to withstand it. Evidence is, that it’s almost impossible to withstand any additional points or points that come from short fields that he creates to go along with their normal offensive production, as N.C. State and Louisville certainly found out to be the case.

Back to Coach Marcus, what were the looks on the players’ faces the first time they ever met him, when he was introduced to the team as such an imposing strength and conditioning coach?
You probably had a hundred different looks. But, I don’t know that the answer could be defined in first looks so much as continuous involvement. But, they know he’s all about business. They know he’s on their side. They know he’s always thinking about his job and in what fashion to use it to benefit them. Then again, that makes him like all the other nine guys too.

Did you see anything that North Carolina and Clemson were able to do to slow down Miami the past two weeks?
Well, North Carolina, I don’t know that they really slowed them down so much. I think Miami had close to 500 yards. What they did was they kept the point total from getting very big in the beginning, where they were able to conduct the offensive game in the fashion that they wanted to. Miami had a very productive first half the other night. I guess I could best answer your question by Miami head coach Larry Coker’s statement that they seemed to lose their steam in the second half.

Does it help, like they played Clemson last week and you played Clemson earlier this season, does it help when you have a team play someone you’ve already played before? Can you judge something by that?
No, that’s one of the things that in conference play that, especially if you played a team that year, it’s even more helpful. But, if you have a history with the different teams, you can factor in… you know the match-ups. You know the match-ups of systems. You know the match-ups of personnel. Some teams are going to match up better on some teams than others. But, going into the game, without even turning the screen on, I had an idea how Clemson would try to play against Miami, because I know how Clemson generally tries to set their game plans up. Probably, I had a better idea on that side of the equation than the Miami side, because I’ve never played Miami, and I wasn’t as deep into my research by Saturday evening. But, yeah, that’s definitely a factor when you get into conference play. That’s why, say, I know the conference does this, and it’s very helpful, but, after you get a little bit deeper into the season, and you get into conference play, that’s why we’ll pay a lot more attention to those statistics that come out from the conference that are just conference games. The statistics against common opponents have a lot more validity as far as reflecting a team’s competency in certain areas than some of the early season games that might have I-AA teams in there or whatever the case may be. When you get into the conference, that’s one of the things that make conference play even more competitive is that the element of surprise is reduced a little bit.

Are you aware that TB Alvin Pearman is leading the conference in rushing in conference games only?
I wasn’t, but since you mentioned it. I think there was some conversation, whether I read it or overheard it or whatnot not long ago, that there was not a clear cut, as there was two years ago with Matt Schaub or Philip Rivers, there wasn’t a clear cut person as to the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year. Who’s had a more dynamic season or been more important to his team this year than Alvin Pearman. I mean, how many players have returned a punt for a touchdown, returned a kickoff for a touchdown, been on three different special teams, started a game at split end, and then came back and rushed for, whatever it is, 400 yards in two consecutive conference games. Now, that’s pretty good football.

Can you talk about Alvin’s commitment to the program? Did he show it since the moment he got here?
Alvin is a player who, obviously, as he has shown to everybody who’s watched him, has great personal ambition. He really wants to achieve. And, he’s got lots of goals that he wants to do. And, he measures them simply in actual achievement, you know, numbers, production, and so forth. And yet, with that, he has been the consummate team player. `Coach, what do you want me to do. Coach, whatever you want me to do, that’s great.’ And, that’s remarkable in the case of any player, and, I think, even more remarkable in the circumstances right now where in sports so often it’s individual numbers that are glorified. And, that was very much typified, as we’ve discussed before, in his reaction to, less than 48 hours before we’re playing Syracuse, `Alvin, switch your place in the huddle here. Not so fast, no, don’t stand there anymore. Move over there and stand over here.’ He’s kind of like, `Why, coach?’ `Well, because that’s where you’re going to be standing Saturday. And, we’re going to need you to start this game at split end.’ `Hey, that’s fine with me. What do you want me to do?’ `Well, I need you to come in tomorrow and spend the better part of the day with Coach Garrett going over the game plan.’ `Coach, I’ll be there. What time do you want me there?’ I mean, that’s Alvin. So, as I’ve said often, the nice thing is that he’s got a lot of companions on the team of this mentality, but his circumstances probably are the most graphic.

