Mike London Weekly Football Press Conference Transcript
QUESTION: So with Morgan [Moses] switching around positions, what is the long term plan for him, and where do you see him going forward? COACH LONDON: As long as Landon Bradley’s out with the injury to his hand, Morgan’s going to be at right tackle. Morgan’s development was going on at right guard and at left guard. If Landon comes back, then we’ll probably try to move Morgan back to guard, and any opportunity that might exist so he can get in the game and play. We made a commitment to play him, so we’re going to continue to do that.
QUESTION: What about Oday [Aboushi]? Any chance he’ll stay at left tackle or will he definitely go back?
COACH LONDON: It all depends on what happens with Landon’s recovery, and if he’s available. If Landon comes back we will have to evaluate him on how he can pass protect. With his hand, I understand he’s got to wear probably a big club cast – it depends on his effectiveness. If he can pass protect, we’ll move Oday back over to right tackle. If not, we’ll just kind of see what Landon can do before we jump into the hypothetical of him starting out at left tackle. Once again, I just want to see what he can do once he gets back. I don’t know how many games he’ll be out, or when they cover his hand up, how effective or ineffective he’ll be.
QUESTION: Could Landon go to the right side?
COACH LONDON: It all depends. He could, and it depends on the technique that Coach Mattes is going to teach him to run block and pass protect. When you’re an offensive lineman, particularly left tackle, your hands are very, very important. But there are other ways to do that, to teach a technique, so he can have a measure of success and not be frustrated because he can’t use his hands. We’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it.
QUESTION: Where do you see the defense right now and what do they need to do to provide stiffer competition?
COACH LONDON: I think the things that happened with the passing game, obviously the first play was one that we talked about having an edge to the defense, and we didn’t do a very good job of setting the edge to the defense. Whatever coverage you talk about, cover two, cover four, someone’s responsible for returning the ball to the inside where the pursuit is coming inside out. Unfortunately, our corner wasn’t able to do that, and the ball got outside of the guy that’s supposed to set the edge to turn the ball back into.
On another particular play we had miscommunication between a corner and a safety about the type of coverage. The last two are the long ones that I can remember. One was thrown up, and Chase Minnifield, a guy who has played very well went up for the ball and the receiver came down with it and caught it. We have to go up and contest it and knock it down.
Then they had a match up on one of our safeties that beat him, and beat him deep. You don’t want to give any catch and run opportunities as they did with the first play. You don’t want to have any miscommunications.
I think that if we take care of communicating with the coverages and do our assignments, like any coverage or any call – we could minimize those long throws. You can’t get the ball thrown behind you or you can’t miss a tackle or a pass and let a run go for a touchdown that was 81 yards. If anything, make them throw in front of you, and make them just keep throwing it in front of you and break up and tackle.
They got four or five behind us, and that’s not good. You can’t accept that and we have to do a better job of that for sure.
QUESTION: Getting back to Oday and Morgan. How did they do in their initial games in their positions?
COACH LONDON: With Morgan we talked about him putting his big boy shorts on. He got all he could handle. I think he had two mental errors that involved the movement and speed of the game that he didn’t read his assignment correctly.
I think what he does do is provide us with a big-bodied presence and actually did a nice job of bringing that presence to the game. He’s going to be a good player here. His learning of the system and his learning when he’s playing in the game – becoming accustomed to the speed of the opponents and how fast and how good they are, he’s just going to get better.
Brandon Hourigan is going to be a process that Morgan’s going to have to utilize to cut some weight to maintain some strength and flexibility and endurance. I’m happy for him because here’s a guy that some people didn’t think could make it here or stay here, and he played a relatively pretty good game for it being his first start of his college career. Looking forward for a lot of good games from him and a long, long, long career.
QUESTION: How about Oday?
COACH LONDON: Sometimes not as easy to say, okay, go from the right to the left, because you get acclimated to the calls on the right side all the time. 18 Power, 16 this – then all of a sudden you go over to the left side, and you have to be alert and aware to the calls that are made over there. He too had a couple of mental errors that you could attribute to maybe being on the other side.
But he’s another young player that played some last year, and now he’s in a position where he’s playing and starting every game so far. I think with him and Morgan, Landon Bradley being back, there is a decent nucleus of young players that will learn because they played in games. My hope is to go get the offensive line back to where it used to be when Brick was here, and Eugene [Monroe], and Elton Brown and guys like that. We are trying to attract those kinds of offensive linemen to be interested in coming to Virginia.
