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Nov. 13, 2017

Virginia Football Media Conference
with Bronco Mendenhall
November 13, 2017

COACH MENDENHALL: I had a chance to be with my team this morning and put the Louisville game to rest and start on Miami. Fast turnaround for another good opponent. We’re excited for the challenge. And look forward to continuing to improve our team and take the learnings from this past week and apply them.

I think in regard to the Louisville game, Louisville did a nice job of controlling the line of scrimmage, both sides. Defensive line from Louisville really dictated the tempo of the game and what we could and couldn’t do offensively. And conversely, their offensive line blocked us well and we’re on the right bodies frequently enough with all the movement we tried to get to get extra players to Lamar but they picked it up and blocked it well enough for their quarterback to have success.

I thought we were, in looking at the film, a little bit slower than what we had been. I think the Georgia Tech week had some effect on that as much as we tried to work and work overtime to get the schemes right for Louisville.

We looked just a little bit sluggish, not by effort or intent, but just by the way we were moving. And Louisville looked fast and they are, with good talent. And so anxious to get back to work.

Q. Your bye week came fairly early this year. You’ll end the regular season with eight straight weekend games. You’re six games into that. I guess you alluded to this a little bit in your opening statement, but do you like kind of where your energy level is and general health of the team at this point?
COACH MENDENHALL: I like our health a lot. That’s a tribute to Coach Wintrich and his staff. We have bumps and bruises and aches and pains but in terms of season-ending and those kind of things, we’ve made it through really well. Our biggest issue again is with the depth of our roster, the workload in practice/games with lack of depth is that’s just probably has a little more effect on us currently than maybe some but when you trade it off versus most of our players still being healthy and this is as good as we can do.

Q. I think you’ve talked about this before, but your relationship with Mark Richt and I think you said you actually spoken to him about Carla Williams?
COACH MENDENHALL: So Mark and I, the first time we met, it was on a Nike coaches trip. And for those that don’t know what that is, there’s about 20 coaches that are endorsed by Nike. If your program wins enough and also sells enough retail, there’s a combination, then you’re invited on this trip.

And when I first went, Joe Paterno greeted me and Bobby Bowden, and it really is the most successful college football coaches in the country every year.

Mark was there my first year and his wife Kathryn. And like with any groups, there are different types of people. And I kind of migrated toward Mark and vice versa and we had a really nice conversation.

I just thought he was a man of substance and character and insight and intellect. That was my first interaction with Mark. Then we were on the board of directors together for the AFCA and I’ve had a chance to hear his views on a number of different issues. And then after my, when I met Carla, we visited for just a half hour, 45 minutes, and she said one of the best ways you might get to know me or leadership style is to call Mark. And so I did.

And he called me right back. And he was positive toward our new athletic director and we had a chance to just discuss our second year in the league, both of us, and what we’re learning and what we’ve seen. And so I’m impressed with Mark and think he does a really good job.

Q. Up until about two weeks ago, people were kind of accusing Miami of doing what they were doing with kind of smoke and mirrors and stuff like that. And they’ve obviously put that to rest the last two weeks. What are the things that make them so difficult to play and what kind of challenges are there for you guys?
COACH MENDENHALL: First of all, really good players. Defensively, they’re playing really well. And every player you look at their starting 11 is capable, fast athletic. And just really plays at a high quality and has the ability to play at a high quality.

So when you put that collective together and they’re coordinated well they start playing with confidence, I think that’s probably the, is where their program starts. It’s difficult to score points on them.

And they take the ball away and have a nice culture that way. And offensively, man, they manage the game really well. They have playmakers. They’re athletic at the offensive line. The quarterback does a nice job with decisions. So really good players. A head coach that’s managing the games really well. And knows what it takes to win without maybe pursuing sometimes what’s considered style points. He manages the game to win and to his players and luckily for his players that he’s there, because he’s making a lot of really good decisions for his team to beat whoever they have to beat on that Saturday to put 14 straight together, which is it’s really hard to do.

