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Nov. 9, 2015

An Interview With:

COACH Mike London

Q: What have you seen in Louisville that has helped the Cardinals improve from a rocky start?
London: They might have gotten off to a rocky start. They played some really good teams as well. What you see is another fast, athletic team. A team we played last year here. They’ve got receivers and a running back and obviously a quarterback situation. The young man who played for them this past game did a pretty good job for them. We imagine that he will probably play this Saturday. Overall you see their athleticism and good team speed.

Q: Your running game has improved over the past 3-4 weeks. What will be the biggest test for you guys this week? I think Louisville is ranked in the top 15 of run defense.
London: They are very stout and very athletic up front. They do a lot of zone pressures and a lot of things that involve their linemen moving. That is going to be critical for us, to be able to block that movement and still be able to create those running lanes. As I said before, just overall and team wise, the athleticism they have plays into them being one of the top rated defenses, not only in the ACC, but the country. They cause turnovers. I think they have 14 pass interceptions or something like that. It is a very good defense. It is very talented.

Q: The stats indicate that you’ve given up a lot of long balls this season. How do you get over that and what have you seen on the tape from the two big plays this past Saturday?
London: You have to get to the quarterback. I don’t know if we had a sack or not. The best pass defense is a pass rush – being able to come off the edge, having guys get in the quarterback’s face. We talked about (Brad) Kaaya being a very efficient guy and he proved that to be the case. They had a couple of long passes that they hit on us and utilized their strengths. We were not in the right position to minimize that. Again, I tie in pass rush possibilities – sacks, hitting the quarterback – into pass defense. There were a couple of shots they got and beat us on – one on a safety – one on a linebacker. We’ve just got to get to him. We have to get to the quarterback.

Q: Other than a three-game stretch in September, Ian Frye has been perfect on field goals this season. Is it a good feeling to be able to rely on him for that?
London: He has been a very positive and bright spot for us. You know you are right. It’s a good thing/bad thing. You are number one in the ACC and number 10 in the country in red zone scoring, but that’s field goals. A lot of that speaks to his ability to kick the field goal – this past game, 47, 48-yarder. It’s a blessing in that you have a guy that when you get inside that area, he can kick field goals. But what we want ultimately are touchdowns. That’s the biggest thing right now, in close games is the ability to score those touchdowns is one of the things we have to do a better job of, particularly when you are playing close games like we have been in. To answer your question, Ian has been very consistent. He kicked a 55 or 57-yarder in practice the other day. He’s gotten better and continues to get better. We’re glad to have him on our side.

Q: After the UCLA game this year you talked about being less predictable on offense. What can you change in terms of predictability when you get into the red zone?
London: There are all different kinds of approaches. You can spread everybody out but the field is more condensed when you are down there in the red zone and goal line area because you don’t have the vertical opportunities. The biggest thing is executing the play call whether it is a run block or the pass route. The one pass interference call on us and then there was a play that was in the bootleg and we had a guy wide open in the flat and we throw the ball but at the last second the defender moves his hand and tips the ball and we have to kick a field goal. The execution of what we need to get done is bottom line scoring touchdowns. Whether you run it or whether you throw it – it is about executing what is being asked. However we can make it better for ourselves in what we call, personnel, line up an extra lineman over on the other side, run the football, whatever it is, we have to address it and take care of it.

Q: At 3-6, what are your goals? What do you use as motivation at this point?
London: The most important game is this game here. It is an away game and we want to get back and have the opportunity to win ACC games on the road. Obviously the most important game is this one. I’m not counting up how many wins – this is the biggest one, the biggest game for us. Then after that game you look to the next game. Right now, it is another ACC game. Our seniors and everybody are very much into the preparation it takes to get ready for a very good team and to go on the road. Take these close games, and we’ve had a couple at home, take these close games on the road and come out and win these close games.

Q: How much does this road trend weigh on you as a coach?
London: It is always about trying to get the team prepared so when you go on the field you have that opportunity to win those games. Outside of one of the halves for the UCLA game, we’ve done a pretty competitive job on the away games. That’s just a matter and a mindset of just keep pressing forward. Just keep trying to get better. Whatever it is, whatever we are calling or asking them to do, the playmakers, the guys who can get it done, just find a way Jerry. We’ve just got to find a way to keep staying positive and make sure we put ourselves in positions to have those positive experiences. The ‘next game up’ mentality is that this next game is an away game against a good Louisville team.

