On Wednesday, UVa head coach Mike London took part in the ACC Coaches Teleconference. He discussed Louisiana Tech, ball security, Virginia's quarterback situation and more.
UVa head coach Mike London
LONDON: Good afternoon, everybody. Yes, we have an opportunity to come off the road, two tough losses coming back at home, in front of our home crowd playing a very good Louisiana Tech team. Obviously you look nationally where they are offensively, and they're in the top categories of putting the ball in the air, on the ground, scoring points. The first two games scoring 52 points.
So they do a great job of putting points on the board. They're fast, athletic, remind us of a fast, athletic TCU team. But we're ready for the challenge.
We're ready to play our best game and get us an opportunity for all three phases of our team to click. The challenge is presented, and the players have had a good first few days of preparation and looking forward to playing on Saturday.
Q. What can you do in practice to eliminate the turnovers? I'm talking to Mike today. He said that this is a team that's big on stripping the ball?
LONDON: Well, you know there are a series of drills you do in terms of ball security, but they do a great job. You have to keep emphasizing. You have to emphasize when it's out there, the guy catches the ball, they do a great job in running and converging the second, third guy in is actually tugging at the ball. You try to mimic that in practice with your show or your scout teams. You want those types of guys getting around the ball like that.
Then you also in your own particular drills, you do ball security drills. Whether it's the quarterback or in the pocket, having to protect the ball, having two hands on it. The runners, you see pitctures of high and tight guys, having six points of pressure in their forearm and up in their biceps. You keep talking about those things.
Then when you show the practice tape, you show if we're negligent, and whether the quarterback holding the ball or the runner holding the ball. You point it out and say, listen, this team I believe led the country last year in turnovers. Right now they lead the country in forced fumbles. So it's very heavy emphasis on ball awareness at all times because they do an outstanding job of hunting the football.
Q. Coach, I know Mike (Rocco) has started 17 straight games. But Phillip Sims has had some plays the last few weeks. I wonder how that rotation stands, and is he pressing Rocco for a start?
LONDON: We're always evaluating what our players are doing, particularly Michael and anyone else that goes into the game. Eyes are always on the guys that handle the ball 100% of the time. It's no different. Michael will have the opportunity to play and start this game out and hopefully there is an opportunity to get them in the game.
Everyone understands how we distribute the ball and move this team how we move, how we set ourselves up for scores is always important. That's why you practice. I think both players right now are having a good week of practice, understanding that they have to play well.
Mike understands he has to play well. Phillip understands if he goes into the game, he has to play well. At that this time last week, we were in the same situation, 2-2. The last five of our eight games are at home in our place. So I expect the execution of the offense to improve. It has to be done. It has to start with the guys taking the snaps.
Q. Does Sims have any strengths or stylistically are they the same?
LONDON: They're two different types of players in the standpoint that Phillip is understanding a system he's coming from to where we are now.
Mike's had three years of learning. Phillip's had months of learning. There are some things that one can do better than the other, but you go back, and the other guy can do some things because of balance of the offense and things like that that the other guy doesn't know he's improving on.
So both of them played in the pro-style offense, and as we continue the learning curve of one, the other one understands that he's got to play better and execute and everyone's embraced the challenge. On game day Saturday we'll see who rises to the challenge.
Q. Can you go into further detail about what a big test this is going to be for your defense? Is what kinds of things you've focused on specifically this week to prepare for them?
LONDON: I tell you, Heather they put up a lot of points on the board. When you look at their possessions sometimes you look at their possessions and you see three or four, and you think, man, they had to punt the ball after having three downs. But their possessions are three, four plays and it's a touchdown, or three, four plays and it's a field goal or they put points on the board.
They run a style of offense, and west coast offense and who they play that dictates the ball being stretched vertically and horizontally. They present a challenge like that with getting very fast, skilled, wide receivers in space. Their running backs, everyone catches the ball because of the type of screens that they run. So it's a different type of challenge, you know, when a team is so balanced as they are.
You look at the top 25 in passing, but I believe also in running. They're up there in the country with points. So we have to play a style. And the other thing that they do well is they have the hurry--up offense. They don't let you sometimes sub or get a nickel group in there. They keep you off balance that way.
So we've played in games like that before with other teams that don't let you on the field that play with, when I say ten personnel, four wide receivers or go empty and the running backs back there look like wide receivers. So we're going to have to play good coverage. The quarterback does a good job of throwing to spots, not necessarily where the guy is. They do a great job based on coverages throwing to particular spots.
This week we've been dealing with coverages from all types. From zone, to pressures, to three-man rushes to all different kind of things. You try to change the look that the quarterback sees. But it is a challenge of that style of offense that presents itself. They spread the ball around, and then they have very, very good skilled people.
Q. Have they gotten your players' attention pretty quickly? The defensive guys watching film this week?
LONDON: Absolutely. You look at the tape, and any time you're putting 50, 60 points up on people, and those plays or three or four series plays going into long touchdown passes or a tunnel screen that they get them out of space, and the guy misses a tackle, then it causes, you know, those long runs. So it's gotten our attention.
Being better open field tacklers, being more aware of when the ball is in the air, converging, and the fact that they're 3-0. I don't know if they're ranked. They probably should be.
But it's a very, very good football team. The fact that we're playing another one, a back-to-back good football team, that's the way it is. That's the way the schedule is set up. But we feel good about being at home and being competitive against this team.
Q. Coach, I see Shepherd leading the league in kickoff returns as a sophomore. Is that a function of -- I know it's a team kind of thing, but what skills does he bring to that that makes him so effective in that role?
LONDON: Well, I think you have to applaud his individual efforts. But I also think that collectively the other ten guys that are out there blocking for him have a lot to do with it as well. Khalek has an innate ability to see and diagnose a hold or perceive a hold, and get through it and run. But we start talking about how our team's going to start returning kickoffs and things.
Last week, their kicker did a great job of hanging it high up in the air, and the ball came down on the 1 or 2-yard line, but they had such a great coverage unit that I think our average position was on the 17-yard line. However, there's been games where kickers with strong legs kick it not as much height, and get it to the 1- or 2-yard line, and we bring it out.
I think when Khalek has a chance to bring it out, and he has a chance to go a long way. He's an asset and a weapon that we need to use particularly with starting field position particularly on the kickoff.
So any opportunity we have to bring it out, we will. But we also have to be cognizant of the fact that what you're starting to see now in college football are some kickers trying to directional kick it high up in the air, to the corner, pin it to the sidelines, all those type of things. But thus far, Khalek overall his body of work has been pretty good.
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