Mike London's Weekly Press Conference Transcript - Pitt Game
Sept. 29, 2014
An Interview With:
COACH Mike London
Q. You said last night that you were going to meet with some people about possibly showcasing this game in some fashion. Did you come up with anything?
Mike London: Not of yet. We’re still preparing to get ready to play Pitt, and that’s the main focus. We haven’t talked about what we’re wearing, how we’re wearing it and all those things. We’ll make those types of decisions or announcements in due time, or enough time for everybody to be on board with it.
Q. Are you glad to get to this time of the year in the shape you’re in, now that all the rest of the games are conference games, and looking at your division, what were your thoughts on that and what your chances are?
Mike London: When you look at the conference as it is now, there’s a lot of competitive games being played, games being won, being lost, and I can sit here and tell you as I’m sure all the other coaches in the Coastal [Division], it’s a conference that’s wide open for the taking, but that requires you playing, that requires you executing, that requires you winning those games. So for us, before we even start thinking about passing beyond Pittsburgh, the most important thing is winning this game to go 2-0 in the conference for us. But that’s what’s relevant for us now, and we approach all the other games as they come up on the schedule.
Q. Henry was in here before and he said that the kind of flat first half, and you said after the game that you kind of let the players handle that. Henry said that it happens, and it’ll probably happen again. How do you explain that, because a lot of coaches try to take the blame for that when it happens, but it’s obviously — you’re motivated; it’s not you.
Mike London: That’s a question I guess you’ll have to ask a player because I’m always ready for game days. What their mindset is, their psyche, when the game time is, so many different things. But ultimately if you’re going to contend for winning championships or winning games Saturday upon Saturday, then you have to be able to be ready to play, and you can’t afford to be flat. Some teams come out from play one and stay excited and stay enthused.
That’s the charge to our guys, as well, is regardless of who you’re playing, regardless of what other circumstances that outside of your control, our main focus and goal is to play hard, play with energy and passion. That’s a charge that I’m going to continue to let the seniors and the older leadership answer and be responsible for because it’s important. It’s important for games and how you play and the outcome of those games.
Q. Did you ever have a sense before a game that, man – these guys are kind of loafing around? Has it ever seemed obvious to you that your team wasn’t jacked up like they used to be?
Mike London: I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms where there was nothing being said. I’ve been in locker rooms where there’s a lot of noise yelling up and down, a lot of games played, and then you have to go out on the field and ultimately play out on the field. Again, it’s a self-motivating type of thing. Some players don’t want to hear any noise. They just want to go out on the field and play. Our goal is collectively as a unit, as a team, is to be ready on that first snap – because that’s the focus and that’s what we should be worried about is the first snap and the opponents we’re playing.
Q. You talked about self-motivating. Last year was a really long day offensively against Pitt. Do you feel that’s enough to get guys — you don’t need to say anything about that, I suppose; people remember it. What effect do you think that has on the outlook going into this game?
Mike London: Yeah, you know, we don’t talk about last year’s Pitt game. That’s not our focus. Our focus is on this year’s Virginia team and this year’s Pitt team. We played them on the road at their place, now they’re coming here. They have a very good offense. They like to ground control. They have a big back in Conner that is an outstanding runner. The quarterback is good. Boyd, the receiver, is dynamic. He also returns kicks for them. They have a good defense. It’s in the top, I believe, 15 or so in terms of giving up total yardage.
This is the Pitt team that we’re playing. We’re playing here at Virginia. Last year’s cast of individuals that were playing have changed dramatically, and so we’re focused on the guys that are going to play this year and who’s playing in the game for them, and getting ready for Saturday night.
Q. You mentioned Boyd. How much do you like your chances with Maurice? I assume he gets that match-up against him?
Mike London: Well, the game planning of a great player like him is everyone on the field is going to have to know where he’s at all times. He’s made a number of catches, athletic catches, great catches, one-handed catches. He’s a special player. Particularly the entire defense is going to have to be alert to where he is because he just doesn’t run long routes, he runs short, intermediate routes, he runs crossing routes. But the individuals that are charged with guarding him, we’ll all make sure that we’re aware of what he can do because he is a special player.
Q. I’m sure you make every effort to view every game the same, but as you’ve looked at this game when your schedule came out, anything special jump out at you that because of the place it was on the schedule before the open date, the fact that you’d had that game with them last year, did you think this would be a real key game maybe over some others?
Mike London: You know, not particularly. The significance of it is obviously we played an early conference game against Louisville, and having a chance to play some other games in between help get yourself better to correct some things, now we’re going into our conference schedule, and so the tough games or the games we played beforehand were games that we can learn from mistakes and continue to improve. We’ve improved, and we will improve from this one, this past one, Kent State, and as we go into conference play, with this being our second conference game, as everyone knows the emphasis is on limiting mental errors, alignment errors, the type of mistakes that can cause you to lose games, and that’s what the focus has been is sharpening that and getting ready for our second conference game.
