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Oct. 20, 2014

An Interview With:

COACH Mike London

Mike London: We’re looking forward to this home game versus UNC. It’s our homecoming, one of the last few opportunities we have left to play in front of a home crowd. There are a lot of players that know, or have been recruited by North Carolina, I’m sure on both sides. This is the ‘South’s Oldest Rivalry,’ and we’re looking forward to improving and getting back on the winning column. With that, I’ll take any questions.

Q. When you look at Carolina scores every week, does it kind of blow your mind, and considering that they score so many points, is it important for you guys to have more ball control this week, keep their defense off the field?
Mike London: Their offense is one that I believe averages a play every 19 seconds. It is a hurry-up pace. They do it against everyone they’ve played. They’re averaging over 35 points a game, I believe, so it is one of those offenses that wants to hurry up, kind of get you out of position, try to wear you out, and it’s going to be important for us to get lined up, have the type of calls, the defensive calls that can help put us in the best position, whatever plays that they may run.

And then ball control for our offense is another key element. Those are some of the things that — we’ve played our teams that have had that similar style of hurry up, and you go back to things — prior game plans, you go back to get yourself ready for that type of pace. I believe we’re in shape. I believe some of the things we do against ourselves, that we’ll have opportunities to get lined up, and now we’ll have to execute. This is a very fast team, very athletic team, but we’ll rise to the occasion.

Q. You got a sample last season of Marquise Williams and his versatility, but the last two weeks have been ridiculous, the numbers he’s put up. Just your observations on the progress that he has made and what’s made the difference for him.
Mike London: I’ll answer the latter part. Probably the confidence level that he has in himself and his abilities – he is a guy that is definitely, if you want to characterize a dual threat guy, he can run the ball, he can escape from his pass drops, he can throw the ball. He’s got pretty skilled receivers that he gets the ball out to, and so it’s the true essence of an offense that makes you defend the entire field, and then also the quarterback. He’s that extra element because he can run, and as has been alluded to, they put up a lot of points, and it’s going to be important for us to play the type of defense that – you never can contain a guy – but you need to know where he’s at all times because he’s a threat even when you have a pass rush to break contain or scramble. But he definitely adds an element to their offense, and he’s improved the last couple games for sure.

Q. Given all the questions about the offensive line going into the season with Luke and Mo just graduating, have you been pleasantly surprised by how the group has played, and not only the pass blocking but the run blocking recently?
Mike London: Well, it’s been a productive area for us in that when you look at the guys that were prominent going into the season, and I mean football is a game of injuries and things happen, but it’s also a game of the next man up, and collectively as a group they have responded, they have performed, they have been a pleasant surprise in that they’ve played a lot of good teams. We’ve given up very few sacks.

The personnel that goes in, we vary the personnel. They can play different positions.
And so the versatility of a group that’s — you talk about seven, eight, maybe nine guys, has been an added bonus for us because — and they play in the game, and that’s something that’s been very positive for us is having those guys having game time experience.

Q. I realize games are decided on points and not yards, but in all three of your losses, you have out-gained the other team, and twice by more than 100 yards. Not turning it over a lot, either; is there any explanation for that?
Mike London: Well, we’re not getting enough points and we’re not holding them down enough. When you win a game, you score more points than them on offense, and you don’t give up. It’s one of those – where collectively you work in the field position, where is your average start? The turnovers that occur, where do they get it, where is the ball placed? There are so many other factors.

And for us, one of the factors this past game is there were a lot of 2nd and short situations. You want to keep a team out of those 3rd down situations, but 2nd and short now, they can throw the ball, they can run the ball, and that’s something we’ve got to work hard on in the red zone. Red zone defense, we have to do better at that, as well.

Offensively we’ve got in the red zone and then productive once we got in there, but the critical moment of that turnover was something that was costly when you go back and you look at it.

When you play good football teams and the ones that we’ve played that we’ve lost to, there is so small, slight of a margin for error, and you’ve got to be able to play the game, the four quarters of the game to the best of your ability, and we weren’t able to do that against Duke, and we have to get ourselves regrouped and get ready to play as we’re getting ready to play this North Carolina team.

