Virginia Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall Weekly Monday Press Conference Notes: Ohio Week

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Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall was disappointed his team didn’t come out of Bloomington, Indiana, with a win last Saturday.

Virginia football returns home Saturday to face a 1-0 Ohio Bobcats squad coming off a bye week. With Hurricane Florence expected to dump significant rainfall throughout the state of Virginia – perhaps especially on Charlottesville – the Cavaliers may play in extremely wet conditions for the second consecutive week.

Indiana defeated Virginia, 20-16, in Bloomington this past Saturday, evening the Hoos’ 2018 season record at 1-1. Cavalier head coach Bronco Mendenhall took the podium on Monday (September 10) for his latest weekly press conference and reflected on the tough loss to the Hoosiers, who have beaten UVA two straight seasons.

Paraphrased as always, below are some notes from the press conference, and as soon as we get it we’ll add the full transcript courtesy of VirginiaSports.com.

Notes: Bronco Mendenhall’s Weekly Monday Press Conference – Ohio Week

INDIANA REFLECTION

– Mendenhall opened the presser expressing disappointment in last Saturday’s result, adding that he was “frustrated” that there were missed opportunities. He felt Indiana controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. UVA made enough plays, the defense didn’t allow many points and the special teams play improved from last year’s performance against IU, but there are some clear areas that need improvement.

– With 16 seconds remaining on the second-to-las play of the game, on 4th-and-5 from the Indiana 31, Bryce Perkins’ pass was intercepted by an Indiana player, whose ensuing return ran out the clock. Although a defensive pass interference was called, Virginia only had one untimed down from the IU 27 to try and win the game. Coach Mendenhall was asked if the official had any discretion to give UVA more time on the clock, allowing the Cavaliers to potentially have two plays left?

All Mendenhall was told was that it was a spot foul and they would have an untimed down.

– UVA’s third-year head coach underestimated some of the youth on the defensive line, which led to inconsistencies in the loss. Adjustments were made and implemented in the second half that helped remedy some of the issues. Virginia held IU scoreless in the second half.

Richard Burney is becoming a “bright spot” at defensive end. Eli Hanback is where he is supposed to be most of the time. But between Burney developing, sophomore Mandy Alonso developing, Aaron Faumui and Jordan Redmond, there was enough inconsistency up front to then have the linebackers be inconsistent off the front’s fits. Usually when there was inconsistency, the defensive line was off a gap, meaning the linebackers were off a gap, and the Indiana running backs found room to run that didn’t need to be there.

OFFENSE NOTES

– Would love to integrate junior Joe Reed and sophomore De’Vante Cross into the offense more. Part of the reason for their lack of involvement, Mendenhall says, is simple separation from defenders. “A lot of work” needs to be done on both of their parts. Position mastery needs to increase for both.

– The 25 carries from Perkins is about where he will be on average when you take into consideration scramble plays, Mendenhall said.

– Based on what he saw in the preseason, Mendenhall would have expected more production from true freshman wide receiver Tavares Kelly.

– Senior running back Jordan Ellis needs the ball more. His lack of touches/yards was one of the biggest differences in the game. Without establishing Ellis, more stress is put on Perkins and the receivers. The trickle-down effect makes the offense less consistent. Anytime Ellis is under 100 yards, it’s not enough (Ellis had 63 yards on 12 carries versus IU).

– Coach Mendenhall said there “was and still occasionally is lobbying” from the defensive line coaches to have sophomore starting left guard Chris Glaser on that side of the line because of his athleticism. There is no sign that Glaser will move anywhere any time soon, though. Mendenhall said the team is lucky to have the talented sophomore, who can play anywhere on the offensive line.

DEFENSE NOTES

– The Indiana game is a good indicator of where sophomore safety Joey Blount’s game is. Blount is similar to Quin Blanding in terms of having great instincts as a tackler (had 13 tackles versus Indiana), but he is still working on coverage. He is inexperienced and Mendenhall feels the “moments of panic” seen on some pass plays against Indiana were due to not enough experience in coverage on the major college level.