Q. You mentioned how different both teams are, but particularly on offense, I went back and looked back, I think only two starters now were starting in that Pitt game. Just in general about your offense, looking back to then and now where it is now, how much further along are you, and how much more growth — where do you think more growth can come because obviously you’ve made some progress here the past few weeks.
Mike London: You know, as you alluded to, there are only a few starters, guys that are on this team that played in that game and traveled. As I said, this is a new team for us, and the production on the field and playing some really good teams, the ability to put points up, those things are important to us, have been important to us, and the parts are different for us now. Even the quarterback – there’s a lot of differences between this year’s team and what was on the field last year against them.
Q. Do you think Steve Fairchild has a better sense of what he has, the tools in his kit, so to speak?
Mike London: I believe all of us have a better sense of who we are after the second year of the same system and schemes. Four seniors, now 22 plus, guys that lettered and played as true freshmen, now they’re sophomores, or guys that were backups before, now contributing starters. So we’re a different team.
What you want to do every opportunity is to assess what your strengths are, and we’ve talked about it, about what our strengths are. We just have to make sure we continue to keep utilizing the best parts of this team, particularly offensively, to help us.
Q. Pitt has more than twice as many rushes as passes this season, which is a little unusual in college football anymore. Can you play the nickel as much against them, or do you have to play kind of the traditional 4-3 more against a team that runs that much?
Mike London: They do a great job of running the football, and coach Chryst has made it known that we’re going to run the ball, we’re going to be physical, point of contact. When you have a great back like Conner, I believe he was the nation’s leading rusher going into the last game, so — and he’s a big, physical guy. They like to run plays and say we’re going to out-physical you.
Whether or not it’s an extra DB in the game or an extra lineman in the game, that’s part of the game planning, as we get ready for practice here tonight and then tomorrow. But again, they’ve done — they have an idea what they want to be, and they want to be a running team, and then when you start to crowd the box for the running game, then they have a phenomenal receiver in Boyd. They have a formula that’s been working for them.
Q. You mentioned a couple mistakes, penalties, things like that. You got a couple of pass interference calls on Saturday where your player didn’t identify where the ball was, and there was obviously different ways you can play it, you can find the ball, you can play through the hands. What are you guys teaching and how are you teaching those guys in terms of when to make that decision, when to look for the ball and when to play through the hands?
Mike London: Sure, there are techniques that they’re taught, and obviously when you’re face guarding that’s not a technique that we teach. When the receiver goes up for the ball or particularly his hands go up, then we need to go up and go between his hands. Really there are no penalties that are good penalties. In a pass interference penalty where a guy grabs a guy because he’s beat and the result is a touchdown, then maybe you take that penalty because it goes back and they march it off. It’s not like the team can decline it and accept a touchdown – if it leads to that.
The techniques of when to go up, when to look, when to play through the hands are something that we’ll continue to stress, and on a couple occasions, the guys didn’t use the right technique. We’ve got to do better than that. On a lot of occasions this season thus far they’ve used the right technique, so we’ll continue harping on the things that are necessary that are plays that will keep you out of trouble.
Q. You have a chance to go to 2-0 in ACC play with a win on Saturday going into a bye week. Mentally how important, how big will a win for this group be going into that bye week, going 2-0?
Mike London: Well, performing and playing well, that’s always critical. With the bye week following this, it allows you to do a lot of things – particularly if you have a chance to win – then you get guys healed up, you do recruiting. There are just so many things that you do from that. But for us, every game is an important game, as we said before. This is the next rung on the ladder for us, and it’s one of the few last home games going down the stretch for us. We’ll be on the road after this, and so this game is an important game for us in a lot of ways, but particularly having a chance to win a game here at home going into a bye, going into a stretch where you’re away is very, very important.
Q. Just a couple of things about two players. First, Eli Harold, if you can talk about his development. I think he had a couple of sacks last game, just where you feel like he is as far as helping that front seven, and then also the return of Tra’ Nicholson, just your impressions of his game Saturday?
Mike London: You know – Eli is a very emotional, active player. Obviously he can rush the passer and do a lot of things. I love passion and emotion, sometimes you’ve got to keep that in check, as well. He’s a guy that feeds off of energy, and our players like to rally around guys like that. He’s another one of those leaders. We talk about all the seniors, and he’s been around here now for a while, so he’s a guy that’s making plays for us.