Q. You talked about margin of error. How important for this particular team is it to get takeaways? Obviously two losses, you didn’t have those takeaways against BYU and Duke on Saturday. How important are takeaways to your success?
Mike London: Well, it’s a characteristic of this defense, of the team and the way we have to play – play good defense, get turnovers, get to the quarterback and get sacks. And even also statistically having the turnover margin lends itself to your ability to win a football game. Plus one margin, plus two margin, it goes up percentage-wise, so when you get more turnovers, then you give yourself a chance.

Although we played well on defense, there have been in the losses opportunities for those opportunities that we haven’t gotten, quite taken advantage of. There were a couple balls on the ground that they bounced right back up to them and they recovered.
Defense is a defense that you create opportunities for yourself, and we have to be able to create turnovers.

Q. Statistically, North Carolina is one of the worst defenses in the history of the conference. Do you allow yourself to even look at numbers, or do you just strictly focus on what’s in front of you on tape and personnel and tendencies?
Mike London: That’s the majority of it, what you just said, focusing on the tape and the personnel. Again, and you look at who they’ve lost to, they’ve lost to Notre Dame, they’ve lost to Virginia Tech, they’ve lost to Clemson, they’ve lost to ECU. Those are good football teams. Our job is to take collectively what we’ve seen, personnel, schemes, and then match up or try to do things that affect what they do on offense and defense and special teams.

Just like us, every game is a new opportunity to change the fortunes of your program, and I’m quite sure they feel the same way. We want to get back on the winning side, and we have to find those things, those techniques, those schemes that are going to help us and then try to exploit what we’ve seen on tape.

But we don’t look at the history of what they’ve done, and we look at the right now and in front of us and how we’re going to game plan them to play them at Scott Stadium.

Q. You mentioned the few home games you have left. Is there a sense of urgency for Saturday’s game against North Carolina to get back on track and remain in the race?
Mike London: You know, we are where we are in the standings right now, and even with that, we’re still tied for first place in the Coastal. But you have to play football games. You have to play the games, whether they’re at home or away. This next game is a conference game with an opponent that we’ve played for several, several years, and there’s a lot of outside things that go on with it, homecoming and all that stuff, but it’s a chance to win a football game. This team has been really focused on trying to do that, playing close games, playing tough games, but we’ve got to win some of these close, tough games, and if this is the challenge for this week, then we have to rise to the occasion and the challenge.

Q. You’ve had a couple of hiccups this season on punt coverage. Switzer hasn’t done much this season in punt returns, but last year I think he took five to the house. How much extra emphasis do you place on him this week and maybe even just punting it away from him?
Mike London: Well, there’s no doubt that he’s a dynamic returner. His career, you look back and see the things he’s done, and even when you punt to particular players, there are strategies for — if you roll out and punt, if you do punt it, try to punt it between the hash and the sideline. If it goes out of bounds in that situation, it’s out of bounds, it’s not a penalty situation. You have to be smart and alert to the dynamic players.

And other than the one punt to Boyd a couple weeks ago, we were concerned about Crowder this past week, we did a pretty good job, and then the one return, the punt return that set up — again, I allude back to Pittsburgh. But if you note those dynamic players and then the strategy of kicking to them or not kicking to them, that’s part of it now. If it goes out of bounds, it goes out of bounds, you know.

Q. You guys have been doing better inside the 10, but outside the 10, sometimes the red zone, you’re bringing on Ian a lot. How do you kind of grade your red zone success to this point?
Mike London: Well, any time you get within the 20-yard line, you want to get touchdowns. You definitely want to get points, but you want to get touchdowns. That’s the ultimate because touchdowns give you those opportunities to decide what you do later on in the game.

But Ian’s situation, other than the 52-yarder that he missed that was to the right that would have had enough distance to make is a guy that when you get inside the 20, and then even as high as the 30, the 25-yard line, that you feel that you have point opportunities. We do have to work on the element of getting touchdowns when we get inside that low red zone area, mid red zone area, and that’s something that we continue to have to improve on.

Q. I think I asked you, it’s been a month since I asked you about Whitmire. Is he out for the year?
Mike London: You know, more than likely he’ll be a guy that won’t be able to come back because of his back issues. He’s got a series of things that he has to do medically, and we definitely — when we’re dealing with backs, you want to take it as slow as possible. You want to make sure that the proper care, the diagnosis from our team of physicians, all those things, so whatever is best for Jay, we’re 100 percent behind it.

