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Nov. 2, 2015

An Interview With:

COACH Mike London

Q. I know it’s early, but what are your impressions of Miami and what do you think you guys are going to have to do to be able to win down there?
Mike London: Obviously they’re very athletic, a team that has got a new sense of energy. They really played well, played hard against Duke, and very fortunate to come out on the winning end. But it always reminds me of a Miami team, in the skill positions, always very athletic, fast, skilled linebackers, wide receivers, DBs, and yeah, again, I would assume that (Brad) Kaaya is going to play. He’s a very good player. He’s done a nice job in terms of protecting the football – and runs things for them. It’s a good football team, and I know they’re forging an identity and reestablishing the things that they want to try to get the Miami name or brand back where it used to be.

We’ll definitely have a challenge for us going down there playing them.

Q. Do you know the new Miami coach, and did you see anything on film that indicates they’re going to do things differently?
Mike London: Well, just professionally, I don’t know Coach from a personal standpoint. Some of the things they’re doing are very similar to what they’ve been doing. It’s not like they went in and reinvented an offensive or defensive scheme. There’s more emphasis — after one game whether you can tell –there’s more emphasis on one thing or the other, but they are still doing the elements of what they started out doing. I’m quite sure that they’ve maybe limited the packages or whatever it might be. But still, having very skillful players execute their plan.

Q. The players said that you shared the last play with everybody yesterday from the Miami-Duke game, I guess. Is there a lesson to be learned in that, and what was kind of your message with it?
Mike London: Well, the message is you play until the very end – and this will be two games in a row that we’ve played a team that won on the last play – Georgia Tech at Florida State, that game, and then this one. Obviously it’s never over until it’s over, and those two games heighten your awareness about what you have to do until the whistle blows. I wanted them to see that — I don’t know how many handoffs or pitches or how many different people touched the ball, but that play seemed to go forever. You know, they outlasted and they executed and ended up winning the game. I just wanted to show them – again, it’s not over until it’s over.

Q. Just going back to that play, the ACC actually suspended those refs that were involved in that game. Did they ever reach out to you guys about those kinds of decisions and what’s kind of your reaction to the ACC coming down on refs who may have botched a call that decided a game?
Mike London: Well, they don’t tell us what they’re going to do. I mean, there is mechanisms in place that after a game that we can look at film and send clips in and talk to the head of officials. Obviously there’s an on-site official that’s there, as well, and the process of what we have to go through, what the officials have to go through obviously was borne out with the decision that was made. It’s good to have an accountability measure with the officials, but I’m quite sure if you’re Duke, it’s still a loss, and that’s not going to help them any. But the accountability measures are there to make sure that we police everybody that’s involved in the game.

Q. I’ll ask the second of the two questions Jim warned you about, but do you have any good Coach Beamer stories through the years? I know you gave a statement yesterday, but anything that sticks out about him, and what does it mean to you, him leaving the game?
Mike London: As I said in the statement, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Beamer and what he’s done over the years. My years here in the ACC, the head coaches’ meetings in Amelia Island and the different places, our wives have met. We’ve talked about family, all the things that not just coaches would talk about, just men, fathers – husbands. I know we did a state police commercial together, took all day to film, but we had lunch and all those things.

But again, as I said, Coach Beamer has had such a tremendous influence and impact on college football, one of the guys that is one of the best that’s ever been.

So it’s a pleasure and an honor knowing a gentleman that’s involved with the state of Virginia, a guy that you know personally and that you wish life after football success for him, him and his wife and his family.

Q. Wil Wahee has been an important part of the nickel package this season, which means he’s been on the field after awful lot. What’s it been like coaching him during his career here? He seems like a kid that takes care of his business, off the field especially.
Mike London: Yeah, Wil is very conscientious about what he does academically, socially, just everything. And wasn’t a very highly recruited guy coming out of high school, Norfolk Christian, but was kind of a guy that stayed steady and became a student of the game and may not have the best of athletic talents but makes the most of what he does have, and that’s an ability to be smart when he plays out there.

