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Sept. 21, 2015

An interview with:
COACH Mike London

Q. What do you make of the Boise quarterback situation? Did Rypien play enough for you to get what kind of QB he is?
COACH LONDON: The two that played, when you look at the depth chart, there’s several listed on there – but they have experience in terms of the background of what they’ve done coming out of high school. Obviously, for young players, young quarterback-type guys. They run their systems pretty well.

You look at their team – they’re surrounded by the running backs, wide receivers. They play multiple tight ends. They’re surrounded by a system that appears to work for them.

There may be two types of quarterbacks – one to might be more of a thrower, the other more of a running threat guy. So we’ll have to prepare to make sure that we take care of our assignments first and foremost – because I’m quite sure we’ll see some of the things we’ve seen the last couple weeks that caused us issues.

They run an offensive style of offense that if you don’t have leverage set, you don’t have guys aligned in the right gaps, they can take advantage.

Q. I don’t know precisely what this says about your offense if anything, but I’m curious about your thoughts. Two-thirds of your yards on Saturday were condensed into six plays. What does that tell you about where your offense is in terms of big-play capability, and on the flipside being consistent in moving the ball?
COACH LONDON: Well, I know that we have improved as we started to move forward here in terms of getting explosive plays, finding out the different playmakers that we have. One of the things that stood out was in the third quarter, normally the last couple games in the third quarter, very nonexistent in terms of what we’ve done offensively.

There was a score that led to a touchdown. Matt [Johns] did another good job in third down situations there. There was a punt return in the third quarter. Defensively, three-and-outs and a punt – I know we’re talking about the offense, but what you see is still trying to find those guys, those playmakers, those guys that can give us opportunities to extend the field, but also move the ball.

We’ll keep on continuing to keep looking at things to improve our offense, to improve the production.

Right now, take away the last Hail Mary interception at the end of the half from Matt, that his level of play is – if he continues to improve – our offense will continue to improve as well.

But we’ll continue to keep looking for ways to make a lot of those plays efficient and effective for us. Those are things that are important to us, as well.

Q. Going off the explosive plays, the offense improving. You have T.J. Thorpe back last week. How much of an impact do you expect him to make? How much of a concerted effort will that be considering Boise State?
COACH LONDON: It was great to have him back in a limited capacity in the game on Saturday. I wanted him to have an opportunity to get in there and do a couple things. But we practiced today. It’s a short week. Normally a Monday would be our day off. Because of the short week, we practiced today – he looked really good today, I can say that. He caught a lot of long passes, has done a lot of nice things.

Again, this will be his first [full] game. We hope to make sure that we provide him opportunities to use his play making ability. Having him back is very favorable for us.

Q. You excelled at takeaways last year. You haven’t got one of those to this point. That’s the way the ball bounces. What are things you can do to try to improve?
COACH LONDON: That’s a great point. To continue to be ball alert and ball aware – study film on the way runners hold the ball away from the body, opportunities to strip sack to get the quarterback.

Last season we had a couple scores already by now. Ball bounces the right way into a guy’s hands and we score. We have to do that. We have to be in the plus category of turnovers in order to give us opportunities to win games.

That’s a concern. Whenever you have an opportunity to make an interception, PBUs are good, pass breakups are good, but if you get your hands on the ball, you want the interceptions. They put the ball on the ground twice and they recovered it. We weren’t around there. We need to be very cognizant of turnovers and the things that we have to do defensively in order to get them or cause them.

Q. Watching tape, did you have to kind of talk to Trent a little bit about falling on the ball? Seemed like he was right there and then kind of hockey checked that guy.
COACH LONDON: Where is Trent from (laughter)?

It’s an awareness thing. Like when a ball is thrown out on a bubble screen, let the referees decide whether it was thrown beyond or behind the line of scrimmage. You go get the ball. We coached the guys to get the ball, let the officials make the call on that. That was one that we should have jumped on and let somebody else make the decision on that. But that was a live ball.

Q. You talked about Matt a little bit, how much he’s been improving. Are you pretty pleased with his progress to this point? I think statistically he’s off to the best start of any quarterback you’ve had.
COACH LONDON: It’s important to a guy that’s looked up to on this team that can run a huddle, that is a leader, knows his play is directly correlated to our opportunities to be efficient and score on offense. He’s embraced that. He has a bunch of guys like Canaan Severin, Ross Burbank, T.J. Thorpe, Keeon Johnson, who I thought had a good game as well, and Smoke Mizzell has really done a good job. He’s taken his coaching and the opportunities to catch and run and all those things.

But Matt is the focal point of a lot of that. Players feed off of his energy. He’s still improving. We have a tremendous test Friday night against a very fast and athletic football team coming in here.

But we expect Matt to produce for us.

