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Nov. 25, 2013

Q. It’s Tech week, obviously, Coach. How much do you talk about this game in the off-season? I know you take every game one at a time, but how important is this game on an annual basis, and how much do you talk about it with your team even before the season starts?
COACH LONDON: You look at the schedule and you know every year you’re going to play them because they’re our rival, in-state rival. They are a Coastal Division opponent – there are guys on that team that they know – their former teammates from high school. There are a lot of things. Human nature is that you always know that the last game traditionally here has been the game against Virginia Tech.

So you know that on the front end of it, and I’m quite sure every year, every game, guys are looking at the scores and how teammates are doing and things like that. It’s not something that you constantly talk about because it’s a given, basically. And now that the week is here, now the focus is on this opponent, who they are, what we have to do, not what’s going on with them, it’s just about the things that we need to do in order for us to be competitive and win a football game more than anything else.

You know, the hype is already made up all over. Guys know it, and now we’ve got to play the game. It’s a big rivalry weekend for a lot of other schools, as well.

Q. I don’t think anybody asked you after the game about Kyle Dawkins who had a good game against Miami. Is he a receiver you see taking on a bigger role in the offense, if not this season then next year?
COACH LONDON: The one thing that Kyle brings to us is a physical presence on the perimeter and blocking. 243 yards rushing, a lot of it had to do with getting to the second level, and when you have big guys like not only Kyle but Miles Gooch, Keeon Johnson, that have ability to block, DBs and crack block on linebackers, then you give your runners a chance. Kyle has done a really nice job of doing that and showing that he can be a receiver and catch the ball – but also one of the biggest assets that he has is the ability to block.

Q. I know David has kind of struggled the last couple games. Has it gotten to, I guess, the point where he won’t start Saturday, or he will definitely start Saturday against Tech?
COACH LONDON: No, David will start. As I said before last night, there are no bowl game opportunities. The next opportunity to take a snap will be in spring practice, and so Greyson will play in the game, as well.

As I said one point in the game last Saturday, there were about six, seven true freshmen on the field playing, and it’s about the development of them, as well. So we will find the times and opportunities to allow Greyson to get in the game and play, but David needs to continue to improve and in the area that he needs to improve in, so we have one game left and we’ll continue that path.

Q. Kevin I think comes into this 74 yards shy of 1,000. How big of an accomplishment would that be, to have a positive in a troubled season, and how hard is that going to be going against the ACC’s No. 1 run defense?
COACH LONDON: Well, I’m quite sure the accomplishment of having a 1,000-yard rusher is always something that running backs dream of. If you asked Kevin, he’d probably trade all that in for wins rather than an accomplishment like that.

It’s important that we do the best we can in order to give him the opportunity to run the ball and utilize his talent. You’re right, the defense we’re about to play is in the top 10 of a lot of categories, and they’ve played well. So every running back, every team that has played against them, they’ve done a nice job of, and we’ll have to do a nice job, a great job of creating those holes and those opportunities for Kevin if he’s going to look to achieve something like that.

But the biggest thing more so than the rushing yards, getting 1,000, is probably, if you ask everyone, it’s about the opportunity winning a game.

Q. Regarding using the quarterbacks on Saturday, how much of that will be performance driven? Say David is lighting it up; do you still bring in Greyson at a predetermined point, and conversely, if David is struggling early, do you bring Greyson in earlier?
COACH LONDON: That’s yet to be determined right now on Monday, but as I said, the focus is to give Greyson some reps, as well.

Q. You’re an old defensive line coach. You’ve coached some pretty good defensive tackles here. What are your impressions of Maddy and Hopkins inside for Tech? They seem to be arguably their best players.
COACH LONDON: Without a doubt, particularly knowing the Hopkins family because of recruiting and things like that, but they’ve really done a nice job in controlling the inside running lanes. They’ve done a nice job in pressing the pocket, so when a guy like Gayle gets up the field and the quarterback has to step up, then they’ve done a nice job being in that presence, because you look at statistically there’s hurries, pressures, QB hits, but they’ve really done a nice job in accomplishing there.

They’re two really good players, and you look and you see why, again, defensively they’re having the success in terms of the numbers, top 10 in a lot of the categories. It has a lot to do with inside guys, like Brent Urban for us, the difference between him being back and maybe why Miami had 90 yards rushing and him making two tackles for losses, you just can’t underestimate the influence that those inside guys can have for you.

Q. Take away the four turnovers down there – did you feel like your team improved in other aspects?
COACH LONDON: Well, I did. It’s unfortunate, but part of the football game is sudden change in turnovers, and when you look at it, two of those turnovers were in the red zone area. We’re going in to score, we have an opportunity to score, and when you turn it over like that twice and you lose an opportunity to score and they score two touchdowns as a direct result of turnovers, and then returned one down to the 3-yard line which led to a touchdown. It does make it difficult to achieve success when you’re doing things like that.

