Mike London's Weekly Press Conference Transcript - VMI Game
Sept. 16, 2013
Q. Coach, you mentioned after the Oregon game that you had a couple of guys banged up, specifically your running backs. Where is the health of your team specifically, and how are those ankle injuries?
COACH LONDON: Going into this game we should be at a hundred percent. The timing of this open date and the guys particularly to the running back position had those issues. But they’re out of their boots. They were involved in yesterday’s practice, and they’re off today. I’m sure they’re getting treatment, and they should be ready to go by Tuesday.
Q. You talked about during the bye you wanted to kind of find your identity offensively. Did you make any changes? What did you do offensively to try to find that identity, or try to improve that?
COACH LONDON: We talked about going into the season being smart, tough and aggressive. I think when you play against two really good football teams that you’re going to have to find that type of identity sooner rather than later. One of the things that we had to address is also using David [Watford] as an option to run the ball as well so teams have to defend the field, not only vertically and horizontally but know where he’s is at all times. There were some things that we could do to allow him to do that. He’s talented enough to be able to do that, and that’s what we did a lot of things to focus on that.
The other thing for us is to go vertically down the field, and we have to exceed some of those explosive play that’s we’re looking for. We spent a lot of time getting those receivers down field throwing the ball to them. So if we can do that, you can have a quarterback that can run and kind of also fit into your style of offense, then you have opportunities. I think those are things that you’re looking to create.
Q. Has David been reluctant to run or haven’t you guys called plays that called for that?
COACH LONDON: No, there are some things that by nature of the call that it’s a read-option to run, but you have to call it enough to where the opportunity will present itself. In some passing situations, obviously, you don’t want guys to stay in the pocket, but there are also some opportunities that say, listen, if it’s open. It’s third and five or third and six and they’re dropping back and you see a way, he wants to do what’s right and what’s called for. But at the same time, he can use his athleticism and make those decisions himself. So we’re going to empower him to do those types of things and let him use some of his athletic ability.
Q. Kind of the same thing with the vertical passing. Have you guys not done much of that because it hasn’t been called or it hasn’t been available because of the pass rush? Why has there been an absence of that?
COACH LONDON: We threw a couple and for whatever reason got away from it. But I think that one of the things to be able to throw vertical – we had only one sack against us, so it’s not the pass-rush situation. I think it’s just a matter of doing it and doing it consistently enough that teams have to defend the vertical threat. As we talked about how that fits in with David, his ability to run, I think will help the running game, and I think it will help the passing game being able to throw the ball down the field.
Q. In regards to the down-field pass, your wide receiver corps, would you agree they all have similar skill sets do you guys feel they have the skill sets to be down field passing threats, because obviously they’ve been receivers for a year plus. I think the offense has kind of struggled with this sort of thing for a year plus?
COACH LONDON: The key is to get the ball to the guys who have, as you talk about, skill sets. There are some that are vertically threat guys that we have on our team. There are guys that you may want to throw a bubble pass to and allow him to operate, maneuver, coming off blocks and people having to come up and make tackles on them. There are guys that are across the middle guys. So I think we have enough wide receivers where there are jobs for them to do. I think one of the things is to do it and call the plays consistently to get those jobs, those guys to do the jobs we think they can do.
Q. What was your take on the score in the Oregon-Tennessee game?
COACH LONDON: Number one, we thought going into our game how good they were obviously, we saw what was arguably the number one or number two team in the country. But they ran their offense. They got up early in the fourth quarter it was still in the 50s. It just goes, again, we talk about what we need to work on. It’s been compared to two really good football teams and you see what they’ve done the following week to other opponents. But having had an opportunity to play that team, can you see why they’re as good as advertised. But now, having played that team now, we can concentrate on some of the things that we saw that were positive coming out of that game, and some of the things that we’re talking about today.
Q. Coach, along those same lines, do you feel after two tough games and a bye week here at the beginning of the season these next two or three games you’re going to find out what type of team you have here?
COACH LONDON: I believe so. That’s a good point about the first two games were against challenging teams. Very good football teams particularly defensively and Oregon offensively. You have a bye week, and we have an FCS opponent that definitely by no means can overlook because I’ve been on both sides of that, being an FCS coach coming to a BCS school. But you say the next couple games, we talked about identity and things like that, I think that will start to forge itself how we play, the way we play and look at more statistically about where we are. You look at the statistics now, points against, things like that, I think it’s a little bit of anomaly because of who that we played. But I think as you start to get into more games. Playing football games and things start metering out the way that you thought. That will be important for us to improve third downs, to have a good running game, to get turnovers and not give the ball up, all those things.
Q. Because of the style of play of BYU and Oregon, I know it’s been difficult to substitute defensively. Do you think that as you face more conventional offenses that you’ll use more guys particularly in the front seven coming in and out?