QUESTION: On defense, is one of the issues sometimes that a guy tries too hard to make a play or contribute more than he needs to?
COACH LONDON: I don’t know. I think what it is, when you look at football, whether its pro football or peewee football, missed tackles occur in a game. There is no such thing as a game that’s goes with no missed tackles. But what happens when you’re in the open, you’re in a position where it’s one on one, and the ball carrier makes a great move, and you end up flailing around trying to reach out for him. It accentuates how the situation is in terms of missing the tackles.
We started out the season, we prided ourselves on game tackling and running to the ball. We needed to keep cultivating that mindset about when one guy misses him, then the next guy and next guy have got to be there. That is all part of defensive football. We’ve got to get back to that. Not that we ever got away from emphasizing the gang attacking part of it, but it’s part of defensive football that is the necessity. The more times you have guys around the ball, the more times you can minimize those missed tackles that turn into long runs.
We’re working hard at that. Trust me when I say that. We’re looking to do a lot better this week coming up.
QUESTION: You’re facing an Eastern Michigan team that has been struggling for the past two years. You don’t overlook any opponents, obviously, but do you look at this as a chance to get your feet back under you and get some confidence back?
COACH LONDON: I look at this as an opportunity to play well and win a game. We need to win a game. You lose a game and it’s a long week of answering questions. You think about what you could have done better, while the guys are going to class all week going through all of that.
The only way you take care of that is playing well and giving them a chance to win a game. That is the first and foremost concern as we go through our process, and our mindset going into this particular game.
QUESTION: Chase [Minnifield] after the game Saturday talked about the miscommunication among the secondary. Do you guys attribute that to any particular thing?
COACH LONDON: That’s part of mental errors. It happens on every team, the miscommunication. In the back end when you have miscommunication, it obviously can cost you points and that’s exactly what happened.
It’s not just with the secondary – sometimes the linebackers have miscommunication with the secondary, which affects underneath coverage. We addressed that on Sunday, and we’ll continue to do that. If it means that you’ve got to yell out a coverage as loud as you can so everybody in the stadium hears it, whatever it takes. That’s what we’ve got to do, because we need to minimize those things. We need to minimize the – ‘I didn’t get the call.’ – We need to eliminate those type of things because those are unacceptable when you’re playing defensive football. Because, as you saw, you get a guy behind you or you’re not around a guy, then you’re going to pay for it. We’re definitely going to address that.
QUESTION: When you have a lot of prospects at a game and the game doesn’t go well, how do you deal with that and how big of a challenge is that for you postgame?
COACH LONDON: Judging from the response that I got from a lot of coaches and people, is that they look at it as an opportunity. They see it as an opportunity to be able to play -to see themselves making those plays, that catch, that tackle, whatever it may be. The University of Virginia is a great academic institution, and people want to align themselves with the type of education the school provides.
I think the message hasn’t changed as far as the type of young man that we’re looking for. We want to be good, we’re going to be good, but there are different aspects that that are part of building a program. Obviously, recruiting is one large part of it. We’ll continue to keep addressing that. We’ll continue to keep making that a priority for us.
Guys who can catch it, guys who can throw it, guys who can run it, can tackle, all of those things will be a priority for us. To come out of that game, I was encouraged by the number of young men that said they could see themselves here.
QUESTION: You were part of Al’s [Groh] first staff here, a losing season, when you went through a lot of the same things. Have you been able to draw on that in trying to bring in a great class?
COACH LONDON: When you first come in, that’s what you try to build. In our case we’re trying to build our program. I knew that it was going to be a challenge. We beat the teams we were supposed to beat, and we lost to BCS caliber teams that have guys that are pretty good athletes. What you see is your need to recruit, whether it’s speed or recruit height or recruit playmakers. You have an opportunity to see that, and really hone in on that.
Our quest is to win some games and show people that we can be competitive and keep young men, like we just mentioned before, interested in Virginia, seeing themselves out there being able to play. That is part of the process of building a program and starting over.