He’s put himself in a position and played himself into a position that when you do play a nickel or a dime package that he’s one of the guys that has put himself into position because he knows what he’s doing out there to play, and thus far Wil has done a nice job for us.

Q. Speaking of businesslike, Quin Blanding, kind of a man of few words. Is that a consistent approach you’ve seen from him since he’s been here, before you came?
Mike London: Yeah, Quin is — right, he’s a man of few words. He’s very focused, very determined. There are a lot of very positive things I could say about him, not just as a football player but also as an individual, as a person. No classroom issues, you know, green dot initiatives, you guys have heard different things about that. He’s very much involved with a lot of things that go on that students participate in. He’s done a nice job for us and continues to do that, be a fine representative of this University and of the football team.

Q. Your team has rushed for almost 600 yards in the last three games. What are you seeing or what have you seen that has made that possible? Is it emphasis? Is it execution? Is it the way individual guys have developed over the course of the year?
Mike London: I would say that it’s probably a culmination of a few factors. I mean, one, obviously we’re decimated with injuries on the offensive line, and so that was a concern, but as time has gone on, what we’re able to do is find out who the runners are on our team, and you have Smoke Mizzell, you have Albert [Reid] and you have Daniel Hamm, to try to create a scheme that would allow us to affect running lanes, whether it’s a zone play or the fake of the jet sweep off of that, to make defenses defend the inside run and the outside perimeter plays, and so what it’s allowed us to do is use some of the best players — you see two, three of the running backs in at the same time. What it’s allowed us to do is to be effective in whether it’s the wildcat formation, but allow us to run the ball with a matter of efficiency.

And you’re right, this was over 200 yards rushing, and that’s very productive, our best third game since we’ve been here. We put points on the board. We were in the plus category as far as turnovers were concerned, and you know, defensively held them to about 140-something yards, and that’s an offense that was averaging almost 300 yards rushing.

It goes back and forth with how the guys up front are playing, but particularly for us from the offensive line standpoint with having so few many guys that are playing, the players and the scheme right now fit our opportunities to run the ball because of what we’re doing.

Q. At the beginning of the year, you guys talked about wanting to have a power run identity, and then early on we were asking you a lot about the lack of turnovers. But I think you’ve had a turnover in the last four games and you’re running the ball well. Considering the struggles you guys have had on the road, now that those things are kind of clicking, is that sort of the formula for you guys that you need to go out and get a road win?
Mike London: Well, we’re obviously going to have to be able to run the ball against Miami. One of the things that’s also significant for us is this is a game that we also won the field position battle. We talked about that, the average start, and so it will be important for us to be able to have a rhythm for Matt (Johns), not just to get back there and just throw the ball 50 times, but to be able to run the ball, use the running game, use the schemes that we have, and then also give Matt a chance to play action pass off of some of that. So it’s going to be important for us to be efficient.

I believe this past game was probably the most efficient game we’ve had offensively, runs plus completions and opportunities, and we’re going to have to continue kind of in that realm of moving forward and being efficient. You know, when you run the ball, when you throw the ball and you catch it. You just had Evan Butts in here, and that’s the kind of guy that can add to the efficiency of the offense by being involved in the run game blocking but also knowing that if you get out-of-the-pocket throws that he now becomes a target himself. If we can continue to just keep moving the football and being efficient that way, we give ourselves a better chance of being successful, and we’ve just got to keep finding ways to do that.

Q. Do you feel like the turning point for this defense was that loss to Boise State? What do you think is the main difference in why things are just clicking in is it experience or is it just something that Tenuta changed?
Mike London: You know – that’s a good question. Obviously you’re embarrassed by a loss like that and you have a group of individuals that have to decide whether or not your next practice, your next team meeting, your next lift session is going to put more of an emphasis on enough is enough. And that was a wake-up call as far as that particular game, scoring that many points, looking lackluster in a lot of ways.

