Mike London's Weekly Press Conference Transcript - Richmond Game
Sept. 1, 2014
An Interview With:
COACH Mike London
COACH LONDON: It’s our second game, and the opportunity to play against my alma mater, a place that I spent some pretty good years at. I have a lot of respect for Danny Rocco, who is a good friend of mine, a lot of coaches on that staff I’ve known over the years, administrators. Really, there are only two players from that team that I know, and that’s Michael Strauss and Michael Rocco. Everyone else I don’t know, but I do know that they’re a well-coached team, and I do know that they’re coming to Charlottesville, and they’re coming with the mindset of playing a really good game and having an opportunity to win. But with that, I’ll take any questions.
Q. Mike, when you were evaluating the performance of a quarterback, what do you make of a play like the first pick six Saturday? Does that go on Greyson Lambert’s ledger because he was the guy who threw it, or do you kind of discount it because of the fact that the guy tipped it from behind as he was throwing?
COACH LONDON: In part of the evaluation process you always look at the techniques that are involved with everyone involved, whether it’s the linemen that’s blocking, whether it’s the quarterback and the trajectory of the ball, his feet or his movement. Is the receiver running the right route? Does he put himself in a position where the quarterback has to make a throw that’s errant? There are a lot of things that go into looking at a particular play and evaluating that play. You go back and you talk to the players about it, and you correct those issues.
Q. On that one though was that something Greyson should have done differently?
COACH LONDON: You can talk about everyone that’s involved, the throw, the blocker, the route, those things. But every play everyone has a job to do, an assignment to do. As you saw, if one or two don’t do their job or assignment, it could lead to the issues. That one led to a tipped pass and ultimately a touchdown for them.
Q. When did the staff settle on Matt as the back-up and why did you all choose him over David Watford?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, that was going through camp and watching Matt compete and trying to put him in competitive situations. What was interesting about this game is it was a competitive game. When you go against yourself in spring practice and during the summer, what you’re grading is the game and the scrimmages against yourself. The thing that Matt did that was very productive and as he executed the offense, was he did it against a team in a situation that wasn’t a mop-up situation. He did it in that situation and he performed. He executed and performed the way we needed and what we needed and what we wanted. When you do something like that, then it’s reasonable for us to look at a player and say, listen, let’s give him other opportunities to make sure we continue to evaluate him. He’ll have an opportunity to play again, but we saw early on that Matt is a competitor. He got reps. He played in scrimmages. He did some really nice things. I would say that coming out of the spring practice and coming out of August camp is that he’s shown the ability to really grasp the offense. Having the opportunity to have played and demonstrated what he did in a competitive situation, he did a good job for himself. He was excited about that opportunity, and we’ll try to continue to keep doing things to allow us to put people, players in the position to help us win.
Q. Coach, in the off-season it was talked about the question marks with the offensive line. I think they didn’t give up a sack on Saturday, so just how did they grade out, coach’s evaluation of them? When it comes to Greyson or even the quarterback’s play overall, do you see anything correlated to the offensive line?
COACH LONDON: One thing for sure is that UCLA has a very good defense, as we talked about before. The fact that our offensive line did provide the type of protection that did not allow a sack – now we got hit – they did get to our quarterbacks, but at the same time, when you can provide the type of protection which is predicated about the calls and the type of protection, overall protection that you use, whether it’s slide protection or whatever it might be, the end result was they did a good job playing against the players they were playing against. The front seven for UCLA are very fast, very athletic, and, again, as I said – very pleased with the production of protecting the quarterback and not having those sacks.
Q. You mentioned the two players you know, the two quarterbacks that were here, what do you see particularly about Strauss? He’s had a year and a little bit more in their system. What are you expecting from him and Michael Rocco?
COACH LONDON: Michael Strauss has a strong arm. He’s a guy that can make a lot of throws, short throws, and the long throws. He believes he can put the ball where it needs to be. He’s very confident, and you can see that in his play. You can see it in the type of year, the productive year they had for him last year. Michael Rocco is a guy that can run an offense. He’s very efficient in what he does. Mike is kind of the team guy that can rally guys around him. You know, I wish the best for both of them. Michael Strauss has done well. He was a committed player when I first got here and went on to Richmond, and of course Michael [Rocco] was here in my time here, and again, wish him the best. Danny Rocco – his uncle and I were friends, and a couple of his other uncles are coaches, so the Rocco name is a very well respected name in the coaching community.