Q. The other day Robert and I kind of said after the game maybe some players are being at least on the offense are being put in positions that he didn’t think they were kind of able to do. Do you kind of agree with that assessment. If so, where would that be?
COACH MENDENHALL: We’re continuing and just when we kind of think we’ve got a finger on our offensive line and the right collective out there and gain momentum, man, the nature of the opponent changes and all of a sudden what we thought was right on point isn’t on point. And so what we’re just learning is certain match ups are getting exposed one week not so much the next, just when we think we have it down, we don’t really have it down.

There’s other players we have to get the ball in their hands more and so I’m sure Robert was alluding to that as well. And in this game, particularly, because their defensive line was so disruptive, really the players we wanted to get the ball to more frequently that didn’t happen enough, which limited our scoring potential, and that’s — I think that’s probably the nature of his comments or origin of them.

Q. At the same time he talked about the receivers and some of the drops. And he said that that’s focus and that basically said it’s embarrassing if you’re a receiver for him to have to say that. When you look at that unit, where is the breakdown?
COACH MENDENHALL: I’m not sure that I would say there’s a breakdown. But there’s some inconsistencies. I visited with our players about that this morning. And I highlighted some players on our team that I think — when I was alluding to what I was hopeful to have as a UVA football player, I was talking about being durable and being consistent and being productive.

So I was highlighting players on our team just from that past game that really reflected the entire year.

And when consistency at the receiver spot is huge and so any ball where we’re open and get both hands on it and if that isn’t a catch and getting a first down or falling forward, that really isn’t to our standards.

So coach and I were simply referring to that. It’s fun to see the number of downfield throws and catches that Andre Levrone is having probably his best, not probably, it is his best year ever at UVA in being durable and consistent and productive. Jordan Ellis would be similar. Olamide I would put in that same category.

And so now it’s finding ways to possibly get Joe Reed the ball more and/or who else can the distribution increase to with the consistency we’re hopeful for. And sometimes where we’re hoping consistency happens isn’t and past couple of games the wet weather but also this past week we haven’t thrown it and caught it as consistently as we would have liked.

Q. You gave a overview generally of the offense what they can do. Particularly the quarterback seems to be a toughness in his runs and his throwing after making a mistake seems to bounce right back what do you see from Rosier?
COACH MENDENHALL: I think he’s being asked to do exactly what he can, and I think their offense the same way. Again, Mark runs their offense and he’s coordinated it very well. They know what the offense has done and have done to defense will give them they take that and they pick and choose the spots to create big plays.

Seems like there’s two or three or sometimes four per game where they’ll be fairly methodical and have the potential to go the distance on any play with the type of players they have. But there’s three or four or five big plays a game, and then when you get toward the red area, the quarterback is really effective with his legs and scramble.

And all that is kind of a big picture designed by their head coach, who he’s using their personnel within the scheme versus the opponent on a weekly basis just right. And it’s leading to success.

Q. If your offensive line continues to struggle the way it did the other day, what are your alternatives in terms of game planning, do you have to just go shorter, quicker passes or what can you do?
COACH MENDENHALL: It’s really difficult. Certainly spreading the field helps with getting the ball out and a lot of our passes are like that now where you see swings to the flat and possession throws and so when you’re not catching the possession throws that’s frustrating and that’s some of the inconsistency we’ve been talking about, when you can do those things then the downfield throws open more.

Really what we have to do is reassess who is getting open and catching the ball with the highest level of consistency and make sure that the short to intermediate to quick throws are happening to those people. So then the pressure to come after our quarterback has to be dissipated a little bit and a little bit more perimeter conscious. But the consistency of those throw and catches the routine throw and catches that has to increase. By that not increasing, that’s tied directly to our offensive front. And so while those two things you might say man that doesn’t seem like that’s correlated, those quick possession throws are huge in terms of the connection to our protection.

