Press Conference Notes 2010: VMI

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Coach Mike London will take on another FCS opponent in the second Virginia home game of 2010.

The Cavalier football team returns home after a three-week absence, and both the fans and players are eager to see what unfolds at Scott Stadium this Saturday. FCS and in-state foe VMI will pay a visit this week in what can is viewed by some as a final tune-up before ACC play begins on Oct. 2. Coach Mike London and his staff have had a bye-week to iron out some of the little wrinkles displayed against USC, and the VMI game should be a good indicator of just how well the team has learned to execute. Mental mistakes and dumb errors abounded in Los Angeles, and the Cavaliers are eager to prove that their mental roadblocks are behind them.

“Obviously one of them was the third down situations, 4 of 15 at USC. If you move the chain a couple times there, then you give yourself a chance to hang onto the ball and the possession,” London said. “Limiting penalties, silly penalties and mistakes, we showed all the penalties that we had against ourselves – illegal procedure or illegal formation – that’s a mental error.”

Although this Saturday’s contest is a non-conference game against an FCS team, VMI should not be overlooked. The Keydets are known throughout the college football landscape for their discipline, work ethic, and grind-it-out mental toughness.

“You know that they’re not going to quit,” London said. “That they’re highly competitive, because that’s who they are and that’s what they are. So there’s a tremendous amount of respect that you have for those guys, what Coach [Sparky] Woods does.”

No matter the opponent, the Cavaliers are eager to play in front of their home crowd again and the entire Virginia fanbase is excited to welcome the team home after a near-upset of Southern California. There is a sense of excitement surrounding the program that has been absent in recent years, and the players can sense it, too.

“I think I speak for everybody; we want to get back on the field and have another chance to get a ‘W’,” junior linebacker Aaron Taliaferro said. “Everybody’s hungry right now.”

A Familiar Face

For the second time this season, a member of the Virginia coaching staff will face one of his former teams. Defensive coordinator Jim Reid was the head coach at VMI in 2006 and 2007. Reid left the Keydets to take a position as the linebackers coach for the Miami Dolphins for two seasons before accepting the position at Virginia. Reid has a lot of close ties to VMI, and was even named an honorary member of their 2009 graduating class.

Defensive coordinator Jim Reid consults linebackers coach Vincent Brown.

“If you ever want to feel great pride in education and the youth of Virginia, you need only to do this: you need only to go at 7 o’clock in the morning, Monday through Saturday, and stand there in front of the chapel and watch the Keydets as they come out information with a drumbeat and watch them as they march by you down to the mess hall,” Reid said fervently. “It was an absolutely amazing experience to watch, the precision and discipline of every cadet as they march in step from the barracks to the mess hall.”

Many of the players Reid recruited are still on the VMI roster. Senior linebacker Kris Ware is one of his former recruits, and has seven tackles and one half-sack to his credit this season. In fact, VMI is known for its talented linebacking corps; Coach Reid seems to bring defensive success at that position everywhere he goes.

Know Your Enemy

Since Coach Reid was once at the helm of the VMI program, the Cavaliers have an interesting perspective on the mindset of the Keydet players. Plus, they even have something in common: William & Mary embarrassed UVa last season, while the Tribe embarrassed VMI two weeks ago 45-0. Regardless of the final score, the Keydets refused to quit, and played every down like it was the first snap of the game.

“These players, these cadets, are conditioned to the positive. They’re conditioned to the positive with energy and enthusiasm. They will never, ever, ever quit on anything,” Reid said. “I’m talking about academics, I’m talking about doing things correctly, the three-legged stool, on the football field, in the weight room – it doesn’t make any difference. That’s what the Institute stands for. That’s how they’re conditioned.”

VMI has moved away from a Paul-Johnsonian triple-option offense toward a more standard pro-style offense. However, the team is having a hard time settling on a quarterback; three different signal-callers have seen time in both of VMI’s games so far this season.

“They had a week off, too; they could come with whatever kind of offense, so we have to be prepared. You never know when you have an open week and your opponent does too – what they’re doing to try to take advantage of what we do,” London said. “And the history that they’ve had with Coach Woods, we just have to be prepared for whatever it may be.”

Wide Receivers A Force To Be Reckoned With

For the first time in a long time, Virginia has a pair of talented wideouts acting as go-to guys for quarterback Marc Verica . Junior Kris Burd and senior Dontrelle Inman have combined for 20 catches for 183 yards, while Burd has 2 touchdown catches. Behind Inman and Burd, the Cavaliers have the personnel to run multiple wide receiver sets, adding another element to the balanced attack. So the fact that Tim Smith is battling an ankle injury may open up chances for other players.

“We have [Matt] Snyder, Jared Green , Ray Keys, all of them have been practicing and all of them know the position of X and the Z receiver. So there may be opportunities for three or four of them to get in the game at the same time,” London said. “I have a lot of confidence in those guys that have been in the program, particularly Green and – Snyder and Keys have been there before – they can give us an added boost or what we need. We’re a two-back team. Two-back team, you have two wide receivers in there, and that’s been Dontrelle and Kris, and then when you go one back, then you add another receiver.”