Q. Maybe the end of the half situation kind of necessitated Matt throwing the ball down field like he did on those two big plays. But it seemed like there wasn’t a lot of that otherwise in the game. Was Greyson reluctant to do that or was he just throwing the check downs or was that part of the game plan to keep it kind of slow moving down field?
COACH LONDON: Again, just speaking to the production and the performance that you’re asking for the quarterbacks, I can’t speak to or I won’t speak to why Greyson didn’t throw the ball down field. But as Matt had the opportunities that were presented, he did. Again, you evaluate players on what they do and how they do and how they execute what’s being asked. That’s the basic premise on what we talk about in terms of players who will play and how they’ll play and when they’ll play.
Q. In the past when you’ve been here when there’s been two quarterbacks that are battling for time in the season and hasn’t really played out the way you hoped it would do. Is there anything you’d do differently handling these guys than maybe you did or learned or picked up from the previous times you’ve had to sort of go through this? It seems like past years it almost splintered the team a little bit. How do you handle that having two guys that are obviously capable of playing?
COACH LONDON: Well, as we have two capable young players that can play, there is no dissension amongst the team. This is a new year. This is a new staff. We talked about holding everyone, including myself, accountable for the production that’s out on the field. Whatever position it is, all of us are held to [accountable] standards that we’re looking for. Myself to the administrators and University – my coaches to me, and players to coaches and to the schemes. They understand. One thing about this team is that they understand and we talked about production, performance that would lead to the executing of the type of things the way we’re asking for plays to be executed. This team is unified. There are no issues with that, because we all set standards that we expect from each other.
Q. Just kind of generally speaking, obviously playing a couple of transfer quarterbacks, could you speak to the trend in college football now? Quarterbacks always need to play, and a lot of times you see them going from program to program. How difficult is that for programs? Is that just the nature of the position that is the quarterback and today’s college football?
COACH LONDON: There are elements of young men that want to play and be the guy. Obviously, there are a lot of programs that have situations like that. But as you said, there are programs that players come initially and they move on. As they look at the depth chart, as they look at the development, as they look at their development. It’s always important to try to not only develop the players, but also try to put the players in the types of positions that can help the team, because ultimately it’s about the success of the team. You want to develop players, but at the same time you want those players, as you evaluate them, to put them in a position to help the team. That’s sometimes young men, they make their decisions and they go elsewhere for their reasons. But ultimately, as I said, it’s about the team and the production of the team.
Q. Do you know now who is going to start at quarterback? If you don’t, why don’t you know? You still have a process you’re completing?
COACH LONDON: Oh, there is a process to this. Like I said, today’s Monday. Tomorrow’s our first day of practice. As I said, we’ll continue to keep evaluating where we are and what we’re doing at that position. The good thing for us is we have two players that have demonstrated the performance that can help us win football games. One of them just played here recently that showed he could compete at a high level and perform and execute. So right now there is no answer to that. I mean, you saw the depth chart today. As I said, we’ll make the decision on Saturday as to who will be the starter, but both of them are going to play, and we’re going to try — in fact, we’re going to try to play as many players as possible as this game kind of precluded us from doing that, but it’s about trying to get players developed and we’ll continue to keep trying to do that.
Q. So your number one guy at practice tomorrow isn’t necessarily going to be the starter?
COACH LONDON: As I said, both players are going to practice and are going to play in this game all week, yes.
Q. In the locker room after the game did you sense the players were satisfied that the game was much closer than most people predicted or were they frustrated at letting an opportunity get away to beat a team like that?