Q. Because of the depth issues you referred to, De’Vante Cross has had to be a utility guy this year. Going forward, would you like him to be in a more clearly defined role and if so would that?

Q. More likely to be on offense or defense?
COACH MENDENHALL: Well, it depends on the day. Right now when Juan Thornhill went down for a play, he came in and played corner for a number of plays. He also went in and played receiver. There is a package for him at quarterback.

And as a result, it’s jack-of-all-trades, master of none. But for us that’s a two-deep at three positions where we don’t really have a two-deep.

So eventually we’d love to have him to be able to specialize. I can’t say whether it be corner or receiver right now. He’s very good at both. Hasn’t reached his potential as both, at either. Probably because of practice time.

He’s split. So his performance is split. That’s just really where we have to be right now.

Q. Given the way Miami is playing, obviously unbeaten they’ve put themselves in a pretty good spot. From a national perspective that makes it a pretty good opportunity for you guys to play spoiler. Do you play that up at all this week going into this?
COACH MENDENHALL: Not necessarily. It’s an awesome opportunity for our program to play another ACC opponent that’s having success. And I felt like we performed beneath our potential this past week.

And regardless of who we’re playing, I’m anxious to see that part increase. And it just so happens to be against a really good team and a game that matters, which is it’s fun to play in games that matter.

And that’s the next step for this program is to learn, to play as close to your potential as you can week in, week out and just stay up there.

Right now we’re a little bit up and we’re a little bit down. Not as wild as we were. But more so than what I would like.

Q. Evan Butts is listed as a tight end. Coach Anae referred to him the other day as an inside receiver. He’s got 25 receptions, which I think was a lot more than last year. What do you see as his role and is it constantly changing?
COACH MENDENHALL: He was one of the players I pointed out this morning of being consistent and durable and productive. We have a really nice role that he’s earned, and I think we’ve dialed his role in really well, what his capabilities are.

He blocks really well. He catches the possession throws off linebackers or safeties really well. He falls forward a lot of times for touchdowns. And if they kind of start forgetting about him, which Louisville did right before half, sending pressure, then he can slip right by you.

And so he’s kind of understated but really productive. And he’s been one of the parts week in, week out that just simply we know exactly what we’re going to get.

And he and Kurt have a really good relationship and a lot of confidence in one another. And that shows. He’s made a lot of critical catches for us.

Q. We’ve talked last week about the possibility that the team would play really free, you know, just like go for broke and whatever. How did you feel about their approach and how maybe were they different this morning than you saw last week?
COACH MENDENHALL: Their intent was right on all week and in practice. And we spent extra time defensively to try to prepare for Lamar coming after — we used a very similar option model which we did for Georgia Tech, which is increased time, increased repetitions, and that was two weeks straight. So their intent was right.

The energy was — it looked like it was difficult to sustain. While their mindset was there, the fuel in the tank was maybe not the jet fuel we’re hoping with. Maybe the next grade down, just by wear and tear.

And against a team like that that was fresh and fast coming off of their game, that discrepancy showed up a little bit more and their quarterback, he had a lot to do with that in terms of trying to corral him.

Q. Was that kind of a just a really unfortunate back-to-back situation?
COACH MENDENHALL: It was a unique challenge. I can’t say unfortunate, but it was a challenge. And we viewed it as such and took it head on. And we just didn’t play quite clean enough. There’s a few PIs that in critical times probably led to maybe ten more points-ish. And that’s about where I thought, if you can be in — giving up about 24 points to Louisville you probably would have been playing them better than anyone.

And we were roughly in that stretch, just didn’t play clean enough, and weren’t quite on edge enough and fresh enough to pull it off. So that’s reflective of the plan that I chose by working them extra. And I’ll have to evaluate that next year if we end up with a similar challenge.