COACH LONDON: The opportunity to sub is always critical in your two-deep or in the skill sets of guys that’s can go in to help you win. We designated Donte Wilkins as a guy to play. I would like to give him those opportunities to do that. Tim Harris is another guy that we designated. Like to give him opportunities. Zach Bradshaw, another freshman, like to give him opportunities.
I think whatever the style and particularly that style, the hurry-up, does limit you to a certain extent. But there are some teams that will play that will play kind of the conventional huddle up after every snap and maybe occasionally hurry up to the line of scrimmage for a second and long follow-up by a quick third down and short situation. So we’re looking forward to having some guys having the ability for them to play. Because if they don’t play now, then I don’t know when they’ll play.
Q. Did you kind of stress to the team at all, I know you don’t want to overlook an FCS team, but did you mention finding an identity with eight of the next nine games being in conference play, did you stress to the team going on the road at Pitt and being in conference play pretty much every week from then on out?
COACH LONDON: Without a doubt. You talk about the first two games out of the way, now we’re playing another opponent after having an open week. So the first thing we want to deal with is ourselves. We’ll give our opponent this week the attention they deserve. But at the same time, we’re going into a stretch of playing at home and then we go on the road to Pittsburgh.
There is a stretch. Everyone saw the beginning of the schedule this year and it was much talked about. Now everyone sees the stretch here in September and going into October and what’s going to be required for us to be successful.
Q. I guess in most seasons, it wouldn’t be ideal to have a bye in the third week of the year. But with all the change and the coaching staff and stuff, did that work out well for you this year?
COACH LONDON: I believe so. I believe it goes back to the first two teams, very physical games. The running backs particularly that had their issues are still learning the schemes and the systems as you go along. We were putting in game plans. There are still things that you want guys to get an accumulated amount of reps in to be familiar with. So I think the way the schedule and the way things have happened now have kind of played into our favor here. Now we get ready to play another opponent, and we get ready to go into the stretch that everyone else we played will have been in a bowl game last year. So that will be an important stretch for us.
Q. You mentioned that you’ve been on this type of game from both sides. VMI, if they came in here and won, it would be a monumental upset. When you go into a game like this, how much do you kind of look ahead and without counting your chickens before they’re hatched hope to get lots of guys in the game, and hope to have a situation where you can get lots of guys in experience?
COACH LONDON: Human nature, guys look at the scheduling and look at who they’ve played before and all that. But again, I’ve been on that side. You have to give your opponents the credit that’s due. You look at college football, Akron barely beat James Madison and then they go up and they hang in there against Michigan. You just look at the way things have gone as far as FCS teams that have played well or have even beaten some BCS teams. So the worst thing a player can do is be overly, overly confident, lack of planning for getting ready for the team and the job that he has at hand. So, trust me. We have the coaches on the staff to make sure that they all understand the most important game for us right now is this game, particularly coming off the bye, particularly coming off issues that we have to address as a football team. So the aspects of what we do right now are overriding who our opponent is because we respect our opponent. But as we’ve all talked about thus far, there are some things that we must take care of, and this opportunity, this game, this practice week, hopefully will present itself for that.
Q. About that opponent though, they do present — I think after the BYU game Luke talked about the difficulty of blocking against the 3-4. This is another week, another opportunity to face it. I think you’ll face it again with Maryland later on. So is this still going to be a pretty good learning tool, I guess, for that offensive line to face that type of front?
COACH LONDON: Well, always the familiarity of what you see and what you have to go against is always something that’s important. It’s interesting that we’re talking about statistics and things like that. Everyone’s talking about the fast-paced offense and the records of teams, 16 and 4. They talked about the conventional style offenses where guys get in the huddle, the 16 and 5, and what it boils down to is just the execution of the offense and whatever system you believe in. So for us, we know we’re playing the opponent that we’re playing, and the scheme, another 3-4 system, for us it’s about the execution of blocking that look in order for us to have opportunities to be successful in the running game. I think that is probably the overriding factor for us right now. Okay, here’s another 3-4 team. We’ve seen this style before whether it’s a slant and angle or guys that are stationery. But we have to block it. We have to block it efficiently enough to make sure that some of the goals that we’ve talked about are realized.
Q. I wanted to ask you a little more about your strategy as far as redshirting. You’ve played three already. You’ve indicated I think that Wilkins and Bradshaw will play this week. What about going forward? What about your two offensive tackles? What are you thinking about the whole process?
COACH LONDON: Well, it’s tricky. Obviously, when you’re in the two-deep, the opportunity to play presents itself. But I’ve been in situations before where we’ve had a young player in the two-deep and also the other older players as the season has gone on begin to develop that back-up guard as he develops sometimes becomes maybe the back-up left guard. The guys that have been redshirted, if they continue to develop as well, can they give you something as opposed to using that true freshman that’s behind, as we look at it, Jay Whitmire and Morgan Moses?
