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Al Groh’s Press Conference
November 15, 2005

Is there any update on S Nate Lyles’ condition and his availability this week? (Lyles was injured in last Saturday’s game vs. Georgia Tech and was taken off the field on a stretcher following a collision with P.J. Daniels in the first quarter.)
He’ll be back this afternoon for practice, but in a staying part of the team basis, which we want him to do very much.

You mentioned the number of Virginians starting this weekend. Virginia Tech has the same sort of thing, obviously. What does that say about the talent in the state and the way the two programs are keeping that talent?
As has been well documented, a game like this surely points it out, that this is a tremendously rich state as far as talented football players.

What do think of Virginia Tech? Obviously, they’re a well-rounded team, and you said they’re one of the best coming in here this season. What do you expect from them?
I expect that we’ll be playing the best team that we’ve played this year, by far, in terms of strength in all areas. That’s not the coach speculating or hyping the team, that’s the numbers say that. If you look where they rank in conference standings, and at this time of year the statistics that the ACC puts out, the ones that are really relevant are those that include only conference games, which it’s a really good idea that they have, because it really shows you competitive comparisons. That is, who the non-conference opponents were, whether they were really challenging opponents won’t affect those statistics. When I was looking them over yesterday morning, I think it’s 8 or 9 categories out of the 14 that they are ranked one or two in the conference. So, that spreads it across all areas-offense, defense, special teams, running the ball, stopping the run. They’ve got very good talent on the team, most of it’s mature talent, there are very few young players playing. So, it’s talented, it’s experienced, and I think the schemes are well put together and very challenging to play against.

When you look at the Marcuses for each team at quarterback (Marques Hagans for Virginia and Marcus Vick for Virginia Tech), how do you compare how they are similar and different?
I don’t make comparisons between players; I just judge them in their own right. Obviously, they’re two of the most important players on each respective team.

With the quarterbacks style-wise, are they more similar or dissimilar?
They’re certainly more similar than they are different. They’re multiple threats-run, pass, scramble out of trouble, on the edge on bootlegs, strong arms. And, they’re from the same school district.

Marcus Vick seems to be somewhat of a reluctant runner sometimes. And, it seems like in the past, even in the Miami game two weekends ago, when they got frustrated by not being able to punch it in in the red zone, they seem to put in plays where Vick to run, like if we can’t do it anywhere else, Marcus run.
Well, he’s got 450 yards rushing, which, other than (Texas QB) Vince Young, probably right up there among the top quarterbacks this year, so I’d question how reluctant he has been to run. They certainly do take advantage of his running skills in the red area, and certainly not out of frustration, a lot of them are first down plays. So, he… now it becomes like single wing football. You’ve got an additional runner in the backfield with an additional blocker for him, and perhaps the fastest runner in the game. So, it certainly creates a significantly different situation than you face in the red area against most teams.

When you are breaking down a team, and you have one game that was so unlike the other ones, as the Miami game was for Virginia Tech, do you just treat that as an aberration, and look for… or do you think, “Hey, Miami figured out how to beat this team?”
Well, yes, because really Miami is playing with a different deck of cards than most of the teams that are playing against Virginia Tech. It wasn’t too much out of their norm for how they play, but their game plan for how they were going to play them is clearly different than most teams would feel comfortable attempting.

When you look at Virginia Tech’s defense, is it the best defensive unit you’ve seen from them in recent years?
It’s certainly the equal of any that we’ve seen. I’ve read commentary out of Blacksburg that… they say that it’s the best. They know a lot more about it than I do, so I would certainly concur with that. There are some very, very good players on that defensive unit… very good.

In starting Byron Glaspy over Jamaal Jackson at safety, you’re starting a guy who’s a walk-on and has played one game, over a scholarship guy. Is there more to Byron’s credit or just something that Jamaal hasn’t done that you were looking for?
Walk-on, full scholarship, half scholarship, National Librarian Association award winner, it doesn’t make any difference to us. Once the player is on the team, it’s all based on performance and expectation of performance in the game. Whoever we have out in the game, we think they’re going to do a good job. That’s why we put them out there. If we didn’t have confidence in them, we wouldn’t put them out there.

What is Byron doing that Jamaal isn’t?
I don’t think it’s a Byron vs. Jamaal comparison. Byron’s come in and has done a really good job. He’s smart. He’s alert. He’s very coachable. Obviously, he would have to be to pick things up as quickly as he has. He’s got good speed. He’s got a nice toughness about him.

Georgia Tech head coach Chan Gailey said on Sunday that it’s easier to pick on a cornerback than it is a safety. But, he said that they tried a lot of things to take advantage of Nate Lyles and Tony Franklin being out. Did you notice that? What did you see them doing?
Sure, well, it is, because you can get a corner with pure isolation. The safeties are always going to be back there deep. You can always run receivers on vertical patterns and get them involved. But, we tried to, as the game went on and we saw what was going on, make some alterations in some of the stuff that we were calling, keep changing it up so that we wouldn’t be a target down the middle of the field on particular patterns. So, there were a few things that we adjusted to during the game.