You don’t get to the ball as frequently as Blount does without terrific instincts.

– Graduate transfer defensive lineman Dylan Thompson update: He has finished acclimation practices. He did get a slight knee injury last week but practiced Thursday (his fifth practice overall as a Cavalier) and is expected to practice today. We’ll see what role he earns as of game time. As of today (September 10), Thompson does not have a number. Coach Mendenhall said Thompson has shown potential but still has to go through the earning process.

OHIO PREPARATION

– To prepare for what may be another game in a downpour, Mendenhall said the team will practice outside any chance they get.

– Mendenhall said the defensive line will need to be more consistent against an experienced Ohio offensive line.

– Mendenhall has a policy manual which details what the team will do in a variety of situations (weather delays, etc) on game day. Many scenarios go in. If a scenario could arise and the coaches have no experience with it, Mendenhall will call around for ideas.

– Last week’s scout team (nicknamed the “Mad Hatters”) players of the week were sophomore wide receiver/punt returner Chuck Davis and true freshman defensive back Joseph White. Mendenhall said the scout team experience is valuable for learning how to help the team, which he feels is a big part of development.

Transcript of Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s September 10 press conference, courtesy of Virginia Athletics

COACH MENDENHALL: Disappointed that we didn’t win the game and frustrated that there were missed opportunities. I think a lot of the tension comes from a coaching perspective as working hard to accelerate the program as fast as possible, and then seeing maybe inconsistencies in areas that still need growth.

I think the gap has been closed from our game against Indiana a year ago to this one. They were still the more physical team, offensive line and defensive line especially. So I thought they controlled the line of scrimmages, which really kind of held the context of the game.

We made enough plays and frequent enough to be in the game and didn’t allow many points. Our special teams improved. As it came down to it though, to go on the road in a Power 5 conference against an opponent I think is a solid opponent, there were still some deficiencies.

With that, left me disappointed and frustrated that we didn’t win the football game, but also some clear takeaways on things that need to improve.

I’ll take questions.

Q. Chris Glaser has become a Jack-of-all-trades on the offensive line. Was Chris someone who was on your recruiting radar when you were at BYU? And when he arrived here, did you immediately say, This guy is going to be an offensive lineman, or could he have played on either side of the ball?

COACH MENDENHALL: He was not on our radar, at least not on my radar. Coach Tujague might have had him on his radar, but he wasn’t on mine. He was highly recruited, and we felt lucky and privileged to get him.

There was and still occasionally lobbying amongst coaches to have him on the defensive line as well because he’s a good athlete. He gives us depth at up to three positions offensively, which we certainly need on our offensive line.

Yeah, really glad he’s here.

Q. You mentioned you be felt like Indiana dominated the line of scrimmage. Is there a way when you’re playing other teams with that size and athleticism to kind of remedy that in the future?

COACH MENDENHALL: There is, and interestingly enough, we thought after our game two years ago, especially defensively where they really struggled to run the football against us with the majority of their offensive line back, we underestimated some of the youth or relative inexperience that we had and inconsistencies. So part of that is our own evaluation of our players.

And then there is usually complements, meaning within the game plan there are movements or there are things that we really didn’t think were necessary but were implemented in the second half, which had a lot to do with them not scoring.

But they weren’t practiced during the week; they were actually implemented during the game.

Q. Guys like Joe Reed, Devante Cross haven’t been that, I guess used that much in the offense. Is that because of the factor of the rain?

COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, we would love them to be integrated more, but simple separation from defenders, getting open more frequently to where they can be targeted more. There is still a lot of work that has to be done on both their parts to create enough separation for the ball to get to them.

So position mastery is still something that both need to increase.

Q. What do you make of the of 25 rushing attempts for Bryce? Is that too much or…

COACH MENDENHALL: I think it’s about where that’s going to be when you put scrambles in, which there is always going to be some of those based on protection holding or not holding, as well as designed runs. I think that’s about where we’re going to be.

