Mike London's Weekly Press Conference Transcript - Pitt Game
Sept. 23, 2013
Q. We’ll start with the depth chart, Max Valles is up to first team on that strong side linebacker. What went into the decision that pushed him over Demeitre?
COACH LONDON: If you look at the way our defensive personnel is structured, Jon is very much into where there is a base defense, a nickel defense, a dollar defense, a dime defense, whatever it is, it’s based on personnel, and it’s based on what teams put in the game, as well.
Max, even during the open week, had been demonstrating some abilities, one to be a pretty good pass rusher, to be dynamic off the edge, and the competition at that position was a guy that went out and practiced and showed coaches that he had what it takes to be put in that position. So through that competition he’s going to start this particular game.
He played only seven reps this game because of, again, the packaging that we had going on. But during the course of the open week he was very much involved with getting as many reps and if you noticed he also was heavily involved in the special teams, as well.
We played a good number of freshmen because of depth and because of where they are in terms of a skill level, and he’s one of them that has stepped up, stepped his game up.
Q. Last week when you were kind of talking about what you guys had gone through in the two weeks and kind of assessing the offense, a lot of what you said kind of centered on David and what David was doing and whether it was him doing it or the play calling or whatever. How much do you think what you guys did against VMI kind of showed improvement? I’m sure you didn’t show everything, but how do you assess the way you guys handled last week compared to what you were hoping to do?
COACH LONDON: Obviously you have to play four quarters, and starting out the first quarter wasn’t indicative of the way we practice or the way we want to play. But we feel that as we got going that being able to run the ball, being able to throw the ball down the field and using David’s legs, those are some of the things that we talked about doing. And as we started going along, we got in the second quarter and had those opportunities to score those points as we did, then later on in the game we started utilizing the running game and using David’s legs. After the two interceptions I believe that his accuracy improved. I think he was 18-for-25, had two interceptions, two interceptions were early, then after that he did a pretty nice job putting the ball where he needed to put it.
I understand the opponent we played, but it is also about us and executing the routes that the receivers run and the depth of the routes that they run. Those are the things that we saw progress in his development and what he’s done, and those are things we’ve got to continue to keep seeing progress, not just for him but for everybody on the team, because as we said, this is our first road game against a team that put up a whole bunch of points at their place (in week three), so our progression or our progress is definitely predicated upon not only David improving, but everyone else improving too.
Q. Do you have any update on Zach Swanson? Will he be available? Is it a major injury? What can you tell us?
COACH LONDON: Well, in fact, this is the first ACC game. What happens is I’ll be able to release medical information to you guys on Thursday, but I’ll just say that Zach was walking around in a knee brace in our walk-throughs, and we’ll see what happens as far as whether he’s ready or able to play or not.
Q. That 2006 game at Pittsburgh, was that your first as defensive coordinator?
COACH LONDON: I remember several of those games, 2006, 2007, and the bowl game where they had Larry Fitzgerald.
Q. So that was your first day, first game back after returning?
COACH LONDON: Yes.
Q. Do you remember having to get better after that?
COACH LONDON: Well, yeah, it did, and that was a different team and a different mindset. Coach Chryst now when you watch Pittsburgh play, they have kind of that Wisconsin flavor in terms of really wanting to be ground oriented. But this particular game that they just played, obviously the quarterback Savage did a great job and threw six touchdown passes.
The other games you watch Pittsburgh play, they’re very physical, they like to run the ball, and this particular game they just played, it went the other way and they ended up throwing the ball, had a lot of dynamic, big plays down the field.
But yeah, I do remember the games against Pittsburgh there at home and then in the Continental Tire Bowl.
Q. You mentioned their dynamic plays on Saturday. Boyd and Street on the perimeter particularly, I think they had 67 and 65-yard touchdowns within a minute of each other. What have you seen on tape of those guys and Savage’s ability to throw vertically?
COACH LONDON: They definitely can stretch the field. You never know when you watch tape what the intent of the defense was, so you don’t know if it was a blown coverage or if it was just a personnel match-up where a guy just ran by a guy, but whatever, it still resulted in long plays, and they both did a nice job.
Boyd is a freshman. The running back Connor is a freshman, so there are two young players that obviously are very much important in terms of their production on offense.