I’m very optimistic. I know that the record doesn’t reflect me being optimistic. I’m optimistic about the future for our program with the young players who are here – we are not going to play any young players for the sake of playing them right now. If a guy hasn’t already played, barring any injury by someone they won’t play because I think that development is critical, and we’re going to continue to recruit hard.
I’m an optimist, and I’ll remain so. We’ll just keep pressing forward with the guys we’ve got.
QUESTION: Many of us saw Marc in the 2008 season when he was very accurate for a long stretch. Yet when he started to throw interceptions, the floodgates opened up late in the season. Obviously he’s not looking for interceptions, but he hadn’t thrown any until the other day. Then he throws three?
COACH LONDON: I think what it is with a guy that wants to do so well. He hears the boos out there. He heard them last year. Obviously, it’s unfortunate. I’ll continue to support Marc, as I need to.
The first interception he tried to make a play and then throw it out of bounds. Marc was about to be hit, he misjudged the fact that lineman was so close when he was about to release the ball. By the time he let it go, he was hit and he took something off the ball. Unfortunately it landed inbounds and that linebacker got the ball.
The other one, he tried to force a ball in, and you can’t do that. Down in the red zone, we were 2-for-6 in the red zone. Best case scenario, that’s four touchdowns. Worst case scenario, its four field goals.
He forced one, and then the last one he just came to the sideline and told Coach Lazor, ‘I didn’t see the guy.’ It does exasperate things for him. It does make him want to press and try to make a play, and it goes downhill from there.
Then the other two that came in, Ross [Metheny] and Michael Rocco played over a dozen snaps, and neither one distinguished themselves much, and they each threw interceptions.
There is no quarterback controversy. Marc Verica is our quarterback, he gives us the best opportunity to win any games right now until he proves otherwise. But we will continue to keep trying to find moments to put Michael and Ross Metheny in the game to find out how much they can close the gap or how much they’ll widen the gap between each other.
QUESTION: For Ross and Mike, it seems like since the start of the year you’ve been waiting for one of them to seize that back up role, still hasn’t happened. What’s it going to take for them to do that?
COACH LONDON: I think it’s going to take some accuracy with some throws. Ross threw one pass and it was an interception. Michael threw eight passes and three completions, one interception.
Michael’s at the stage of being a young quarterback, the tempo of the game is such that when you get out there, it demands a quarterback having a presence about him to get people lined up, to make the right calls, get us in the right formations.
For whatever reason, when Ross was in there, there was an issue with the center quarterback exchange. I think the first one was fumbled. The next couple snaps after those were bobbled. There are issues there that he has to deal with, and they’ll both get better at it because they’ll both have to go in at some point and we’ll continue to play them.
Marc still gives us the best chance.
QUESTION: [Devin] Wallace has gone in for Ras I [Dowling] a couple of times this year. Talk about the job he did Saturday and where you see him and his development?
COACH LONDON: Devin obviously had to come in and fill in for Ras I early in the first couple of games and during the USC game we keep going back to some of the plays he made on the ball and on some tackles. Then when you miss a tackle like happened before against Florida State, it’s like, wow, you know what you need to work on. You get a ball thrown by you for touchdowns versus North Carolina – you know where you need to work.
I think Devin, like all corners right now, we play bump coverage and he’s a guy that says, listen, ‘coach – I messed up – keep giving me opportunities, keep giving me chances.’ That’s the one thing you like about a corner. Sometimes you put them out on an island to guard a guy one on one, and some guys want to play off, some guys want to play on receivers, and Devin is that kind of guy that still wants to challenge players. That is the kind of mindset that you want to have your players to have.
We’ll see how Ras I is this week in practice. But as I said, I think Devin and Chase have given us the best opportunities when they’re out there. Michael Parker has provided a little relief with playing more special teams. And Rijo Walker, the other of the three freshmen that has seen time, is the one that is playing in all facets of the special teams. He’s actually doing a pretty nice job, but he’s the fourth corner when Ras I’s not in.
QUESTION: You talked on the conference call last night and mentioned the B word, blitz. Doesn’t seem you’re blitzing that much or with too much of a variety of players. Are you at the point where you’re going to have to – I think you said last night, you’re going to do some more. Has it been a matter of having young players and a young defense, for the most part, that’s kept you from doing more of that to this point?