Dontrelle Inman is definitely making the most of his senior season. He had a promising freshman year in 2007 with 17 catches for 181 yards, but his production dwindled to only 8 catches for 80 yards last season as a junior. The way he handled his role on the team the past few seasons shows his high-maturity level; not very many guys would have had the patience to work through a rough junior campaign.

“It’s been quite an experience, an amazing transition from my freshman year to my senior year and I’ve enjoyed it all; I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Inman said. “But most of all it helped me learn that it takes a lot to be in a place where you can actually make plays because there are so many things you have to do. You have to focus, you have to be willing to, to have the desire to take your game to the next level.”

Every year has been a learning experience for Inman and he is determined to seize every opportunity given to him. He finds his new, increased role on the team to be a result of a serendipitous situation.

“The window was just open [this season],” he said. “When you see a window open, you want to climb through it.”

Keith Payne is all smiles this season as the “Payne Train.”

First Order of Business – Nicknames

In addition to ‘Marc-y Marc and the Funky Bunch’ (that one still hasn’t quite caught on yet), other members of the Virginia football team have acquired interesting nicknames this season. The most obvious of these is the “Payne Train.” Senior running back Keith Payne has become used to his moniker, which not only rhymes, but also is an accurate description of his physical running style.

“I guess the ‘Payne Train’ has been said a couple of times. It’s funny to hear my mom say it sometimes. Me and my dad both have the same name so sometimes when she’s trying to get my attention and I act like I don’t hear her, she’ll say that and I’ll know it’s me,” Payne said. “People have always said that. I don’t actually know where it came from.”

Aaron Taliaferro is still a little unsure about his new nickname. The junior has risen through the ranks and “returned from the dead” after a stint at the bottom of the depth chart in the 3-4 defense. He fits much better in the middle linebacker position of the 4-3, and is currently sharing snaps with last season’s starter Steve Greer . His career comeback has caused Jim Reid to dub him “Lazarus.”

“I don’t know, one day I walk into the locker room, well it was in meetings one day, he just came up and was like ‘Hey, Lazarus!’ I was surprised, you know,” Taliaferro said. “Next thing I know, my mom texts me and is like ‘Hey, you know you’ve got an article in the paper about your name being Lazarus.’ I was like, ‘Aw, man.’ I didn’t take it that seriously, but then I go to class and my teacher called me Lazarus. It’s kind of weird. It’s alright though.”

Some nicknames will follow you home to your mamma, and even to class it seems.

Worth Noting

  • WR Tim Smith may have caused a media frenzy when he posted on his Facebook page that he would be out for the season with an ankle injury. Mike London says that no decision has been made, and everyone is waiting on a second medical opinion.
  • According to a UVa news release, redshirt freshman running back Dominique Wallace has left the team because that “is what is best for me in regards to my academic interests.” Wallace will not seek to transfer and play football elsewhere according to his statement in the release.
  • The last time Virginia played VMI, the Cavaliers beat the Keydets 42-0 in Charlottesville on Nov. 2, 1991.
  • Mike London has said that the team will wear blue jerseys and blue pants this Saturday. Plan your game day attire accordingly.
  • VMI senior cornerback Michael Rainey-Wiles set a Big South conference record with 112 punt return yards on Sept. 4.

Worth Quoting

“The offensive line’s been blocking their butts off, so it’s been easier for us to get some running yards.” – Keith Payne

“Coach [Moore] is with us, but he barely says anything because we run our mouths so much that he just sits back there and rolls the tape.” – Dontrelle Inman on the wide receivers’ film sessions.

“I said I was in, but everyone else said I was out.” – Inman on reviewing his disputed catch against USC with his teammates.

“Well, I guess I’ve always kind of felt wherever I’ve been and whoever I’ve worked for in football is that what the game does, well, some people say that the game doesn’t build character. I would argue against that. What people can’t deny is that it brings character out at the very least. I happen to think it’s a great character builder. It’s selfless in nature. It demands sacrifice.” – coach Jim Reid

Bobby Smith is a tall drink of water that Coach Hourigan is still beefing up a little bit. We want to do something with Bobby, also. We’ll get him on some special teams plays. He’s a big, tall athlete. That’s one of the things we spent time figuring out is trying to find a role for a guy like Bobby Smith , even if it’s one or two things on the special teams. So we’re trying to find a spot for him.” – coach Mike London

“It’s one of those things, you have to try to develop a second quarterback or give him an experience to get in a game and play – because you have to make a decision if you go up by a lot or if you are on the other end of that and you’re down by a lot, what do you do? I think we’re going to have to make a decision here, whether it’s going to be Ross Metheny or Michael Rocco or Michael Strauss because you can’t get all those guys reps. This game may force us to make that type of decision as to who’s the next guy in the game.” – Coach London

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