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Mike London Press Conference Transcript – Oct. 10, 2011

QUESTION: Because of the bye week, how far ahead are you in terms of preparation? How much of a head start do you feel like you have?

COACH LONDON: Probably a couple of days. Most of what we wanted to do was take care of ourselves first. That’s what you do most of the time in your bye week is take care of those things that you had to deal with offensively, defensively and special teams‑wise. There’s no doubt it gives you an opportunity to have a couple practices, film sessions, walk‑thrus on your upcoming opponent. Obviously this particular game, because of the option attack and also 3‑4 defense, hopefully it provides a little bit of extra preparation for that.

We spent most of it just taking care of ourselves and then getting healthier. That was another issue. Then also, addressing the challenges that this type of offense presents as well as the defense.

QUESTION: Throughout the season, you have put players in during specific series-obviously at quarterback, but also at some positions on defense. Scripting out which players will be in on certain plays is not too common in college football. What are the origins of that?

COACH LONDON: Once you make a commitment that you’re going to play players, then you talk about what series they are going to go in on or how many reps they are going to get.

Once the decision was made to play the 12 that we play now, the questions becomes, ‘Is he a backup, or going too deep on offense and defense, or does he start out as a two‑phase special teams guy that eventually grows into a four‑phase special teams guy?’ I don’t want to get into a situation where one guy just plays a couple of reps, and at the end of the season, he’s seen maybe 15, 16, 17 reps.

I use [Rijo] Walker as an example from last year. He started out in two phases of special teams, and by the time the season was over, he was on all four phases. He’s a better football player from it and by it. That’s sort of the main concept. Again, it’s no different than a lot of other schools around the country that are playing true freshmen. Whether it’s a play count that you want or a number of series that they go in or sometimes a particular package of formations or nickel or dime defense or whatever it is, then you include some of your young talent that way.

QUESTION: Last week on the ACC teleconference you mentioned one of the areas you wanted to shore up was punt returns. What progress have you made, and what exactly were you looking to make adjustments on?

COACH LONDON: The decision process with young players…Dominique Terrell is going to be a very good player. He’s a dynamic player. Talking to him in high school, sometimes they punt the ball, the ball will go about 30 yards, first and fourth, go to him, just different things like that, what he’s been use to and where we want to catch it. It’s okay to fair catch a ball sometimes and not let a ball go behind you.

We had him, Darius Jennings, Earl Scott, Chase Minnifield-they must have fielded about a hundred balls I would say-all different kinds, end over end, spirals, ones that they had to run and catch, ones where the defenders are coming down on top and trying to simulate drills where it’s a back or rushers coming at them.

We try to do some things and simulate as much as we can things that are presented in the game and where they are on the field. He did a really good job of being more comfortable making those types of decisions.

He’ll be back there, Chase will be back there. Without trying to give away too many things, we might have two guys back there. This was a week that was well worth the opportunity to do some things drill‑wise, things like that, to help with the punt return.

I would like to still see him, but also don’t be surprised see two or maybe Chase, who did a lot last year. I feel better coming out of this period, particularly dealing with the punt return. Because you look across from a special teams standpoint, and our kickoff coverage teams have done pretty well-top‑30.

Our punting game is kind of midway of all college teams, No. 53. On field goals, Robert Randolph, even though he’s ten for 13, he’s still fifth in the country in field goals. But obviously punt returns-with a 6.1-yard average return, we are 86th in the country-so that needs to be improved.

That’s a lot of that. If you look at the ball bouncing and going another 15, 20 yards or are catching it, trying to reverse field-just the rule of thumb is to try to get at least ten yards on a punt return catch. That ten yards will probably put you in the top‑25, 30. We spent a lot of time on that and hopefully come game time, game day, we’ll see the benefits of it.

QUESTION: Maryland was able to keep the score down Saturday against Georgia Tech. What were they able to do that other teams have not been able to do against the Yellow Jackets?

