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Mike London Weekly Press Conference Transcript – September 12, 2011

QUESTION: You mentioned after the Indiana game winning a road game, winning an ACC road game was next on the list. What would that say about this team, and where they are going?
COACH LONDON: That’s the next logical progression in terms of having an opportunity to play. This is our third game. We’ve accomplished the goal of winning the first home game. We’ve accomplished the goal of winning the first-in a long time-away game. Now you ask about the significance of this game-it’s a conference game and it’s an away opponent. All of the games have significance now.

Not just because they’re conference games, but as a team, the type of team we are now, the more wins that we can accumulate, the more positive feelings guys have about themselves, the more opportunities players have a chance to play and all of those things, and the more you can develop other players. We take it one game at a time, and this is the third game and a third game that’s on the road against a very, very good opponent.

QUESTION: It seems like you had an unusually high number of passes batted down at the line of scrimmage when you were on offense the other day. Do you see anything on film that indicates something was different from what you’ve done in the past?
COACH LONDON: I thought they did a good job of rushing when they weren’t pushing up the field. [Indiana was] a defense that was a 4 3, but also had a 3 3 element to it, meaning they covered the nose tackle and they played inside shades on the tackles. Sometimes that’s not conducive to a pass rush, so what you do is try to press the pocket and then you mirror the quarterback. When he throws, you put your near hand up.

So every defensive lineman is taught that, and I think they did a nice job of just situating the fact-whether it was a crossing route or whatever the pattern might have called for. Instead of getting pushed up the field, they were more content to control it and rush, and then when Michael’s hand released, they put their hand up in the throwing lane. It happens in games-3-4, or 4-3.

QUESTION: Does that have something to do with the throws being too low, or was it by chance just the defensive line making a good play?
COACH LONDON: You know, I would say so. You see a lot of games where quarterbacks throw the ball and just barely miss the guy’s hand. Part of it is accuracy and part of it is, even though the guy got his hand up in the throwing lane, the quarterback was able to complete it. There are techniques you can do offensively to get the defender’s hands down-you can help by maybe dropping that back a little bit deeper, more out of pocket passes, whatever it may be. But I’ve been involved in games that had several knockdowns, and like I said, they just did a good job of emphasizing and getting their hands in the throwing lane.

QUESTION: In this building process, is there almost more value in winning a game like you did Saturday – where you were sailing along, fell apart, but ended up winning?
COACH LONDON: I like the 23 3 games to tell you the truth. I think that as the game went on, you know, there was a penalty that sustained the drive, which is very unusual. On the fumble, the ball actually had a perfect bounce and bounced right up into the guy’s hand. It goes all the way for a touchdown.

And so the change of events that happened in the game causes you to reflect, “Hey, listen, either we have to play better or we are going to have to do something to try to catch up and minimize what just happened to us.’

I think the learning point from that was the latter. The guys learned how to handle third down conversions. There was a fourth down conversion. Matt Snyder dropped the pass before the previous pass and made a big catch after that. So I think the ability to learn how to succeed in that area-that’s where the learning curve is for us. I think it will improve us as a football team.

Obviously you always like to win games at a margin that’s comfortable, but you never know what your team is really made of sometimes until you’re faced with adversity or until you have to come back and have a last- literally a last second-win. It was nothing but a positive learning experience for this team.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the 15 play drive that you guys used to tie the game? What does that tell you about your offense? What were you discussing on the sideline?
COACH LONDON: There was the efficiency of operating-very seldom to you see 15 play drives. Sometimes maybe the nature of the offense-a quick strike offense-doesn’t allow for it. Or maybe sometimes offenses are not quite patient enough to run an offense and move it down the field.

But I think collectively, in everybody’s mind, we have the same goal. The protections were good. The routes, the sight adjust, the quarterback’s reads-they were good. You can look back to execution-that’s always the thing in games in the end. At the beginning, and I think in the end, the execution was exactly where we needed it to be when we needed it on some of those plays we made with some of those players.

