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Oct. 19, 2015

An Interview With:

COACH Mike London

Q. Mike, last year North Carolina allowed teams 39 points a game. This year it’s like 17. Why are they so much better defensively?
Mike London: Well, you can give credit to the fact that the new defensive coordinator Coach Chizik, who in 2011 we played in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, they’re really fast and really athletic. You look at them as far as their guys up front, their linebackers, I know they’ve had some issues with the secondary guys, but the ones that do play have played well, and they’re always around the ball. It appears that they’re very aggressive in what they do, and they play the type of technique that allows them to try to force those turnovers. They’re always around the ball.

They’ve done a nice job, a really nice job of being aggressive, flying to the football and having some athletic players in key positions for them.

Q. Talk about their offense; they scored a bunch of points in a hurry Saturday, seven drives, took like eight minutes or something. What makes them so explosive, and are they a little more explosive than they’ve been in the past?
Mike London: When you look at it, they are probably one of the most, per-possession, explosive teams that are out there – plays that are over 20 yards or more – you look at them and they’ve got guys on the team that have — whether it’s a run with Hood or passes being thrown to the very talented group of receivers, whoever it may be, they’ve done a nice job with the explosive plays in creating those opportunities. They have a quarterback that’s mobile that can run the ball, as well, and has played well here lately in terms of his efficiency, completion percentages and all those things.

But they are — they’ll throw the long ball on you. They’ll make those types of throws, and I think they have those types of athletes that can go get it.

Q. I know screens are a big part of your offense, but how many different variations do you have of screens, and why so many the other day? You had a ton the other day.
Mike London: Yeah, well, you try to find — for us we try to find ways to create opportunities to get the ball into our better players’ hands, and I’ve said our receiving group and our running back group is a group of players that all have a skill level that we want to try to make sure that we take advantage of.

I believe Smoke is probably maybe No. 1 in the nation in terms of running backs catching the ball, and so whether you show the single screen, double screen – give the quarterback or have options which way to go with the screen, I mean, those are things that if you’re a blitzing defense or a defense that’s penetrating up the field that you want to create those opportunities to get — to throw the ball in an area that a skill guy, whether it’s Smoke or Daniel Hamm, whomever it might be, we’ll continue to keep trying to find ways, wide receiver screens, whatever it is, whatever ways we can be effective and efficient enough to move the ball. And right now the screen game for us has been something that’s been productive.

Q. How many variations do you have?
Mike London: There’s several, but there are some concepts behind it, and I’ll just leave it at that. But we want to try to be as multiple in terms of how many different variations with one screen or multiple screens or the reads of the different screens.

You know, I believe the offensive coaches have done a good job of trying to create different opportunities for, like I said, our guys to get their hands on the ball.

Q. Along those lines, number one, did you ever think Smoke would have 100 career catches before he’d have 1,000 career rushing yards, and how has he improved as a receiver in that part of the game since he first got here?
Mike London: I’ll tell you, he’s improved as a football player, number one. I mean, we all know at the beginning there was a lot of the jump cut stuff, and we wanted to make sure that he was directing downhill. I’ll tell you, after the fumble that occurred, he was in the locker room, like ‘just give me the ball, coach, just give me a chance.’ He was a very determined runner and you saw the couple runs that he had. He’s a skilled guy that you like to create match-ups with on whether they’re linebackers or whatever it may be for opposing teams, but he’s improved as a football player, overall, pass protection, all those things.

You have these guys that are, quote-unquote, whatever how many stars or — the opportunities are born out of the attempts and the experience they gain by being a football player by playing in games, and he’s an example of a guy that has gotten better as the opportunities have been presented, and we’re benefiting from it, and we’ll continue to keep trying to find ways to get him the ball.

Q. I believe Williams may have been ranked in the top 10 rushers in the league, Marquise Williams. You gave — you had some difficulty with Dungey the other day. Just talk about the challenge there.
Mike London: Yes. You know, we wanted to cut — obviously we’re talking about explosive plays. Against Syracuse they had three. Pitt last week had six the week before that. And two of those explosive plays were on the QB scramble with Dungey, and he did a nice job in terms of we don’t have the correct rush lane or angles, then he made some guys miss and pulled the ball down and did a terrific job.