This will be critical, this game right here. Like I said, with respect to VMI and all our other opponents that’s we’re playing as we’re starting to get into conference play, we’re starting to go down the stretch here and the stretch of injuries was with the running backs. It wasn’t with the offensive line. Those are calls that will have to be made soon, whether it’s game time or coming out of that game, we’ll have to make some big decisions about how we would proceed.
Q. Going back to the offense really quick, you mentioned the different things you guys want to add in this week. Will it look dramatically different this week?
COACH LONDON: No, there won’t be wholesale changes. During the course of August camp, we put the whole playbook in and found some things that we could centralize on particular player skills. Put some things in schematic wise that address different areas of attacking a defense. As I said, I think David is a guy that can run the ball. I think that’s something coming out of these two games against two good teams that in order to go forward, he’s going to have to have that type of impact for defensive coordinators while they’re game planning. We all know trying to devise a game plan for [Marcus] Mariota guys that are mobile, it causes some issues for you.
Q. Defensively, they mentioned after the game there were a lot of missed assignments. It was part of the reason why Oregon had some big plays. But how much are you still — I imagine you’re still encouraged by your defense, but how much do you shake it off that that was Oregon and that’s just going to happen to defenses against them? Do you say that to these guys this week?
COACH LONDON: I think you put it in the right perspective is we never want to have missed assignments. You never want mental errors. If a team just physically beats you, that’s one thing. You don’t want to beat yourself by having two guys in the wrong gap. Things that during the course of practice and game planning that they weren’t doing. Then game time all of a sudden for whatever reason they had those mishaps. So you don’t want those things.
I am encouraged by the way the guys are flying around and the way they’re playing aggressive, the way they’re playing hard. You could look at well, you surrendered a bunch of yards and a bunch of points. Again, you look at whom we played and that they’ve done that to a lot of teams. We can only get better as a young team learning the system under new coordinators, and I’m looking forward to not only this game but, as was mentioned before, as we start getting into the meat of the schedule to see how consistent we can be with those type of scheme that’s we’re using. To see how consistent we can be offensively by using the tool that’s we just discussed today about what we can do. So that starts with this week against VMI.
Q. Speaking of defense, we saw Kwontie Moore lining up at defensive tackle in the latter part of the Oregon game. Do you see that as a more natural position for him going forward?
COACH LONDON: We’re trying to find ways to get guys in the game. And Kwontie is a big, strong, powerful guy that went through kind of a transition here to see if he can put his hands on the ground and just go vertical and penetrate up the field. His ability to do that will help us defensively. He knows the defense. He’s a big, strong physical guy. Obviously we’d like to see him get more reps, more opportunities particularly in this game and going into the games that are conference games.
Q. Before the season obviously when Steve [Fairchild] got here the emphasis on the power running games and things like that. Would Kevin [Parks] be a 20-30 carry guy. How is he physically, I know with the sprained ankle it’s kind of a setback, but is this a good time for him to rest up a little bit? Can he sort of shoulder the load for the rest of the season?
COACH LONDON: Kevin is in great spirits. We talked about our captain situation, we also talked about that leadership council where there are about 12 guys, and Kevin is in that group of guys on our team that’s designated as being a leader. I know he’d like to carry the ball. He’d like to run between the tackles, outside of tackles, whatever it takes. But Kevin will be fine. We’re excited that he’s healthy enough now so we can see if he’s part of also the solution here as we move forward in terms of getting the run game going.
Q. How much of a better feel do you think Steve has for David now that they’ve been through two games together? Have you seen that over this bye week kind of manifest itself?
COACH LONDON: It always starts with the relationship that the position coach has with his player. In this instance Steve is the coordinator and the quarterbacks coach. I think when you’re putting things in and you’re adding things, playbook and doing all those things, you coach the players, but then you start getting a chance to know them as you have those meeting times, those downtimes. I think over the course of time you can even ask David that the relationship that he and Steve have, I think, has been very beneficial. Coming down on the sideline and being that kind of coordinator, I think it will pay dividends in the long run. It’s been very beneficial.
So I look to see David’s improvement continue as his and Steve’s relationship improves and continues. As the instant feedback from the huddle to the sideline would have on your position coach and your coordinator there, I think that will improve David. And we talked about doing some things with David that will help get him more involved in the offense. I think all of those things together is something that’s positive for us and positive for David.
Q. What’s been your assessment so far of special teams overall? It seems like your kickoff and punt coverage has been really good. You’re starting an awful lot of drives behind the 25-yard line though?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, I think it’s always critical where you start, particularly in the return game. I believe right now in the punt return I think we’re probably top 25 with Nikki [Dominique Terrell]. When you get a punt blocked and you shank one, that crushes your net average because of those things. But the kickoff return and the punt teams, those are areas that can definitely talk about the average start.