I know Perry [Jones] felt bad because of the fumble, the way it happened. The return turned into a score for them. Then when he went over in the end zone for the touchdown, he had both hands and elbows and knees wrapped around the ball because he didn’t want to give that up.

And the players are conscious of that-of making sure this is it. Even though on the defensive side, as I said, Cam had the awareness of getting the ball out when he did. It’s a positive thing. It’s a positive thing for the offense to be able to move the ball like that-know where the sticks were, know the timeout situation, know where the first down was.

There were no substitution issues, no penalties. It was good to see what the model of efficiency looks like. Now we just have to keep doing that-beginning of the game, the middle of the game, third quarter, early in the fourth quarter. That’s what we are trying to keep going.

QUESTION: Clifton Richardson had two nice runs against Indiana. What parts of his game does he still need to elevate?
COACH LONDON: He’s getting there. Clifton is a work in progress, and he’ll see more carries and opportunities to get in the game. He provides another type of back-a big back that can run. And we need to get him in the game. We will get him more involved in the game plan. He doesn’t know the whole offense, but with some of these other guys, they are learning as we are going along. Now it’s time for him to accelerate his opportunities to touch the ball.

QUESTION: How is Clifton Richardson as a pass blocker?
COACH LONDON: He’s pretty good.

QUESTION: Against Indiana, there was pressure on the quarterback from your defensive line. Is there more opportunity for that in the future?
COACH LONDON: One of the stats we always take is the pressures and the hits on the quarterback. I think there were three sacks. There were, I believe, close to a dozen pressures, multiple hits on the quarterback,. Unfortunately one of them ended in a personal foul with Cam.

But those are the things-you try to make the quarterback not stay in the pocket. A couple of times he got out of the pocket by athleticism and because there was not a contain element. But I think that we got after him enough that it didn’t turn into a seven on seven pass game where the quarterback sits back there and has all day to throw.

I think that’s the key. That’s why we are hoping a guy like Cam Johnson and Billy Schautz and Jake Snyder have an opportunity to apply more pressure because, as we start going into this game coming up and other games, pass rushes are always an important element of pass defense.

QUESTION: You talked about LaRoy Reynolds and Ausar Walcott last night. Can you evaluate where the linebackers are?
COACH LONDON: I think so. There are measured amounts of improvement. Reynolds has upped his tackle total. He’s been in position a lot of times. He’s running around pretty good. He watches and watches. He does all of the things that a player who wants to be really good does-extra film sessions and taking care of his body and just the little things like that.

All of those guys have taken pride in the fact that Steve Greer, the middle linebacker, calls the defense and gets everybody lined up. The linebackers make the adjustments and move the linebacker inside or outside and make the adjustments with the secondary. As we talked about before, the second time around for them, they are playing the linebacker position much better.

QUESTION: To what do you attribute the growth in that area?
COACH LONDON: We are always talking about ball awareness and being ball alert in practice is every day. Practices have periods when we are talking about getting the ball out, being ball conscious, knowing where the quarterback are. We don’t hit the quarterback in practice. With the bags that we have, we place the football with a Velcro ball strategically, whether it’s up-top or simulating an arm throwing like a quarterback. Basically we have the ball where Cam took the ball from him.

We use the equipment-particularly in tackling quarterbacks. You can use it to keep teaching those things-keep preaching them-getting your hands on the ball, the interceptions, defending the deep ball. We talked about blocking the ball at the line of scrimmage. You just keep doing those things over and over again.

On the flipside, offensively, we talk about protecting the ball-how you hold the ball, when you’re running with the ball and prior to getting hit, how you cover the ball up. How you make sure that these interceptions don’t happen. When you release the ball, you need to make sure you know where you’re throwing it. We spend a lot of time doing that.

QUESTION: Are you doing the same drills defensively as last year?
COACH LONDON: We are doing the same drills as we did last year. The importance, again, is on where the ball. We know how to get it, but in situations, it’s about knowing where it is. We take film clips of all the ball handers and how they hold the ball, where it is. Sometimes they pull it back and try to escape a rush, or they bring it up. Sometimes he will hold it down on his body. We just put an emphasis on that.