He’s doing a good job on not taking clean shots, not taking violent hits and sliding and getting down, as well as when he has open spaces, taking it.

So fingers crossed at this point.

Q. When you think about — and obviously every team will do it differently — anticipating whether or not a team will kick to Joe, how does that factor into your game plan, your goals, your benchmarks?

COACH MENDENHALL: It really depends — really influences who we put at the off returner. We have had PK [Kier] as an off returner. We also have Olamide [Zaccheaus] as an off returner.

So based on their confidence level or what we anticipate their confidence level will be, kicking to Joe has a lot to do with who we put to complement him back there.

It’s been interesting — and you might have a different opinion after the different games you’ve watched — I have not seen the kickoff rule affect college football at all yet this year. I haven’t seen teams purposely take fair catches or fair catching the football to take it on the 25. I think almost every team believes they can return it past that, and so I haven’t seen it affect a game yet.

And so we weren’t sure they would kick it to Joe, but doesn’t seem like they’re afraid to right now.

Q. In your career when you’re getting ready to face a guy who’s a noted returner, how hard is it or does it matter that you take ego out of it? How hard is it to not say, I’m a good coach; I’ve got good players; they can stop this guy?

COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, I think it’s difficult, maybe not from the ego perspective of the coach, but possibly the message it sends to your players.

Sometimes, especially early, you’re working to build their confidence and still assess where we are as a football team. Sometimes to just say, We’re not kicking, it can work against the mindset of the team. What, coach does think we’re not capable and that kind of thing. A little bit tricky to manage.

Q. Coach, Joey Blount, 13 tackles on Saturday. Obviously developed in that area. He admitted a couple times he panicked in coverage. Where is his development in that area?

COACH MENDENHALL: And I think that game shows exactly where he is. He’s really productive. He’s one of our best tacklers on the football team. He was the best special teams player last year on our team mostly because of his tackling. Very instinctive but inexperienced.

And so those moments of panic where there was pass interferences or the ball caught, not quite enough volume, not quite enough seasoning, not quite enough repetition yet just to ‘Oh, this is another play I’m going to make on the ball’. It was, Hey, here is the ball; here I am. There haven’t been enough of those situation yet for him to stay clean.

But in terms of the instinct and the tackling, you don’t get to the ball that frequently without those instincts, which are very close to what Quinn was like. Quinn had an amazing ability to diagnose, but his study was excellent. He was a really quick processor. Joey is instinctually similar to that in a tackling capacity. He’s just working on the coverage part.

Q. You mentioned the physicality, but could you assess the overall play of your defensive line and how that affected the rest of the defense Saturday?

COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, inconsistent. So Richard Burney is becoming a bright spot. He’s improving and improving rapidly. Eli was where he was supposed to be when he was supposed to be there the majority of the time.

Between Burney developing, Mandy developing, Jordan Redmond and Aaron Faumui, there was enough inconsistencies up front to then have the backers be inconsistent off the front’s fits, which usually meant there was one gap to be found. The runningback, with a little bit deeper set was finding that. And the inconsistencies, when I say gap integrity, that just means we could be one gap off, and they found that gap frequently. That usually was because the defensive line was off a gap, which meant the backers were off a gap, which then led to yardage.

Plenty of that didn’t have to be there.

Q. Another question on Chris [Glaser]. He is one of several Polynesian players on the team. When you came here with your staff, did you think you would be able to make inroads in that group in recruiting the way you have?

COACH MENDENHALL: You know, we really didn’t anticipate, nor was it a point of emphasis. We were surprised that there was a willingness based on what we had done at BYU and existing relationships for coaches in Hawaii and families to want their sons to play for us. We thought it was too far as a matter of fact.

But what we found is after some visits, even with players not coming, the word was back that it’s an amazing place. They already knew about our staff. What we’re finding is for the right player and the fight fit, this could be a really good place.

So that’s how it’s starting.

Q. I don’t know if you know this or not, but there is a hurricane coming this direction. No water in Richmond right now. How will you guys do anything differently this week preparing for what looks to at least at this point to be another washout kind of game for you? Will you do anything differently, and does that change your preparation at all this week?

