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Nov. 16, 2004

Al Groh
November 15, 2004

When you have two games like this when there’s a lot of build up, and you lose, is it harder the second time to kind of get back to being focused?
For the team, having been a player and being around players for a long time, is it harder sometimes for them to put the disappointment behind them the second time around?Not if you’re going to be any good.

Is the fact that you’re still in the ACC title race make it that much easier?
It should. That’s the goal in the first place. There are none of those intermediate targets during the course of the year for us. There might be for others. As I’ve said repeatedly, if you’re in a conference, you’re in it for one purpose: to try to win the conference championship. Otherwise, you might as well be an independent. That’s what you’re in it for. If that’s what you’re in it for, they all count one. I know you get tired of hearing me say that, but that’s the reality of it. If you’re in it to win a championship, they all count one. There are no weighted wins. There are no weighted losses. Okay, they all count one.

To his credit, LB Dennis Haley said that he should have made the play on the 62-yard punt return, but he also said he was pushed in the back. What did your film show?
I thought he was… If that’s his report on the matter, then, as an impartial observer, I would say that he was probably correct on both accounts. It wasn’t difficult for me to come to that conclusion.

You talked about the goal being the ACC championship and then that puts you in the race for the national stuff, the BCS stuff. If you tie for the championship and don’t make a BCS bowl, is that less of an accomplishment?
No, I think what I said before is the case. All you can do right now, all you can control, as a team, in this conference is to win your conference. That’s all you can control. So, that’s what you try to do. Look, our job is different than everybody else’s job. Our job is to get ready for games and win. Your job is to keep the readers interested. You can create all the scenarios and analyze the mindset of the players and the coaches, and all that business. That’s interesting. I like to read about other teams in that circumstance, because I’m a fan at heart too. But, I also know that that’s just all it is. Players can’t be fans; they have to be players. They have to understand what it takes to be a player.

Can you talk about your strategy on the kickoffs the other day? It seemed as if you pretty much did the same thing with PK Kurt Smith and PK Connor Hughes. Did you feel that Hughes does that high kick a little bit better?
The end result was pretty much what we wanted. In fact, in averaging the starting point the following first down for each of the teams after kickoffs, we actually started on our 27, and they started on their 25. Ours was an average of five. I think there’s was an average of four. We accomplished that. As best as we were trying to do, we kept the time bomb from exploding and did not give up significant field position with it. However, the first two kicks, while they were well covered, didn’t quite go according to what the plan was, so we didn’t want to try our luck any further. And, the next two kicks were a little more accurately kicked as to what the plan was. So that’s why we switched.

Do you think that could be your strategy the remainder of the season, or do you think you’re going to try to get those touchbacks?
Our plan generally has been to, over the span of… I guess getting close to 50 games here; our strategy has always been pretty much to kick the ball away unless an unusual circumstance dictates otherwise. In all likelihood, we probably will go back to that.

Where will Georgia Tech WR Calvin Johnson rank among the receivers you’ve faced this year? And what type of problems does he pose?
Well, he’s the most unique size-speed combination. We haven’t seen him yet, other than on tape and television. But the numbers that follow his name say he’s 6-4, 225. So, we’ve seen a couple, not very many, 6-4 receivers, certainly none that are 225, then, none with that combination on tape who seem to be able to stretch the defense as he has. Obviously to do what he has as a young player, he’s got special skills. The size-speed aspect of it, but as we’ve all seen just watching these televised games, when they show him back on that close-up replay afterwards, I can appreciate even more on that some of the things that he’s done than we can on the coach’s copy, which is from the press box or the scoreboard, obviously sometimes pretty far away from it. And, the eye-to-hand and the ball skills that he’s demonstrated, I think more than the size-speed, are what has differentiated himself to this point. That is, if he was 5-11, 190, those wouldn’t be eye-catching physical numbers, but if he was still doing the things from a reaction-to-the-ball standpoint, it looks as if that’s his really unique gift.

How has WR Fontel Mines done since coming back from his injury?
I think he’s done well. His season really just started for him when he came back. I guess, was it Duke where he started to play a little bit, because he was hurt after so few plays up in Philadelphia that it’s hard to really say that he got much out of that game. So, other than what he played last year on a somewhat limited basis that he did, his real full-time playing career really just started down at Duke.