But what I’ve been happy about or pleased about is the way they’ve responded in terms of rising to challenges, and you just see, again, you look at the ACC now, you see the other night, UNC is playing Pitt and how those two teams are going back and forth and how we were in the games of both of those games. We’ve just got to stay the course and just remember that all the opportunities and goals that we have set that are still available to us, we’ve gotten better and we’ve improved. We improved in some areas. We still have to – I don’t mean improve in some others, but the ebb and flow of the football game didn’t take us out of the game. Defensively, like I said, 0 for 3, 4th downs, holding an option offense to that many yards, their running back was averaging nine yards per carry, and I think he had like 18 yards on seven carries. So again, it was a great team effort, and now the next effort is put a game plan together and get ready for Miami, so we go from one extreme of an offense to the next and be prepared for that, and then moving on, and if we can do that and continue to do that, then we’ll be a better football team, and our chances of winning will be better.

Q. Could you talk about the decision, the move with Rainey against North Carolina? Rainey and Wahee both started but it seems like they flipped positions for the next game.
Mike London: Well, when you talk about nickel or dime packages and you’re adding an extra defender, you take — you put Mike Moore down as a lineman, and instead of Mike playing a stand-up linebacker position because a lot of their personnel were three wide receivers where it might be, so our answer to that was put basically another safety or the next best defensive back in the game, and that was how Wahee and Rainey started, in those opportunities.

It depends on the personnel. If they were playing two tight ends or two backs or whatever it might be, then you’d see a different look from us. But because some of the teams are playing or the teams you’re talking about, the personnel groups that they put in, we feel most confident in putting our two secondary guys in, and that’s the versatility I think speaks more of Mike Moore being able to be a defensive end and then a stand-up linebacker with our regular defense. But those two guys have played well together. Rainey had a great game. As a matter of fact he could have been the defensive player of the week, as well. He and Mike Moore were the two guys that —

Q. How different was it from what they did against Carolina where they both started?
Mike London: You know, like I said, for Rainey, because we took a linebacker out and we wanted to play — if you saw the defense, it was a different defense, and so whether or not you listed Rainey as a safety, because you only have 11 and you already had Quin and Wil Wahee as the two safeties, we listed Rainey as the Sam linebacker. So basically it was three safeties, but he was in the Sam linebacker position, a defense that was just created for what Georgia Tech was doing.

But anything else, when those two guys are in, we’re talking about an extra DB package, a nickel or a dime package that allows us to be versatile, as well.

Q. Follow-up on Rainey, but as a linebacker, you talked about he played well enough to be your player of the week, but how did he grade out, and he’s one of the more physical guys you have on that defense. Is that a big reason why it gave you confidence to move him down in the box and face that triple option on Saturday?
Mike London: Well, for that — being able to stay — there’s a lot of blocks. They go at your legs and try to take your legs from under you. You saw a lot of times Rainey was up on the edge and rushing, setting the edge and rushing the quarterback. So an athletic guy, and a lot of times there’s another running back trying to block him. At times there’s a wide receiver in a position to try to block him. Just trying to match the personnel, trying to match an opportunity for him to use our best players to put pressure on the quarterback, and you’re right, Rainey is probably — he’s a very physical guy, very physical tackler, very emotional player, and you know, that’s one of the things that you like about him.

But as I said, this game was a particular game to try to put him in position to help us.

Q. Quin had a really good freshman year. What were your expectations of him this year, and how has his game developed over the season?
Mike London: You know, I’ve always said that Quin had the benefit of having a guy like Anthony Harris playing next to him, and Anthony was such a smart player with coverages, with communicating to the linebackers and everything. So the adjustment is now Quin has to become that kind of Anthony Harris type of guy, know where everybody gets lined up, communicate to the other safety, to the corners, to the linebackers, know the run fits of where everybody goes, and so his role has changed in terms of, look, you’ve got to be the leader out there because you’re the return — really the only returning starting back there. He’s been involved in multiple tackle games. He got his first interception not too long ago, made the big play at the end right there. So what you see is just kind of the maturation of a player who was a young player that started. Now he’s a sophomore and he’s started a lot of football games – and hopefully for us he keeps getting better and better and better. I believe that Quin can be as good as he wants to be, stay coached, stay humble, and prove it again this week against Miami because they’ve got some guys that can go vertical for sure.