COACH LONDON: Well, what was interesting about the locker room afterwards, and we talked about this team and about unity and about the older leadership and guys holding each other to standards and to being accountable and responsible. There was a collective group of young men that stood in that locker room afterwards and knew that basically we had a chance to win that game. We gave them three scores. Again, all of the talk about who they were, it boils down to us and us being able to execute. But these players believe and that’s one of the biggest things that I know it’s just game one, but it’s coming out of, as I said, spring practice. It’s coming out of the summer and out of August camp that these players believe and they want to win, and they want the guys that can help us win to be put in those situations that can do that. I don’t believe there is a selfish person on this team. That was really, as a head coach and you’re talking to your team after a game and all eyes are locked in on you and you walk away afterwards and you hear different leaders of the team talk about some of those things. I mean, that was really gratifying that older guys now holding other guys accountable and responsible and talking about winning football games and getting better and correcting mistakes and moving forward.
Q. There’s going to be a lot of discussion all week about offensively and the quarterbacks, but defensively what you were able to do against UCLA’s caliber of offense, is that kind of one of the better performances you’ve seen in your tenure from the defense? How does that rank in your mind about what you guys were able to do?
COACH LONDON: It was definitely an excellent performance by the defense in terms of the caliber of player that we were going against in Hundley. The amount of pressure, the tackles for losses, and the sacks – he got his yardage. But at the same time there were guys that, again, going into the second year of the scheme and system that are understanding where they’re supposed to be, where they’re supposed to fit, coverages. Can we get better? Yes, we can. We had some missed tackles and occasionally there was a missed alignment. But from the understanding of what’s being asked of them and being able to play fast was represented by a good game plan and understanding the “who” and the “what,” particularly for UCLA that can cause issues. I was very proud of the effort. Two big fourth down stops and the one with the caused fumble was critical. You have to have turnovers. We have to score on defense, because they scored on defense three times. That’s another thing you want more, and I believe we can get more, but, again, very positive in the defensive effort.
Q. In regards to that defense, with how well they played in that first game and how good on paper with the returners you have, does that change your offensive philosophy at all going into this year just in terms of how you play offensively because you know your defense is not going to allow a lot of points – how does that affect your overall offensive philosophy this year having such a defense that you’re expecting to be so good?
COACH LONDON: Going into this season, coming into this game, we know that one thing is we have to reduce the amount of points that the offenses score. That’s critical. They can have yardage and passing yards, running yards, but it’s about the points. We know that although we had the ball a lot of times last year and in the top category of plays run, we didn’t have very many scoring opportunities, and we know that we have to put points on the board. So the impetus for us is play good defense, play sound defense. Offensively, don’t turn the ball over – which happened to us was the thing that you don’t want to happen. But hang on to the ball. Don’t turn the ball over. When you have those scoring opportunities, make the most of them particularly down in the red zone. Special teams, change the field position. As I said in a teleconference last night, the kickoff cover unit was the best that I’ve seen since I’ve been around here. The best that Larry Lewis has had since he’s been a special teams coordinator. So when you talk about the field position, our average field position start was better than theirs, so that is the formula for us. I know it’s not a new one. It’s not always been made to be that, but play good defense for us is going to be critical. Offensively, hang on to the ball. Create those opportunities when you particularly get down in the red zone to score. We’d like more explosive plays. That goes into throwing the ball deep sometimes. You’ve got to do it. I believe we have the receivers that can go up and get it and will do that. And play sound special teams. For the most part we’ve looked like those can be elements to keep us in the games and help us win games.
Q. Was [Jon] Tenuta satisfied with the performance, and did any of the younger guys or anybody else for that matter exceed your expectations on defense?
COACH LONDON: I can probably speak for everybody. You have a great game – if you lose the game no one’s satisfied with that performance. So we have a good game that leads to a win, then you may get a positive answer on that. But, again, they scored three times on defense. Though we got two turnovers, we want to score on defense as well. We’re always pushing to do that. Not many young guys played. Andrew Brown didn’t play, but he’ll play this week. Jamil Kamara didn’t play on offense, but he’ll play this week. Quin Blanding had almost 60 snaps and he played. Doni Dowling played as well. So the four freshmen that I’ve committed to play will play this week. Two of them played in the UCLA game. It was good to see a guy like Andre Levrone go back to the receivers and go up and get the ball and bring it down. It was good to see Darius Jennings. He was the offensive player of the game for us. Henry Coley was the defensive player of the game. Ian Frye was the special teams player of the game along with the efforts of Vince Croce and Wil Wahee. I pulled out a play yesterday and showed the team on a kickoff cover that Wil Wahee got knocked down, crawled on his hands and knees, dove for the returner, missed him. Someone else turned the returner back in towards Will, and he jumped up and made the tackle. That was a tremendous effort. If we play with that type of effort, play-in and play-out, not just special teams, but offensively and defensively, and here you have a guy that is not a household name. He’s a guy that just wants to play and help the team win, which was an unbelievable effort he showed. Now we all have the model of the type of effort. You get knocked down then you get back up. You’re not out of the play until the whistle sounds. And he did a fantastic job. We recognize he and Vince Croce as guys that gave unbelievable effort on special teams.