Is it important, given his size and the match-up problems he could pose for a defense, to try to get him in more?
Yeah, we’re certainly not trying to avoid him. I guess I’d put it that way. We’re not trying to avoid him. He’s not an afterthought. We would like to see it go to him a little bit more, but there are other issues in that just besides what we wish would be the case.

You’ve talked about how difficult it is to recruit punters off of tape. What about wide receivers? Do you run into some of the same problems?
Sometimes. I mean, some of them it’s very apparent. It just depends upon the system that they play in. The difficult one is the player whose resume says that he’s got certain height, weight, speed credentials. Those plays that are gradable on the tape would seem to give you indications of that, but maybe he’s playing in a system that just there’s not enough of those to really get a feel for how verifiable it is. So, it certainly has the potential to be trickier than lineman, running backs, and linebackers. But, then if you can, with all of these camps and so forth, if you can ever see the player in person, then it’s a lot easier to ascertain their skills in that environment than it is those other positions.

Is that a position where you take a guy with maybe one component, instead of two, like maybe just real good speed but maybe not the hands or the concentration, and figure you can mold him? Or do look for all those things, ideally?
Clearly you’d like to have as many of them as possible.

But, can you forgive an absence of something?
Well, you do that actually at most spots with most players. That is, a good guiding principle that I heard a long time ago, this was an article on personnel selection that I read someplace, the guy is out of the NFL now, but he was a very well-regarded personnel man, I thought it was really a telling statement, and he said, `Everybody,’ talking about his organization, `that they drafted, they drafted despite…, but because of….’ That really is true, except in the very, very rare case. Other than Bo Derek, there have been no other perfect tens. They’re not on any of these draft boards. Whatever the grading scale is, whether it’s Bo Jackson or Barry Sanders or whoever it might be, none of them ever go up there with a perfect score. There’s always a `despite,’ but the `because of’ is so great, that it overwhelms the `despite.’ I mean, Barry Sanders, what else could you want there, other than he’s 5-9 and not a good short yardage runner and not the best of receiver and probably not the guy you want in blitz protection. Okay, so there’s a real `despite’ there, there was a certain lack there for sure. But, he was so dynamic at what he did that he was a tremendous selection because of compelling skills in that particular area. That’s the case in so many different spots. That’s the case whether you draft them, or that’s the case whether they’re recruited.

Is a game-breaking receiver what you guys need the most, to either develop or to acquire?
We’re anticipating acquiring such. We’ll continue to try to acquire more.

LB Kai Parham was credited with 14 tackles, which was his career high. Did he play well?
The two inside linebackers both played real well. LB Ahmad Brooks played real well again, real well. And, Kai played physically. He had some real good fight-off-the-block, the plays that only the real top linebackers do make. I thought those two played well for us. LB Darryl Blackstock played well, on top of the two sacks. He played well.

There were a couple of plays it seemed like where a linebacker was coming wide. I think on the play Miami TB Frank Gore for 44-yards, somebody cut inside. Is that a play where the linebacker had tunnel-vision to the quarterback and probably didn’t even see that because there was a blocker in the way?
It shouldn’t be. If a linebacker has tunnel-vision, that’s one of those `despite ofs’ that might be too great to overcome. Really, linebackers have to have similar style vision to running backs. That is, they’re both looking for the same hole; they’re just coming from different sides of the line of scrimmage.

Did you see that on tape and what was the issue there? It seemed like there were a couple of times where a linebacker was coming wide around the outside and the running back cut up inside of him.
We had a couple of them that we would like to have played better. Exactly which one you’re referring to, I don’t know. But, there were a couple of them there that we would like to have played better, that we have played better as recently as the week before.

You had OG Ian-Yates Cunningham in here the other day. Is that kind of a courtesy, or are you thinking about playing him?
No, he’s progressed to the point that if he can do something to help us, he’s available.