COACH LONDON: Maryland had a good game plan. A lot of teams go into assignment football-tackling, the dive, someone handling the quarterback, someone handling the pitch. Looked like they were more inclined to allow the quarterback to run the ball. I think the quarterback had 32 rushes. That might be some scheme built into it. If anybody is going to beat you, then let the quarterback beat you. Although the fullbacks on some of the trap options-there were a couple of those and one really long run, a couple of longer runs.

I think one of the things they were able to do was change up their assignments offensively. We get the TV copy and listen to the commentators. Offensively, Maryland wanted to hang onto the ball more. They were more of a hurry‑up offense, so if you hang on to the ball more, then that’s less time you give their prolific offense to have it.

They did some things. They were not afraid to throw the ball down the field. You saw Georgia Tech threw the ball down the field, sometimes overthrew it. It went to a guy’s hand or a defender made a great play. Prior to that, those guys are making those type of catches. I think it’s a culmination of a lot of things. They played well and they played inspired and they have a young man that I guess got seriously injured, some different things like that. They were on the road.

But they did a great job of trying to execute their game plan. I’m sure if you talk to Coach Johnson and Coach Groh, they’d say they didn’t execute a couple of plays there that, if they got back, it would be a much different story. But you can see the effort that Maryland gave, and it was a pretty good effort.

QUESTION: Talk about the defense and where you think they are.

COACH LONDON: I think we have improved defensively. Obviously some of the things you look at, some of the big plays that have occurred, the passing yardage with those last few games, the Southern Miss game…But I think statistically where we are, like total defense in the top‑30, just different things like that, would indicate that we’re just getting better. If we just eliminate some of those big plays on defense-like when the ball gets thrown behind you, they make a long run here or there, that screen play that went the distance a couple of games ago. If they improve those types of things, then that puts you in a better position and you feel pretty good about yourself.

Defense is playing better, but we have got to play better, particularly going down this stretch, because I don’t think we are doing too well offensively in terms of turnovers. We have given the ball up more than we have taken it away. The mark of a good offensive team is not giving the ball up. The mark of a good defensive team is creating turnovers. If we have three turnovers on offense, then the defense has got to get it back four time; or if we don’t have any, then we have got to get the ball back.

It goes back to possessions, it goes back to what you asked about when you put those young guys in. There’s just a whole bunch of things that you look at, but again, I think defensively we are better than we were last year but we are still getting to where we need to be. This team we are getting ready to play is first or second in BCS football in terms of putting points and yardage up on the board.

QUESTION: What about Georgia Tech’s strategy where Tevin Washington kept the ball- what are the pluses and minuses of having the quarterback rush more than 30 times? Also Dominique Terrell and Darius Jennings played well in the last game. Will we see more of them?

COACH LONDON: I think it goes back to trying to defend the triple option. Of course you want to be sound at all aspects. But Coach Johnson has been doing this offense for so long that even though you may have a guy assigned to the quarterback with the dive, the next thing you know, he’ll pull a lineman that’s going to block the quarterback and now you’ve got to protect your legs, get off the block and make a play at the quarterback.

If you go back and look at yardage gained by the members, Smith is averaging like 15.1 yards per carry. The quarterback, Washington, is averaging about three-point something. I think part of it is that rather than letting your slot backs and the running backs wreak havoc-that if you’re going to gamble maybe as Maryland did a little-you gamble on letting the quarterback carry the ball and maybe letting someone from the secondary come down.

It gives you an opportunity. Obviously last year it was classic-great quarterback, get on the edge, make a pitch, turn it up and run. Kevin Washington ran this style of offense on his high school team. If you look at it, he’s throwing the ball off the play-action. What he does-yes, he may be running the ball more than 32 times last week-but what he does well is his completion percentage and getting into those big wide receivers, like Stephen Hill who’s 6‑5. Percentage of play‑action pass off that and throwing it up deep has worked well for them.

You have to choose how you are going to defend this thing. Like I said, a couple of times they ran a trap option where the fullback could still keep on running. If you allocate all of your defenders to that guy then maybe put one light on the quarterback. And you say, ‘Okay, the corner has to defend the pitch with a blocker on,’ like I said, the running backs have done a good job of just catching the pitch and going and creating extra yardage.