Now, Marquise is a guy that you see, you look at his stats, his rushing stats, he’s got five rushing TDs, he’s a guy that will run the option, he’ll pull the ball on the read play, and he does present a threat that you have to make — be aware and alerted for.

He’s a very dynamic player for them, and we’ll have to know where he’s at at all times because everything starts from him.

Q. The game ended Saturday with three straight carries by Jordan Ellis. Do you have any reluctance at all to give the ball to the guy who is effectively the No. 4 tailback in that situation with the game on the line?
Mike London: You know, Jordan is at — we talked about before, kind of that big back, shoulders over his knees, and unfortunately we — our other big back had a little issue with getting his lights knocked out there a little bit. The next man up mentality and the guy that’s done it in practice and he’s done it before was a guy like Jordan. Very happy for Jordan, very pleased for just kind of his downhill running type of effort, and it was just great to see him — they did a good job penetrating, he stutter-stepped and put his foot in the ground, and I don’t know if it was a safety or whoever, but he ran through and over someone into the end zone. So it was great to see Jordan have some success, and then the team have success when that happens.

Q. You’re first game as head coach here was against a team you had previously coached and your alma mater. What advice will you give to TJ facing the team he was on last year, friends of his, if at all? Will you talk to him about it? It’s got to be unusual for him?
Mike London: It is. He left for his specific reasons, and he has a lot of good friends on that team. He’s made great friends here on this team, as well. I mean, and the one thing that you have to do is you’ve got to play on the field. You can’t play the game in social media. You can’t play the game talking about it. You’ve got to play it by executing it. You’ll have chance to talk to TJ when he comes in. I know he wants to play well and he wants to be a part of the game plan and things that allows him to perform, and you know, just as I said, just leave it on the field. Just let your play do your talking.

And I know he’s looking forward to this particular game.

Q. Can you just talk about some of the defensive things that you guys have done, Mike Moore going back to a traditional defensive end, Wilfred Wahee, and lastly, if Zach Bradshaw, whatever his status is, what you’ll do at linebacker in that first half this week?
Mike London: Well – we are a multiple defense in terms of personnel groupings. Five DBs, six DBs, whatever it may be, and Mike Moore is a guy that’s a transitional player – standing up – hand down on the ground and wherever it may be, lined up inside. And so we try to match that with personnel groupings that come in from the offense.

And we will continue to keep trying to personnel our defenses based on what we’ll see, what other teams bring in. For Zach Bradshaw, he will miss the first half of the game, and right now, true freshman Eric Gallon who’s been playing is slated to play. CJ Stalker is a guy that’s in a backup position. When you lose a guy like Zach, then all of a sudden, who played a majority of the snaps all the time, he’s always on the field, then you’ve got to go to the next best opportunities, and Mark Hall is in that group of next linebackers to have to be ready to play.

Q. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Jack English against Syracuse, Thompson, I believe? How did he grade out? I don’t think Thompson did a whole lot to affect the pocket. How did Jack English grade out?
Mike London: Thank you for bringing that up. Jack did an excellent job. He graded out at a winning percentage, and you’re right, he was going against a guy that you look at all the other film, playing against LSU and all the other teams, that was very dynamic in great first step, up the field. He had his struggles at some times, as well, but it was good to see him have some success and be in a game.

How about in your first college start and you have an opportunity to play 65 plus plays or whatever it was for him and have some level of success there. Until Mike Mooney comes back, that’s where Jack English will be right now. I believe he’ll continue to keep getting better as we start moving forward.

Q. Talk about offensive linemen grading out. You might want to tell them whom the coaches picked as the offensive player of the game.
Mike London: Jackson Matteo was the offensive player of the game. He had an excellent, excellent game. He’s a guy that identifies the different blitz personnel groupings, and just did a great job of just handling our guys up front. I know they had a couple sacks, and those were one-on-one situations, but for the most part, that second half surge, particularly down in the third, fourth quarter, I believe they had two possessions the whole second half, and then into the fourth, and then the overtime period, it was good to see a guy like Jackson just really hone in and help this team win a football game.

