Bronco Mendenhall’s Weekly Monday Press Conference Notes: Florida State Showdown Is Here

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Bronco Mendenhall answers questions following the William & Mary win last Friday night.

Bronco Mendenhall, head coach of the Associated Press no. 25-ranked University of Virginia football program, addressed the media on Monday (September 9) for his weekly press conference. Mendenhall and his team are preparing to host the Florida State Seminoles (1-1) in Charlottesville on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

UVA is looking to remain unbeaten after opening the season with a road victory over Pittsburgh and taking care of William & Mary at home last Friday night. For FSU, Saturday’s contest will be its first Atlantic Coast Conference tilt and its first road game in the 2019 season. The Seminoles opened the season with a 36-31 loss to Boise State before escaping with a 1-point overtime win over Louisiana-Monroe this past Saturday. Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee was the setting for both games.

Paraphrased as always, here is the latest from Coach Mendenhall ahead of Virginia’s next regular season matchup.

Notes From Bronco Mendenhall’s Weekly Monday Press Conference Notes – Florida State Week

FSU Prep

– Having a short turnaround like Virginia had for William & Mary is/was a challenge. However, having an extra day to prepare and recover for Florida State has been helpful.

– “Dynamic” and “explosive” are words Coach Mendenhall used to describe Florida State. The Seminole offense, which has racked up 927 yards of offense and 76 points through two games, is capable of putting a lot of points on the board and doing so quickly.

– Boise State tallied 621 yards versus the ‘Noles while Louisiana-Monroe totaled 419 yards. Asked about what issues the Florida State defense may be battling, Coach Mendenhall didn’t get specific but did mention that he believes less is more for a defense. What does he mean by that? Florida State operates a fast-paced offensive attack designed to create a larger volume of plays. While this could help the offense, it could also hurt the defense as it sees a larger number of plays as well.

Mendenhall added that the Florida State defense is capable and skilled.

– Florida State has an exceptional running back in Cam Akers – No. 3 rushed for 116 yards vs. Boise State and 193 yards vs. ULM – and a fleet of wide receivers who can score on any given play from anywhere on the field. The Seminoles are talented enough at every position to put up a lot of points.

All About The Hoos

– Coach Mendenhall was once again complimentary about the student turnout for Friday night’s win over William & Mary. He hopes Friday’s turnout is just the beginning of a more consistent stronger turnout from Virginia fans in general.

– There has not been much about his team that has surprised Coach Mendenhall. One of the things the staff has done well so far is predicting and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the team and game-planning for the opponent.

– Coach Mendenhall believes he has a more consistent, experienced and mature football team.

Mendenhall said Bryce Perkins’ improvisation is a key to the Virginia offense being effective. ~ Photo by Kris Wright

– Quarterback Bryce Perkins tossed two interceptions and could easily have had two more if it were not for an outstanding breakup by receiver Terrell Chatman and a drop by the William & Mary secondary.

Before the first interception by Tribe safety Miles Hayes in the second quarter, Perkins had an NCAA-leading 145 passes without throwing an interception. At this point, Coach Mendenhall sees the interceptions as an outlier instead of something to be concerned about.

– Perkins is playing with a brace on his knee and is “not quite 100 percent,” Mendenhall acknowledged.

– Bryce Perkins making Bryce Perkins plays – that is, creating and improvising and going off script – is important to a successful Virginia offense.

– The offensive line improved from week 1 to week 2, Mendenhall thinks. The unit allowed no sacks versus William & Mary and rushing yards per carry increased from 3.9 versus Pitt to 6.2 against William & Mary. While the offensive line is not a unit that the team can ride at this point – the running backs are playing at a higher level than the offensive front, Mendenhall notes – they have taken steps forward. Quarterback protection and run-blocking consistency are vital for the success of the program.

– Mendenhall believed Cavalier true freshman Mike Hollins was the best running back in coming out of Louisiana in last year’s class. Seeing Hollins and quarterback Brennan Armstrong on the field together in the second half of last week’s game was exciting for Mendenhall, who liked the glimpse of the future of UVA football.

– How does Mendenhall determine who gets to come back for a fifth year? The easiest factor is commitment level and being willing to do anything for the team, which Mendenhall says is the essence of team sport. Running back Chris Sharp and linebacker Reed Kellam are examples. They will do anything for the team and it’s sincere and authentic and captures the hearts and minds of their teammates. When there are young people who are that committed, Mendenhall believes that captures the soul of the program.

Mendenhall praised Joe Reed for his authentic nature, adding that the senior wide receiver is his sons’ favorite player. ~ Photo by Kris Wright

– There are no better examples for UVA football than receiver Joe Reed and linebacker Jordan Mack. The two players are “completely UVA” according to their head coach, who credited Mike London for recruiting them. In addition to being good football players, they are excellent students and people.

Reed is Mendenhall’s sons’ favorite player. Bronco praised the Charlotte Court House (VA) native for how comfortable he is in his own skin. Reed’s identity and goals are very clear, which is a great thing for young people to see. Jordan Mack is the same way.

– Tight end Tanner Cowley, who has three catches for 33 yards in the first two games of 2019, has developed a consistency that comes along with being coached directly by Robert Anae, who Mendenhall says is “pretty demanding.” Evan Butts, last year’s starter at tight end, was example of an Anae-produced player in terms of his consistency, and now Cowley is categorized the same way.

