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Head coach Al Groh held his weekly press conference Tuesday (Sept. 23). Here are some of his comments about his team’s game against Duke on Saturday and what he had to say about the previous game against Connecticut.

Q: You were talking on your radio show last night about Thaddeus Lewis using the entire field. Could you elaborate what he’s done better this year than in the past?
Groh: He’s certainly much more experienced. Two years ago when we played down there, he was obviously a player of talent, who as we frequently see with young players, was probably the most talented quarterback they had, but a little bit in over his head; things were just happening too fast.

Last year there was a difference, but the last time we saw him it was only the, I think probably, only his second game of his second year. Now we see him in the fourth game of his third year and clearly the process is really kicking in.

Q: You did not handle UConn QB Tyler Lorenzen’s running well but is your defense better off with actually faced a quarterback like that as it gets ready to face another guy that will take off and run?
Groh: Certainly, there’s a lot of overlap, yes. And those quarterbacks seem to be increasingly becoming the norm. (As I) quickly scan through the list of what’s coming up … my sense is there are quite a few more of those to come.

Q: Does he have other weapons or is it just Erron Riley you have seen on tape?
Groh: The remarkable thing about Erron Riley that would get anybody’s attention is that anytime over the course of a player’s career that he averages over 20 yards per catch, that’s quite some production. There’s got to be a lot of A) vertical plays in there, or B) catch-and-run plays, both of which are clearly very dangerous. That combination hooks up well … we remember them very well from the past. Certainly their performance this year gets our attention dramatically.

Q: With Erron Riley is it more vertical or is it more yards after the catch?
Groh: He’s the major vertical threat, but the offense is based around a lot of yards after the catch.

Q: Just looking at the depth charts you have changed starters at both nose guard and safety is that correct?
Groh: We have, as of today. Now by Thursday we’ll see. The depth chart we hand out every Tuesday, is based on what it is that day. The events of that week prove that somebody else has done the work to out perform the guy in front of him, then that could change. But as of the work of last week, that’s where that stands.

Q: Corey Mosley we’ve always heard is a big hitter. Does a big hitter make a good tackler or not necessarily?
Groh: Our small evidence out here, meaning periodically throughout the course of each season as we hold post practicewhat we call developmental scrimmages15-18 plays or the scrimmages during training camp, and the live work in the spring, that has been the case. Clearly the key test is what happens in a real game, but the evidence so far is positive, that he’s done a good job with (tackling).

Q: You said after the UConn game that you hope that the players will take your lead and try to bounce back. How have they responded?
Groh: It’s been good. There’s been a lot of positive energy, (and the) practices have been intense, upbeat … they certainly proved last year there’s a lot of tough-minded kids in this group, and there are a lot of determined kids in this group. And there are a lot of very positive kids in this group.

You know to kind of speak in the and this is a term that I hardly ever used but I hear it used in other circumstances … the issues that we have aren’t in terms of want to, or effort, or toughness. Some of the issues that we have is … our inventory is a little bit lower than what we expected at this time. If we looked at how some of these positions were going to be stocked a year back and looked forward to this date, the inventory is not quite the same that we had anticipated that it was going to be. When that happens team goes through cycles and we’re having to deal with those issues. But if it’s not looking as good we’re accustomed to and what we want it to, it’s not because the players don’t have their full hearts in it, they certainly do.

Q: Does it get increasingly difficult to pick a team up when another guy goes away for nothing that has anything to do with football?
Groh: That’s what every season is aboutpicking your team up and moving it forward on a week-to-week basis. There’s always adversities, there’s always challenges and that’s what it is. It’s teams that are able to meet those adversities, meet those challenges and through whatever performance, positive energy, whatever is necessary. That’s the ongoing thing and that’s why it takes a mentally tough team and player to compete in this game.

Q: Given that QB Marc Verica had short notice or seemingly short notice going into his first start in the last game vs. UConn, did he benefit more than most by the off week?
Groh: His notice was quite a bit more detailed than has been portrayed, but certainly to have multiple practices for a game as to opposed to a normal one week, basically three-day preparations, is a positive. Regardless whether he completes them all or it goes a little rough, it’s been a positive in terms of his preparation and just get that many more turns.