Q. You mentioned aspects of things that were giving you problems on defense. Boise State runs the ball very well. Looks like you have issues stopping the ball. What do you need to do better against them to stop them?
COACH LONDON: No doubt, we need to tackle much better. Arm tackling, side tackling, we need to face people up, tackle them, knock them back, not throw them forward. Those are some of the things. Then do what you’re coached to do. If you’re supposed to stay outside and gap set the edge, then that’s what you’re supposed to do. Don’t feel like you have to make a play, you slip inside. What happens is they take advantage of that.

It’s us executing our defense, doing the things that they’re coached to do. If we do those type of things, you give yourself a chance to fill the tunnels to make plays, to set the edge, to make the ball turn back to the inside.

A large part of today’s practice, and as we move forward, will be on those things. If we have to simple the defense down, we’ll simple it down, whatever it is in order to give us an opportunity to play better.

Q. Daniel Hamm got a couple carries the other day, Jordan [Ellis] had his big run, you have Taquan and Albert Reid. Will coach try to play all four tailbacks or is that too many?
COACH LONDON: Each one of them has a specific role. Each one of them does something that can help this football team win. Albert obviously is a guy, a short-yardage guy. He runs the wildcat for us. He’s in there for protections. He can run the ball.

We saw a glimpse of Jordan Ellis, done a great job, breaking the four tackles, getting into the end zone.

As I said, Smoke is playing really well.

Daniel is also a guy that is a kick returner and punt returner. He has the cast off his hand now. He’s a guy that we can also utilize his skill set.

To have a group of guys that can help us offensively, it bodes well for us, plus there’s no egos in that group. They all want each other to succeed. Right now that’s kind of a strong suit for this team, the ‘who’ that’s playing that position for us.

Q. I’m sure you talked to them for weeks about what can happen on special teams. When you look at a situation like you give up an on-side kick, you have a kick blocked, but you live to play another day, do you feel having seen that, that has as much of an impact as anything you might say?
COACH LONDON: It’s all about the corrections – it’s all about the moving forward and improving. We’re going to change the technique of how when we’re backed up punting. You have to do that so that doesn’t happen again. The recognition of your alignment post kickoff – particularly kickoff return. Got to be smart about that.

What happened for us, we had a penalty that extended a drive for them. Got down to the one-yard line, we stop them, but then we have to punt. Get the punt blocked, at least to two points – then a punt return, short field.

It’s 35-20 at that point. Those things like that involved in special teams miscues are the things that can cause games to get close or you can continue to improve and separate. We didn’t do that. We didn’t execute enough.

Now, the positive thing is the first time a punt has been returned for a touchdown in a long time here. Olamide had a chance to get a significant return. There are some good things that have come out of it. But obviously the things that you need to work on are things that cost us points because one of those drives also led to us missing a field goal.

We’ve looked at some things. We’ll change some things. In order for us to make sure that we’re efficient, we do what we need to do in order to put games away and be successful in a play in, play out basis.

Q. In the first three weeks your team’s defense has been tested in the final minutes of games. How good was it to see your defense come away with a stop after what happened the week before that? How can you carry that into this game?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, we talked about finishing. That was one of the things. Irregardless of the opponent, we didn’t finish the Notre Dame game. That game, 12 seconds, it’s over. We talked about finishing this game – make the stops at the appropriate time. That’s finishing a game.

We congratulate ourselves for winning the game. Now we got to get better and move on to another excellent football team coming in. From that regard – finishing and winning a football game, very, very important – but now wanting more. Be hungry for more. Demanding more. Eliminate as we talked about some of those issues. Third quarter, like I said, I thought we did much better. Been an issue the previous two games. We have to continue to keep minimizing those things that cause is issues, mentally get prepared for a talented Boise State team.

Q. You have one more warmup before ACC play. How battle-tested will this team be headed into that?
COACH LONDON: Well, competition is always good. The level of competition has been something for us that has required us to make sure that we continue to raise our level of play. You have to play up. You can’t play down to a level.

The speed of the game is much faster than what sometimes you might practice or you might get from your show team or scout team. What it shows you, there’s always a necessity and need to practice and perform well at full speed, practice well and perform well.

Having had three games under our belt, getting ready to go into the fourth game, non-conference game, it’s an understanding and experience that we’ve had as a football team. Now we need to carry it over into winning a game against a really good football team particularly here at home.

Q. You’ve obviously changed your punt return personnel for the better. Any thought to changing kick return personnel? Numbers are still pretty low there.
COACH LONDON: Again, that’s something else we’ll look at. Right now I think we’re averaging 17, 18 yards.

There’s nothing wrong with the ball one yard, two yards deep in the end zone taking a knee. There are a lot of components to it too. Is the frontline blocking, you have your returners, having guys in their face. That’s something we need to look at as far as who and how we coach our guy when the ball is kicked. If it’s kicked in play, one-yard line, you got to return it.