Go back to the Oregon game. I believe their average field position was the 44-yard line, and ours was the 24. So, you’re right. There are some things that you can do that you have to do in order to give yourself a chance when you’re playing against some really good teams. There has been an emphasis on our return game this week, particularly kickoff returns. As I said, Nikki is doing a nice job with punt return. But the down field cover units, we can re-personnel that, which we will. We talked about some of these young guys that may play. Zach Bradshaw or Max Valles somebody or guys like that, or redshirt guys that haven’t played as much. These are the opportunities for you to get on the field and play outside of scrimmage plays. So let’s see it and let’s do it.
So there may be some other names that you’ll see on Saturday of guys that are running down and being involved in the special teams.
Q. What’s been your assessment of Jake [McGee] as an all-around tight end and his run blocking? Does it look night and day from last year?
COACH LONDON: In the beginning we were talking about the tight ends, and obviously he has 11 double-digit catches for the season already. He is, to me, one of the best tight ends that is out there. So we can talk about the flaws. We tried to address that during the early part of August and summer in terms of gaining weight and blocking. But Jake has done an admirable job of doing that. Putting his face in there. Getting in the way and cutting the backside linebacker off or defensive end. So his game is improving and evolving as well. He’s one of the better options and best players on our offensive side of the ball.
The ability to use him and utilize his skill set is always going to be critical for our development and the success for our offense. But I think you’ll see those catches that you’re used to seeing. You’ll see some things from him that we all hope to see. I think he’ll deliver.
Q. I think you said last week that you thought David [Watford] has been a little hard on himself with some of his comments after the Oregon game. On the flip side, what do you think it shows his teammates when he takes accountability like that?
COACH LONDON: That’s a great point. It shows that we’re all accountable for a lot of things, in particular when you’re the guy that handles the ball 100 percent of the time. It’s important that everyone knows how he releases it, where he throws it, whom he throws it to, that he’s saying he’s got to be accountable. But it also tells those guys that if you’re to run the right route, run this way, if you need to cut your splits in order to make a rusher, put him at a disadvantaged position, if you’ve got to block longer. So the message is being sent that I’m going to take the blame. I’m not going to throw anybody under the bus. I’m responsible. I’m the quarterback, I handle the ball. But that’s the kind of leader he is. He’ll never talk about someone that didn’t run the right route or not having enough time to throw the ball. I think what the players see is, you know what? This is what a true leader is all about, so they’ve got to step their game up as well.
Q. You are the son of an Air Force veteran, I believe. As such, does the military appreciation aspect to this game have any special meaning for you?
COACH LONDON: It always does. Again, you guys know about my dad. 30 years retired Air Force, Vietnam Veteran, dealing with some health issues. But as a kid growing up, we’ve lived all over, basically. Hawaii, Africa, California, Germany, and I always have a tremendous amount of respect for our armed forces men and women who served, even police officers since I was one of them too. But the fact that this game against VMI, I played in a couple of games where you play an academy schools or military schools, and I don’t know if they’re going to march their cadets in, but that’s one of the most impressive things you’ll ever see.
Even though that’s your opponent, you take a tremendous amount of pride in the fact that these young men maybe one day might be put in harm’s way. But here they are in this moment, this time, that they represent what I think is truly great in America is people saying service to country, service to corps. I grew up in a household like that. I still say yes, sir, no, sir, yes, ma’am, no, ma’am. And that is the way it will always be.
But it will be great to see the atmosphere. Again, I appreciate all the men and women in uniform out there. It’s a special day. We should never forget about the freedoms that we enjoy because of those sacrifices for men and women in uniform.
Q. I don’t think a lot of us really noticed Brent Urban last year until, as you look back, as you assess him right now and look back at his career do you see many players who can make the kind of season-to-season transformation as he’s made?
COACH LONDON: I tell you what, Brent Urban has garnered the attention of every scout. We’ve had every NFL team come through to our practice facility, and every scout has come in and said this guy’s playing well.
We always talk about sometimes not only with young players, but the biggest developments and gains are made after spring practice and you go into the summer. I know that Coach Evan Marcus has a lot to do with that. I know his accumulated amount of reps being a defensive tackle. Coach Vince Brown, the scheme that Coach Jon Tenuta is using him when we’re moving a lot with him. He’s a strong, powerful, can pass rush, can play well against the run, all of those things.
He is definitely emerging as being, again, I’m just saying what the scouts are saying, is definitely a guy moving up the radar and catching a lot of people’s eyes. So his game has improved and we’re looking forward to him having better games and better games as we move forward.