Q: Smoke is your leading receiver and Canaan is not far behind, but there is a drop off afterwards. Is there anyone else you would like to step up? At this point the running backs seem to be getting a majority of the touches, has that been part of the plan?
London: You go into the season and you try and identify some guys that obviously have play-making ability. Everyone knows that T.J. (Thorpe) got hurt during camp and really the emergence of Olamide (Zaccheaus) came out because we had to play some guys because Doni Dowling was hurt as well. You have David Eldridge and ‘O’ and as you start going into the season, you see that some of the things that teams are allowing us to do are getting the ball to our running backs, in particularly Smoke (Taquan Mizzell). Smoke has done a really good job of just, if it is a flair screen, and we are a big screen team. When teams start to blitz you a lot, one of the things you help relieve that is the screen game. He has made some really outstanding catches. And not only does he catch it, it runs after the catch. To answer your question, we are always trying to find out those guys that you can get the ball into their hands and they can help you. Whether explosive plays or just to move the chains. As we have gone on, Smoke, Daniel Hamm, Canaan (Severin) and you would like to get T.J. more involved. ‘O’ has emerged. We’re trying to find those guys that can help us. We’ve got to continue to keep doing that. With three games left, we have to find the formula that will allow us to be successful the last three games.

Q: You mentioned earlier that you need more of a pass rusher. How would you assess Mike Moore and Trent Corney so far this season?
London: They have done a good job. Obviously -when you lose two guys who were playing on the outside who are playing in the NFL right now and they had years of eligibility left, that’s all part of it, but they’re not here. The guys who are here, they are the ones who have to step up. We have got to find ways to manufacture a rush. We have to get to the quarterback – through more zone pressures, to play less man – whatever it is, we have to find an answer to get to the quarterback. As I have said before, your best pass rush a lot of times is your best pass defense. We have to find a way, particularly with this quarterback, he’s not as mobile as the other two, but when you look at the games he has played in, he appears to be very accurate in completion percentages and things like that for him are one of the things Coach Petrino talked about and that’s what he does and does well. You can’t let a guy like that sit back and throw all day. We have to put pressure on him.

Q: Earlier in the year, you said the Olamide reminds you of Perry Jones. In what ways are they similar?
London: I love Perry Jones. He was a great player here for us. He did a lot of things. He could catch the ball out of the backfield and he could run. They have similar body types. We’re doing a lot of jet sweeps with Olamide and are getting him involved in the vertical passing game. He’s fast and has great vertical speed. He has an appetite for the game. Olamide is going to be a very good player for us, as well as guys like David Eldrige and Juan Thornhill who we will continue to bring along.

Q: You’ve talked on occasion about being able to finish. You had the lead in the third quarter against Miami and were tied at halftime against North Carolina. What is it going to take to get better at finishing?
London: You go back to those critical moments. Whether it’s a third down play or keeping yourself from getting penalties like a false start, we have to be wired in and focused towards the end of the game. The stakes are high but we have to remain poised and make sure there’s a level of confidence in the players and the calls. The biggest thing is that we have to execute. We have shown it and demonstrated it. Last time against Louisville, it came down to a last-minute field goal by Ian Frye. We need to show that kind of resilience to come out on top.

Q: Andrew Brown hasn’t had the impact this season that people thought he would. What does he need to do to become a productive player?
London: I believe Andrew is going to be a really good player here. He has to earn the opportunities and continue to work on things in his game. But he is ready, willing and able. He played [against Miami] and going down the stretch here, we play some teams that can throw the ball. Providing a pass rush is something that Andrew can do as well as continuing to work on the run game. We have to include all the players that can give us a chance to win.

Q: Can you assess where Matt Johns is? What has he done well and what can he improve on to help the team finish in the red zone?
London: Overall, Matt has done a pretty good job. Obviously, the efficiency from the quarterback position is tied into being able to finish and lead you to victories. I know he’s done a nice job with touchdown passes and has over 2,000 yards passing. Being able to facilitate opportunities to get the ball into your playmakers’ hands is critically important. This game, he and Smoke Mizzell were the offensive players of the game for us, so Matt’s overall game has improved. You also want areas like completion percentage to improve, as well. If he can continue to work on areas like that, he’ll keep giving us opportunities to be successful on the field and in the red zone. I believe he can do that. But this game, being the most important game, he needs to demonstrate it for us to be successful.