Q. How much has it meant to your running game to have a healthy Whitmire back, and along with that, the depth you have with Karl being able to play last week?
Mike London: Yeah, having Jay Whitmire back, a healthy Jay Whitmire, has been critical. As you know, we have a bunch of guys, offensive linemen that are down and have started and played in games for us, but Jay has been — because of the kind of the rotating of the six guys, Jay has played right tackle, guard, he can be a left tackle. He’s played that in his career. But having him back has been very, very important for us.

Sean Karl, having him back, he went in the game, as well, for a couple spots there. We talked about Jack English maybe having a challenge against a guy he was playing against, and if we needed to, we could move Eric Smith over. So having versatility for us right now is what it’s all about. You’d like to have just five, seven, two deep offensive linemen playing the backup guard, backup right guard being the guy that goes in at that position, but for us it’s not like that. For us it’s guys that have played that position that we have to move, and so for, we’ve done a pretty good job. I don’t believe we gave up any sacks this game, and that’s — and then rushing, as we talked about, that’s been very positive for us. But Jay Whitmire, he’s a welcome addition back. Maybe kind of a silent guy that doesn’t get much — the irony, most of the time offensive linemen are always complaining nobody ever says anything about them, but I’m their biggest fan right now, particularly because of the numbers, and as always, it’s good to see Jay back, particularly because of the medical challenge that he had that he’s overcome.

Q. Other players when you ask them about what it’s going to take to get over the road hump, they say just finishing games. They pointed out North Carolina and Pitt having a chance. Is that what you think it is, just a simple matter of finishing out that fourth quarter? There are some issues on the road the last couple years, entering now a two-game road stretch.
Mike London: Yeah, just the execution – if it’s a 3rd and 1, the execution of getting the 1st down and extending it. Not having pre-snap penalties that we have had. We had four of them that had nothing to do with blocking or tackling or defending a play. That’s just the concentration on that.

If we can focus on those types of things and eliminate the mental errors that cause you to go from 3rd and 2 to 3rd and 7 and then all of a sudden you end up punting the ball because you had opportunities there, 3rd and 1 and you don’t get it, you kick a field goal, that’s another step that we have to take in order for us to continue to win on the road or to win any football game.

The players know it. Everybody knows it, coaches know it, and the expectations are to be successful in those opportunities.

Q. You’ve personally had a lot of success against Miami. Does a lot of it go back to you and Golden having been on the same staff before and rivals, or do you just got their number? How do you explain it?
Mike London: You know, I don’t know. I wish that continues on. I don’t know, it’s just one of those things sometimes, and as I said, every year there’s a new team, there’s a new identity, there’s new circumstances to things that happen, and as we all know with the coaching changes now, there’s another team that’s trying to form an identity. It started for them against Duke, and now it’s important for us to make sure that we go in and we play our best football because it’s important. It’s on the road, and again, it’s against a very good and athletic team.

Q. You guys have faced a lot of really good quarterbacks so far. You’ve mentioned that Brad Kaaya probably plays. What do you see from him and what’s going to be key in slowing him down?
Mike London: Well, when you look at Brad, he’s got 10 touchdowns, two interceptions, so his efficiency rating is pretty good. He distributes the ball. He doesn’t turn it over much. I believe that one of the — either No. 1 in the ACC with the least amount of turnovers, and that’s important, as well.
But Brad is kind of a guy that’s matured and grown and developed into being their team leader, or one of their team leaders, and he hasn’t disappointed them.

Again, we don’t get the medical report until Thursday. I would assume that he’s going to be cleared to play coming out of his concussion. But again, his play has been very, very steady, and I mean, he’s definitely one of the major factors and the reason why they’ve got the wins and the production from getting the ball to the receivers and the running backs that they have.

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