Q. From the end of last year, now this past week Richmond’s been on a little bit of a roll here. You were there when they were very successful. How good is this team? Do they compare to teams that you had there? How big of a challenge is this despite them being another level?
COACH LONDON: As I said, Danny and I are really good friends. One of the things I’ve heard him talk about often is for his team this year, it’s a senior-oriented group. There are a lot of guys that he’s been around and they’re his guys. He’s very pleased with the type of leadership. As I talk about our team being older, and you have those locker room moments where the leadership takes over. He’s as proud of those guys as I am of my guys here. He believes in his team. You look at the team, they are an older team, and there are a lot of spots there that experience is in place for them, and I’m sure he’ll coach them hard and be ready to come back and return to Charlottesville.
Q. You guys had 20 yards in penalties Saturday, which strikes me as extraordinarily low especially for a season opener. It was your fewest in a game in almost three years. After being 12th in the league last year in penalty yards, how much of an emphasis was it in preseason camp? How did you hold players accountable to that? I’m guessing you had to be pleased with the numbers on Saturday?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, it was a positive aspect for us to have such low penalties in that regard. If you look at it, this goes back to accountability and responsibility thing. We had an offensive lineman jump offsides, came out of the game. We had a wide receiver that on a basic formation lined up wrong, which caused us a penalty. Came out of the game. So we’re talking about being accountable to things, not just the penalties, but how we play, the way we play. If you’re not being held to a standard that we all expect, then expect changes or expect something to happen because you just can’t go about just accepting that and going on about your business. Right now we’re very disciplined team when it comes to that. And I am pleased with the fact being the first game, high profile game against a team like this that there was a level of discipline that we haven’t had in the past that was displayed on Saturday. Now we need to continue and get better. You can have a game with no penalties, which would be great as well. But that’s what we’re striving for. Getting lined up correctly is important. Staying onsides is important. Throwing the ball where we need to throw it, how you need to run a route. It’s important. So those are some of the discipline things that we’re talking about in order for this team to get better. Those are the things the older players want to be held to a higher standard of. So we will do that as a staff and continue and hopefully have games that we will be productive in the penalty standpoint again.
Q. Where were the breakdowns on the UCLA punt return for a touchdown that was nullified by the penalty?
COACH LONDON: They’re very fast on their special teams units. They did a good job of doubling a couple of our guys. When you get doubled, the single guy has to get out and be one of the main guys that can turn the ball back in. We missed a tackle on that, and their runner made a great play and got away from us.
A learning point, I’m quite sure that coach Mora will talk to their team about is the penalty on that is when the player’s helmet came off. The rule is when your helmet comes off, you have to stop immediately, you can’t continue in the play. I don’t know if enthusiasm or whatever it was, but he put his helmet back on and continued to run down the field, that was the cause for the penalty.
Even for us, it’s a learning point – it’s a coaching point. If the helmet comes off, you have to stop immediately. That was the penalty that nullified that return. But there were breakdowns from a technical standpoint from us, and then missing a tackle.
Q. Coach, you were talking about accountability and jumping offsides or lining up differently. How was it you guys responded to Kyle’s fumble? I know he was in several series there after. But I guess he’s in the same spot on the depth chart at least for now. But in terms of accountability, when you have that kind of a game-changing play like that, how do you address that with a player?
COACH LONDON: It’s the same thing for him. Receivers, when they catch the ball, you’re at your most vulnerable state because you turn and start running up the field. The guy from behind you, that’s what you’re taught. You’re taught to punch the ball out when tackling from behind, and that was a costly error. Obviously that will be also corrected. That will be — it’s been talked about, and I can say this. A guy like Jamil Kamara will have a chance to play as well. And I’ll just leave it at that. It’s important that we understand that hanging on to that ball is critical because it cost us, as we all saw, three touchdowns.