Having Tra’ back was also important, particularly when you have kind of a veteran like he is. That interception into the end zone there before we were going in [at the half] was critical, and he’s just an experienced guy, just kept fighting for the ball, and then pulled it out at the last moment, and the official there said it was our ball. That was a critical play, and sometimes that’s from experience. That’s from guys that have been in games before. It’s hard to teach young players that just because they both come down with it, okay, I’m going to let go of the ball. Tra’ was — had the awareness I’m going to fight for the ball and make the referee make the decision, and in that case it was just a smart player making a good play that led to positive results for us.
Q. Can you give us a story where you had to rein Eli in?
Mike London: I wouldn’t be able to share it with you [smiling]. No, like I said, he’s very energetic. Sometimes after big plays, you want to celebrate with your teammates and not be an individual — I’m not saying that he is that, but it’s one of those things that once a big play happens like that, go find a teammate and celebrate with the team. We’ll continue to keep trying that, keep doing it, because it’s led to big plays for us. He’s been involved in a lot of big plays, whether he’s rushing the quarterback and rushing into someone else or hurrying him into passing or throwing the ball. You know, anything that can benefit from a guy playing, being passionate, is a benefit. But there are also limits to some of the passion that they have to display.
Q. And the other thing is we kind of had the impression Saturday that if Greyson was needed he could have played. Is he full go now? Is he ready to be back and 100 percent?
Mike London: Don’t know about the 100 percent part, but I do know that we practice tomorrow, and I do know he’s practicing tomorrow. Today is another evaluation day. The guys are taking their classes, getting treatment, and tomorrow morning we practice, so we’ll see where he is and how he’s progressed. Same with Mike Moore. Same way.
Q. Obviously your takeaways have been really good this year. You lead the country in that. Concerned about the other side of that? I think you have 13 turnovers. Ball security has been an issue the past couple years. How do you shore that up and how much of a concern is that going against a really good defense in Pitt on Saturday.
Mike London: It’s always a concern. You’ve got to take care of the football. We practice against each other, so our defense is — the best way for our offense to learn is going against a defense that’s going to hunt the football, and so those are things from ball carriers, even receivers, catching the ball, turning and running. We’ve seen a couple of those that happened in the game. Receivers have to be concerned about ball security. Quarterbacks, you know, throwing the ball to the receivers, the protection, making sure that the quarterback doesn’t get bumped or is rushed into throwing throws, so there’s a lot of things offensively that we’ll continue to keep improving upon, but when you go against us, our defense in practice, those are ways to continue to keep making you more aware. The emphasis will continue to be on whoever catches it – runs it or throws it, make sure you secure the ball.
Q. From appearances Saturday, David Watford looks like he’s still a pretty good athlete. Do you have conversations about ways to possibly get him on the field a little bit more?
Mike London: Sure. I mean, we always do, and we always will. It’s an ongoing discussion about things we can do to get David’s athleticism involved, and at an appropriate time we will do something like that.
Q. Even though your non-conference schedule has been pretty tough, has it kind of been a blessing in disguise in getting you ready for conference play because you won’t face any more ranked teams until Florida State it looks like?
Mike London: You know, for us every game is an important game, and we can’t take any team, any game for granted, allow the first half of Kent State or the first half of Richmond for that matter. The task for us is although we went on the road, were leading against BYU, played a good team here in Louisville, played a good team in UCLA, our goal and task is to play a good four quarters of football. We’ve been close to it. We’ve been in and out of situations, but that’s the goal now is to play a good four quarters of football. Again, the next opponent is Pitt, and that gives us a chance to do that. We have to do that in order to continue on if we want to achieve some of these goals.
Q. Tim Harris plays a position where if you make a mistake or when you make a mistake, the whole stadium generally knows about it. How do you build his confidence back up or build it up now?
Mike London: Yeah, it is, it’s a position that everybody can see your error, and they can see, whether it’s a great play or not, and it’s a position of confidence, and you have to have a short memory when you’re a corner. You’re going to get beat. They’re going to get throws on you. But by the same token, you can still challenge receivers and you can still do some of the things, interceptions or pass deflections or whatever it may be, and for a young player, we’re talking about a guy that went in after Tra’ got hurt last year and had to play a lot, played a lot at the beginning [of this year], and Tra’ has come back now, so now kind of relegated to whether we’re going to play a dime or an extra DB or six DBs or whatever it may be.
It’s always about trying to encourage him, as well, because that’s the biggest thing. It’s a tough position to play. But it’s also a position that’s very needed.
Q. Back to back weeks you have over 500 yards of offense, and I think you ran it 44 times last week, 45 this most recent game. I would imagine the O-line has to play some type of role in that. Can you talk about how they have progressed? You’ve been playing sometimes eight to nine guys. Have you felt better about how they’re coming along to produce — to have a part in these results?
