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Nov. 12, 2012

Q. You faced Duke Johnson, does that help you in preparing for UNC’s Giovani Bernard?
Mike London: I think it definitely makes you more aware of the capabilities of a guy like him – that you could have someone assigned to him and his athletic skills and ability can make you miss or do things – that is going to require attention by the entire defense.

We’ve played against some pretty dynamic running backs this far through the course of the season, but definitely Johnson and I would say Bernard is one of those guys that you look at who leads the country in punt returns, he’s top three in rushing yards, total yards in the top five. So definitely a dynamic player that you’re going to have to know where he is at all times. Our work is cut out for us.

Q. Steve Greer seemed to stop some plays that could have gone a long way.
Mike London: Steve has played very, very well the last couple games, and I think that these spread teams that try to spread you out and bring underneath receivers, flashing across the middle, at times requires a linebacker to have awareness, and if the ball is caught, to be athletic enough to make a tackle, because you’re right, if the pass is caught and you break that first line of defense, then he may be running into the secondary.

So as a veteran player, Steve has seen a lot of formations and a lot of different ways to try to exploit your middle defender. And I think based on his experience, we do a lot of that ourselves, seeing different looks, down and distance, running back position the backfield, I think Steve takes a total part of his game to that level to where it helps him execute when the time is called.

Q. Are you guys prepared for a shootout and how are you and the offense coming off game where you had that?
Mike London: You know – you have to look at the Georgia Tech game. First of all, they scored 50 points, what is it, a 3-4 defense, a combination of 4-3, but you look at the other side, that style of offense is a different style of offense that puts up a lot of yardage as we know and can put some points on the board.

You don’t as much look at the Georgia Tech game as far as defensively for them because it’s a different style, but you do have to look at big or conventional offenses, I-pro attack or some spread teams and how the defense has fared there. But either way – you look at the way they can put points on the board, and we just talked about the receivers are tall, athletic guys, Renner is an experienced quarterback that can place the ball and get the ball to his receivers. The running backs, Blue and Bernard are excellent running backs. You can see how they can be explosive and get points offensively, but as I said, defensively, anyone that plays Georgia Tech and has to defend that offense, sometimes you don’t always look at how the other defense is playing because you do have to play it different.

But either or, they’re a very explosive team and a very athletic team, so definitely a challenge for us.

Q. Does the short week work against you or actually might it work for you?
Mike London: It is, it’s challenging, because normally on a Sunday when you come in, you watch the opponent tape, and then you may do some scouting report stuff, then you go out on the field and you do corrections of what just occurred. But we treated Sunday as we would — as we normally would, but we also did more — we didn’t look at the Miami tape because we went right to the Carolina tape and the scouting report of the who and the what – because there’s so many different facets that they have with formation – that you just have to be on top of. We did show some highlights of the Miami game and obviously did some correction there that we have to make note of, but we spent more time talking about and worrying about what Carolina does.

We practiced today, and normally in a regular week Monday is our day off. We practiced today, and today was more like a Tuesday, when we actually do practice, and tomorrow being Tuesday will be sort of like a combination of a Wednesday-Thursday practice because Wednesday will have to be like a Friday practice on a Saturday game when you don’t do too much.

The fact that we’re at home and they’re coming off their game and their traveling, I know Coach Fedora will have them ready, but on the other side of that, having to travel and use a full day, Wednesday a full day to get to where you need to. Whether it’s an advantage for us or not, I don’t know, but we just have to take advantage of our preparation, because again, this is another really good football team coming down the stretch here that we have to play and prepare for.

Q. With it being senior day, you inherited this year’s class – what was that like getting to know them and how has your relationship changed with them?
Mike London: You know, when you come in and you try to establish a new culture of expectations, about classroom behavior, about the community and expectations of how you stress life after football, you develop a relationship because that’s what I am; I kind of pride myself in being kind of a relationship-oriented guy. And over the course of the last couple years, first year not much success, but then the second year having some success, it was great to see those guys have an experience like they experienced last year and what it meant to them and their families.

And now as you see them getting to transition out and into the real world, hopefully you’ve had some sort of influence about talking about conduct, about grades, about how you treat people, how to be a significant player in the community that you live in. So that’s part of the relationship part of it. The football part always stays off to the side because people see the games and you experience the highs and the lows and the wins and the losses, but you become more — hopefully you become more of maybe a role model for them, and as they leave and go on, you hope that they will come back and be an active participant in the VAF (Virginia Athletics Foundation).