Again it’s an offense that’s worked tremendously for them and the game plan to try to defend it just has to go with you playing better on special teams and getting better field position. The offense has to hang on to the ball a bit more, which goes into taking some shots-whether it’s [Darius] Jennings, [Dominique] Terrell, Kris Burd, Tim Smith-and trying to do some things that limit their time of possession and at the same time, just not falling into the trap that you want to play a back-and-forth game of not trying to utilize your playmakers.

Like I said, Dominique and Darius have done a nice job of throwing and growing and knowing the offense, but Kris Burd and Matt Snyder, Kris Burd, eight catches last week, his role is going to have ‑‑ will also increase, find ways to get the ball also.

I don’t know if you ever can control the ball, run some time off the clock, but I think offensively we have to score points. From a special teams standpoint, we are going to have to do well because this is an offense that is designed to go 15‑, 16‑play drives.

QUESTION: How would you say the freshmen are handling the transition to the college game thus far?

COACH LONDON: That’s part of the learning process of it. You get young guys that come in-whether it’s practicing the different techniques of what their position calls for, whether it’s offensively, defensively or special teams, and you’re coaching and telling them to do this and do that, they do it.

Through the experience of the accumulated amount of reps they get, they do it. They find out the reason why is because if you don’t, you put yourself in a pretty tough position.

With young players, sometimes when you say, ‘Okay, watch your position.’ what happens when they are watching the game is that they get caught up in watching the game. They don’t watch their position. They watch the ball, they watch what’s happening out there. They watch what’s going on in the stands, and they are there, too. You have to teach them how to watch their position.

When the position guy comes off the field, there’s some beautiful dialogue and some talk-back as far as what they saw. You do the same thing in the film room. Sometimes guys watch film and they just watch: ‘Boy, that was a good play.’ You watch the splits of the receivers, you watch the back of the alignments, the down and distance. There’s so many things as young players. A lot of good high school coaches will teach those types of things, but as you get into college, it’s more and more predicated upon film study, how you practice, angles that you take.

That’s an ongoing process with them, and hopefully this weekend, we do a lot of time with that again-just us getting better with how we align, how we make coverage calls, the splits with receivers, a back split versus the line splits up front. Things that you go into camp talking about and you do in spring practice-sometimes you just have to go back and reiterate and it just makes you a better player and a better team.

The focus [of the bye week] was that, getting healthier, and also a couple extra days for preparing for this style of play we are getting ready to play.

QUESTION: Because you have had the extra time, who has played the scout team role of Georgia Tech quarterback Kevin Washington? Since it’s such a wide difference from what you run, do you find that you teach this offense in smaller chunks as opposed to broader concepts?

COACH LONDON: To tour first question: believe it or not, Jacob Hodges ran that style of offense in high school. Now he can’t simulate he’s Kevin Washington by any stretch, but as far as the techniques of the footwork and things like that-the timing or freeze option, belly option and we reverse out, dive option-he’s got time with those things which is really important and he did a really nice job doing that.

The offensive line we try to cut block because they do a lot of diving at your legs and chopping at your legs. We made it a point of emphasis. You look at all of the offensive tape of Georgia Tech, they get you on the ground by cut blocking and cutting your linebackers and your adjacent linemen. That’s part of what they do on the perimeter, blocking your safeties and your corners by making you get your hands down and having to worry about your feet as a receive or as a running back.

But Jacob has done a nice job. You try to take aspects of it because there are so many-there’s the dive principle, down block, fullback off the edge, then they have a trap option where there’s a down block and a back side guard pulls and tries to kick you out, and they have a belly option with the quarterback. There’s so many different things.

You do try to take it and go part, part, part, whole and put it all together and try to get as many looks as you can. Those are the things you have to go off. The linebacker reads, the lineman reads, the secondary reads, all of those type of reads.

Like I said, it does present a challenge to any team that has to play a team like that. It’s hard enough on a short week when you’re going Saturday and then Sunday to Saturday. But trying to simulate that, even with an off‑week, still presents a challenge.