Q: Before Olamide got here did you expect him to play his way into the role he currently has?
London: He came in as a running back initially. When you look at that position, a lot of our better players are stacked there. When you try to find where else you can put those players, we started evolving our jet sweep and things like that. Over the course of practice, we could see that Olamide had good speed and good hands. Knowing we already had guys like Smoke Mizzell, Albert Reid, Daniel Hamm and Jordan Ellis, we found a place for Olamide in that hybrid running back/wide receiver position. The chances he’s gotten so far have been productive. He’s broken a couple already and we’ll try to get it to him more because he is a productive player.

Q: A guy we haven’t talked much about is TJ Thorpe. How can you get him more involved? Where do you see him fitting in as you move forward?
London: TJ is a very talented player. The reps aren’t as much the issue as targets. When the ball isn’t thrown that way, there are more opportunities to block or run a clearing route for someone. TJ started out with some catches and runs and opportunities to get the ball but we need to continue to find ways to get him involved. We’ll continue to find ways to use him, Canaan, Olamide, Smoke, and all those guys and get them the ball.

Q: In what ways have you addressed the pre-snap penalties? Especially given Louisville’s tendency to have loud crowds.
London: Pre-snap penalties are a matter of concentration and knowing that we aren’t being tricky with the snap count. If it’s loud, you have to prepare yourself for movement they might show or noise that you might hear. We have to be disciplined from that standpoint. It’s a matter of concentrating on the task at hand. If you can focus on minimizing those mistakes, you can give yourself a chance. It’s about being smart when approaching these pre-snap penalties.

Q: Can you talk about the need to score about 35 points a game to have a chance to win football games?
London: You see the evolution of different offenses and quicker tempos in today’s game. There are so many things that are involved with how you defend these offenses, whether it is vertically or horizontally. I believe having a good defense is always going to be important if you want to have a chance at winning a game. But we’re in an era of football where scoring fast, scoring quick, and making big plays are leading to success. Defensive coaches will continue to find ways to defend those offenses and trying to minimize the effect of these types of systems.

Q: How would you grade Trent Corney’s development? What do you need to see from him going forward?
London: Trent has gotten better, especially his football IQ. He continues to keep learning and improving. He’s a guy that can run and we all know that. Putting himself in the position to be more of a dominant threat when he rushes the passer is something that he can do and something we are trying to allow him to do. The last couple of games he’s really shown up. He’s chased guys down from behind and been involved in some tackles. We’re going to need him to continue to get better as a pass rusher and a football player.

Q: I assume Warren Craft has been redshirted. Has he returned to practice? What is his status?
London: Warren is another vertical threat for us. He’s very fast and very athletic. He’s had a problem with an upper body issue, which is unfortunate. He’s going to be another really good player for us going forward. He’s practicing now and taking reps on the scout team. He’s lifting, training, and becoming a student of the game.

Q: How did Darious Latimore grade out? How do you see his role going forward?
London: He was the defensive player of the game for us. He had the interception, a pass breakup, and a couple of tackles. He’s a player who has improved as he’s gotten those second team reps and some special teams play. He’s a guy who can run very well. He’ll play more because he demonstrated that he could run with some of the fast receivers that Miami had. He did a nice job and I’m excited about his future.

Q: How do you address negativity on the sidelines as you approach these three important games to end the season?
London: As far as the negativity, I wouldn’t say it was one player against the other. The team has been very positive for a lot of these games. It might have been some frustration. In the locker room, we talked about some of things you can do to encourage each other in these sorts of tight games. That was the immediate theme after the game and that’s our mindset. These guys want to win and the next opportunity for us – and all of these seniors – is this last road game of the year against Louisville. We need to play better to get that road win and we need to stay positive by encouraging one another. That’s something we’ll continue to keep doing.

Q: It appears Mike Moore is having his best year. Can you talk about his improvement and role on the team this season?
London: Mike is a guy who plays multiple roles for us. He puts his hand down on the ground and rushes, but is also an integral part of the defense as a Sam linebacker. That means he stands up and can rush or cover from that position. Mike has continued to improve his game even though we ask him to play all those positions. In the end of games, he’s been involved in some of those crucial sacks. We talked about Trent Corney continuing to get after the quarterback and Mike needs to continue to pressure the quarterback as well. That will only help us.

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