Q. Do you see last year’s Southern Miss team when you look at UNC tape this year?
Mike London: You know, when you look at it, when you look at their team, you can see Southern Miss in the style of defense that they play and obviously in the style of offense. Coach Fedora was successful at Southern Miss and what he did there, and he brought large part – if not all of his coaching staff to Carolina and implemented that scheme and that system that was productive for him. So we have looked at some of the Southern Miss tape, particularly when we played them. But when you look at the games that they’ve played this year, you see a Southern Miss philosophy. You see how many games, seven, eight, nine games now, so that’s been part of the evaluation and preparation is they are very similar to what was successful for them when he was at Southern Miss.

Q. When you look at Cooper, what does he give UNC – and you have Oday on your line, talk about him too?
Mike London: Cooper – excellent player. A lot of scouts come in and they ask us about who are some of the better players that you’ve played against, and we haven’t played him yet this year, but you look at him on film, he’s a guy that makes pancake blocks, takes guys down to the ground, very light on his feet, very athletic. He’s as good as advertised.

Then you look at Oday, although Dominique Terrell and Mike Rocco were players of the game for us offensively, he could have also been player of the game. He graded out at 97 percent. Sometimes your offensive linemen don’t get that type of recognition because you don’t see them as much, but you see the catches and the throws. Oday has done a nice job during the course of the season of grading out, winning percentages and blocking some of the tough players that are coming off the edge. But you see two really good offensive linemen in Cooper and then with Oday. I’m sure there will be a battle — hopefully there will be a battle that he can handle, and I’m sure that whoever is rushing over Cooper that if we can do things to try to get beyond and past him, hopefully we can have an opportunity, as well.

Q. Given how the quarterback rotation has worked the last two games, do you regret kind of phasing Rocco out for a couple games there towards the end of the losing streak? Do you look back and wonder should we maybe have gone with him earlier?
Mike London: When I look back, I look back at a lot of things that were written and said about him, said about how he was playing, how he wasn’t playing. I look back at that young men endured several boos and so on at our own place. I look back at trying to safeguard against — making sure he had opportunities to be successful. You look back at Phillip Sims – having a chance to show what he could do, and you can always look back and second-guess, but I refuse to second-guess where we are now because I think what we’re doing now with him, its the best thing for this team.

We look at how he’s played in the last couple games and how both of them have played actually and why we did a great job with the 18 passes in a row and the record that set – 300 yards, even the one scramble where he kind of semi-hurdled a guy, that looked pretty athletic. Phillip used his legs to score a touchdown. Both of them did a nice job distributing the ball. Neither one of them had a turnover. The interception was one that Perry threw. So that was two games in a row that you have two styles of quarterback that moved the team and distributed the ball. You can always look back and try to second-guess yourself, but as I said, both of those players, Michael and Phillip, made it easy because they’re selfless players. I’ve said that time and time again. They’re not selfish guys, they want what’s best for the team.

As we go into this game, both quarterbacks will play, because that seems to be a formula that’s been successful for us right now.

Q. You’re a former defensive coordinator. When you look at college football and all the offense going on, do you ask yourself – what happened?
Mike London: You know, I think that offenses have gone more spread, and you see a lot of threatening of – not only the horizontal space but the vertical space. And then when the offense spreads you out like that, then you have to cover — you’ve got to cover ground. You’ve got to cover from sideline to sideline, from line of scrimmage to the end zone, and there are a lot of good quarterbacks and a lot of good skill players that can find those windows and those seams that the quarterbacks are making those throws. And not only that, the running game with the read game, with the quarterback having the opportunity to run the ball and different types of plays off of that, you have to be really aggressive to stop the run because your lead gain is a play action pass pull off of that. So you see a lot of explosive plays happening with a lot of those offenses out there.

So maybe it’s cyclical in terms of what you look at, the styles of offense that are planning on being successful. You just have to decide on what your philosophy is and be committed to that.

But it does seem like there’s a lot of points being thrown up. Defensively it is a challenge to defend the field, as I described, particularly with players like Duke Johnson and the Stefon Diggs and Bernard, those kind of players that have those kind of skills that can attack you so many different ways.

Q. Another question about Steve Greer. What does he bring, is it leadership – grit?
Mike London: I think it’s a little bit of both of what you said. You look at I believe Steve’s freshman year, I think he was on the ACC all-rookie team or something like that, and that was in a 3-4 defense.

So you see there is a level of not only athletic skill but a level of being a smart player, because as I said, I described about those underneath routes and how they threaten the defense, threaten him, and he’s been able to make a play. He studies the game, and he practiced hard. His preparation is very, very good. A lot of the young guys learn from him about how he studies, how he prepares, and just he has a nose for the football, I guess. You want your middle linebacker to have a nose for the football.