COACH MENDENHALL: We’ll just practice outside every chance we get. We have been doing that consistently offensively. So any time there is inclement weather our defense practices inside and our offense practices outside for the ball handling, which I think it affects that side of the ball more.

And, man, we’ve already had a delay, and now just a kind of torrential downpour-ish type game, so that should help prepare us as well. We’ve got two under our belt already. Not to make light of it nor the potential damage that can come. We’ll just be outside in the elements again.

Q. You mentioned the inconsistencies on the defensive line and the young guys there. Any update on Dylan?

COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, Dylan has finished his acclimation practices. He did receive or get a slight knee injury last week. I think I mentioned that to this group or some group last week.

But he did finish practicing with us on Thursday. He’ll be back at practice again working hard this week, and we’ll see what role he earns and if he’s ready to possibly get game time.

Q. Does he have a number?

COACH MENDENHALL: He does not have a number.

Q. Do you anticipate using him in this game or too soon to say?

COACH MENDENHALL: Well, yeah, it’s a step-by-step process, right? You need a jersey to play. So he’s earning, and, again, he’s finished five practices is all. He has potential and he has capability otherwise we wouldn’t have brought him, and he’s already shown that.

It’s also something that, as you know, I like the earning process, and so I wish I could anticipate or say how long it’s going to take, but we’ll see.

Q. Kind of back to the weather. Do you come up with a Plan A and Plan B, one if it materializes and one if it doesn’t, or an expanded playbook where you have a lot more things in there?

COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, I think I have alluded to it before, so I’ve kept the policy manual that, man, I update in real time every day any time there are changes in any situation that comes up. So in there, there is cancellation, there is delay, there is two hours in the locker room, there is if it rains for two days now right when you get off to the plane to playing on the road to a stadium that has 10,000 people.

So every one of those scenarios goes in, and then you try to match it and predict as best as possible and use that plan going ahead. But, yeah, the answers is yes. We have each one of those circumstances that can be anticipated. If we have experience as a staff, we use that. If we don’t, I call around to see what other people have done and we design plans the best way possible.

Q. On the final drive on the play on which there was pass interference on Hasise, the foul occurred with eight our nine seconds on the clock. They effectively ran out the clock on the interception return after the foul. Does the official have any discretion on what to reset the clock to? It would seem like it should go back to when the foul occurred, which might’ve given you go two plays in that situation.

COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, it would seem like that.

Q. Is that just the rule?

COACH MENDENHALL: All I know is we were told it was a spot foul and we have one untimed down. That was what I was told.

Q. Back to your playbook thing for these different contingencies, I think you mentioned to us maybe last week that you had never dealt with a two- or three-hour delay and kind of how to spend that time. What’s in your manual now for how to spend that time?

COACH MENDENHALL: (Laughter.) Yeah, that’s a good one. So the simple reference point is like you’re at the hotel taking off your shoulder pads and taking off your gear. And then once we get the okay of what the time frame might be, then starting that process all over again as if we’re now recreating, right? Because there is oscillation within energy, and we work to manage that as best as possible.

We have learned there are triggers to that, and simply by taking equipment off there is a natural decline in that energy and in the urgency, and by then rebuilding and putting it back on.

Yeah, we’re very clear on the marks what time that needs to happen to give us enough time. Yeah, I studied it had after we went through it.

Q. Going back to the defensive line, you’re going to gave another veteran offensive line this week in Ohio. What do you need to see differently from that group this week to have success in that area?

COACH MENDENHALL: It’s the exact same thing as our team: Consistency, and consistency with an assertive and confident mindset. That comes through repetition and repetition and repetition. In fact, the research calls it mind boggling, almost to where you’re numb. We’re certainly not there yet.

We just need more and more and more and more of playing the game at the right level and the right precision to where it’s consist and holds consistently in the critical moments.

Inconsistency was really our downfall, again, not by points given our yielded, but simply by our opponent being able to hold onto the ball and affect the clock.

