Virginia head coach Mike London spoke with journalists this week as his Cavaliers, fresh off a tough loss in Los Angeles to UCLA, prepares for another difficult clash this weekend with Notre Dame.
Q. Mike, given UCLA’s scheme offensively where they were able to get the ball out quickly and they were trying to get the ball out quickly, obviously. How difficult does that make it on your pass rush and were you satisfied with the effort you got from your pass rush Saturday going forward?
COACH LONDON: They did an excellent job protecting their quarterback. And you could tell very early on that the scheme was to get it out quickly, distribute it to his perimeter players, running backs, and Rosen played an excellent game. I’ve got to give him credit. He was accurate, and it was hard to get to him.
We did have one sack. You try to affect the throwing lanes, the passing lanes with pressure. But I thought he did an outstanding job of being able to handle the pressure. Obviously you want to get to the quarterback and you want to find ways to put hands in the throwing lane, knock passes down.
And as I said they did a nice job of getting the ball on the perimeter, getting it from him to getting it out on screens. Just different things that allowed him to be successful and very impressed by him as a player and the poise that he had back there for his first college football game.
Q. As you talk about their protection and how good Rosen was, when you go back and look at the film, how did you feel like how did the “D” linemen and the whole front seven, your linebackers grade out, as far as how they played Rosen or the push you got?
COACH LONDON: That’s an excellent football team and their offensive line is probably better than they were last year.
You could see the experience there. As I said, you want to have a chance to affect the quarterback’s ability to not just stand in the pocket and have all day to throw with rushers, with stunts, with schemes. And they executed in a way that allowed him to be highly efficient. And we could not get to him and apply enough pressure to affect those throws.
The combination of us not being able to get to him and the fact that he played a very good game was something to their credit.
Q. Even with pressure, he was good at he was just so accurate sometimes. I mean that touchdown Quin had pretty well covered and still got it covered in there. Saturday you face a quarterback who I think completed 19-of-22 passes and Zaire coming off a bowl game, 12-of-15. How difficult is it to face these guys who are so accurate and what is the challenge for Saturday facing a guy like Zaire?
COACH LONDON: The challenge is always getting better for us as a football team. First of all, looking at this now we have a game tape. We have opportunities to correct things, correct the mistakes that were made.
We have opportunities to talk about the things that can put you in positions to be positive on plays and those things that cost us during the course of this game.
And it’s another good football team we’re getting ready to play. I believe that the teams that we’re playing, the team that we just played, very good football team and this team that we’re about to play is another really good football team.
And that through this process for us is that we’ll become a better football team. And that’s the goal. That’s the expectation is to improve the way we play.
Minimize our errors that we made, but know that Notre Dame is a really good football team and we’re going to have to play again, limit the issues we had in this past game and move forward and getting them corrected.
Q. I’m not sure there were any situations or certainly not many where you had three linebackers on the field at the same time the other day. Do you think with Notre Dame, will that be more of a traditional offense where you’ll use your base defense more? And if so, has that third linebacker established themselves yet?
COACH LONDON: You know, it remains to be seen. Obviously they run the ball well. They’ll play with two tight ends. They have a quarterback that’s also a runner in their offense.
And so the responsibilities of putting that scheme together and the personnel together is being worked on was worked on yesterday and today as we start to game plan.
But just knowing that they’re a complete team and that they have a running quarterback. Even though they lost a running back to an injury, they still have running backs that are very capable, very good and also their wide receiver corps is an excellent corps as well.
Q. Ryan Doull I think last year was one of your best linemen before he got hurt. Is he out long term or some of these guys on the offensive line do you expect to get your depth back?
COACH LONDON: Unfortunately, Jake Fieler and Eric Tetlow, they’re lost for the season. They’ll have seasonending surgeries. We expect Ryan Doull to be back. And obviously he’s a guy that started games for us and has played. And as I said we expect him to be back and look forward to his return.
Q. Could you talk a little bit as you’ve watched the film, did Smoke Mizzell establish himself more to be the top of the depth chart for you as running back given the performance on Saturday?
COACH LONDON: A lot of things Smoke did, he did well. Obviously he played a productive game as a running back. And he was the player of the game for us in terms of his opportunities to extend, to get the first downs, his opportunities to run and catch the ball and the touchdown reception that he made.
So he played well as a running back. And those are the types of things we need from a guy like that, with his skills. We knew what he was capable of. And he showed a little bit of it on Saturday. We’ll have to continue he’ll have to continue to improve and continue to show that he’s capable of running and catching the ball.
And so it was a good game for him and we look forward to more progress from him.
Q. You had a chance to look at the tape. What are you excited about collectively about your team as you get ready to play Notre Dame?
