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Nov. 23, 2004

Al Groh
November 22, 2004

Opening Statement:
To help enthusiastically the Phi Gamma Fraternity, the Fijis, who are involved in a fundraising campaign for the Jimmy V Cancer Foundation, which is the same organization that did the Coaches Vs. Cancer Basketball Tournament, so you can say I’ve got my Jimmy V Foundation hat on and our Jimmy V Foundation t-shirt or Run Across Virginia t-shirt to benefit the Jimmy V Foundation. On Friday at noon there’s going to be a pep rally at the Downtown Mall Ice Park. And, their pep rally is to start the process of the Fijis are going to transport, run, however they can get it, unicycle it, the game ball for the game to Blacksburg. Last year, the event raised $35,000 for the Jimmy V Cancer Foundation. So, cancer being something that strikes almost every family in some way, and I happened to become quite friendly with Coach Valvano when he was at N.C. State, so it’s something that I very enthusiastically want to try to help support these kids who have such a great idea to do. In fact I can remember where I was in New England listening to the radio, actually driving from Foxboro Stadium home when I heard the news that Coach Valvano had passed away, and I remember I had to pull over to the side of the road and stop. I just didn’t want to drive for a couple of minutes. I’m happy to help these kids with what they’re doing. If there’s a nice way that you could do that, we would certainly appreciate that fact.

Has it changed the significance of the stakes of the rivalry to be playing Virginia Tech not only in the same conference but for a share of the conference championship?
I don’t know that it changes the rivalry. That would be hard to do. It adds what’s at stake with the game. As I said last week, and I will always say, is the sole purpose for being in a conference is to try to win your conference championship. Okay, so now that the game every year is going to count towards that, that just raises the stakes of the outcome of the game, and, in this particular year, because what’s at stake is first place. You can’t have a much bigger pot on the table than that.

Is it different coaching a game when you look on the other sideline and look at the other team and know that you went after some of those players, and you know some of them and know their families and have a history with them?
Not at all. I mean, for years you coach against a lot of guys that we did a lot of research on and wanted to draft. They ended up on the other team. They’re nice people, and you wish them well. They’re on the other team, and you’ve got your guys.

Down the stretch the last couple of years, the defense really rose to the occasion to help you guys finish strong. They stepped up against Georgia Tech the other day as well. Have these linebackers and some of these other guys developed now to the point where you can do more things? LB Dennis Haley said you blitzed more than he expected, and that sort of thing.
We’re not… I don’t recall whether it was yesterday or Saturday after the game, but I got a similar-type question. And, I said, `We didn’t do anything in the game Saturday that we haven’t done before.’ That is, there were no new calls put in for the game. They were all things that we have done before, as usually is the case. Those one-week wonders don’t usually hold up against the challenges of multiple formations or multiple defenses, whichever side of the ball that we’re on. It just all depends upon how the plan gets put together, how we best think we can go after a particular team. So, the things that the players are well versed in are usually the things that work the best.

LB Dennis Haley is tied for the fourth on the team in tackles. You’ve spoken highly of him earlier in the season. Was last week another good effort for him?
It was. Yeah, I thought that, defensively, it was pretty solid all the way across, across all the positions.

I saw WR Deyon Williams watching the basketball last night. And, I see he is on the depth chart. Is he likely to play or possible to play?
I don’t think we’ll know `til later in the week. Until we know he’s not, we’re going to assume that he is.

Can you talk about Virginia Tech’s offense and what impresses you?
I think that Virginia Tech QB Bryan Randall has done more for his team this year than any other quarterback in the conference. I think he’s had a terrific season. I start with Bryan, because every team we look at, we start with that position. And, then the diversity of threats that we have to defend between the quarterback, tailback, who obviously is having a terrific season since he’s been back in action for them, and the wide receiver threat. There’s a lot of threats on the offense.

One of the guys that you wanted to draft but ended on the other team was Virginia Tech WR Eddie Royal. Have you been impressed or surprised at how well he’s done here in his first year?
We were impressed with him a long time ago, therefore not surprised at all.

What type of danger does he possess for you guys?
For a young player, it’s happened very fast for him to establish himself as a real playmaker. You saw what he did against Georgia Tech, break that game open. So, he’s a threat at any time.