But being able to run for 243 yards, throwing the ball, there were some guys that had individual game highs in terms of grading. So it was positive in a lot of standpoint, but negative in that the ultimate goal is to win the football game, and the turnovers in the red zone and the turnovers not being able to — when they got the ball back, not to be able to keep them out of the end zone, à la kick a field goal or something, were the issues of the game.

But I’ve seen improvement as the year has gone on, as the season has gone on, and it is frustrating that it’s not happening at enough of a pace that affects the outcome of a game. That’s what has to happen, and that hasn’t happened as of yet.

Q. Obviously David is going through his process and learning a new offensive coordinator, but obviously Tech has a new offensive coordinator. Can you talk about what you’ve seen from Logan Thomas this year but even kind of his journey over the last couple of years as a player?
COACH LONDON: Well, obviously Logan is a talented young man. He is very physical. For a quarterback, he’s very physical. He can run the ball. He can throw the ball. He can throw the ball with velocity. We’ve seen him make a lot of good throws.

His maturation process is no different than any other quarterback that starts out, whether it’s a new coordinator or not in that the years and the experience of things just start to add up in order to take its effect on quarterbacks. He came back this year, adjusting to a new coordinator, and whatever the issues that are going on offensively for them, he is the focal point of it, as all quarterbacks are.

But you see his development over the years that I’ve known him and I’ve seen him mature, as I’m quite sure one of their team leaders. It’s what we hope David to be, or any quarterback, Greyson Lambert, those guys eventually mature, and the experience that they gain through the season, the weight room program, just all those different things start to take hold and you see the end result on the field.

Q. You said at some point maybe last night or maybe the night or afternoon before, you’d have to go back and check the drops. How many drops were there? How would you describe them? I know there’s a wet ball in the first half, as well.
COACH LONDON: Going back, looking back, four of them were from the tight end position, which has been uncharacteristic of that spot. There were a total of seven. Four from your tight end position and one of them which led to the ball skirting out of the hands and led to an interception down in the red zone area, again, was costly.

We can look at David and all the things he does or he doesn’t do, but any quarterback that has drops is an issue with his efficiency, his production and all those things. When you have an opportunity to catch the ball, we have to catch the ball. As I said, we had the seven drops, which didn’t help matters.

Q. This senior class is pretty unique in how small it is, but these are guys that have been here four years, maybe five years but have been here every step of your journey. What do they mean to you and what’s your legacy and they leave on Saturday?
COACH LONDON: It is, it’s a very small class, a small class of young men that all of them will graduate, which I’m very proud of, and two, that they’ve the opportunity to experience some success here. You talk about the Chick-fil-A Bowl, whatever, and then now having to deal with the adversity going out with their last college football game.

You know, they’re great young men. You wish that as far as on the field you’d have had more success for them, but they’ll be successful men in life, in the business opportunities that they will pursue because of who they are. So again, the best thing for us to do as a team is to play a game that’s representative of how we want to send them out, and that’s being very competitive, playing your rival team, having a chance to win and end the streaks and everything that everyone talks about. The main focus is to win a football for those very few seniors.

Q. You’ll be without Anthony Harris for the first half on Saturday. Do Rijo and Brandon automatically become the starters, and who’s safety behind them?
COACH LONDON: Obviously those two will have to play, and then Kelvin Rainey is in the mix and then we may do some other things as far as look at another position, maybe a corner or something like that. But that’s the reality of how we have to play the first half of the game, and we’ll practice those scenarios and those coverages and those things to try to minimize anything that may cause us issues. But that’s where we are, and we just have to deal with the fact that we’ll be without him for the first half.

Q. You mentioned the value of having Brent back the other day. In evaluating tape, how close was he to the old Brent, and then how did he come out of the game, and how do you see him for Saturday?
COACH LONDON: You know, I can tell you that after the first couple days of practice after you’re going full speed and you’re pushing on guys and after practice you’re like, oh, I’m not quite sure about the ankle, it’s sore most of the time, but as practice went on towards the latter part of the week, it got less and less sore. The doctors and trainers did a great job of getting him ready for this game, and really coming out of the game I asked him how he felt, and he said he felt really good.

I think that’s indicative of a guy that wants to play, wants to do well. We’ve had a ton of NFL scouts come in and out of here and say he’s really on their radar and has a chance to have a productive NFL career with staying healthy and with another good game against another opponent.

Q. Some of the closest games in this series, in the recent series, were in Blacksburg and the lopsided games were up here. Does that strike you as odd at all?
COACH LONDON: No, hadn’t thought about Blacksburg or Charlottesville. All our focus is on is what we need to do in order to be productive and successful here for this game, this time, this team, these young men. But that’s been the main focus.