Mike London: It’s important to have or establish a running game because as we all know, the running game can feed off the passing game or the play action passes off of that. It was good that a couple weeks ago we were talking about a 3.6 or and even more importantly what type of style our offensive linemen, the way they can block, are they zone blockers, power blockers. Again, you look at us and you look at Pitt, the way they run the football. That’s their — they’re a power running team. We’re different. Both philosophies can be successful, but we have to take in mind of who we are, and we’re not just a starting five. We’ve got guys, like you said, eight, nine guys that play for us, and finding that — what they can do and what the running backs can do has been important, and thus far we’ve found some really bright spots with what we’re doing.
Q. Maurice said after the game that he was kind of mystified how you guys could have come out and played that first half and lacked the passion and whatever, and he said he was certain it would be taken care of on Sunday. We talked to Henry – he said the head honcho took care of that, so I’m assuming that’s you. What did you tell them yesterday about that?
Mike London: Well, some of it is for the team, but the gist of it is that if you’re going to be a competitor, if you’re going to play and you’re going to win games, you’ve got to present yourself and put yourself out front. I mean, we’ve got — you talked about three or four different guys. Well, those three or four different guys need to put themselves out there as being ready, as being pumped up because the rest of the team will follow them. So even as we’re talking about what we need to do, then even the leadership, the players are the ones that are going to play in the game, and so we all recognize that, they recognized it, and have said that from now on that’s what you have leaders for, to step up and make those type of pleas to their teammates that we’ve got to do better than this, and I believe we’ll do better against Pitt.
Q. The players have talked about it that they get a little more fired up for a night game. Do you get a little more fired up for a night game, and should these fans be a little more fired up for a night game?
Mike London: We can play at 6:00 in the morning and I’ll be fired up. It just doesn’t matter. But the reality of the schedule is that we’re playing a 7:30 game, and that is — I’ve played in night games, a lot of night games, and remember, these guys were playing in high school, they were playing Friday night games, so that’s something they’ve been used to for a while, and this was something that — I’m sure we’ll get their energy, coaches, players alike. We trust that our students will come out and other people will come out and support the guys.
But we’ll bring the energy, and we’re hoping that the Wahoo faithful will be out there, as well.
Q. What percentage do you think you’ve used nickel this year, and can you use nickel that much against a team that likes to run the ball as much as Pitt does?
Mike London: You know, when you’re playing teams that have three wide receivers, four wide receivers, then obviously you adjust with an extra defensive back. Pittsburgh is a team that will play with a fullback, tailback, two tight ends, one tight end, two receivers, so you call that a base defense. We play the defense predicated upon the offense, and a lot of it has been, as I said, that 11 personnel type of offense, so you play nickel, you play the extra defensive back. I couldn’t tell you percentage-wise, but I know it’s a big percentage. I’d have to get back with you and tell you percentage-wise, but it is based on the personnel group that the offense puts in the game.
Q. You’ve got a true freshman leading you in tackles, Quin. When you watch him on film, where do you see the most improvement just as the weeks have gone on here?
Mike London: Yeah, he’s learning on the run. You know, as I said, having a player like Anthony Harris next to him has been very — has increased his productivity, has allowed him to be more involved in things, and he just gets better as the games go on.
He’s a guy that comes, watches tape, he comes early, stays late, handles his business in the classroom. He’s probably one of the better younger leaders that we have on the team, and its just — again, there’s so many positive things I can say about him. Is he still learning? Yes. Does he still have a lot to learn? He does. But we talked about this on signing day: He’s not afraid to hit you and come up and do that. He has displayed those attributes. He’ll continue to get better.
Q. You mentioned Maurice a couple times. I think Henry said that he has the attitude of a linebacker out there. What do you think that means, and how important is it to have kind of that aggressive nature at a corner spot, and where have you seen him progress the most this year?
Mike London: You know, Maurice obviously is a very skilled athlete. He’s a good corner. He plays a lot of positions. He played safety at one point last year, as well, and he’s a physical guy. He has the requisite size, tools and strength to play bump coverage, to play off, to play kind of that — in the nickel position, kind of play outside linebacker that can be involved in the running game. So he’s improved. He’s improved tremendously. And that play that he took – he intercepted and took it to the house was, again, just based on awareness and based on quarterback’s delivery. I mean, there are so many different things that happen in the spur of the moment, and he’s at the point of his career development now that he’s making those quick decisions like that.
Q. Are you required to say anything tonight about players who are out for the year? I’m not sure if that’s still the policy, and anything new on Whitmire and Terrell?
Mike London: I believe we are required to let people know about players that are out for the year, and at that time I believe its — later on this evening. Again, Whitmire is still yet to have seen a surgeon that can remedy his situation. Dominique Terrell, again, we’re at that point as we were with Tra’ that there’s a possibility and probably a huge possibility that he probably will be redshirted. Again, then we’ll come out with any other issues of any other players that may or may not finish the season with us.