COACH LONDON: When you have a game behind you and you can look at the things that need correcting, you understand that this team that we just played is a very good football team. But you also understand that you have the things you have to do to get better as a team.
I believe our opportunities have presented itself to a great week of preparation for Notre Dame, another good football team.
And that the opportunities that come out of where we are now will lend itself later on as the season goes, unfolds, because we’re playing some of the best teams that are out there, which is going to require us to execute and perform better.
And this week’s preparation has to be an outstanding effort by all. Coaches, players, and everyone involved with this. So I’m excited about the opportunity for this team to get better, to do the things to minimize those mistakes and errors that cost you and you’re doing it on a national scale and you’re doing it against good football players and teams.
That’s what I’m optimistic about. It’s nothing to hold your head down about, look up, look up and let’s move forward.
Q. In recent years you’ve had some success in September with some of these bigger home games, whether it be Penn State or BYU or last year beating Louisville and playing well against UCLA. Can you take anything from that? What do you think has been a reason for your success there early on this season in a bigger crowd against a big name opponent?
COACH LONDON: I don’t know the answer to that specifically. But I know it’s tied into effort. It’s tied into game planning. Its tied into that Scott Stadium is a great place to play. And those games you just mentioned were games that our players were excited about playing those big time opponents that have come in and this is another opportunity.
I’ve heard the game is sold out. I’m sure the atmosphere will be electric. And we expect to perform and play well. And that’s the expectations for this team and for this game and the approach of this game.
Q. You’ve got a guy from our area that is averaging six yards a carry, Nic Conte. Could you talk about his debut and was he a candidate for scholarship at some point?
COACH LONDON: I believe Nic did a nice job as far as first time performing as a college punter in a game. I believe his average is about 50yard average. The net was about 43. Probably would take back one of the punts where he’d like to kick it more towards the hash and sideline area. But he was adept on the fake punt as well.
So it’s going to be important for Nic Conte to continue to punt the ball, to flip the field for us. It’s going to be important for a guy like Ian Frye, three for three in field goals to be able to, once we get inside the 30 that we can count on him as points.
It’s going to be important that Dylan Simms, he had three touchbacks but he also kicked one out of bounds and one they did return was for 16 yards. It’s going to be important for him to continue to keep doing what he’s capable of doing.
So that’s the special teams aspect of it with the guys that are kicking the ball. But Nic – like all walkons that perform is always going to be evaluated to the opportunities to put himself on athletic scholarship. And I would say it’s a positive first step for him for first game.
Q. Notre Dame has much been touted as the strength defensively of their linebackers. Couple of guys could be playing on Sundays. Could you talk about the challenge that their linebacking corps presents for you guys to block them and establish the run?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, I believe that their front seven is it’s very formidable. Guys that are -again athletic and fast and we just played a team that was really fast, really athletic.
And you look at Notre Dame from guys up front and the linebacking corps, they’re capable of running and running out of mistakes. It’s going to be important for us to be on schedule, stay on schedule, try to do things that we can that are our strengths and control the football a little bit and make sure we use those players or those schemes that can help us be successful.
But they’re a very good defense. You saw what they did against Texas. And you recognize the fact that there is a lot of talent on that team and on the field when they play.
Q. Talk about Zaire’s kind of running ability, what do you see from him as just a pure passer?
COACH LONDON: What stands out when you look at him, obviously there’s a talented group of receivers and putting the ball in the vicinity for guys to go up and get it is something that benefits a quarterback.
He’s an accomplished runner. We all know that he can run the ball. He presents that threat – not only they have plays designed for him being the primary ball carrier, but they also have plays to get him out of the pocket on the perimeter. And I’m quite sure, like everyone else, you look for a better performance in everything that you do.
And he’s such a focal point of their offense that it’s going to be important that we develop a game plan to understanding that his legs and his arm are things that they very much rely on.
Q. I guess based on what you said you have a few issues with offensive line depth. How did Jay Whitmire look and come out of that pretty well? How did he play?
COACH LONDON: For Jay’s first game, first college game in a long time, and he played it was good for us that he had been trained to play both inside and outside, and that’s how he played in the game, both at guard and both at tackle.
Jay graded out well according to Coach Borbely and felt good coming out of the game. And so we believe that the best is yet to come for a guy like Jay. And we look forward to him having a chance to continue to do some things to help this team win football games, not only on the field but again his leadership and other things he provides by being an older guy.
Q. Vince Croce – You were you able to give him the ball, made a positive gain. What’s his role on the offense, what’s he’s done to get to this point to be more relevant at this stage in his career than he was early on?
COACH LONDON: Vince is, again, he’s one of our captains. He’s the true prototypical fullback not only in runnin, but pass protection and again him carrying the ball, I’m sure he’ll ask for more touches because of that. But Vince is a tough guy. He’s a great leader on our team and he’s also kind of the special teams guy as well. He’s involved in a lot of those four phases.