Another guy in the group that’s playing in his last game at Scott Stadium on Saturday is LB Dennis Haley. Can you talk about just the effort that he had to put in just to get back on the field with this team, and how much he’s developed as a player since he’s been back?
The two of them go hand in hand. Both of those things are a result of a great deal of growth on Dennis’ part. Which, after all, besides the degree that you take away and hang on your wall, is one of the major reasons why people go to college. And so, the fact that he’s got his degree, and the fact that this growth has occurred would certainly indicate that he’s accomplished the mission for what he went to college for. But that also includes becoming a very good football player is kind of a nice side bar to things.

Can you assess your priorities for what needs to be accomplished in order to win this weekend?
Well, we’re still working on the particulars of that, you know, today being game plan day. We don’t present the finalized game plan to the players until 2 o’clock tomorrow. So, we have a lot to do in that respect between now and then to intelligently answer your question. I haven’t answered it to myself yet. I wish that I had. But, as we discussed earlier, right at the outset is to try to conduct the game in the fashion that you don’t become victimized by their speed.

Is it critical, when you play a team like this that has been at the top of college football for as long as these guys have been probably following college football, to get off to that fast start, or to get off to it and not fall behind quickly to see and believe that, hey, we can do this?
Well to say that it wouldn’t be positive certainly would be foolish. That doesn’t mean that it’s necessary. But, it would be very positive to be able to do. But, I’d say that this team, over the last ten years, now `dynasty’ is a word that is quickly thrown out there to sports teams, to be a dynasty you have to be pretty good for a long time. But, if it’s possible to define a dynasty in a 10 or 12-year time frame, this team probably is as close to a dynasty as we’ve seen in organized sports over the last 12 years, college sports or professional sports. Maybe the Yankees and the Hurricanes are the two teams to have done that. Those teams who become dynasties, whether they’re long term or short term, they usually become bigger than teams, they become a culture of their own. There’s a culture that goes with the Yankees. Back when, there was a culture that went with the Montreal Canadiens in hockey when they were of that nature. There’s a culture that goes with certain football teams. And, there’s really a culture that goes with Miami teams. And, that’s what helps it endure. That’s why you try to create that. And the creation of that is necessary to stay in power. They have created that, and that’s why they’ve had the type of staying power that they do. I would imagine that their staying power would sustain itself for quite some time here.

Do you say anything to the team to point that out that you know this exists, to kind of help them put that behind you?
Well that’s part of the makeup of the team that we’re playing. You know, one of the things we talk to the team about all the time is that you have to know who you’re playing. So, that’s part of the makeup that they’re dealing with.

Watching that game the other night, did you think at all about what back-to-back losses might do to Miami’s psyche?
One, they had back-to-back losses at a point last year and never lost again. So, it made me feel that their psyche is not easily penetrated. Two, since it’s impossible for me to sometimes ascertain the psyche of my own team, I spend no time ever, truly, I spend no time ever trying to assess the psyche of the other team.

Coach, what have you seen them vulnerable in the last couple of weeks?
I wouldn’t put the word vulnerable on this team. They’ve lost two games in a row on the last play of the game. We should be so lucky that when we lose two games we’re in the game that long. Within two plays, they are now ranked third or fourth in the country. That they lost games is true. I wouldn’t say that they are all that vulnerable. As we’re all finding out in this conference this year, this is a pretty competitive year to be in the conference. The season that many of us are experiencing, with more of this to come, is probably going to be the norm for most us in the years to come. We’re going to have those weeks, when it’s not about being down one week or not being up, it’s just that the competition’s pretty stiff, and it’s going to be hard to win them all every year. I think that’s what it is, it’s going to hard to win all of them every year. And, that’s probably what all of us will deal with this for some time.

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