But we’ll make sure our guys make better decisions because it is one of those things that once it gets into the end zone, that’s 25 yards that you’re going to get. So we’ll continue to keep looking at that and perhaps even some of the personnel will change. Now with T.J. back and Olamide being a guy that’s got some breakaway speed, Daniel Hamm being a guy that has the cast off his hand now. We’ll look at other opportunities.

Q. How do you evaluate the pass-rush at this point? Micah Kiser has had a terrific start here. What about the D-line and outside guys?
COACH LONDON: Obviously there needs to be an improvement in putting pressure on the quarterback. Quarterback hits – that’s fine. The accumulated amount of hits can take its toll. I thought towards the latter part of the game the pass-rush was pretty good, causing the quarterback to throw on his back foot, throw it out of bound out-of-bounds. We need consistency for guys to emerge as outside pass-rushers. We’re going to continue to keep looking at personnel, perhaps schemes.

But it is something that’s important. The ability to get to the quarterback is not what we’ve done at this point. And that guy, that pass-rushing guy, we have to define who that guy is ’cause right now it’s an inside linebacker.

Q. You talked about Micah Kiser has been off to a really good start. Given he didn’t have a ton of experience, could you have expected what he’s doing right now?
COACH LONDON: He’s a smart player, does very well in school. A lot of times the only way you gain that experience is through an accumulated amount of reps. He made the most of his reps in spring practice. His was an understudy – he sat behind Henry Coley. He sat in the meetings, listened to the adjustments and the checks. Now it’s his time.

Like any college football team, the guy that was second team, was on the depth chart, has a chance to emerge. Micah has made the most of his opportunities to this point. Obviously we have to play better defensively. But if he continues to improve, because our linebackers make all the calls, they make all the checks, adjustments. He’s going to have to continue to improve to get us lined up in the right positions to be effective.

Q. You had a couple situations Saturday, even a couple against Notre Dame, where you’re trying to get a lot of defensive personnel on the field, getting guys off the field. I don’t remember you doing a lot of that in the past. Is that specific because you’re trying to jump-start your pass-rush? Is that something you need to look at going forward?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, you try to match personnel. Obviously when you’re a multiple personnel unit, you go from four wide receivers, two tight ends, jumbo set, trying to match your personnel, get a big guy in, take a safety out, whatever it might be.

The disappointing thing for us was there were two occasions where we had to utilize timeouts. If you’re injured, there’s a difference between being injured, going down, staying down, that would allow the substitution to take place. If you’re injured and hurt and you come to the sideline and you don’t tell anyone, as the mass substitutions occur, you’re missing a guy. Before you know it, you have fewer guys on the field – you have to use a timeout. We have to do a job of educating the players, if you’re hurt, go down, stay down, that will stop the play, instead of coming to the sideline and not telling anyone. We have to make sure that we coach better from the standpoint of seeing that, but also the communication aspect of that is from a player that’s coming out because there are substitutions that you make when you’re changing from different personnel units.

Q. Smoke has become quite a force in your passing game. When did you identify him as a pass catcher? How much did y’all start to change to incorporate that just for him?
COACH LONDON: First and foremost, we believe he’s a dynamic guy. The running opportunities present itself with the type of offense, off tackle, the jet sweeps – things like that. But it’s also a guy we like to match up, whether it’s an outside linebacker, down safety. Having had opportunities to do that, he can make you miss. So his productivity is adequate in the run game. Getting him the ball in space, he’s really done a good job of that, particularly as we saw the other day, it was a screen play basically. He made a couple guys miss, and then he ran away from some people.

It’s important to keep trying to find ways to use his skill set right now, as we include other players that will be joining the team as well.

As I say, right now, Smoke has done a good job for us and will continue to get better. He stays in third-down situations and also pass protect. Last year that was an issue, had to come out. Now he’s kind of made himself into a complete back and one of our better playmakers.

Q. From what you’ve seen initially on tape, how good is this Boise State offense, this iteration of it? Given the fact they’ve had that injury to the starting quarterback, what do you need to be prepared for when you face a team of this caliber?
COACH LONDON: Like I said, offensively there are so many multiple personnel groupings. They have several tight ends on their team. The receiving group, the offensive line is a strength in what they have. They do so many different things. It’s an offense they’ve been running and they’ve been successful at.

Defensively they’ll get after you. Their safeties are very much involved in their run game. They’re dedicated to stopping the run. We have to make sure we do an excellent job blocking their safeties or their support players.

Well-coached team. The only common denominator for us now is they played a BYU team we played the last couple years. We’ve seen those games. Tough team, physical team – again, this week of preparation for us is critical about what we do and looking forward to a Friday night challenge.