At this point we’re not counting on him. We’re counting on the guys that can play and can practice right now. We know that Jay is out there and he wants to be a part of it, but his health is primary, first and foremost.

Q. You’ve faced a lot of what you call dynamic quarterbacks this season, dual-threat guys, and you’ll face another one, obviously, but have you learned anything against those other guys? Is there a key strategy in trying to contain them?
Mike London: You know, probably the biggest thing is your team pursuit has to be at a high level because when you have dynamic guys like that and make one person miss, then you have to have others that are following, that are chasing. Again, their quarterback, Williams, has done a great job of creating, making a guy miss and now creating — making the pursuit have to make up for the missed assignment or the missed tackle. He’s as good as anybody right now that we’ve seen, and he’s very productive with his offense for what he does and what they ask them to do and the ability to just take off and make a play. We’ve seen that game after game.

Q. You mentioned Marquise Williams’ last two games have been ridiculous. Before that he was a big bogged down by his stats against Virginia Tech. What did the Hokies do to make him at least look human?
Mike London: Well, we look at all the games and we look at all the pressures and all the stunts and all the coverages and all those things that affect his ability, so you go back and you look at Notre Dame, Clemson, East Carolina, as well as Tech, and you just look at the things that you do and try to come up with a game plan or a strategy to negate one of their strengths, or the strengths that they have.

So you look at everything. You look at, like I said, coverages and blitzes, and we’re a pressure team. We have to continue to keep doing that. We have to be smart about when we’re doing that, where we do it, and be aware that this is a pretty good quarterback that can run and throw.

Q. Ross Burbank came in here and advised us that he has not arrived yet, but ACC offensive lineman of the week two weeks ago. It seems like it’s been something of a breakout season for him. Could you talk about Ross and his leadership?
Mike London: Ross has done a fantastic job of carrying the mantle of being the emotional guy on the offensive line that’s the spokesman, the character in his own right. He likes wearing short, short pants. It’s just crazy some of the things that he does. But he’s an offensive lineman, and he’s very prideful of the unit. He’s played center, he can play both guard positions, and I’m just very — it was mentioned about the offensive line being able to play — he’s very much a part of that, of a guy that has embraced the fact that we don’t have a bunch of super stars up front. We have guys that are hard workers and who don’t care who receives the credit. They just want guys like Kevin Parks or Shepherd or Smoke to get the credit. They want to protect the quarterbacks and not give up sacks. That’s the group as a whole.

The fact that he’s emerging as a player, as an individual, it’s good to see.

Q. Is he in Luke’s mold?
Mike London: You know, he’s got a mold of his own. You know, like I said, he’s a very charismatic type of guy. He loves his teammates. He loves his team, this program, and he’s done a phenomenal job of just kind of keeping everybody’s spirits up. But Luke had his own way, and Ross definitely has his own unique way.

Q. I don’t know how you feel about shootout games, but if you get into one of those with Carolina, is it something that you enjoy, and do you feel like you can survive one of those?
Mike London: You know, I’m an old defensive guy, and 6-7 is good for me. But as long as at the end of the game, we have more points than them, you have to play the game the way the game unfolds, and you’re right, they’ve scored a lot of points. They’ve had points scored on them, so we have to take advantage of the things that we see that we can do to help us.
But I’m sure that we’d like to keep the points down. They like to get a bunch. And we’d like to score points ourselves. I think we’re averaging in the 20s, 20 plus. We’d like to be able to score some points, and it goes back to those touchdowns in the red zone area. That’s what I’ll say about that.

Q. I may be mistaken, I’ve been mistaken before, but you won the toss and elected to receive. Do you normally do that?
Mike London: It all varies on whether — where the sun is – all different things, and getting a possession early on was something we decided to do.

Q. Is that your pattern or —
Mike London: Every game varies. At home, most of the time at home, we’d like to defer and take the ball the second half. On the road it depends on, as I said, some of the situations.

Q. A chance to jump out pretty quickly?
Mike London: If you can get that first drive. We were driving on the first drive and had the turnover there.

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