Is there a trade-off there? Do you think the five-for-five is going to pass?
No, with Ian or with anybody else, it’s an issue of… what we’re trying to do, and this is the trick every week, is just take whatever you’ve got available to you, try to get it organized, try to get it motivated, well-prepared, and try to give yourself the best opportunity in that particular week, not eight weeks from now or two months from now or three years from now. Whoever gives you the best chance to win this week, that’s really what our intent is. If I would use the word, I know the NCAA doesn’t like it, but that’s what we’re in business for: to try to win this week. If we don’t use all of our resources available to us in any particular week, then we’re fooling ourselves and we’re cheating some of those others who are laying it out on the line with everything they have. If I was a player out there, and there were some resources on the team that I knew could help us win the game and I was giving it everything I had, I wouldn’t feel good about the fact that some of those resources were not involved. So, all our resources, player skills, at any point that they can heighten our chances to win we’re going to use them.

Did you have TB Wali Lundy and TB Alvin Pearman in the game at the same time more this game than you have in the past?
I don’t know a number on any of those. We’ve done it over the last couple of years. It occurs. Game situation has something to do with it, as well as certain calls that we want to be in. But, it could occur 10 times in a game, it might not happen for two weeks.

You face a pretty good run defense this week, what do you see that’s made them effective?
Well, in general, like most of these top run defenses, they do everything they can to crowd the point of attack. They’re going to get as many people to that area as they can. It looks like a New York City subway station. That’s been the case on many other occasions too. Each team’s got their own little way in getting a lot of guys there, but they all really have the same motivation, they all have the same motive in what they’re trying to do on defense.

Could you talk a little bit about Georgia Tech QB Reggie Ball? He’s kind of been hot and cold this season, apparently last Saturday, he was really hot.
Certainly, as his numbers will attest, he’s been a streaky player for Georgia Tech. But, they’ve won quite a few games since Reggie got to, I think as they refer to it, `the flats.’ It also looks like it would have been difficult for Georgia Tech to have won as many games as they have if Reggie wasn’t there. So, he’s really been the catalyst to a lot of what they’ve been able to do.

Does he compare to North Carolina QB Darian Durant? Or, is he a better runner? Can you just talk about his skills?
I don’t usually to compare players, because even if they look the same, they’re in different circumstances. But, Reggie’s another one of those multi-dimensional quarterbacks. He’s mobile, not just within the pocket, but he can get up the field with the ball. He’s really got a strong arm, a lot of distance on the ball, which fits this receiver they have very well. He’s got a lot of moxie.

When you were in the NFL, did you ever cross paths with Georgia Tech head coach Chan Gailey? Or, how familiar are you two with each other?
Sure, we worked together for a year at the Air Force Academy.

Getting back to the two tailbacks, I don’t imagine you have a set number coming into the game, but TB Wali Lundy carried the ball less than he had in previous games. Is that just because you had gut feeling that TB Alvin Pearman had a 30- or 40-yard run in him?
Yeah, it’s kind of just how the game went, a little bit. Alvin seemed to be going pretty well there. But that’s always the tricky part. There’s only really one of two ways to do this, you just say, you know, every six carries we’re going to change guys or every quarter we’re going to change guys or each guy is going to get 18 carries. Okay, you either say that, or you just kind of have a feel during the course of the game who’s in there. I think we have a general idea how, in a theoretical basis, how we’d like to see it dispersed, but we’re going to get a feel for the circumstance of the game. I guess if we were coaching basketball, we’d feel the same way. If a certain guy has hit seven out of his last eight, even though the rotation plan called for Joe to go in, you know, at the 12-minute mark, if a guy has hit seven out of the last eight, I’m probably going to be reluctant to take him out.

Is that… who makes that call? Do you make it?
I do. We all discuss the thing. We do keep track of the carries upstairs, so that we know where that is.