You had mentioned yesterday that this is still relatively new for QB Marques Hagans, at least in comparison to other players, like Randall, who’ve been around longer. Can you just talk about what you see in his development week-by-week?
Maybe the biggest thing is that at this stage now, after 10 games, most of what he will encounter during his career as a quarterback, he’s already seen at least once. Whether that’s a coverage that he has to deal with, a game situation that he has to deal with, a circumstance of he’s playing very well and he wants to maintain it, or he’s not playing as well as he wants to and he wants to improve it. Maybe we haven’t covered the full alphabet here, but, most everything that he’s going to be exposed to and eventually have to have an answer for, I think he’s experienced here probably at least one time now. We all know, from many tasks that we try to learn, be they mental or physical tasks, that one time exposure doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve mastered them. But, you’ve got a lot better chance after you’ve seen what’s out there, than when it’s all knew. And, I think he’s pretty well seen what’s out there. Now, he just needs more turns, more exposures to those situations.

The change of punter is the most obvious thing to the fans and reporters, but how much of an overhaul did you do on your kick coverage team overall or was it just that? You didn’t change any other positions?
That was it. When the ball’s in the air longer and further, the cover guys look more effective.

You’ve seen a lot over the past couple of days about the fans and players getting into fights. With a rivalry game like this, and particularly due to the events of the past weekend, do you do anything more to tell to your team anything more to maintain their cool as you go into Blacksburg this weekend?
One, we don’t anticipate that they’ll be any events that would trigger that type of circumstance. I think in prepping your team for the season, if you’re waiting for unfortunate circumstances like that to bring it up, then you might be a day late. So, we try to address the possibility of these circumstances, what can trigger them, obviously like so many other circumstances that people find themselves in in life, that just kind of happen just like that, when it’s all over with, they never would have premeditated wanting to be in that kind of a fix. It just happens and you react in a way, and then when it’s all over and people are saying, `if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t find myself in that circumstance.’ They’re spontaneous things. And so, it’s important to try to program the spontaneous thinking before it becomes necessary, is what I’m trying to say.

Getting back to special teams, you’ve talked about this before, but did the kickoffs leave you shaking your head on Saturday? Three for touchbacks and then a couple of 46-yard returns on balls that just barely made it into the end zone?
I thought the kicker was real good. I wish those last two had been better, like I’ve said in here before, every one of them’s a new kick. Okay, every one’s a new kick. The one before the guy returned it for 46-yards, everybody was cheering because we recovered the ball on the 17-yard line.

With P Chris Gould, I think you used the word, `moxie,’ to describe him. Is punter a position where that’s especially important considering the way they can dictate field position?
No, it’s not particularly important at punter. It’s particularly important that your punter be like the rest of your team.

Could you tell that quality from him, early on, even preseason practice, that he had that?
I think on all the people who come in you try to ascertain as closely as you can without being personally involved with the player that those qualities are there. But until you’re actually there every day, how many of these players that we recruit to come here, have we ever been there at the same time with them. That is, most of our evaluation is on tape. You know, who knows what goes on in between plays, who knows what goes on in the locker room at halftime, who knows what goes on in between games unless you have a real good source to tap into for information. You’ve been at a lot of places. Sometimes, you only learn those things when you’re around. … But, yeah, that’s a standard that we’re trying to recruit to.

Did you think about making that move with him earlier in the season? I know that P Sean Johnson has struggled, but did Chris Gould do something of late in practice that made you think, `Alright, he’s ready’?
We didn’t have any preconceived ideas at the start of camp as to who the punter would be. Obviously, there was nobody here who had ever punted in a game for Virginia, really hadn’t ever been around here much as a punter, whether it was Sean, P Kurt Korte, Chris, P Bryan Lescanec. Now, we wanted to take a look at all of them. But, we knew that this couldn’t be like a Punt, Pass, and Kick competition, it couldn’t go on forever. We had to make a fairly quick assessment. … We couldn’t have a three-week trial and on Thursday before the game say, `You’re the guy.’ … Much the same, if you’ll recall, PK Connor Hughes, who has had a very good career here, and despite the fact that not every one of his kicks went through early, now he’s still second in the Atlantic Coast Conference in terms of accuracy percentage, that we were struggling at that position during the early stages of that particular season, and we started to use him when he proved that he was ready. That is, I guess both these circumstances fall under the same thing that we were talking about last week, that our attitude on a lot of players is `when they’re ready, we’re ready.’ All of a sudden, Connor was ready. Had he kicked, when he first came here, had he kicked the ball the same way that has led him to be 39-for-45 during his career, that’s a pretty good percentage, okay, if he’d a kicked that way the first couple of weeks that he was here he probably would have been the kicker from the outset. If Chris had averaged 43-yards a kick throughout the course of training camp, he probably would have been the punter from the start.