Q. You mentioned Brent. Obviously he kind of came onto the scene a little bit last year when he scored that touchdown at Virginia Tech. Did you sense something different in him after that confidence-wise, anything like that? Until that point he hadn’t been necessarily a household name, and then he kind of used that as a springboard in the spring where he had a good spring and has had a good year this year despite the injury?
COACH LONDON: A lot of times the biggest development that players make is over that summer period – the time right after spring because they have all the strength coaches involved with them and all those things. But you never know what a young man is doing with the discretionary time that he has on his own. And when they come back in camp you look at whether they’re bigger, faster, stronger, in better shape, the endurance, and I think Brent made the conscious decision of going into this final season for himself, he stayed up here, he worked out, he ran, he lifted, and he did all those things that you want great players or good players to do. He got better. And he continues to get better even as we’re going into this last game here.

It’s a tribute to his work ethic. You talk to him, he’s a nice, almost goofy kind of guy when you talk to him, but again, on the football field, he has really demonstrated a skill and a knack for being a dominant defensive lineman.

Q. I understand that Morgan is going to come in here a little bit later. I know early in the season or even before the season you said that this was a year that he really needed to step up and past accolades didn’t mean anything, he had to earn them. How has his season been and how do you evaluate where he is now?
COACH LONDON: I can tell you he’ll probably even say, listen, the first part of the season was okay, and again, not indicative as a guy that had all these preseason accolades. And we had some scouts come in and kind of tell us, well, he’s doing okay. But the last few games, the last four or five games and then leading into this past game that they’ve come back in again and they’ve seen an improvement, whether it’s point of attack, ball away, whatever it may be, his effort. And I think that’s critical. You want players to get it at the beginning and sustain it throughout the season. I think Mo had a wake-up call early and has improved as we’ve gone on, and with this last game as an opportunity, again, playing against a good defense, playing against a guy like Gayle, and then the other defensive end, the front, that him playing well will help him. But he’s got to do that. He’s got to be consistent and finish up his collegiate season with another winning performance game.

Q. Are there one or two things that you say, okay, if we can do these on Saturday, that’ll give us a really good chance to break through and end these streaks and get it done?
COACH LONDON: Well, obviously going back to this past game, the turnovers particularly down in the red zone or turnovers in and of itself are something that you have to eliminate to give yourself a chance to win, particularly against a defense that’s played well, that’s in the top category in limiting points. As I’ve said in the past, one of the things we did this game was I think we were 11 for 20 for third downs, and that’s almost 50 percent, and we’ve never had that. But not being able to capitalize when we get in the red zone, not scoring, that hurts.

It’s important for us to get points, even though we hang onto the ball. That’ll be critical for us because we’re playing against a really good defense.

And then offensively, as I said, there’s enough weapons, whether it’s Logan or Demitri Knowles or Edmunds or whoever it is, that you can’t go to sleep on them, as well, because we’ve seen them put up points on teams. So it’s important for us to limit point opportunities for them, and it’s all going to go back and forth to field position, as well, because I think the kicking game, return game, cover game is going to be an important aspect of this.

Q. Obviously you have a ball hawk of your own in Anthony Harris. They have two freshmen with five interceptions each. What have your impressions been of the younger Fuller and of Facyson?
COACH LONDON: They’ve played well. They’re aggressive to the ball. They play the ball in the air as if the ball belongs to them even though it’s being thrown to the receiver, and that’s an admirable trait for a defender. A lot of things about young players as I know, as we well know, one of the good things about them is they don’t know what they don’t know. They go up and they get it and they’re fearless. One of the bad things about them is they don’t know what they don’t know, some of the things that happen to them.

But two very good players that are very aggressive, and you can see their style. They love to play the game with passion and energy. It’s a big part of the success that the defense has because those guys on the back end with the rush are defending the passes.

Q. I think Jon Tenuta said earlier in the preseason that Anthony Harris was one of the guys who gets it, who got it. Did you have a sense he was primed for the sort of year he’s had?
COACH LONDON: The same question was asked about Urban, that improvement, and I would say Anthony Harris is in that category, as well, as far as a guy that played in college football games, had had the benefit of being around a strength coach, had some experience, and Anthony is a smart football player. His football IQ is very high. And a lot of times, although defensively our linebackers are getting us lined up and making calls, Anthony is very, very active in what he says to the linebackers and other defenders.

As I said, his football smarts are something that he understands. He sees the whole field, and as a safety, being able to be a good safety, you have to be able to see the whole field, not just be tunnel vision on some things. He can tackle, he can defend, he can play the ball in the air, and he can get people lined up.