We try to do as much as we can to show them a lot of reps, but there’s nothing like playing at the tempo that they are going to have to play on Saturday. Hopefully we have done the best we can, and we’ll continue to do it. We have practice today. Because of the fall week, Mondays are days off. We’ll practice today, tomorrow, Thursday, so we need all of the extra time we can get.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the ACC in terms of the national football landscape?

COACH LONDON: I’m all for the ACC. As well as our conference does, it bodes well for everyone. I think when you look at it, Wake Forest having an opportunity to beat Florida State was significant. Coach Grove is a great man. I admire him. He has had some adversity, but through patience and perseverance there, it looks like he’s got it going to where he had it before. Georgia Tech has not lost any game and deservedly so. They should be where they are.

Clemson goes into Blacksburg and does what a lot of teams have not been able to do, and that’s win. Tech is playing well. The game that just occurred there between Miami-that was a hard‑fought victory there.

You look at the conference as a whole and you look at some of the teams that are doing well. When they are not in the Coastal Division and we’re not playing them that year, I root for them. That’s just the way it is.

But the conference, people talk about it: up, down, whatever it may be. But to have those teams that you mentioned that are involved with it, teams that have played well on Saturdays, my hat goes off to the coaches. We try to play well on a consistent basis and be one of those types of teams. That’s what we are working towards-that process and that progress of it. I’m always rooting for the ACC.

QUESTION: You only see the Georgia Tech offense once a year, but you have a lot of seniors on defense. Is it significant that this will be their fourth time seeing the Yellow Jackets’ offensive scheme?

COACH LONDON: Experience helps a lot of times because it’s a different style of blocking up front. But I also think that you only see it one time out of the 12 games that you play. Everyone else is a spread offense or a two‑back offense pro style. Those techniques that you use, that’s what you practice with during special teams and early camp.

You have to rely on a guy’s ability, recall ability, on the experience they have had of playing against this type of offense. In particular the guys that you mentioned, Nick [Jenkins] and Matt [Conrath]…it does start up front again because of the challenges presented with the big splits and the style of blocking. You can have a guy on the dive or you can have a guy on the quarterback as we were talking about.

Coach Johnson does a great job. The guy he finds is your quarterback player and will pull load scheme, block that guy. Just being able to move, change up who has got what. That’s all part of it, so we’ll align those guys, play their technique to the best of their ability.

QUESTION: David Watford has progressively seen more time at quarterback. Where do you see his development?

COACH LONDON: Particularly the quarterback, there’s a lot of things that go along with that. We also talk about using this time to bring him as far as he can go from a mental capability of being able to be a quarterback and go into a game and command a huddle.

He’s improved this past week and he’s got another week, this week, left. Hopefully we anticipate an opportunity for him to play more.

As for Michael [Rocco], same situation. What’s happening is that it’s creating a situation where both of those guys are starting to raise their level here a little bit. Today will be the first practice since the fall break started and we get to see where they are at now, see how much of a learning curve there is. Having last week will benefit both of them.

As we go along, we’ll see. We’ll see from a health standpoint or the learning curve, physically what our game plan is going to be this week, see what opportunity is going to be presented for either one of those two guys to get an extensive amount of reps and help us win the game.

The other guy, because of the off‑week, he’s lost a game, and he’s practiced well. I go back to the competition between all of those guys knowing that you’ve got to bring your ‘A’ Game, even in practice. Everyone should have that, but particularly at that position. I think it’s going to make us a better team, because we need better play and we’ll get better play. Between Michael and David, they are doing a nice job of getting ready to be a college quarterback in this defense, this 3‑4, and challenge that it presents.

QUESTION: So far, you have been inserting Watford at predetermined spots. Will that continue? Or will you go by who is ‘hot’?

COACH LONDON: We try to always script a series in terms of when the guys will go in, and then as the game goes on, we see how the game goes. We are not the only college team in the country that has two quarterbacks playing. It’s one of those things where sometimes the game is a feel and sometimes it’s based on the plan that you have.