COACH LONDON: I think a lot of it has to do with the team that we are playing against. The week before, you don’t blitz an option team that much. You just don’t want to do that. This week, part of the scheme that Coach Shoop, the offensive coordinator at North Carolina put together was either tight end or back end, and chip your outside rusher. If you are going to rush four, then provide another opportunity to double your outside rushers and release them in the pass route later.
Then what happens you’ve got to put pressure on the quarterback and you’ve got to bring another guy or two other guys. Make each potential blocker have to block one guy instead of the opportunity for one to chip – like Cam Johnson. They would leave the running back on Cam and stay on him a little bit and release the back into the flat.
We have to find ways to get to the quarterback through personnel, through schemes. This game particularly because of the quarterback of Eastern Michigan will be important. In their Ohio State game he threw for over 200 yards, in this past game he ran for a lot of yards, we’re not going to be able to sit back and just let a guy do whatever he wants to do. We’re going to have to find ways to put pressure on him.
QUESTION: Recruiting obviously being a huge part of what you’re trying to do to build a program, how hard is it or how challenging is it to have a guy like Marc, kind of struggling, and how difficult is it to balance loyalty to players against the need to develop players and all that stuff knowing that whatever you do will be represented by other programs and their recruiting as either positive or negative?
COACH LONDON: First and foremost, I’m responsible for the players here at the University of Virginia. I have to be the safeguard of how they feel about themselves. The relationship the head coach has with them is one of trust and mutual respect. Also being able to evaluate them and you’ve got to be very honest with them. In Marc’s case because of where we are with the other quarterback situation, right now he’s the guy that’s taken the most reps that’s won games. That if he stays within himself and plays within himself, it gives us an opportunity.
At the same time, recruiting is always the lifeblood of any program. In his situation being a fifth year guy, you have the other young players that are behind him, but if there’s someone else that is out there that is a quarterback that is talented, that you also want to say, listen, this is an opportunity for you this particular year to come in and help us.
If we were at a point where he was a fifth year guy and we had a junior next to him, and a red shirt sophomore like some programs do. Like you try to do when you’re building a program, you start going through the hierarchy of your quarterbacks, you always have a guy that’s played in some games and used up eligibility. And then you have another guy that’s not played in games. This is a unique situation and we don’t have that.
You encourage the guy that you have. You keep trying to develop the ones that you have underneath of them. And you go out and recruit some that are talented because you never know what they might bring to the table, so it’s a balancing act, but it’s one that I’ve got to do.
QUESTION: You mentioned the mid point of the season, a natural time to look back at the progress so far. Is this a point in the season where you go with players and review things just beyond the weekly review?
COACH LONDON: I think the biggest thing now is we are who we are as far as the record is concerned. The same energy and passion and things like that, – the season is long from being over. Maybe a lot of people have written us off in terms of opportunities to do anything with the season. But these guys, the way they lift, the way they prepare, talking to Coach Hourigan and people that are around them, they’re upbeat and they’re excited. The mindset is different than what it was before. That’s half the battle right there. Because you can get back into a defeatist attitude and hang your head – there is no hanging of the head. You walk around the Grounds with your heads up high.
I talk to you guys with my head up high with confidence. I go to all these events – I have confidence in this program and the young players who are going to be representative of this program. We’re a work in progress, and we’ve been saying that from the beginning. But the things that are happening or are going to happen for us are the things that I’m hopeful for and I see happening.
The recruits we just talked about, there are a lot of them that see that also, and that’s what makes me optimistic. We’re not where we want to be, but we’re moving in a direction, I think, the second half of the season – fans, students, please hang in there with us. I know you’re disappointed. We’re disappointed. The players are disappointed. But if there ever was a time to continue to support this team and this program before basketball gets started, this is the time. This is an opportunity for that.
Very appreciative to the ones that showed up this past week, and hopefully there will be another representative crowd that will show up – but just hang in there with us, fans, I appreciate you on that.
QUESTION: I was going to ask when you were an assistant coach here and you frequently drew close to 60,000 a game. Do you feel that with 60k there instead of 50k, it’s a lot tougher place for opponents to come into?
COACH LONDON: Obviously I’d love to have 60, 65, with the Fire Marshall closing the gates. But, again, it’s what we do on the field. I understand the frustration people have sometimes. Seeing the game with five turnovers you get disappointed – we all are. Obviously, the more success you have, the more opportunities people have to come and see what you’ve got going on.