Q. How much have you emphasized to your guys just about finishing the season strong and snapping a losing streak against the Hokies, snapping a losing streak in the season, and also avoiding a winless finish in the ACC?
COACH LONDON: Oh, it’s very important. You attack the competitive side of the guys and say, look, this is the reality of what’s in front of us; the games, the lack of performance, the lack of points or giving up too many points. You talk about those things, what a win can do for you, and you always like to go out on a positive note. But it requires that kind of effort and that kind of energy to get that done.

It’s been a big emphasis about it, and again, we talked about this past game, statistically you put up some good numbers, but then you do some things that just take you right out of the ballgame, and so putting a game together or four quarters and being consistent with what we do is the focus point, and when you do that, then you give yourself a great chance to win games, and when you don’t, you’re going to experience the experiences we’ve had thus far.

The emphasis is on us, about us, and doing the things, protecting the ball and making opportunities happen for ourselves. When you do that, you have a chance to win, and that’s the focus and it’s always going to be the focus.

Q. Because of the magnitude of this game and everything that surrounds it, everything is so magnified with how things are done, with that said, a year later, would you have done anything differently in the game last year in terms of time-outs and things like that? Did you find yourself debating yourself after the season about how that ended?
COACH LONDON: You always look at how you can coach better, do things better. What are things in a game that you would have done perhaps different, perhaps, but you don’t beat yourself up over it, and you move on to what’s most important right now, and that’s the task at hand, getting everybody on the same page with performing well enough to win this game here in Charlottesville.

Q. OB [Tom O’Brien] said before the season started that even though Tenuta knew all the defensive strategies backwards and forwards, it might take a while for the players for it to sink in, for the light to come on. I was wondering, do you think that that’s been a struggle for them this season, and also offensively do you think they’ve totally gotten the system, or do you think it’s taken the whole year to master that or try to master that?
COACH LONDON: You know, obviously there are some learning curves to the elements of when something is new that’s introduced to a team, particularly in spring practice that carries over into the fall games and then when you find the young talent that’s going to be able to play, then that’s their first time. So there is a learning curve to that.

It’s good that the coaches know what we know and what they know, but the players have to be able to perform then, and you perform that with experience or you perform it with a skill level and knowledge of being able to do the techniques that are required.

And obviously we’re still a work in progress as far as all three systems are concerned and would expect a better product, a better showing with a season or another spring practice under their belt in terms of doing what’s necessary and required to be competitive in these games.

And you know, that’s been an issue, but at the same time you’ve got to catch balls, you’ve got to defend balls in the open air. You can’t drop balls. You can’t do things to hurt your chances of winning games outside of schemes.

Q. Just following up on Jerry’s question, just specifically to the quarterbacks, with where they’re at, David had two years with Lazor, Greyson had a year. From that position what do you feel like the learning curve — and is Fairchild’s offense very similar to Lazor or very different? How do you see those things?
COACH LONDON: Well, they’re different in different aspects. If you look at this year for us, there’s an element of the pistol offense with us where the back is directly behind the quarterback, and there’s some elements that the quarterback can run the ball. Last year we did a little bit with the read offense with the zone play and the quarterback whether he pulls it or not – I think more so we’re probably more run oriented with the quarterback, trying to find and match the gifts and the skill set that the particular player has for it, and as we start to continue to keep fine tuning what’s going to make us a better offense, what’s going to get us opportunities to score points. All those things have to be to the forefront of our mind about who the quarterback is and then what can we do, how can we surround him with people to make things happen for us, but what’s going to be most productive and efficient for us.

The style of offense I would say, concepts of passing routes and high-low, things like that, very similar, but other things about how we want to go about doing it have been different this year.

Q. When you make the decisions on a quarterback or any of the other positions like when you change wide receivers early in the season, who all is involved in that, the whole offensive staff or you and Coach Fairchild or you and Coach Fairchild and Coach O’Brien?
COACH LONDON: The offensive coaches when they grade film, they talk about their personnel. We all do that. They all do that. And then we talk about any issues, any changes, and collectively we discuss the issues that can help us or things that might be hurting us, things that we can do to perhaps make a change. But that discussion is — with the staff that the watching the tape all the time, know the mental errors or the mental mistakes or the alignment errors that might constitute that kind of conversation, and then we talk to the staff — offensively I’ll talk to the staff about making some changes or the things that we see that we have to get done in order for us to be successful. You know, it’s not a dictator ship type of thing. You value the input that you have of experienced coaches, and that’s all part of it.

And then ultimately the decision has to be made, and if it’s something that’s all agreed upon, we make it. If it’s not, if there’s dissenting opinions which you allow for, then I have to make that decision. But as far as personnel and the movement and things going on now, it’s been a consensus between the staff members and what direction to go.

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