Street is a tall receiver, about 6’4″, 6’5″, so he presents another challenge in terms of just his vertical ability in terms of going against defensive backs.
And then a quarterback that had a career day in throwing the ball to those guys.
It’ll be important for us as we said, and we’re going to do what we do, but at the same time you have to recognize — we always talk about the who and the what, and coming out of the Duke game there were a few players on their team that did a job that raised eyebrows.
Q. I believe this program hasn’t started 3-1 since 2007. Given the back half of your schedule and how tough it does get, how important is this? I know it’s the first ACC game and stuff like that, but record-wise what is the importance of Saturday?
COACH LONDON: Well, every game is important to us, and we’re not looking at the back half of the schedule, we’re looking at who we have right in front of us right now and the opportunities that are presented to us now.
We know the challenges that are ahead, and the biggest challenge is on the road against Pittsburgh, and everything else will take care of itself after that. Our goal is to be successful. Our goal is to win football games, and our goal is to go on the road and win our first on-the-road game. It’s important that our mindset is just focused on the right here and now. Everybody looks at the schedule and everybody is keeping tabs of who’s playing who, but again, as we started out with the first opponent, first two opponents, the last opponent, this opponent is another team that presents challenges to us that we have to play well in order to win.
Q. As a guy who’s been a defensive coach for most of your career, what do you make of those 58-55 games and Georgia Tech scoring 70 points? There have been some offensive performances in the conference that are just insane.
COACH LONDON: You know that is a good question. I think sometimes there’s a mentality to try to put up as many points on the board as you can because it looks good for perhaps maybe future rankings or getting your stats up there offensively.
I have a respect for coaches in this game. We started out with kind of an up-tempo against VMI, and after a certain point you’re going to play the game, but after a certain point we wanted to make sure that we used as much clock as possible and then run plays. I think some of that sometimes gets lost in college football and doing things the right way because you want to get numbers and you want to look at the stats and things like that. So there’s a point in that.
But you want the guys to play. You want them to run your offense. So if your offense is run the ball, run the ball, throw the ball because they give you a look, then sometimes that’s what happens, as well. If the other side is not executing that, then you put yourself in jeopardy of those kinds of scores, those bunches of scores happening.
Again, I can only control our games and what we do and how we’re doing attacking our opponents, but you’d have to speak to others about the score, whether it’s the opponent or whether it’s part of the system that they use, whether the twos or threes are in the game. This is what we do, if we give that look we’re throwing the ball deep, and that’s something that happens, as well.
Q. There have been a lot of lopsided games, but 58-55, I mean, that’s got to be like a defensive coach’s nightmare. I don’t know how much of the film you’ve been able to see, but what kind of allows that to happen?
COACH LONDON: Again, I think when we’re watching tape – we’re watching based on how they’re attacking particular coverages or schemes. At times we don’t know if there’s a mental error that consisted of a corner who’s supposed to be three deep comes up and plays shallow routes and the ball gets thrown behind him or whether or not it’s a mismatch of their player against another player.
The tempo of offenses and the things that they do, that always plays into how offenses score and how fast they score and the going back and forth, the field position, where they get the ball. All those things play into it, as well.
But it definitely was a high-scoring game. I’d like to go back and listen to both coaches’ press conferences after the game. Coach Cutcliffe characterized it as being one of those that he’s never seen in his coaching career. So that happens sometimes. But our focus is to limit the number of points and score more points than they can, and I think that’s the challenge for us because they presented on film and on paper that they can move the ball and they can score a lot of points.
Q. You mentioned in the preseason, about this being an important year for Demetrious Nicholson and wanted to see more aggressive play out of him. How is he coming along in that regard?
COACH LONDON: Tra’ is improving. Not too many balls were thrown his way this particular game. But there will be plenty of opportunities for him to show how much of an improvement, particularly this week. We just talked about the receivers, Street and Boyd, and how productive they were. I’m quite sure that Tra’ will have his hands full with playing either or both of those guys.
But the thing about Tra’ is he wants to line up against the other team’s best. I mean, he started the first game since his freshman year, and you’ve got to have some nerves, you’ve got to have some confidence back there, and you’ve got to have a short memory because things happen sometimes.
But again, Tra’ has been steady, and he continues to improve.