Q. What should we label your offense now? It’s kind of evolved. Boise is number two against the run in the country. What’s tough against their front to run against?
COACH LONDON: Label of the offense is trying to make the best of the opportunities with the playmakers that we have. We’ve identified as we’ve gone on some guys that perhaps can get the ball in space and do some things.

With them, as I just said, defensively their safeties are heavily involved in the run game. They play a lot of safety down, safeties involved. It’s going to be important for us to not only get to the second level, but it’s a challenge.

I’ll challenge our wide receivers to catch passes against their secondary, but also to block their safeties and the force that they provide in their running game.

They do an excellent job of run fits and playing well. When you have safeties that are involved like that, it makes you a good defense.

Q. What have you seen in Boise’s running game? Talking to the Boise coach yesterday, sounds like they have three or four running backs that they can count on. What have you noticed?
COACH LONDON: There are quite a few running backs that they do have. Again, it’s a system with a lot of misdirection. They play multiple tight ends. They also run the jet sweep, No. 1, been a dynamic player for them. When you stack up for the inside run, they attack the perimeter.

But their running game is one that complements the style and the athletes they have back in the backfield for them, playing with a really good offensive line.

As I said, it will are important for us, again, to simplify our game plan defensively. We talk about setting the edge – tackling better – just knowing we’ll probably see several things from them, particularly things that have worked for them with other teams.

Q. I think you said a couple weeks ago that Ryan Doull is injured. Is that long-term? Is he coming back anytime soon? Sean Karl, first start.
COACH LONDON: There’s no change for Ryan. Monday is usually our day off – he will go see the doctors, get an MRI, whatever. Today is one of those days you’re trying to crunch a lot of things in. Sean Karl did make a start. Will start again this game. According to Coach Borbs, he did a nice job as a guy that has emerged as a starting offensive lineman for us.

Sean is playing well – also is going to need to play better because the competition will continue to keep getting better. But it’s good to see. We were not even talking about Sean Karl weeks and weeks ago, never came up. The way he’s emerged in practice and performed has put him into the conversation of a guy that earned a starting spot this past game. As we speak today on Monday, is still starting.

Q. How close is Doni Dowling from returning?
COACH LONDON: It’s hard to say. The rehab is coming along well. He’s running. We’re hoping next couple weeks or so that we can feel good about him being able to be out on the practice field and take hits and block and do all the things that receivers have to do.

Right now he looks good. Looks like he’s improving. It would be great to have him back, as well.

Q. You are ranked second in the conference in sacks allowed, one per game. How promising is that for your offensive line going forward?
COACH LONDON: It’s important to talk about making sure that your quarterback doesn’t get sacked. The other thing is getting hit. That’s another issue.

The thing about Matt which has allowed him to get out of situations, he uses his legs, I believe accounted for a few first downs in terms of running, scrambling. That’s what you have when you have a mobile quarterback, avoid rushes. On the touchdown run back against Notre Dame, being able to move in the open field.

Those are the type of things that he provides that can help an offensive line that doesn’t have to block forever because he is mobile. So, you know, we want to make sure that although the sack ratio is good, we want the touchdown ratio to be good, we want red zone scoring opportunities to be good. We did a better job this game with scoring with the ball in the plus 40. It’s something that’s ever evolving. But Matt is a large part of that, and the offensive line has done a really good job of protecting him, per se, right now. We’re going to have to continue to do that again on this Friday night.

Q. What has Connor Brewer been like? How has he progressed in training camp, your backup quarterback.
COACH LONDON: He’s gotten a lot of reps obviously with the twos. His progression – as you go through practice and put the game plan in, he knows the game plan. We would like to have an opportunity to get him some experience to be in game. Hasn’t presented itself as of yet. But his progression has been such that he knows the game plan, he knows what’s going on, he knows the checks, he knows the pre, post-snap reads, all those things.

It will be important for us at some point to give him opportunities as well because you know during the course of the season, it’s a long season, you want to have a guy that’s been in the game.

Q. Every game is big. This is a non-conference game. Is there a heightened sense of urgency going into a bye because of the caliber of an opponent? You want to be urgent all the time, but is there a heightened sense because you’re going into a break before the conference?
COACH LONDON: We first started getting ready for the season, there was a heightened sense because of who we were playing out west, then coming back, playing Notre Dame, knowing that we play William & Mary. Now playing Boise State Friday night.

The best thing for us is to take care of this Friday, then react and respond and make corrections as we go into the break, as you mentioned, before we go into conference play.

We’ll put everything we can into this game for an opportunity to be successful here while its Friday night, while we’re at home. Today was a really good practice, real upbeat, energetic. When you have guys that are leaders and understand the sense of urgency that we have to play up to a level of our expectation, can’t play down, there’s a lot of guys that are excited about this Friday night.

Another national TV, another opportunity to, again, show what type of team we are and what we’re capable of being.

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