Q. Talking about TJ earlier, it didn’t seem as if he got as many targets as he had at Pittsburgh. Any reason for that, different scheme on their part or whatever?
Mike London: Yeah, I know the ball was — I believe he had two catches. I don’t characterize it as two drops, also. Opportunities to throw the ball down the field, whether it was — he was a primary read or the secondary read, don’t know specifically, but he is one of our better guys, and we have to make sure that we try to get him the football, and that’s important, not only for this past game, not only for this game coming up, for any opportunities for us to be successful as we head into — get into our scheduling here.

Q. Just to coattail, he hasn’t had any running plays yet, either. Is that still in the mix?
Mike London: We talk about like the jet sweeps and the things you saw in spring practice, those things are very much definitely on the table. Olamide has been doing that. We’ve done a little bit with Smoke, as well. So again, trying to create the personnel groupings and for him to get touches, that’s part of it, yes.

Q. That 96-yard drive in the fourth quarter, at halftime you said we need the offense’s help, we need them to protect the football. What does that do for your offense to have a 96-yard drive in a critical time in the game? What effect do you think it’ll have on the offense?
Mike London: Well, it was having the ball, number one, and the efficiency of moving the ball down the field that was critical. As I said, the second half possessions for them were very minimal. When you can go — was it 16, 19 plays, like that, I mean, that’s an efficient offense. We would like to have that for four quarters, but when it mattered at the end in executing the offense and being efficient, then they did a nice job of doing that, particularly even as we went into the three overtimes.

That’s needed and I believe we got better as the game went on, and then ultimately we made more plays than they did in the end, and that was needed, as well.

Q. If you had not come back to win the game, there would have been a lot of talk, a lot of questions about that fake punt, which really seemed to swing the game, the momentum of the game. There have been a couple instances this season where a special teams unit has been caught napping. What happened on that one?
Mike London: Yeah, I mean, we have to set the edge. Any offense, any — offenses try to capture the edge. Defenses, you have to set the edge. There was no edge set for that play right there. There should have been, needs to be, and it will be moving forward. That was a very important, critical element in the game, and so we’ll make sure that doesn’t happen again.

Q. You mentioned how the offense got better as the game went on. Same thing at Pitt; the offense was better in the fourth quarter. What’s it going to take for better starts offensively? You guys have struggled out of the gates with possession.
Mike London: You know, obviously when you’re driving the ball, you can’t have a penalty that puts you back. We talk about the whole efficiency thing. You know, Matt getting into a better rhythm in the first quarter, in the first half. He’s done it in the latter part of the second half, third quarter, fourth quarter, but we need to get into that rhythm and that flow that allows him to be effective but also allows us offensively to control part of the field position issues that have occurred along with that.

I believe the turnovers have occurred a lot in the first half, so we need to do a better job of allowing Matt in executing the offense to keep the ball and be productive or be efficient. Our first-half efficiency has to be — when we’re starting the game has to be on par to your second, third, fourth quarter efficiency, even though we finish games, we need to make sure we continue to improve that.

Q. How happy were you to see David Dean have such a good game, and how big was that sack at the end that knocked them out of field goal range?
Mike London: Yeah, I’m a big fan of David Dean. As a matter of fact, he and Wil Wahee were our defensive players of the game. You know, for an inside guy to have as many tackles as he did, that’s pretty special. David is a captain. He’s kind of a quiet spoken guy, but at the same time he’s a leader for this team. Our guys look up to him defensively.

But David played well. He played well when you go back and you look at the tape. That sack was huge — it was critical. The two-yard loss before that, and then the 10-yard loss put them at 48 yards, kicked a field goal, I believe he’d only tried 45 yards was the longest that he had tried this season, so those two back-to-back plays were critical because the field goal that they attempted was short.

Rising to the occasion in the end when it mattered most is something that was displayed this past Saturday, and obviously we want to continue to keep improving our opportunities.