13 tackles against Miami and in other games he has had double-digit tackle games, he’s put himself in the right position. More than anything else, I think because of the way he prepares, and I said, or I tried to, before, about the formation and the split of the running backs and the split of the linemen and reading what the No. 2 receiver does is going to dictate what the number inside receiver does, he’s excellent at doing things like that. He might not be the fastest guy and beat you in a foot race, but as I said, from just a preparation and being a smart player standpoint, he’s pretty good.

Q. How do you choose which QB goes in?
Mike London: It’s random. It’s random, the way, the guys we play. It’s random – who knows whom the next player that goes in the game? But there’s no you go one series, you go two series. It’s based on where we are, what kind of drive we made in the previous series, things like that.

Q. Do you make the decision or does Bill Lazor?
Mike London: No, we’re talking to each other about how that’s going to take place, particularly going down to the stretch and into the two-minute. That was something Michael has done well at, and obviously the decision was made that he was going to finish the game up.

Q. With a Thursday night game do you worry about having too much information loaded on them?
Mike London: You know, we try to treat the Wednesday before like a Friday before a game, and our guys go to class on a Friday of a home game. So this Wednesday won’t be any different. The Thursday part of it, because it’s a night game, we’ve played night games in the past, it’s what you do with the day to try to break it up so it doesn’t become so monotonous that guys are laying around in the hotel and not doing anything, so we’ll have some meetings, maybe some walk-throughs, have a meal, lunch, whatever it is, and bring them back later on.

As I said, the night games that we’ve played in the past, we try to stretch it out, to make sure there’s not a bunch of them laying around, but at the same time we don’t want them standing on their feet doing nothing. I think the last couple games, particularly the night games, our guys have been refreshed, ready and ready to perform, play.

Q. Do you walk thru at the hotel?
Mike London: When we’re at home we go to Scott Stadium. We’ll practice — we’ll try to simulate — we’ll have a Wednesday night practice to simulate the Thursday night game. So the balls that are punted in the air, the balls that are thrown in the air to the receivers and DBs, you can track them. They’re a little different in terms of judging the ball when they’re up in the lights. So we’ll do that on Wednesday to give them an opportunity so that Thursday night is not the first time that they’ve experienced that.

Q. Do you like playing on a Thursday night?
Mike London: I guess I’d rather probably play the more traditional Saturday games. Thursday night game — those Thursday night games are dictated by the conference, not by any one particular school, and each school has a particular challenge to it based on class schedules and things like that. Last Saturday was an ABC game, we played on national TV, on other Saturdays I think the television market that the ACC has really put – not only us – but other teams in the ACC kind of in a position or spot to continue to show yourself and continue to show your brand nationally.

Although Thursday night games are, I’m sure, attractive games for some teams, we still like the fact that on most regular Saturdays that the amount of TV coverage has still been beneficial for us.

Q. You have seemed to limit the big passing plays deep while on defense.
Mike London: I think it’s more conscious effort keeping everything in front of us, and that’s no different than a lot of defenses – keeping the ball in front of you because you always have a chance to break up and make the tackle and then live to see another down. And in this game, teams that make those 16-, 17-, 18-play drives, sometimes that doesn’t happen because of whether it’s turnovers or whatever may happen in the game. I think it’s something that we do, that we’ll continue to do or try to do, but it’s really a function of saying, hey, listen, give them the underneath throws, break up on the ball, rush the passer, swarm to the ball and see what happens.

We played an athletic team this past Saturday, and they got behind us a couple times, but at the same time, I thought we did a pretty good job of just — outside of some of the missed tackles, a pretty good job of just kind of having — keeping ourselves in the game, particularly the last two possessions that they had. They were two big stops.

I think our 3rd down, we were 9 for 14 so we were able to stay on the field, and I believe they were 4 for 10 or something like that. I’m trying to remember the stat. But that’s a good job of getting off the field. It was ugly, 40-41, but nonetheless it was a win for us and it was a close win and it was great to get back on the winning side of it.

Q. Did the bye week start this momentum?
Mike London: I think you always look for some sort of spark, whether it’s offensively, defensively, or from just the mentality of when good things happen. And I think it can become a snowball effect. People are ruled by the psychology of results, and you win a big game, a homecoming game on somebody else’s turf, you come home, you play a very good team and you win last second — that helps the psyche. It helps the mentality of your team, and you keep talking about we can do this. I mean, the players are very positive.