Gould debuted against Georgia Tech last weekend, would it have been difficult to break in a new guy this week, just because it’s Virginia Tech?
I think when you make that change, whenever it is, everybody–the coach, the punter, anyone else who’s aware of it–is a little anxious to see how it’s going to go. That it’s already been done is probably a good thing.

On LB Darryl Blackstock:
Perhaps it is just a circumstance of some things opening up for him, maybe the match-ups are a little bit more advantageous to him, but his game’s evolving too. He’s better at doing some things now that he was in Week 2. And, that’s as it should be. Unless a lot of players on your team are doing that, then you’re not getting better as the season goes on. And, we should think that he’s going to play better next September than he’s going to play on Saturday.

I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of tape of Virginia Tech’s defense with and without LB Xavier Adibi. I’m just curious as to what he has brought since his return?
A lot of speed for the position, I mean, when their whole defense is running to the ball, it just seems to look like one guy is pulling out in front all the time. He’s got very, very good instincts, and the speed, and the want-to to get to a lot of plays. He’s one of those players that easily falls into the `playmaker’ category.

In general, do they have one of the faster defenses that you’ll see this year?
They run very well. How it would compare to others, I haven’t really tried to make that analysis, but they run very well.

As the games have gotten tighter in conference play, you haven’t been able to use TB Michael Johnson the way you did earlier in the season. Where is his progress right now?
Good. I really liked the way he ran on Saturday. It really hasn’t been a question of the tightness of the games. You could say, at one point, we really weren’t using TB Alvin Pearman the way we wanted to, but that’s because we liked what was going on with TB Wali Lundy. Now, we’re not quite using Wali, if you just looked at him as an isolated case, we’re not using him quite the way we want to, which would be to have him get it 25 times a game, but that’s because Alvin’s in there. If Mike was getting it 25 times a game, then we’d say we’re not using so-and-so. So, it’s just a function that Alvin got in, he really got on a good roll, he’s got a good feel for the plays, he’s had productive game after productive game, so he’s taken more of the turns. But I’m very pleased with, really about the same time, with the way all of them have progressed with their running. I think Wali’s running the ball the best that he has since he’s been here. And, I was very pleased with the way Michael ran the ball the other day. So, the point that I’m trying to make here is that if one guy’s not getting as many carries as the other guy, it’s no commentary on that he’s doing anything wrong, it’s just, since we’re not in the wishbone, there’s really only one of them that’s going to get it as the main ball carrier.

Is Mike a guy who, like Alvin, could switch to wide receiver for a game or two with his speed?
Well, if we trained him there. Alvin was trained there. Alvin took time in training camp. That’s easier to do with a veteran player. This was Alvin’s fourth training camp. It’s not just carrying the ball, it’s less turns at pass protection than what he needed. That’s the most important thing. Once a back proves that he’s had enough turns at pass protection, that he can afford to allocate his time someplace else, then you can do that. But, who goes in the game on any team that’s interested in throwing the ball at all, how well the back can pass protect has a lot to do with how well they play. It’s clearly not about just running the ball. A young player needs more turns at pass protection to get it down obviously than a veteran player does. So, this year coming back for his fourth camp, at a certain point in camp, we were comfortable that Alvin could take some turns at wide receiver that wouldn’t diminish his pass protection. We wanted the other two players to get all the turns at pass protection that they needed.