QUESTION: Can you talk about North Carolina’s defense?
COACH LONDON: On film, they look big, strong and athletic. They give up 16 points a game, 30 yards rushing-which is phenomenal-197 yards passing, and under 300 yards total offense. That’s a pretty good defense right there if you’re doing things like that.

A lot of good players are back. Number 12 didn’t play last year-he’s back. Zac Brown is as good as advertised. They are a very, very talented team that can run so our work is cut out for us. Their strength is their guys up front, their linebackers.

They play hard. You see the ball – when it’s thrown in the air, they go after it. Sometimes there’s been a fumble where the ball was kicked, and in the Rutgers game, I think they had three or four of the balls come down to one of the defenders. Sometimes it’s a matter of where the ball lands sometimes. The safety had his hands up.

QUESTION: Can you talk about adjustments Robert Randolph has made?
COACH LONDON: At the beginning, during the preseason, we were talking about the strengths of the team and obviously our kickers were one of the elements that we had to get better at.

Robert’s distance has gotten pretty good. We talked about where the offense would have to get the ball in order for him to have a shot at it. I remember last year, getting to the 25 or 27 yard line, sometimes even a 30 yard line, was it. Now, 33-, 35 , 36 yard line. It helps having a guy that’s got a leg like that. I understand it was his second win and I’m sure that it’s something he’ll savor and maybe might have a chance to do again before this season is over.

QUESTION: Perry Jones led the team in carries, rushing yards, catches, and receiving yards Saturday. Can you talk about how much of an impact he has had and how important he is to the offense?
COACH LONDON: Besides also being captain and one of the vocal leaders of the team, Perry’s ability tocatch the ball out in space was critical. There was one play down on the sideline where Michael made a great throw-another one that could have been knocked down-but he made a great throw and Perry caught it.

Again, you try to utilize what your playmakers can do for you, and Perry probably has one of the best hands on the team as far as catching the ball. It’s good to have a weapon like that out of the backfield in a screen-lineup in a slot formation and run routes like that.

QUESTION: Michael Rocco completed 50 percent of his passes. Were you ever considering taking him out of the game?
COACH LONDON: No. We talked about those balls being knocked down. Obviously it’s frustrating. We don’t want that to happen, and there’s ways that you can address that-as I said before, with the offensive line perhaps in a deeper set or drop.

The thing that happened on offense with the fumble…he wasn’t in there, and then they scored twice on the defense. It’s one of those situations that he was running the offense efficiently, and at that point, had a chance to get that drive started early for them. We stayed with him and good thing we did. I know sometimes the fumble procedure might be to pull a guy after that, but you know, he had the opportunity to prove us right or prove us wrong, and he proved himself right by being able to produce.

I’m so happy for his success because now he knows he can do it.

QUESTION: You talked about Perry’s play-making ability, but what makes him a good captain?
COACH LONDON: I’ve said time and time again, that on weekends-Friday or whatever it was-before the season started, there would be one guy out on the field running, hitting the sled, and that would be Perry.

After a while, guys would come by and start looking at him working out. Then after a while they started joining him. I think that type of leadership-don’t have to say a whole lot, just lead by example-those are the types of leaders that a team needs. He’s not the most vocal guy but he does lead by example, and I think the team has benefitted.

QUESTION: You talked about UNC’s defense, but what can you tell us about their offense and special teams?
COACH LONDON: I know they have two excellent running backs, one of them a bigger type back. Bryan Renner is a player. I know his father, Bill Renner well since he’s a coach up there in northern Virginia. They have height at the wide receiver positions. Coach Shoop has been running their offense for a while. They’re very productive and throw the ball. They have a pretty good running game. Just like the defense is athletic and talented, their skill positions are athletic and talented as well. I think the quarterback has done a good job of distributing the ball to their playmakers.