Q. You mentioned Albert Reid getting his lights knocked out. How is he, and then how happy are you not to have to answer questions about takeaways now?
Mike London: Well, I guess now, that’s part of football. Again, it was an issue early on, and we had talked about before how sometimes takeaways come in droves, so two games in a row now we’ve scored on defense. One of the stops, the turnovers was a goal — was a 4th down, was a goal line stop. So it’s been beneficial. We look at that as something we talked about improving just as we’re talking about first quarter efficiency and things like that. That has to be improved. But again, the resiliency of the defense, in the end, rising to the occasion, was something that was significant for us, and it very much led to a victory for us.

We’ll keep trying to improve as a football team in whatever areas or deficiencies that are there. I know the red zone area for us offensively was a very positive point this past week because we got inside five times and we scored four touchdowns and got a field goal, when in the past it had maybe been the other way around, three field goals or four field goals and maybe one touchdown. That’s an area of improvement. Our red zone defense has gotten better, as well. You always look at areas that you can improve upon, and obviously we need to improve upon areas to help us be a better football team. But progress is being made, and seeing it, and now we’ve just got to continue it on.

Q. Albert?
Mike London: Yeah, he was a little loopy when I got out there on the field initially. You’re always worried about when guys are down like that. You’re concerned about players’ safety and health, and well-being. But after a few seconds laying down, he got back up, he wanted to run off, but there was no running off the field. He had to have people help him off.

Yesterday at our walk-through practice, he’s upbeat. We’re hoping, anticipating that he gets cleared, but again, that’s the doctor’s call, and we’ll see. But he was very, very talkative and very much upbeat in our walk-through yesterday.

Q. Just to take the question about Jordan Ellis one step further, how much if at all did you think about kicking there once you’re basically in extra point range?
Mike London: We were close at that point. We got the 1st down after that, and so we — if we hadn’t have gotten the first down we were going to kick it, but we got the first down, and our guys — we talked about ball security, centering the ball where it needs it for Ian [Frye], and then that play, the touchdown play was kind of the culmination of it and ended the game for us.

Q. And then you also had mentioned Eric, Gallon, and he’s played some. How would you assess his play thus far for a true freshman at that linebacker spot?
Mike London: David, he hadn’t had a bunch of snaps at the linebacker position, obviously, but at the same time his introduction or getting him assimilated into what’s going on as a college football player was through a lot of the special teams and getting those plays. He’s gotten better at that, and now he’s a guy that we were going to play because he played special teams because we were anticipating a lot of option, and actually they didn’t run much option until the end of the game. Some of the things that we thought he would be able to help us with.

But again, he’s an athletic young man that can run. We’ll need his skill set this particular game, too, because they do some of that read play, some of that elements of the option, and he’s the next man up.

Q. TJ going back to Carolina, is there any insight he can give you guys on their offense as you get ready to face them?
Mike London: I’m quite sure that whatever plays, snap counts and all those things like that, that it may change from the standpoint of what Carolina is going to do. The things — he can offer insight into some things, obviously, he knows the players. You can only ask him about players and maybe some concepts, but again, I know they’re cognizant of a guy that he was in their offense last year. Defensively he wouldn’t know anything. Coach Chizik is a new coordinator. He may be able to speak to players’ athleticism on the defensive side, what kind of guys they are. But I’m quite sure they’ll do their due diligence in making sure there’s no issues about worrying about what TJ knows.

Q. Secret insight?
Mike London: I doubt it. I doubt it.

Q. I talked to Trent about this last week, and just with how valuable quarterback is, you don’t want him getting hit in practice. You guys face a mobile quarterback this week. How do you work on bringing guys like that down when you’re limited by how much these guys actually get to hit the quarterback in practice?
Mike London: You have to be creative in your drills. If you’ve ever been in one of our practices, there’s a big bag with arms that you simulate trying to tackle. We talk about thud tackling. But you’re right, you know, at this point of the season, halfway point of the season, our quarterbacks in practice are not going to get hit. But defensively that’s one of the things we need to improve upon is tackling, but there’s other ways that you can do it with a quarterback, and as I mentioned, some of the linebacker, defensive line drills, we use equipment to try to simulate that as much as possible.