I would like to give David more opportunities; but at the same time, I answered this question earlier about where is David’s learning curve in order to be an every down type of game quarterback. Well, it has not gotten to that point yet, and the thing that Michael and Ross-and Michael in particular because his learning curve is increasing-it doesn’t mean that mine can’t either.

It doesn’t mean that I’m not going to compete, also. Right now Michael has put himself into the position to be the guy but David is breathing down his neck. And it’s through execution and it’s through the performance that these guys are going to have on the practice field last week, this week, and in the game that’s going to dictate what you just asked.

QUESTION: When do you plan to insert Watford?

COACH LONDON: That’s yet to be determined-whether it’s the fourth series or third series or end of the first half or whatever it may be. We try to come up with ways and try to accentuate everyone’s ability, not just the quarterbacks but our running backs and wide receivers. Johnson as an offensive lineman, just all of those things.

Now today and this week, getting into the meat of game planning for Georgia Tech, we’ll come out with some more definitive answers.

QUESTION: Can you talk about your defense’s experience in the 3-4?

COACH LONDON: It’s good for the defensive guys that understand it but they are playing against a totally different offense. Sometimes we try to simulate a scout team to play the 3‑4, and they are not used to it like a Matt Conrath and Nick Jenkins are. There’s a skill and technique required with that. We don’t always have a show team or scout team, but you take some of your guys, some of your starters, and provide a representative look at the 3‑4 defense.

I think Jenkins and Matt and Cam Johnson and those guys know how to two‑gap. They know some of the terminology and some of the footwork-the technique that’s required to play those positions. We’ll do some of that, too, because like I said, the show teams try to simulate that. It’s like the show team offense trying to simulate a triple option threat.

I think we’ll take advantage of being two‑gap defenders knowing that our offense will have an opportunity again to practice against some of that this week. But again Coach Groh has done a fantastic job with the defense that he has there, and there’s always a couple of different wrinkles, couple of different things he does that will provide the defense with the opportunities that they have thus far.

The short answer to your question is that we’ll try to give them the offensive look of what I know, what Coach Poindexter knows, from a back‑end standpoint. Coach Reid was at Miami and they were a 3‑4. There’s some things that we can help them with, but like I said, we’ll just try to simulate that. It’s a different world from both sides. But we’ll try to do the best we can.

QUESTION: What types of adjectives does Coach Groh use to refer to his defensive players?

COACH LONDON: I don’t know of the adjectives he would use to describe the team that he had, the defensive team that he had there. It looks like they are more comfortable playing in the 3-4 system that he has in the second season. The linebackers and their linemen-you can tell they are being coached up to what he wants them to do.

I know when he was here, it was smart, tough and focused. I don’t know if that’s still part of what he’s using there. I know he wants them to be smart. I know he likes his players to be physical and focused. What he’ll be telling them now, I wouldn’t know, but I know defensively, it’s about limiting their mistakes and also having a chance to play hard, play aggressive.

QUESTION: What part of this GT team presents the biggest challenge for you? What does UVa have that poses the best advantage?

COACH LONDON: I think obviously the offense is what we were talking about before. They can get the ball on the five‑yard line go the distance because they will go for it on fourth down, fourth and one, fourth and two, third and two. You don’t automatically think it’s going to be a run play, because they can play‑action pass the OD. Like I said, the quarterback has a high percentage of passes to a big, tall wide receiver, and go back and go for it for fourth and two. They keep you on the field and they know all of the blocking angles. They have played against all the types of defenses. Coach Johnson for years and years has had a benefit of knowing the style of offense, the style of play, that’s needed.

We are going to have to be able to put points on the board. We are going to have to be able to get the ball in the end zone. We are pretty good in the red zone but we have got to go from the 20, past the 20, to get that point where you get in the red zone. Field position is going to be critical for us-where we start with every possession. Kickoff return has been pretty decent. The punting situation-ten yards, provide first down, light up and get playing.

I think offensively points, field position, and being able to hang on to the ball a little bit, run some clock and don’t be afraid to take shots when you have an opportunity to do that. That’s how you’re going to get points. Then defensively, just try to be as sound as possible when it comes to those responsibilities of the triple option.

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