Q: What do you do for a No. 3 quarterback? Is it freshman Riko Smalls or do you really want to keep that redshirt on him at all times?
Groh: That would be nice, but really for this year we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. We have had a number of these developmental scrimmages during this time frame, so we’ve had a chance to look at quite a few of them doing it. I would say that situation remains undecided.

Q: Are you pleased with the way the team has kind of rallied around Marc Verica to kind of help him get up to speed a little bit and make him feel comfortable?
Groh: If you had the opportunity to visit with Marc, you would probably see by his personality, he seldom seems to be in other than a comfort zone. He’s a pretty comfortable, laid back guy.

Marc has been with us quite a while, it’s not like we just picked up a new free agent, and everybody’s got to get to meet him.

I’d say certainly towards one individual, but more than anything, the players are rallying around each other. This is one out of 21 guys out there. He plays one position but there’s a lot of other guys that play some other positions, too, and their position counts equal towards what we need to get done.

Q: Tell us a little bit about Marc Verica. What kind of player he is and what kind of competitor he is.
Groh: He’s kind of unflappable. I’ve heard coaches before say that sometimes about their quarterbacksthe good thing about them is that nothing bothers them; the bad thing about them is nothing bothers them. (chuckles)

But that seems to be somewhat the case, and I think that is good in the early stages; he’s able to shake off those things and get on with the next shot; he does a good job of that. He sees the field nicely; he just needs to keep building up his looks. Those plays that have been most repetitive in our system, here since March 27 clearly he’s demonstrated in most recent practices that those are the pictures that come forth to him the fastest and the cleanest. And the ball gets out of there pretty good and he’s got a good velocity on the ball.

Q: You’ve talked quite a bit about Duke’s offense. What about Duke’s defense, where are they strong on that side of the ball?
Groh: (They use) a lot less schemes then was the case in the past. Not a team that is going to scheme the offense dramatically, but sound. (They’re) very sound in what they do. Probably the very high volume of man coverage, (they’re) going to try to prevent soft throws and make the receivers win.

Q: Duke’s defense doesn’t do as much schematically as they have in the past. David Cutcliffe’s reputation is offensively. What are they doing differently now if much at all?
Groh: I say this very positively they have a good plan. We hear these days sometimes people referring to the game that we watch as basketball on grass’ and that’s kind of what it is. And Thad Lewis is the point guard and they’re running the fast break and if it was in Cameron Indoor Stadium and it was their equivalent of it, he’d probably hear the coach standing on the sideline yelling, push the ball, push the ball.’ That’s what it is, get it out, get it moving. Get it out into space and get it out to places before the defense can get there. It’s the same thing as the guy pulling the rebound down and the coach yelling, push it’ and throw it up the floor before the defense can get there and score an uncontested basket. Get it out into spaces before the defense can get there and score an uncontested throw and have enough inside game that if the defense spreads themselves out to accommodate that, then you play the equivalent of half court and slam it up inside.

It stretches the field as wide as it can go from sideline to sideline with the ability to go all places with the ball. The defense is just stretched all across the field.

Q: How important was it not just to get playing time for Marc Verica who never attempted a pass before in a college game, but also for Scott Deke as well who played more in the UConn game than he had ever played?

Groh: (It was) definitely significant and certainly probably something that the reality is that over the course of the next nine games that we’ll need performance from Scott.

Q: Is Duke a good example of what experience can do, understanding that this season is young, only three games old? This team has been together for a while.
Groh: Certainly in college football that’s a great advantage to have. But I also was struck by the number of fifth- and sixth-year players that the commentators spoke of that they were playing at Wake Forest. Clearly that’s advantageous to players if you can get to those circumstances.

Sometimes injuries cause you to play players earlier than you would have preferred to do so. That cuts down the ability to move them forward; sometimes other circumstances do. Sometimes you just willing to bite the bullet for a time frame and not use everybody on your shelf. But yeah it’s a big advantage if you can do it.

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