Q. You spoke to us in the preseason about how long camp was, extra time. And now you’re here late in the season and playing these two option teams where you want to get extra reps. What’s the challenge been and how do you think the plan has kind of played out in terms of just not overworking the guys?
COACH MENDENHALL: The most important thing was to move the program forward in competitive work and playing more football. And that paid off perfectly and we also thought, man, a really fast start was going to be important. That paid off perfectly.

And for the lack of season-ending injuries, that’s paid off really well. What’s really taxed and what’s become clear is that the talent acquisition, making sure we build the depth in the roster so we can practice and play the way we like at a higher level of sustainability and knowing that here’s the preparation we’d like, here realistically what we can do and how that might affect performance.

And again last week we just weren’t quite clean enough. And it was about a 10-point swing of just simple execution things or plays that could have been made or balls that were turned over or a pass interference or penalties and for us that margin is — that’s too much.

Q. Does it change how you feel about the longer camp?
COACH MENDENHALL: Not for exactly where we are at this time. And again I’m viewing this big picture. Not only season by season and game by game, but what the program needs to build momentum and sustainability. So I think we are right on for what we have done and what we’ve done to this point.

Q. Are you envious of Miami’s turnover chain or —
COACH MENDENHALL: I think it’s really cool. College football is — there’s an element of youthfulness and fun that sometimes is lost with the pressure and the polls and the salaries and scrutiny and the entertainment version of whether you’ve had a good game or a bad game. And so to have kind of a thread of excitement and culture that I think the players like and certainly their fans have gotten behind, I think it’s really cool.

Q. Did you ever consider doing something like that?
COACH MENDENHALL: Maybe not that exact thing. But something, yeah.

Q. Have a chain like that in your personal collection?
COACH MENDENHALL: Not quite that thick.

Q. When did you first notice the turnover chain?
COACH MENDENHALL: After our game, Miami-Notre Dame, I saw some of it on my phone when we were coming back. I didn’t watch the whole thing but that was my exposure to the chain and I thought it was fun.

Q. When a schedule first comes out, do you look at it? If you did in this case, did you look at the November schedule and think it was going to be —

Q. — pretty challenging?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, with the thought that if we could build enough momentum and play well enough we would be up for the challenge by the time it came. And I like where we’re sitting. We’re not perfect. And we still have a lot of room to grow. But the program has made significant strides. We are getting better. I don’t think we played to our potential this past week but I like where we are. And I feel lucky to be with these guys and to witness their growth and progress —

Q. Talk about the November schedule.
COACH MENDENHALL: And seeing that, it takes me right back to knowing the growth we had to accomplish, the successes we hopefully would have had in place to form the foundation to get ready for November.

And for the most part, it’s what I would have hoped. In year two, in this program and what we’re doing, and so I think we’re building momentum. Last week’s game, I don’t think necessarily stalled it. We’re going back to one of the questions someone asked earlier how was the team this morning: They’re disappointed. They’re kind of angry, to be honest. They knew they could play better and wanted to play better and are still struggling with finding that exact right balance to be able to carry it from one week to the next. They had not only the Georgia Tech game. But as you’ve all mentioned their kind of sixth win, and that pull, they did a really good job, but not a perfect job of managing it. The same with the coaches. So we got the result we got.

Q. Obviously the thunder that came out of the locker room at the end of last week’s game kind of spoke to a successful season. What do you have to do in these last two regular season games — you know the bowl game will be a high either way. But what do you have to do to kind of manage perspective over these last two games?
COACH MENDENHALL: It’s a really good question. I lose sleep over it. We have a pretty simple equation and that’s better than not equal to. That means each day and each week I would like us to perform and prepare better than not equal to what we’ve done at this point. And I’m measuring that against what I think our team is capable of rather than against our opponent. And that in and of itself gives us a chance to control what we can control.

And so that’s the way I framed it. And I think if we’re improving and I see the program and players striving and reaching and doing something better to this point, that is the way I will see it. Hopefully the scores reflect that, but again I framed it as better than, not equal to.

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