Is tailback at all a rhythm position, in the sense that if you only carry the ball only once in a while, is it hard to do it well?
Being so far away from having the skills, to even be able to fantasize about being one of those guys, I’m not a good person to try to answer that. But, just listening to people who have played it or coached it, and when I’m saying this I’m really not making this up on the spot, I’ve thought about this a great deal. And, I really have based my feeling on this, just listening to guys who have played it or guys who have coached it, I tend to feel that way. So, if you’re going to rotate a lot of guys, if you’re going to have a quick early rotation in the game, then nobody ever really gets a feel for it or rhythm for things. Now, nobody gets fatigued either, but nobody really gets a rotation or rhythm for things. Probably down the home stretch, you’d like to have a guy who’s got a pretty good rhythm for it, and whether it’s a rhythm for the defense or the game or he’s personally got himself into a little bit of a groove, it is a little bit challenging to try to figure out. You want to put the other guy in, you really do, when’s the right time. And, of course, it was in reverse when Wali was the first guy in the game. We were always feeling, `Hey, we want to get Alvin in the game. Geez, such and such has happened with Wali. Well, do we want to take him out now? Do you think he’s had enough carries? Is he in a good groove? Yeah, he’s in a good groove. He’s also going really hot right now.’ So, is this the time… you’ve got him in a groove. You’ve got him in a rhythm. You don’t want to fatigue him. But, he’s accomplished what you want. Do you want to break that? You know, it’s a you’ve-got-to-feel-it type of deal.

Does the strength of the running game maybe cost your passing game some of that rhythm?
Well, you can’t obviously run two plays at the same time. There’s a trade-off in all of it. Some of those games in the past, where our M-O was 40 or 45 throws, we stayed in a real good rhythm offensively with the passing game. Did the fact that we were passing the ball 35 for 45, which was desirable, did that keep us from getting in a groove with the running game? It might have, but that’s the trade-off. You have to decide what trade-off you’re going to take.

QB Marques Hagans has had to deal with more adversity, either from the opponent or his injury, the last four weeks than he did the first five. Have you been happy with how he’s dealt with it?
It’s part of the process of playing this position. And, that’s really what determines the quarterbacks. It’s pretty easy, in any place, not at Virginia or any school or any city, it’s pretty smooth sailing to be the quarterback when you just went 25 for 30 for three or four touchdowns, and the quarterback’s the toast of the town and can’t get anointed enough for enough awards. And the challenge in being a quarterback or certain other statistical positions, like kicker or whatever, the challenge is after you’ve gone 13 for 31 with three interceptions and the whole world is telling you what you know better than anybody else. Now, all of a sudden, everybody knows about quarterbacks. They’re trying to tell the quarterback what he should’ve done, or is he this or is he that, and he knows better than anybody else. So, I think one of the things that, at those type of visible positions, individually and collectively as a team, a thing that happens in sports within the team and from every tangent entity that the team deals with when things don’t go well, whether you lose a game or you lose two games in a row, the winds of negativity blow in like a hurricane. For example, you could certainly sense this in everything that you read coming out of Miami. What’s wrong with Miami? It’s their recruiting. It’s their running game. It’s their play calling. It’s their this. They lost two games on the last play of the game, and the winds of negativity blew in and just surrounded the program. And, that happens very quickly to a team, and that happens very quickly to certain positions, like quarterback. That’s the challenge to individuals, collectively, that’s the challenge to a team. That’s the challenge to coaches: to keep your team organized, to keep your team directed, to keep your team focused on the objective in that type of environment. And, there have been certain coaches over the years who have done very well at doing those things, that they could keep the perspective on things and they could keep their organization going. They took what’s available to them at the moment, personnel-wise, and they got it organized, and they got it directed. They used the talents they had at the time, and they were able to move the team forward and move it through that type of environment. It just happens every place. You know, that’s just the way it is. Boston lost three in a row (in the ALCS) when you could almost smell the odor of negativity as it blew into the room. The season’s over. What’s wrong with the Red Sox? Johnny Damon stinks. The pitching’s no good. Well, that was a marvelous job on the part of that organization, that manager, those players, to stay organized, to stay focused, to take what they had, to try to win the next game, to march on, and bingo, they had it. Had they not been able to do that, everything else notwithstanding, they probably wouldn’t have been able to have the outcome that they did. Part of that comes back to something that I said as an answer to the question about certain players not being in the game the other day, that it wasn’t an answer for the moment, it’s an answer around here for the day, it’s always there. And that is, everybody’s got problems. Every team’s got problems. Whether it’s during the course of the game or during the course of the season or whether it’s a production problem or an injury problem. We all have problems. Nobody cares what your problems are.

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