But what I’m saying as we’re trying to build this thing and eliciting the support of the people that are out there, the community, students and everyone, that they understand this is a work in progress and they’re part of it, so that when this thing does get turned around, they’ll remember. After the game, I had the players come up in the middle of the field, and I said, I don’t want you to forget this. This is your homecoming. We got embarrassed. I don’t want you to forget this feeling about what it felt like. And with the support of fans and players that are out there and came and watched and saw us said you know, coach, I can see myself here, we’re building something that our people in the community around here can be proud of. That’s the plan. The plan hasn’t deviated from any of that.
QUESTION: Could you talk about Eastern Michigan’s quarterback? Could you give us a scouting report about what you know about them?
COACH LONDON: I’ve got it right here. Alex Gillett has averaged about 154 yards a game passing. He’s got ten passing TDs, six interceptions, about 55 percent completions. It was interesting in the Ohio State game, he threw the ball a lot.
Last week in the Ball State game, kind of a wildcat formation, he ran the ball a lot. He’s very talented, very athletic and he’s one of the guys that we will definitely have to hone in on because of what he does.
He touches the ball, he can throw it, and also I think he ran like 35 times last week which is a lot of carries for a quarterback. Obviously, he’s become a significant part of their offense.
QUESTION: Could you talk about the decision to gather the team on the field after the game? Was that something you’ve seen before or did it come to you as a good idea? And how important is a session like that in kind of the developing of the attitude and the program and the toughness and all that stuff that you’re trying to build here?
COACH LONDON: Well, the other games we kind of went over to the students and high fiving. I kind of got a sense that no one wanted to go over there after we got embarrassed and lost. Our students stayed out there to the very end, thank you, I appreciate you.
But as I said, I want to make sure that you can’t get used to losing, because then you get used to losing. When things happen in your backyard or in your home, and you feel like you didn’t give enough fight or you didn’t do all you could to change the situation, then you got to do more. You’ve got to ask more of yourself. I have to ask more of myself, coaches of themselves and players of themselves.
So at that time, it was just an opportunity as their fans were chanting and yelling, our fans were filing out, that I asked the guys not to run to the locker room. Stay right there, listen, take it in, and remember that feeling. Because there will be chances to walk off somebody else’s field victorious with our fans screaming and cheering. It was kind of a moment to teach right there more than anything else.
You feel bad enough, as it is when you lose a game. But don’t run into the locker room and start taking your stuff off right now. Stay, grab everybody’s hand, and understand that, you know that it’s a long season – and sometimes bad things will happen to you, this too shall pass.
QUESTION: How important is it this week for the offense to have success in the red zone?
COACH LONDON: It’s critical. It’s huge when you get in the red zone to come away with points. And it’s frustrating when you’re 2-for-6. It’s frustrating when you get down there and you can’t even get a field goal and you’re driving and you have opportunities to score touchdowns, because that’s what it’s all about.
When you get inside the 20 or the 25 – you’re thinking we’ve got points. The minimum of three points at least. When you can’t capitalize and you can’t make a throw or a guy misses a block and he’s tackled for a loss or whatever it is, it’s a blow to you.
You’re right – we started out taking care of the ball – it’s been an emphasis. It was an emphasis yesterday, and it will be an emphasis all week in our Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday practices, because you cannot leave points on the field when you get down in the red zone.
QUESTION: Not asking you to divulge any plans for the future, but assuming the quarterbacks don’t perform the way you’d like to see them next year, are you opposed to playing a true freshman quarterback? What is your philosophy on that?
COACH LONDON: I know we are losing one quarterback to graduation – then it’s Coach Lazor’s job, and my job to find out who is the next one that can give us an opportunity to come in and help us win games, whoever that might be.
It’s difficult sometimes for a true freshman to come in and just take over and get everything down right. Make the throws, make the calls, get us lined up, have knowledge of what we’re doing and what other teams are doing.
A lot of times a young man – if he gets an opportunity to go through a spring practice or an early camp, then he’ll maybe have a better indication. But when a true freshman comes on your Grounds in August, then it’s hard to say, okay, here, take the reigns and let’s go.
But there are occasions where some have done that because they’re talented and they can do those things. When that opportunity comes, we’ll have to assess the ones that we have and see who can do one and make a decision, because it will be a long term decision, for sure.