Q. This is late in a season to be going on the road for the first time. Is that a concern at all, or for your young players do you think having had three games at home is an advantage that helps them on the road?
COACH LONDON: The biggest thing is just getting acclimated to play in college football games in an arena in a setting where there are no coaches on the field. So as we’ve progressed over the last couple games, that’s what they’ve learned. That’s what they have been used to.
Now obviously the venue changes because you’re going on the road and you’re playing in a professional stadium, which happens to be their home stadium, as well, and so human nature, you get all the oohs and the aahs out of the way and you just boil down to the fact that it’s a 100-yard field, just like it is at Scott Stadium and just like it is at the McCue Center where we practice, and what matters is what happens — we’ve heard it before, but what happens between the white lines.
So there is a little bit of an element of a true freshman playing, but at the same time I think that concentrating on the task at hand and what needs to be done in the football game is where our guys at this point are starting to mature.
Q. Ross Burbank is starting at center but it looked like Jackson Matteo got in against Oregon and VMI. Is that battle still close like it was in training camp or has Ross solidified the job there?
COACH LONDON: No, it’s still an ongoing competition. Again, the opportunity for guys to play always presents itself even in practice, because if a guy is feeling satisfied about where he is and the guy behind him is not, then the guy behind him pushes the guy in front of him to make sure, ‘listen, if you don’t want it, I’ll take it.’ So I think that drives the competition of the guy that’s in front.
What you see is a healthy, competitive battle between both of those guys, and the opportunities to play will present themselves, as they’re successful playing.
Now, Pittsburgh has a dynamic defensive lineman. He’s big, strong, athletic, he’s a wide-bodied guy, and I’m quite sure he’ll give our guards and our center all they can handle, and we’ll keep a close eye on that type of contest because it’ll be important to know where he’s at and block him.
Q. Going back to the offense, when you went through the preseason and went through spring practice, do you feel the offense has progressed the way you expected, or has it been slower, maybe better than you expected? And this game in particular, do you feel like this will be maybe a good litmus test for how much it has progressed possibly, the offense in general?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, I’ve said at the very beginning, as we played the first couple games, you played against two really good defensive teams. We played this past game, had an open week, played this past game, we wanted to see progress in a lot of things that we want to be and want to do. We’re sketchy there for the first quarter, but then you started to see some of those things. You started to see some of the progress.
So now you are playing another quality and really good football team and wanting to continue to be those things that we talked about, being able to run the ball, being able to use the quarterback, being able to throw the ball downfield.
Every game will be a test for us in terms of are we continuing to improve, are we stagnant, are we going backwards. So this will be an important game for us, as well, to see are we moving forward – and what better test than to go on the road and play at a different venue after having a measure of success with your previous games.
There are a lot of positive things, but there are still things that we always press to work on, and we want to become a better football team as the season goes on, as well.
Q. Along the lines with the offense, I think only seven first quarter points so far this year, and even that came with a minute left, I think when Khalek had that run against Oregon. Do you do anything to help spark that, to get that going from the get-go? Obviously that’s going to be pretty important this week on the road to get off to a fast start.
COACH LONDON: True, very true. I think when you go through the finding out what you want to be and what you want to accomplish, particularly when we had that first — that open week, to find out what we wanted to be, being able to start fast as we just saw and not being able to do that can put you in jeopardy when you’re playing a really good football team. So it is important to get out early, or it is important to establish a field position that will give you a chance. It is important to hang on to the football and not create a short field for the defense, although I thought the defense did a tremendous job in keeping them out of the end zone.
I think our average field position was at like the 44-yard line, theirs was the minus 26. So when you go back and forth at the end of the game, you see where things add up. But when you look at the beginning of the game and the opportunities that were presented to us, we didn’t capitalize on them.
I think it is very important for us offensively to capitalize on limiting those turnovers, on having a running game that can get us into the red zone and be productive in the running game, using our quarterback, and also not being afraid to throw the ball deep to guys like Tim Smith or Darius Jennings.
Q. Opponent notwithstanding, how encouraging was it to see the deep pass to Tim on Saturday, and how much more of that do you need moving forward?