Gailey also said, regarding your third down conversions, it seemed to them that you changed a lot of your tendencies, which I guess is one of the purposes of self-scouting. Did you change your tendencies much or did that occur during the open date or did that occur after the Temple game?
Well, we try to analyze… we get weekly information to give us an opportunity to see if there are any real patterns that we’re developing or patterns that we want to break. We were able to do it both on paper and on tape cut-ups. But, obviously, the bye week always gives you more time to do more detailed study of those things, so I think we probably… that helped us out in that respect. And, then, some of the things we did in the game following that either added to or broke those. And, that’s not only third down. There are other situations too that some times the calls are made because a team feels a need to break their pattern, it’s not just about the situation at hand. A team feels a need to break their pattern-what they’re doing there-both for that particular moment but also so teams can say, “See, this is what they always do.” Well, they don’t always do that now, they change it. Sometimes you get a real benefit from that at the exact moment, but sometimes you get a benefit down the road because now they have to prepare for different things in that situation. So, there’s a little bit of that that goes into every game plan, but there were some of those things last week, yes.

You spoke earlier about confidence. What was the team’s state of mind following the UNC game? On another level, did that bye week come at a beneficial time for them to catch their breath?
I think, collectively, as is the case with… I don’t really think that the player mentality, or the player attitude was much different than, say, after the Boston College game or the Maryland game-disappointed in a game that, in the latter part of the game, we had a chance to win, but we didn’t win. I thought we could have played better. Had we made a few plays in each one of those games at the end, it might have been different. So, there was that feeling of emptiness left when you didn’t complete the job. Really, in talking with the players, it seemed that, frankly, at that time, they would have much preferred to have played again the next week rather than to have waited around.

When you’re going up against an offense that comes in with a quarterback with this much hype and this much ability, I guess, conventional wisdom is to deal with the defense against an offense like this and take away that player. We talked about shadowing earlier. But, a lot of defensive coordinators have said the opposite, that you need to take away the athletic players and playmakers around him and force that player to beat you one-on-one. What are your thoughts on that?
It depends on whom you have to take him away. Clearly, Miami was able to match-up in a way that they dictated that a lot of more challenging throws be made. Not everybody that’s played against them has been able to, as I said earlier, play with that deck of cards. There are a lot of formulas in the book, you know, that you can pick out to deal with this type of situation. But, the first thing you have to look at is what you’re playing with yourself.

You spoke at the ACC Kickoff in July at the Homestead about wanting Marques Hagans to have some fun this season, playing quarterback to relax. Has he done in that area what you wanted and is he a different quarterback than he was last year?
Yes, he has. If you’ve been around him, say, on the occasions when you were up there (Homestead), or if you see him come down the steps onto the practice field every day, you can see that this is a player with an awful lot of energy and an awful lot of enthusiasm and just likes football. When he comes in the weight room, he’s happy to be there early in the morning to be lifting weights. He’s happy for the off-season program. He’s happy to come to practice. He enjoys football tremendously. He’s just got an engaging spirit about him on top of that, and that’s really been evident here throughout the course of the season. In summary to your question, he has really stayed on track with that.

People talk about players taking ownership of the team, is it possible, somebody like Marques Hagans really wears the team’s fortunes on his sleeve, is it possible to take too much of it on yourself?
You have to have a good perspective on it. With maturity at the position that he’s had, this year he’s been able to combine how important the team is. I mean, this is a great team player. With him, it’s all about the team. It’s all about winning. It’s all about what he can do for his team. He’s proud to put that jersey on every week. And, so, it means a great deal to him. And, he has a particular pleasure when we win, because the team does mean so much to him, and he takes it very seriously and very personally when we don’t. But, on a seven day-a-week basis, he really has enjoyed, hasn’t felt the burden of playing that position or having that ownership of the team. He really has felt the joy of it, and had a great time with it. He’s better to ask than I am, but certainly, as I try to observe a lot about what goes on with the players each week, that would be my observation of him here throughout the course of the season.

Marcus Hamilton held Georgia Tech WR Calvin Johnson to 41 yards. Could you talk a little bit about how big a role he’s played and how big a role he’ll play for the rest of the season?
Marcus has really, obviously by his performance as you can see, has really matured as a player. His intensity on a day-to-day basis, his concentration on the job-I’ve mentioned this on a couple of other occasions after the game on Sunday-but the way he went about preparing himself for that game last week was very impressive. The hours that he put in studying tape, charting what the player did by alignment, by formation, how he ran his routs, he was just very professional about how he went about it. Then, how he tried to apply that to the different practice situations that were out there. So, he didn’t just go to practice, just go out there and run around. He was really, from the start of the week to the finish, he was trying to prepare himself on an ongoing basis to play well in the game. And, clearly, his preparation showed.

When talking about the receivers, your season has been book-ended with Syracuse and Western Michigan with good tight ends and with Virginia Tech and Miami with good tight ends. Within your scheme, I know with LB Ahmad Brooks being back that helps, how would you evaluate Virginia Tech TE Jeff King, compared to what you’ve seen already from the tight end situation, with Maryland TE Vernon Davis sprinkled in the middle there?
Well, Vernon Davis is a different type of player from many of the tight ends. Just his vertical speed is really unique to the position, so he kind of stands out separately from the rest of them. But, outside of that, I think Jeff King is a very, very good player. He’s solid in all aspects of the game. He’s a willing and competent blocker, which is something a lot of them claim they want to be, because, you know, they know their coaches want them to say they’re interested in blocking, but he really is. He does a really good job for them. He’s been used as a vertical receiver, as well as an intermediate receiver, which is an aspect of that position that some teams aren’t able to exploit. But, with the threats that they have on the outside, he is the guy that really makes the middle of the field something that’s an area that has to be defended.

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