Q. They played two quarterbacks in the opener. One for a quarter and then benched him. Is there a difference between those two guys? What do you see there and anticipate in your game?

COACH MENDENHALL: Really similar. Both quarterbacks are really similar. Offense is very capable. They score a lot of points. As you watch, the system is really well-established. Frank Solich serves on the board of trustees, as do I, and so I’ve gotten to know him. He’s a really good coach. Very good offensive mind.

And it shows. I think they do a nice job.

Q. My second question was how well do you know Frank. Have you coached against him at any point?

COACH MENDENHALL: I haven’t, but we’ve served on the board for — well, he’s been on it the entire time that I’ve been on. There is Cutcliffe and Fitzgerald, and he kind of usually sits one chair away. We’re are in talking distance frequently.

Q. Just to follow up you were talking about developing consistency. Is that something that can be developed in practice or does it have to come in games?

COACH MENDENHALL: Man, I would love to say that it can be developed in practice, which I think it can to a point. Until you play and until you play different opponents in different circumstances there are missing pieces. There is the code to be cracked a master coach, right?

Any coach I think is working to create practice at a level where the game looks like that. We put a lot of emphasis on the possible running quarterback, and certainly didn’t anticipate it to be maybe as rain laden as it was, which meant pretty much ground game, ground game, ground game with some 50/50 balls. Which then, you know, then we would take every practice rep possible and shift it in this light if we kind of knew and predicted, but we needed every rep we could get.

Sometimes we’re closer to the mark in preparing our team for the circumstances and opponent than others. It’s never gone exactly as I expected, but, yes, practice can influence. I haven’t yet found the complete gap closer in a practice format to where it looks the exact same in a game yet.

Q. When there is a play where you may or may not disagree, like at the end of the Indiana game, do you like reach out to the Big 10, the ACC? What’s the process after that?

COACH MENDENHALL: The process — so we’re able to — so Dennis Hennigan is head of officials for the ACC. There is a process where we’re able to submit any plays we think were missed or if we have a play in question. So we target that play, we send it in, and what they do is make an assessment.

He’s usually really good and in a timely way gets back to us and says, Yes, I agree with the play as called, or no I don’t agree. This is what would happen. The officials are then evaluated based on the volume of those calls that come in. So they keep track of what crew it was, what the calls were.

So for instance on a crew, if there is significant complaints about pass interference and what reaches a certain level, then possibly that part of that crew gets marked down. It could be offensive holding or whatever it is. Anyway, so that changes.

Then there are significant changes in who the officials are per year based on their ratings within that process. So we do that. Jason Beck heads that process up for us. Our offensive coaches and our defensive coaches target plays, as do I. We send them in. It never affects the outcome of the game, but sometimes it makes you feel better, especially if you win. Sometimes not so good if you lose and there was a critical play.

And I’m not saying that play or what happened changed the game. I’m not saying that. But there is never a reversal, right? There is just I agree or don’t agree.

Q. Did they get back to you?

COACH MENDENHALL: Won’t happen probably until about Wednesday is what it usually takes.

Q. A little off the beaten path, but last week Burney mentioned to do that the defensive calls the offensive scout team the Mad Hatters. Any idea where that name came from?

COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah. So I have naming rights on that for this year. When Coach Ruffin, Coach McNeill was with us, he had a tradition of calling his players that were assimilating the offense or defense of the week Victory Teams, and so we used that for a while.

But if you’ve watched us practice or seen any of it, they’re not the pennies you wear anymore, they’re these stretch-over hats. When we pull them over they’re the color of our opponent. And you hear frequently, ‘Put on the hats’, and so we like the idea as a developmental program of a mindset, and there is a scoring system for them to build a culture where — and we think you have to be a little bit angry that you’re not playing and a little bit of a chip on your shoulder that you have something to prove.

So then that led to the Alice in Wonderland. There is a sticker that the scout Team/Victory Team and now Mad Hatters get based on how their side performs.