COACH LONDON: Seeing that opportunity and seeing Tim come up with the catch like that was something that we know the receivers have in them. You know, David has options to throw the ball deep or throw the deep seven cut route or the combinations of routes that are out there, and it’s all about confidence. And I think during the course of practice and as we go forward, being able to do what we want to do, use the quarterback, run the ball and throw the ball deep, and then we want to put pressure on the defense to defend, to defend a lot of areas. And if they play on top of our receivers and not respect any go routes or takeoffs and play everything medium to shallow, then that causes issues for your running game and even for a quarterback. But if you can throw the ball deep and open things up like that, then you give yourself a better chance.
We will continue to keep trying to throw the ball deep. There was one thrown to Jake, as well, and kind of dropped that on the sideline. As I said, in the routes there are built-in throws that if it’s there, we’ll throw it deep. And I know as we move forward here that now David will be looking to throw those balls deeper and get it in those guys’ hands that can run for us.
Q. You indicated last Monday that you felt you probably would have some discussions about redshirting, and I think you specifically mentioned a debate over playing the true freshman offensive lineman or the redshirt freshman offensive lineman. How did that evolve over the week? Did you end up playing more than you thought, or was that your intention all along?
COACH LONDON: Well, for two of them, Eric Smith and Sadiq O., I don’t want to mess the last name up, they were showing progress of improving – in particular the open week, we had a scrimmage, a live scrimmage with those guys because we wanted to see how much of a progression they’ve made.
It got to the point where with so many games still left on the schedule, do you worry about redshirting guys that physically probably are not as strong as what they need to be, and that’s where Evan Marcus and the strength program gets into it, or two, they are talented, they have the skill set to play the position, minus that overall physical strength, which they’ll get, and you make the decision — we made the decision that we’ll play them because we’ll need them as we go on through the year. They’ll continue to get stronger. Our team does a great job, Evan does a great job of over the last couple years of our guys getting stronger as the season goes on. And I think that’s important.
But Eric Tetlow was a guy that was injured, kind of the early part of camp, but when he wasn’t, was showing opportunities that, you know what, he’s going to be a good football player, and got himself healthy, and now he’s in the mix, as well.
We all talk about the competition of the positions and where they are. Those three that I mentioned have stepped up their game. Are there deficiencies, yes, but at the same time their skill level that they have demonstrated that we feel are going to be pretty good players for us.
Q. Do you sense that them being true freshmen that if they have to start next year you won’t have to start guys you’ve never played before?
COACH LONDON: Not looking at it that way early on, knowing that the group that we had coming back — I mean, again, this was coming out of spring practice and going into the season with a guy like Cascarano, who definitely played in a lot of college games. So I would say that their opportunities to play presented themselves as August camp started going on, getting ready for the first game, the second game and that open week. Their opportunities to play presented themselves when they started exhibiting the skill level to play.
Now they’re playing and we’re moving forward, and as I said, their development will continue. It will be an ongoing process for those three.
Q. You talked about the two receivers. What can you tell us about Savage? Big arm? Is he mobile?
COACH LONDON: Well, first of all, he’s 6’5″, so he’s a tall guy. He’s a pocket passer, but again, you have to know where he’s at because he will pull the ball down and run. But he’ll stay in the pocket and he’ll throw those balls downfield. Strong arm, long arm with the deep throws. He can throw the intermediate routes well. He’s got touch. He’s got guys he can throw it and they can run under it. So obviously when you look at the way he plays, the style that they play, they want to be a physical, tough running team, but he also exhibited a skill of being able to throw the ball like that that makes him pretty special.
Their passing game and their passing efficiency will be against our passing defense and what we do. But first and foremost, I mean, when you look at them play, they want to run the ball, and that’s something that they’ve done well in the games you look at. Again, I talk about Coach Chryst and the Wisconsin kind of identity. So we’ll go into the game, as we always do. We need to stop the run, and then when we play pass we need to play the pass to make sure it doesn’t hurt us.
Q. In regards to the defense they’ve had two dominating performances in three games. What to you are they doing best and what to you maybe still needs cleaning up going forward defensively?
COACH LONDON: We talked about being an attack style defense, and I think what you see, it lends itself to getting hits on the quarterback, tackles in the backfield or a multiple number of hats to the football. The ball being thrown quicker than what perhaps a quarterback would want to do, not let the guy sit there and have — we talk about seven on seven practice where there’s no rushers. So there is a challenging element to the defense that has shown itself and continues to present itself.