What can you say about Wali and his character and how he’s responded to Alvin getting the bulk of the carries the last few games?
Well, he’s been the same way about it that Alvin was when the rolls were reversed. They both understand their importance. It’s been confirmed to both of them how well they’re doing, how important they are. They’re realistic. They understand. They’ve seen it happen on other teams. Running backs understand that.Referring to TE Heath Miller’s reception numbers, until 70 became the frame of reference, would you have thought 34 receptions through 10 games would be a lot of catches for a tight end?It is on most teams. Yeah, it is on most teams. It’s probably the most by any tight end in the conference this year.

Yet that 70, shouldn’t they be talking about that for years? Do you foresee ever throwing it 70 times to a tight end again?
Very possibly, sure. But, that included one game when we threw it 55 times last year. You know, as I’ve said repeatedly about that circumstance, we had one of the most accurate quarterbacks to ever play college football. He [Matt Schaub] was a stand-in-the-pocket, drop-back quarterback, at 6 foot, 6 inches, and extremely accurate. We would have been foolish to call 18 pass plays a game with him. Then, we’re not using all of the weapons at our disposal. Now, we have a different kind of quarterback who’s not `in the middle.’ That is, even if we were passing the ball on the same amount, we’re passing from different spots on the field. It’s not as much full field passing. In direct answer of the question, we go back to having another Matt Schaub-type quarterback then it might revert back to those circumstances.

WR Fontel Mines had a nice catch and run the other day, then drew a pass interference call later on. You said you were not avoiding him obviously, but did you and wide receivers coach John Garrett and offensive coordinator Ron Prince make a point before the game to say let’s make sure that he gets involved in the passing game as well as the running game?
No. We didn’t say anything about WR Michael McGrew either. They were at a rotation at that position. And, part of the reason that Mike had eight and Fontel had one is because it just so happened that’s when Mike was in the rotation.

Is there an advantage to having Fontel integrated in the passing game with his size?
There’s an advantage of having a Z-receiver integrated into it, whoever it might be. Obviously, we’re not trying to keep the ball away from him, but nor do we go in saying that this specific player. It’s the same thing, we can’t get the ball to Lundy, Pearman, Miller; we just can’t get it to everybody on a priority basis. Quite frankly, if McGrew had eight catches, and Mines had five catches, and Miller didn’t have any, then everybody would be saying, `Don’t you think you should get the ball to Miller more?’ But, the Mines fan club would be happy, and the McGrew fan club would be happy. And, the Alvin Pearman fan club would be happy. Now, if Wali gets it 27 times on Saturday, and Alvin gets it 13, somebody’s going to say, `How come you decided not to use Alvin as much?’

You guys used trick plays a lot in your first three years, and seem to have backed off on that a lot this year. Did you use them because you needed them, or have you backed off because you don’t need them or are you keeping some in the bag?
Well, I would say a combination of all those things. I would say that, in assessing the team in the early going, maybe we felt a more compelling need to be a little creative in how we were trying to find yardage. That and the fact that in some cases here maybe the circumstances haven’t been such that we would, but we haven’t dismissed them. We have a special category on the sheet for them. You know, we know where they are. But, let’s say we’ve got a drive going that’s got some impetus, and we’re really moving, and we’re running the clock, and we’re going to have a 34-minute possession game, and we think that that’s going to turn out well, then in some of those cases, we say well let’s just … we’ve got a pretty good idea of how it might end up at the end, so let’s try to do that.

As good as your linebackers are, how vital is it to have a guy like Andrew Hoffman at nose tackle?
That’s where it all starts, absolutely. A thing that has been very helpful to the overall play of the defense, as well as then, obviously, to the linebackers, is that, this is the best, and it’s easily explained why, but this is the best nose tackle play that we’ve had at any time. We came in, and now, obviously, former DT Monsanto Pope is a very talented player because he’s still playing for Denver, but it was a brand new position to him. Andrew learned the position that year while he was red-shirting, and then, now is in his third straight season of being starter. So, as his skills have developed, he’s a guy now that’s been in training for four years. He’s got this position down pretty good. And, so the development of his skills plus his knowledge of the position, he’s clearly given us more production there than at any time.

Who, of the young players at that position, or that you’re looking at to maybe move there, maybe among the guys you’re red-shirting, do you see there in the future?
Obviously, NT Keenan Carter has played there some. NT Melvin Massey has played there. There are a number of the younger players, depending on how it works out at end, could play there.

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