So Vince Croce is a football player. He wants his team to do well, play well. Whatever role he has for us and as the game plans go on where he figures in, how he figures in. There’s always going to be a role for him and we’re sure he’s going to embrace it.
Q. That was the first college game for Evan Butts, and he showed some playmaking ability. Do you see his role in the offense growing if he continues to produce like that?
COACH LONDON: I do. Evan is a good, young player. And I believe, again, he’s another guy that has a chance to get better as a college football player. He played against a very fast, athletic defense. And when you have a guy like Evan who has shown capability and opportunity to do things when given the chance, he’ll get better as a football player.
Not only on the line blocking but also being able to catch passes, being able to go match ups with him with safeties, linebackers, and so Evan will be a good player for us and it’s good that he continues to keep improving every week, every opportunity to play another team on our schedule.
Q. During the Steve Fairchild era you’ve been in the bottom third of the country in explosive plays, plays of 20 yards or more. Does the offense need to get more aggressive? Do the players need to take advantage of what’s there more? Why aren’t you guys able to create more plays that eat up chunks of yards?
COACH LONDON: It’s important to get explosive plays. More important to me is when you get down in the red zone area is to get those touchdowns, rather than the field goals.
But I believe we had seven explosive plays (of 10 yards or more). I believe they had obviously more than we did because you saw some of the long catches and some of the runs. It is important to execute with the players, but it’s important for us to evaluate how we scheme and how we go about getting players that we have on our team the opportunities to get those yards, those chunks of yardage that you just mentioned.
And it’s something that’s ongoing for us. And it has to be something that’s a focal point for us. And we gotta play with who we have, but we have to come up with ways of extending those drive opportunities, extending those explosive plays to give you opportunities to get those points – not only in the red zone – but also in the middle of the field, coming out.
And that is something that we will continue to discuss and something that we’ll have to continue to improve, particularly if you want to be successful this season.
Q. Along those same lines, you have since you have been winning the time possession battle but it hasn’t always translated into points. What’s the biggest challenge there, and you’ve had sustained drives but haven’t been able to finish it all the time?
COACH LONDON: The time of possession, as far as indicators of being strong or weak, the time of possession is not a true indicator. It’s points per possession that you get. It’s obviously something that when you’re scoring or getting field goals versus a team that for us against who we played against, capitalizing on touchdowns. I mean that becomes a critical element of it. Making sure every possession, whether it’s the 11 that you get or anywhere between 11 or 14 possessions making sure that each possession lends itself to getting the maximum amount of points that you can get, and we have not scored enough points per touchdowns when we had the ball.
That’s something, again, as we come out of this first game going into the second game against another very good defense that we have to be able to address and know that they’re looking at tape just as we’re looking at tape on them.
Q. Some teams huddle and some don’t.
COACH LONDON: Time of possession again is not that strong of an indicator how successful you are as when you do have the ball and the possessions. Another thing is also when you get the ball on the plus 40yard line area the difference between getting inside in the red zone area and scoring touchdowns and when you got field goals, but also you want to turn those things into scoring opportunities.
Q. You said after Saturday’s game that UCLA’s receivers outplayed your corners at times. After looking at the tape, what did you see and how concerned are you about that?
COACH LONDON: They did a great job of extending the field on us in all aspects, on all the corners. They got behind us on some of those play action passes, straight back passes – and obviously we have to do a better job in terms of the coverage standpoint, but it goes back to the pressure as well, the pass rush pressure. If you’ve got all day to throw then you’ve got all day to run. And it’s something that we’ll be addressing this week in practice, whether it’s personnel or the ‘who is doing what.’ We have to make sure that the pass rush is as critical as our pass defense and coverage and those things work together. They coincide with one another.
Q. Did Albert Reid run out of the wildcat formation at Maryland. I know he’s a running quarterback in high school. What went into the thinking there?
COACH LONDON: That’s something that Albert has done not only in high school he did it at Maryland as well and a guy that had an opportunity that’s done it before, also part of the game plan for us. I don’t know how many times we did it this game with him a few times. But at the same time he’s a guy that’s done it. And we’ll try to take advantage of a skill set that he has and that he’s demonstrated as we start moving forward.
Q. Can he pass out of that?
COACH LONDON: I’m quite sure he can. He will, eventually. But being able to taking a direct snap and being able to handle the motioning and all that’s required in the wildcat formation, he’s done it in high school and college level.
Q. What’s Daniel Hamm’s status for Saturday in terms of running back?
COACH LONDON: Daniel should – he played this game on special teams aspect of it, and we look forward to him having a chance to carry the ball and be a part of this offense and we look forward to him doing it this particular game as well.