One of the things you always want defensively, and it was good to see against VMI, was the causing of turnovers, particularly for us. Now, again, we can’t give them up, but you saw even on special teams a couple hits that the ball was on the ground, we didn’t recover, but those are the things that we’ll always continue to work on, red zone defense, tackling where you have multiple hats to the ball because that could create those turnover opportunities, and I’m quite sure that we’ll see the ball thrown deep. But again, the way the defense is predicated is to make the ball come out fast and to be a penetrating style defense.
We’ve seen some positive things from those guys, and now, again, as Jon and all the rest of the coaches will tell you, we have to improve, as well. We want to score on defense, as well. Those are some of the things we want to continue to do.
Q. You mentioned one of the challenges of watching and evaluating tape is you don’t know what the intent of the defense might have been, was there a blown coverage or a physical mismatch. In looking at Pitt’s opener against Florida State, how much of that was Winston being absurdly good and accurate, and how much could you tell was Pitt’s defense just not playing well?
COACH LONDON: If you had a chance to see that game, you saw a guy that was just on all his throws, amazingly accurate. And anybody that’s accurate like that is always going to cause challenges for the defense that they’re playing against.
First game, there’s a lot of things you look at in your first game that you always go back and you try to figure what could we have done better and all those things. But I think, one, it was a talented and it still is a very talented Florida State team as we all see, a quarterback that was very, very accurate, and we all know that Florida State has talented players, as well.
It’s one of those things that its the first game, who they were playing, a quarterback that was extremely accurate, not to take anything away from Pittsburgh because they played hard and there’s some good things that they did in that game, but again, they played a team that was hot that day. It’s hard sometimes to put the brakes on something when something is moving full steam ahead, and Florida State did a great job with that.
Q. If Zach is limited this week or can’t go Saturday and Rob Burns has a bigger role in the offense, where is he kind of in his development, and can you do the things in the passing game with him that you do with Zach, or does it have to change?
COACH LONDON: It depends. It depends on what we’re going to be — what we’re going to ask him to do. Zach is a very important part of our offense, and you have Zach, you have Jake McGee there. Jake is going to continue to keep doing what he’s shown in terms of pass-catching ability, he’s improved run blocking-wise. But we keep talking about the next-man-up mentality, and here Robert Burns was worried about putting weight on over the summer and getting better, and now he’s put into a position that he’s going to have to contribute to help this team win, as well.
Our tight ends are an important part to what we do, but Robert’s development as we talked about with some of these offensive linemen is ongoing and continual because it is a position for him that’s new and presents challenges for him.
Q. Normally you rotate running backs every series or so, and obviously with the injury situation Saturday you weren’t able to do that as much, and it seemed like Kevin might be the type, the longer he’s in there, the better he gets maybe? Is he a rhythm type runner that carry eight is better than carry one, and do you think it would benefit him to take a whole bunch of snaps in a row?
COACH LONDON: The offense is called based on personnel groups, as well, and at times that’s predicated by down and distance, 1st, 2nd down, runs or passes, and 3rd down, whether it’s a protection down or whatever it may be, and I think that — I don’t know how many carries Kevin ended up having, I think close to 17, and as the game started going on and getting out of hand after a couple of his runs, Daniel Hamm and the other cast of guys that went in presented themselves to take advantage of opportunities, as well.
In a close game where you have KP into a rhythm, whether that’s staying in every 1st, 2nd, 3rd down play, that remains to be seen, but obviously he did do a great job, fantastic job, with not only breaking the one long run, catching the ball, making a long run out of it, but there were a number of times that he’d go through the line of scrimmage and their defender would come up and tackle him and he’d stay on his feet. As a matter of fact I showed one to the team the other day, we talk about effort. It kind of reminded me of the BYU game after Anthony’s interception, the guy came up to tackle him. It was a solid hit. Kevin has got such a low center of gravity that he stayed on his feet and got into the end zone. This play that I showed the team was the same type of play which spoke to the effort, that the individuals they give us enough of, I like our chances of winning.
Kevin with several games left to play will have plenty of opportunities to get the ball and we will see what he can do with it.