Q. At this point last season you make the decision that Demetrious Nicholson wasn’t 100 percent and you redshirted him. Where do you stand on Doni Dowling? Is he going to play going forward?
Mike London: Yeah, Doni played for us in this game, and he’ll continue to play more as he gets opportunities, as he gets chances. He’s a very physical player, and I love Doni Dowling. I just love his mentality and just the way it is. All he wants to do is help. All he wants to do is help his team win, and he’s all in. We will continue to increase his role.

Q. When you talked about Jack, you said he’ll be there until Mooney can come back. Is Mooney still an option to return this season?
Mike London: Well, again, he’s still on crutches right now, so obviously it’s not any time in the immediate future, but as long as there’s a possibility, then we’ll keep — Jack English will be there. Hopefully Mike will be okay, but if not, then Jack, what he’s doing right now, will continue on and keep getting those reps. We’ll see what happens here with our doctor’s evaluation of where Mike is.

Q. If there’s a guy on the defense who passes the guy test, it’s probably Darrious Carter, and he’s been listed the number two defensive end all season. What does he need to do to get into the mix and be in the games more?
Mike London: Yeah, you know, Darrious is a big body, long-armed guy that we keep working on getting stronger, part of it. But there are some things in his game that as a big guy that you consistently want to work on, how to dip, how to lean. When you’re tall like that, being able to come off the edge, and Dean and rip and lean are some of the things that you want. But he’s a big guy that can put his hands up in the throwing lane, so we continue to try and keep working on him because he’s going to help us. He needs to help us. He’s listed as No. 2. We need to find ways — all these packages that we have to find ways to perhaps get that big body in there and find ways to do something for us, as well.

Q. With the offensive line injuries, Ross Burbank went from right side to left side. I don’t think there was as much rotation this weekend just because you can’t really — is the line being helped by that, just by chance, because you had to trim the rotation down?
Mike London: You talk about trim, we are very trim there at that position. Jack McDonald, kind of the next guy in, is — and then we try to just settle on playing the positions, and when you have — we started out with a plethora of offensive linemen, now we’re down to the group that we have, that we try to settle in with Ross, guys being at the positions that appeared to be handling whatever they were giving us at that moment, and so we just — Coach Borbs just stayed with it, and Jack McDonald became the swing guy. As I said, Jackson Matteo was the MVP offensively, so that was — it’s always good to have that calming force, that center to be the guy that’s got everybody on the same page, and then Jack English was playing well enough because one of the issues we were concerned about was we had to move Eric Smith over if Jack was having problems with their pass rusher.

But Jack was doing the job, did a nice job, so we just kept everybody where they were and then tried to operate as efficiently as possible.

Q. Do you want to tell them whom you guys moved into the offensive line last week at practice?
Mike London: A svelte Rob Burns was wearing No. 69. He’s a tight end that was in our offense, but that’s part of an emergency move, as well. That’s kind of where we are with trying to get — make sure we cover our bases. Rob has been in the game as a tight end, knows the blocking schemes, knows the protections, but we — as an emergency move, extra precaution, that’s what we’ve had to do, because the other next move would be to take a redshirt off of a younger player, and at this point I don’t want to do that.

Q. You mentioned being multiple on defense in terms of the personnel packages. Where does Andrew Brown fit in in those groupings? Didn’t seem like he played a lot against Syracuse last week.
Mike London: That’s one thing, we’ve got to do a better job of matching up the opportunities to get a big body guy in that can run, and we just talked about dip and lean and just get his hands in the throwing lane, and Andrew is one of those young men. We have to get him in the game.

Q. Seemed like you missed a lot, had some tackling difficulties early in the game, and for the second week in a row that improved over the course of the game. Any thoughts on that, just matter of recognition, going up against a running quarterback like that?
Mike London: You know, the techniques and fundamentals of tackling, coming to balance head up, ducking your head, wrapping up, running through, breaking — getting in good position. As I said, their explosive plays, two of them were on — by the quarterback on his long run, touchdown run, and just not a matter of not fundamentally getting set and ready. But it did improve as the game went on.

And the more guys you get to the ball, then the more opportunities that that arm tackle turns into the next two, three, four guys in on a tackle, and that improved as — for us as the game goes on, but again, that’s something that the fundamentals of being ready in hit position is something that you always have to work on, continue to work on, and something we’ll continue to keep working on.

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