On special teams, I believe their place kicker is up. D.J. Thorpe is a kick returner, and when I was here before, we tried to recruit him. He has those types of skills, I believe, and returned one back 50 something yards during his last game. He’s very explosive.

They are very athletic and very, very powerful. They have a low center of gravity. The guy that covers the center up does a fantastic job of applying pressure. Their inside tackle, again, is very athletic, and has a very good spin move in for getting close to guys on the outside and for having opportunities to apply pressure to the quarterback.

This is a very good team and they have recruited that way in all aspects-offense, defense, special teams. We’ll have to play our best football.

QUESTION: Is there a particular unit you feel needs improvement or that is doing particularly well?
COACH LONDON: After the game, I talked about the resolve of the team. When you’ve had good games and you’ve lost close games, it’s easy to go south. On the sideline, the talk was all positive and that has been the case in the past.

It was positive seeing that mindset. Hopefully guys will start to buy in a little bit about seeing themselves have success.

QUESTION: Looking back at the Indiana game, from a special teams’ standpoint, the punt-touching call has been talked about it. From a momentum standpoint, how did you get your team to bounce back from adversity?
COACH LONDON: No doubt you have to bounce back and react in a way that doesn’t affect you for that next play or the play after. In those situations, where there is an immediate turnover, the other team will think psychologically that you’re down because of that type of play. So that play is over, and you’ve got to think about the next play before you.

I think as I said before, the communication back there can and will get better. We’ll work really hard on making sure next time that we’re really close to see guys running towards the sideline, and it won’t get away. That’s a communication thing, and we’ll get better at that.

QUESTION: I suspect you remember that Randolph missed his first three FG attempts. Head coaches over the years have been notorious for saying they don’t understand kickers. How much interaction do you have with him? Do you remember his slow start?
COACH LONDON: They are a little different and I don’t know how to coach them or teach them. All I can do is encourage. All I can do is try to keep a guy up and open up the possibilities for getting his mind right. Thank goodness for Jeff Alton-he’s a sports psychologist-he talked about the aspects of that.

With Randolph being older and more of an experienced player, it’s been, ‘Coach, I got this.’ He’s very confident in what he does. I think he’s handling this. All of a sudden, I think he’s the No. 1 place kicker in the country right now. I think he’s waiting to back it up. He’s worked hard at it. His leg is a weapon for us, and we have just got to continue to make sure we get the ball into position where we can continue to keep using it.

QUESTION: Are teams throwing away from Minnifield? If so, how much does that pressure Nicholson?
COACH LONDON: That’s a great question. Whether they are making a conscious effort to throw the ball away from him remains to be seen. We try to be multiple in our coverages either way, where we have a safety at top whether it’s him or Trey Nicholson. I think that Chase is the guy that’s more willing to check the people at the line of scrimmage or a conversion for a fade route.

The skill level that Chase has had-I think he’s done a very, very good job of playing defensive corner, playing the run, playing the pass in our nickel situations.

So Chase has embraced the whole role of playing off, playing up, playing trailer, coming off the edge, communicating with the rest of the secondary about what’s going on with what he sees. He’s played that role, and it’s become a significant role for the entire secondary.

QUESTION: Does the game against North Carolina have recruiting implications?
COACH LONDON: They do go after the same type of student athletes we do. But I think what’s been pretty good for both ourselves and for Tech is that the top players in the state have decided that they see themselves having more opportunities here.

I can remember in years past when three or four of the top in state Virginia players would end up there. So, you know, both staffs are doing a pretty good job of addressing that when it comes to recruiting.

We do have two coaches in Carolina, and I know there’s a couple of kids from Virginia who went there. They are both academic type schools. So far, we have been able to kind of continue our message-these are the type of young men we are looking for. They have had to deal with a set of circumstances and issues that it is what it is.

So I know Coach Withers is trying to do a good job of getting that thing to turn back around into what it can be. Right now, we are just focused on targeting the young men that are here in the state. If there are some young men that are in the Carolinas that have the same type of goals we have, we’ll continue to try to recruit those players as well.

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