Q. Can you give us any update on Demetrious Nicholson?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, he’s responding slowly to this turf toe injury. Now this is the same surgery that Andrew Brown had, and Andrew’s now back to being 100 percent, full speed. Tra’ is I believe three weeks out of that. He’s still running around in practice. Our hope, as well as I know his hope, is that he can get back into some contact drills. But when you’re a defensive back, the pressing and running and changing direction is critical to you, and he’s not there yet at this point.
Q. Any idea at all of redshirting?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, with the second game coming up right now it is way too early. But obviously there is an array of options that we will consider and that’s one of them. But he also wants to play, but we’ll see how that works out.
Q. Staying in the secondary, you said Quin Blanding got 60 snaps. Can you speak more specifically to what you saw from the true freshman at safety? I know he had that one-on-one play with Hundley down there in the red zone as well. But overall can you assess his game?
COACH LONDON: The one that made SportsCenter on that one, when Hundley scored the touchdown? I tell you what, Quin is obviously a player with excellent skills and talent, and he will get better and be better. For him playing next to Anthony Harris is very important and it’s going to be critical to his success as well. But what a terrific young man he is. So many examples I could give you about not just on the field stuff that he’s doing, but some off the field things that he does as a teammate and representative of this University are outstanding already as a first year. So, again, he’ll have opportunities to play and get better as the season goes on. Like I said, he’s an excellent young man.
Q. This kind of hard line accountability you’re talking about where if you make a mistake you come out of the game. That’s a new thing for you. You haven’t been that way before. Is it hard or have the players had a difficult time adjusting to the way you’ve altered your approach to mistakes or is that just kind of the whole point?
COACH LONDON: Two and 10 wasn’t good enough last year. Collectively as a senior-led group, having the standards of accountability and responsibility of something is that they want, we want, I want. It’s always going to be about executing the plays, performing what’s needed, and then producing on the field. When it’s like that and everybody buys in, then there are no issues about who is playing and who is not playing because the standards are as they are. So that’s, again, been refreshing because you have 22-plus seniors that want that. This staff again, second year, the accountability, the terminology, the techniques that are being asked, these players can play the techniques that are being asked, and then they want to be held to those standards.
Q. The other thing I wanted to ask, since last spring when it was clear Greyson was the quarterback, we never really heard about any other options at quarterback. He was the guy. He was kind of the face of the program. He’s on the media guide. We go into the first game and before halftime, he’s out. Do you have concerns a little bit about how that’s going to play with the guys or is that just accountability because that’s a whole long period of time where he was the answer and then all of a sudden he’s out. Are you concerned about how that will impact him, the quarterback situation, and maybe the mindset of some of the other guys?
COACH LONDON: Greyson Lambert is a captain. He was a part of the leadership council. He was part of the group that said, Coach – we want to be held to higher standards. We want to be responsible. Understanding that he played, he did some good things. He made a switch, and when Matt Johns came in, Matt Johns played well. It’s not unreasonable to think that a guy that came in and produced – led us to a couple scores – that Matt John’s evaluation of opportunities should continue as well.
So what that tells Greyson is I’ve got to make sure that I do the thing that’s I’m responsible to do and executing and performing so the production of the team is where it needs to be. Matt John’s performed. So there are no issues with any of our players because, again, it’s back to what we’ve all said we wanted to be held to. And I think that’s what’s different about this team.
Q. Could you take me through the end of the half there? How does that play out? Had you been thinking about it for a couple of series about putting Johns in? Is it Fairchild in your ear saying maybe we should try this? How does that all play out logistically over the course of the game?
COACH LONDON: I mean, ultimately I make the final decision on that. I mean, there are plays and things that are evaluated every series as the players come out and through communicating with Coach Fairchild, Coach O’Brien up in the booth. We constantly talk about players. Not just the quarterback, I talked about the wide receiver issue, and the offensive line issue. So the decision is made and it’s made because of the best interest of the team, and it’s not really complicated.