For instance, the offensive Mad Hatter group, the better the defense performs the more awards they get. So they’re kind of tied to the preparation and output of their partner, who they’re married to, so to speak.

Q. Is there any experience or person from your past that influenced the importance you put on that scout team group?

COACH MENDENHALL: Well, the way I frame it to our team is without going through that process, I think there is a fundamental step missed in their development. Most recruits and most young people want to come in and play their first year. Most of us, right, it’s kind of about us. When you’re in that role it’s really about serving and helping your team, which I think is kind of a fundamental part of development.

And so the way I framed it and told my team is I actually see it is as a disadvantage for anyone that skips that step. The best players that I’ve coached have all gone through it. I’m talking now about the quarterbacks, the running backs, the offensive lineman who over my head coaching career ended up becoming the most diligent and the best performers. I recognized them first in that role.

Unfortunately, the ones that played earliest and most kind of ended up being a little bit entitled, and there usually comes some set point later that had to happen to reground them because they didn’t go through that process.

Q. Can you give me some examples?

COACH MENDENHALL: Well, one of the first was a running back who was the all-time leading rusher for a while at BYU named Curtis Brown. He was essential to that process. Max Hall was one of our quarterbacks there who was outstanding.

Chuck Davis is currently on our team, and he was the Hatter of the week this past week on the offensive side. The defensive Hatter of the week was Joe White. Did a really nice job in the secondary.

So it’s a big deal, and there are awards in our locker room for that, just like special teams player of the week, et cetera.

Q. Obviously different circumstances on this past Saturday. Jordan Ellis, I think — I don’t know that he got as many carries — he didn’t get many carries early. Was it the weather? How much would you like to get him the ball?

COACH MENDENHALL: He needs it more. It was one of the biggest differences in the game, and to me one of the biggest differences in the outcome. Without establishing Jordan and having that presence of getting yards when we gave it to him, it puts stress instantly on Bryce, which then moved to other positions, which made us less consistent. We need more touches and a bigger presence.

Q. Have an ideal number out there?

COACH MENDENHALL: I don’t, but ideal yards. Any time he’s under 100, not enough.

Q. On your depth chart, RJ Proctor is still not there. Definitely played on Saturday. How close is he to 100%, and where do you see his place now going into game week?

COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, Coach Tujague would be better to answer that. He did play kind of testing the waters, but I can’t speak enough in terms of knowing exactly where he graded and exactly how that came game out.

I haven’t talked to Kelly yet on how and if there was any reinjury yet. Have to leave that one for Garrett.

Q. I know the weather was probably a factor on Saturday, but based on what he did in training camp, had you hoped that Tavares Kelly would’ve had a larger role in the offense to this point?

COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, from what I saw in training camp I would’ve expected more production through two games than what’s happened so far. We’re still looking for that, to find the right niche, the right touches, the right role, the right usage, because capability was shown in training camp.

So, yeah, still haven’t dialed that in quite tight enough yet.

Q. I saw the story about you guys also using the mouth guards, the concussion-proof mouth guards.

COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah.

Q. Do you know much about them? What can you share about that?

COACH MENDENHALL: I care a lot about player safety, and I think over my career — and maybe this is normal for any head coach — maybe as a young assistant it was just kind of less concerned for the individual and more driving the culture and just more and harder and better.

The impact now when I see someone with a concussion or an ACL or a labrum tear in the shoulder, just over time it bothers me more, hurts me more, and is more lasting and I don’t like it.

And so, yeah, anything I can do to partner to get more information and data to make the game better, which part of better is safer, then we’re willing to do.

Q. Have you had to pull people out so far because of feedback from those particular…

COACH MENDENHALL: No, and I don’t know enough about it at this point to know if that data and if those readings are in real time. Meaning I think this is data collection, which is then going to determine framework for inclusion or exclusion in the future.

Q. And they’re not the providing feedback?

SPEAKER: Part of what they’re studying is long-term data, so they haven’t got back to us yet.

COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah. It’s more collection than application at this point.

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