When you look at them now, they’re very positive about where they are in the last two games, particularly winning the way that they’ve had to win, close, and then win conventionally, and I think it just breeds confidence. When confident players are playing, it changes a lot of things. And I think that we have to continue to keep doing that, keep continuing to play confident, even though Carolina is a very, very good team, you’ve got to play with that passion.

I think you saw it again this Saturday, but that’s something that we’re going to have to continue to keep playing with, because we look at this thing as another team in November, another opportunity. This is the most — this game is the most important game, because without winning this game, there is not another next important game. This is the most important game of our season right now.

Q. How tricky will it be to have to game plan for Bernard – and talk about your special teams.
Mike London: As I said earlier when we first started – about Bernard, he’s an excellent player in all facets. As I said, he’s No. 1 in the country in punt returns. He is No. 3 in the country, I believe, in rushing yardage and in the top five, I believe, in total yardage. So he’s a dynamic player that they have that you have to know where he’s at all the time. He’s won games for them.

Last second, last minute, last play types of plays. He’s a phenomenal talent.

So as I said, our approach will have to be to know where he is at all times and how we kick it to him and how we defend him. It’s going to be crucial for guys to be running to the ball, particularly — we’ve seen him break through some arm tackles because it looks like he’s so strong lower body wise, he runs through would-be tacklers. He’s a phenomenal talent for them for sure.

I think the second part of your question, the breakdown in the special teams part, was they gave up a touchdown, was not the schematic part of it, it was a player jumping to the inside, getting blocked, and all of a sudden creating a lane, and you can’t do that with athletic, fast, talented players like Johnson or like Stefon Diggs is.

You look at the other kickoffs, two of them were touchbacks and one was I believe they got inside the 18-yard line. It is frustrating that there’s a play or two that breaks, that changes, that flips the field position just like that, and you’ve got to play on your toes defensively or you give up a score, now you’ve got to catch up. It’s frustrating to that point that it can cause you to lose games, and it has.

Thus far, our offense has been able to respond back and make up a score or our defense has been able to hold point and give up a field goal perhaps. That’s part of this process that we’ve been going through this whole season is to try to get those things connected, don’t jump inside a block and make it easier for a talented runner to run and to make big plays.

Q. Was there a moment or was it just having success that has propelled you? Do you look back at that bye where you can sense we’re onto something?
Mike London: I’ll tell you, the moment was the Sunday after the game that we played, the last game that we lost going into that bye was we were just going to work on ourselves. We were just going to work on the techniques and the fundamentals of trying to make ourselves better, to execute. We had a series of scrimmages where some of the red shirt freshmen were playing and the older guys were like basically the cheerleaders, the guys standing on the sidelines, and there was a lot of energy when those younger guys were playing.

We talk about that type of energy that you need to play in these college football games. It’s hard to win college football games, and you have to have an active participant in that, and your passion, your energy, your desire to want to win, and I think that week, spending just a lot of time on us — we talked before about just trying to project that positive image, imagery, if you do this, we have a chance to win, which led into the NC State game, and once that first turnover happened it was that spark that we’ve been looking for, and hopefully that spark continues. It’s got to keep going here for a while. I think that’s probably the biggest thing is we just decided that it was going to be — or they decided that we’re just going to turn it loose and fix those things that have been giving us some problems.

Q. What does it mean to have seniors like Greer and Reynolds to talk to younger players like a Kwontie Moore?
Mike London: It means a lot, particularly when you’re away from the practice field. I mean, there are guys that have been around, have been college students that talk about how these guys conduct themselves away from the practice field. On the field, a couple years ago, when Roy was a safety we moved him down to linebacker, and you go through the growing pains of safety learning linebacker. Now he’s a linebacker. He’s a linebacker and he’s played the position. He can talk to Demeitre Brim or Kwontie Moore or DJ Hill. Steve has always been that way. We just talked about Steve as far as his leadership abilities and the way he prepares. So he’s had a positive influence, as well, not only in the young linebackers but also on the defense as a whole.

I’ve got one last thing: Being it was military appreciation day today and actually having a chance to honor the men and women in our country that serve our country, wearing the Marine hat, the Air Force, the Army and the Naval hat, I know there’s some other armed force branches out there that didn’t get the recognition me wearing their hat during the game against Miami, but I wanted to say I appreciate them, as well. As everyone knows, my dad is 30 years retired Air Force, and being a police officer and being in uniform myself, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the men and women that serve and protect this country. I just wanted to say, once again, thank you, and we appreciate everything you do.

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