On Wednesday, Mike London took part in the ACC teleconference. The Virginia head coach talked about Saturday's road tilt with TCU in the Lone Star State.
UVa head coach Mike London photo courtesy on VirginiaSports.com
LONDON: Have an opportunity to travel and play a very, very good football team at TCU. Rich tradition, a lot of things that Coach (Gary) Patterson has done there. Our players are excited about going back on the road and having an opportunity to play well.
We look forward to a challenge. It's a great offense, particularly a great defense they have there. I understand that it's sold out. A large Virginia alumni contingent will be there. We're excited about traveling and making the trip.
Q. I'm sure you're not eager to talk about last week's game. But Zach Laskey, he was telling me yesterday his only offers were Air Force, Navy and Georgia Tech. I'm curious if that kind of surprised you, given the way he's been able to play so far?
LONDON: I didn't know about his offers. But I know that I've read things and I've heard that Coach Johnson has mentioned, I believe he was a punt returner from last year. How athletically he has bought into what his skills are and what they're asking him to do.
I just think a lot of times you have kids that want to, don't mind what role they have on a team, they embrace their role. A lot of times they do well.
You can see he made a case for himself as far as embracing a role and an opportunity to play, has showcased his talents in a couple of games for sure.
Q. Do you think he looks like a legitimate ACC running back?
LONDON: He looks like he's a legitimate football player. That's number one right now of everything else. So I'm quite sure they are lucky and feel fortunate that they have him.
Q. Mike, given the issues you've had with your blocking, how much two tight end have you used, and do you kind of have a dilemma because Jake McGee has been such an outstanding receiver, whether to use him more, or use another of your tight ends who maybe is more experienced from the blocking standpoint?
LONDON: Well, obviously on our roster, you look, there's four or five different tight ends. People characterize your tight ends: on-the-line tight ends, move tight ends, potentially tight ends that could play in the backfield, provide pass protection.
I think after the third game, we're still trying to find that continuity, that consistency, of which grouping, which personnel is going to help us maximize our offense.
I think Jake has shown from a pass-catching ability, he's shown he's pretty good. Obviously he's a weapon that we need to rely on. So teams don't start game planning and ganging up on what they see on film, that one tight end goes in, this is all they do type of thing, it's incumbent on us, the offensive staff, Coach (Bill) Lazor, to come up with schemes that will allow Jake to block, whether it's on the line, motioning to, a safety, a linebacker, lined in bunch, whatever it is.
That's something that we have to continue to look at to make sure that we put people in the right positions to execute a block or execute what we're trying to do, whether it's run or pass the ball. We've been doing that this week. It's a continuing process as the season goes on, to find out who
gives us the best chance, whether it's to run the ball or protect the quarterback.
Q. Mike, you guys played pretty well on defense in the first couple of games. Last week obviously was a different story. Just wondering if it was just a matter of the different type of offense you were facing, things just kind of snowballed for you, or what do you make about your defense headed into this game?
LONDON: We talked about it before. You're right, defensively guys have played well. You get into a special type of offense, assignments requires, details requires. You can't play cautious. You can't play intimidated. You can't guess on reads.
They got on us early; they just stayed on us. You got young guys back there in the back end that have to play the pitch and the quarterback part of that offense we played. They didn't play as well as we needed to.
So you move forward with that mindset, that you don't dwell on what they didn't do, and you start focusing on the style of offenses that we'll play from this point out, from TCU all the way down to the rest of the teams we'll play, more akin to the type of things in spring practice that our offense does, the things we'll have to do.
We're hoping the formations and the motions and the plays and the concepts that our guys have practiced time and time again, you get back to playing an offense, although this offense is really, really good, they've been running this offense for a while, they're very productive, you're going to have to make plays, tackles in the open field,things like that.
But we want to make sure that the mindset that that game is over now. With this defense, I feel good about our defense, we're going to have to play well because we're playing on the road, playing a good team. But the mindset has to change.
It changed that Sunday basically, moved on, being the third game. Now we're getting ourselves ready to play, as I said before, on the road and play a top-20 team.
Q. Talk a little bit about Khalek Shepherd. Obviously you were pleased with his work on special teams last year returning kicks. Seems to be playing a lot more from scrimmage. A little guy early on. Was he a little bit too slight to take the pounding? Has he come on in that area?
LONDON: Well, I think when you look at his production, he's done a great job as far as our kickoff returns. He's got to be in the top 10 in the country, one of the tops in the ACC in the returns there. Not so much in punts.
Last couple games, punting situations where the ball is all over the place. But he has the confidence to run and go get a punt. There's an art to catching a punt and you have to be fearless. Think that's something he's demonstrated.
I think the other thing he does, he's got great hands. Being able to come out of the backfield, go in as a running back, but play as a wide receiver in terms of the personnel groupings that we have, provides another asset that he can give us.
Like I said, he is, like the other running backs, by committee, with Perry (Jones), K.P. (Kevin Parks), he has waited his time, been a cheerleader for all the other guys, now has embraced a role that has shown to increase his opportunities to touch the ball.
He's been a pleasant, I don't want to say surprise, but a pleasant addition that his skills can go beyond returning kicks coming off of the backfield and even blocking.
You mentioned Jake McGee and some guys. That's another name that we'd like to be able to utilize his talents as well. We're glad that we have him. We're glad he's a selfless player and he wants to help the team win by anything he can do.
Q. Some specifics about TCU. Another big game for the ACC. What are some things you guys need to do to get this victory on the road?
LONDON: Well, when you look at them, you look at them defensively, they are an outstanding unit defensively. They play the 4-2-5 defensive front, which a lot of teams play. They get a lot of run support by their rovers or safeties, down safeties. They don't do a whole lot, because they're very confident, and they play well, execute well, what they do with their coverages and run fronts. They play aggressively. The defensive end, No. 90, is an outstanding player and rusher, run defender.
I think offensively, they have a system that as a coordinator you look at different things. When teams run a draw, but they do things with the
play-action fake to it, understand you're going to hold the linebacker there for an extra second. Instead of just running plays, the types of things they do offensively, you have to be on guard, you have to have your eyes open and be aware that it's not just a draw, it could be a tunnel screen pass or whatever it is.
They're very good. They're well-coached. They're very good at doing particular things that can affect a defensive player's read.
In the kicking game, they have a returner that is outstanding, punt return, kickoff return. They're fast and athletic.
Coach Patterson, there's something to be said about longevity, being with a program, being as successful as he has been with the coaches and players on his team. No wonder they're a top-20 team. No wonder over the last couple years they've been in the mix of mentioning some of the best teams in the country.
Q. What are some strengths Virginia brings into the ballgame?
LONDON: I mean, we're going to have to, despite what has been characterized as not being able to move the ball, we're going to have to be able to move the ball by finding ways to exploit whether it's a coverage or whether it's a front, whether it's through the air, to the ground. We have to find ways to move the ball regardless of how we do it.
We can't go two pass plays incomplete, third down they gear up and rush and put pressure on the quarterback, now we're punting the ball. We're going to do those things.
I think our tight end, our running back, we have to use those guys in this game a lot. I think defensively we're back to playing coverages and concepts that we've been playing.
I think one of the strengths for us has been our kicking game as far as not only the punt and return units but the cover units.
We get on the field, we're going to have to play well. They run well in the open space and you got to be able to tackle. We're looking to move the ball, have a controlled game, keep our defense off the field. We know it will be loud. When you're always on the road, there's another element that you have to raise your level to. Guys have played on the road now, so there's no on-the-road jitters.
It's a college football game that has to be played now.
Our aim is to do whatever we need possible to help us give us a chance to win the game.
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