Redshirt freshman tight end Grant Misch, who dons no. 85, is on the same track but has a more blocking-oriented role at this point. Moving Misch from defense to offense has been a “really good move” for the team.

– Redshirt junior De’Vante Cross has played quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback and safety at Virginia. He appears to have finally found a home at free safety, where he was moved to toward the end of the last season. Cross was the best performing safety on the team against William & Mary according to Mendenhall.

– Virginia has only six penalties in its first two games. Mendenhall has brought in extra officials to practice consistently to emphasize playing clean football. So far, the move has yielded strong results.

Transcript: Bronco Mendenhall’s September 9 Press Conference (Courtesy of Virginia Media Relations)

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Week No. 3. Anxious to be back in ACC play. Especially glad to be home again. When you play a Friday night game there are advantages and disadvantages, so the short week is very difficult prior to playing. Hopefully you can execute and perform well enough to accomplish your goals.

The upside is that if that does happen, you can gain a slight advantage on your week in managing that by using Saturday for the next opponent and for recovery. So Mondays are usually, and still are, an intense and full work day, the longest of the week. Having Saturday has helped not only for our preparation, but for player recovery and training.

So, yeah, looking forward to the next game.

Q. Traditionally Florida State has had a roster with lots of big, fast athletic guys. Is that still the case?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, that’s a great description. They’re dynamic and explosive and capable of putting a lot of points on the board and doing it really quickly.

So I think your description is still accurate.

Q. Building on that, Florida State has been down the last couple seasons. I think they still have the reputation as one of college football’s big boys. Does that add any challenges to preparing for them or make it easier to get the guys up for that game?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I’m not sure it’s been down a couple seasons. I think that last year in our coaching transition, that’s probably what you would characterize as down.

If Boise State is 18th or 17th or 20th best team, I’m not sure how when you lose to a team like that that all of a sudden means that you’re down, so I don’t see anything on film that says they’re down.

Q. How would you evaluate the safety play in the back end so far? And [Brenton] Nelson and [Joey] Blount, what do you like about them and whoever else has been working in there?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: In game one I thought our safety play was very strong. In game two, not as strong as game one. So, I would say that it’s so far been good, not great, with flashes of both it being great and good.

Q. And how important are those spots in your scheme and the way you play defense?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: They’re critical. The way we use our safeties, they’re not only necessary for coverage both man and zone, but they have to be integrated in the run front and make tackles when called upon to do that. That’s the way we keep points down.

So all those things are — we ask them to do a lot. They aren’t easy positions to play neither physically nor mentally. Usually how they play determines the points allowed.

Q. Obviously getting in the top 25 means you’re winning, which is a good thing. What other advantages are there in terms of getting the UVA name out there or recruiting?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think it’s just — my wife was joking that probably my favorite thing to say is, the polls mean nothing until about week eight. Until then, everyone is just guessing. I think the same thing. Marketing is powerful. I think in the entertainment business as soon as you put a number by a team viewership has a chance to go up.

So I think the entertainment value is increased as soon as there are numbers in rankings. My hope is that it’s an accurate ranking and it reflects three years and two games worth of work. That’s probably why the rankings are not accurate at the beginning, because they’re traditionally based on who has been good in the past, when no one knows how anyone is that year. They just default to how they’ve been before.

If that’s the case, what it would mean is we’re starting to build a reputation that, yeah, we’re capable and worth considering, especially if you start the season strong.

After saying all that, it’s really just interference and we’ll focus on the game.

Q. We asked a lot of questions going into the opener about the ACC opponent right off the bat. Now that you are few weeks in, what do you know about your team that maybe you would’ve liked to know week one or maybe that surprised you?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Not much has surprised me. Yet. And I have to say yet because we’re only two games in. The amount of football we played from the post-season last year — I’m talking about practice before our last game and then how much we played in the spring and fall — one of the things we’ve done really well to this point through the season, only two games in, is predicting and assessing where our strengths and weaknesses have been and are, and game planning appropriately while we assessed our opponents accurately.

So far we’ve been on pointe with our assessment and the assessment of our opponents, but a lot more work to do. So I think we’re a more consistent, experienced, mature football team is what I think, with an experienced quarterback who made some a-characteristic turnovers the last game with a veteran defense that still appears to be difficult to score on.

Those two things give you a chance to play well early in the season, which is kind of where we are.

Q. Bryce [Perkins], the turnovers, that was not a problem last year or a red flag. What did you see and is it a concern going forward or was it an aberration?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: I believe facts are our friends and I love statistics. I think he had the longest streak in the country of not throwing an interception, so if that’s the case, I think you would view it is an aberration rather than something I’m worried about.

Both settings were pretty consistent scrambling and forcing throws and trying to do more than what the play allowed. So I’ll rely on the 140-something attempts he had before those than just the last couple.

Q. You guys have made some changes on the offensive line. We talked about it in Pittsburgh. That’s a steady competition. Through two games, where do you feel like the line is? What do you need to see from that group moving forward?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think we improved in week two. No sacks allowed. The rushing yardage was up in terms of yards per carry. I would say consistency not to the point yet where we can ride that group to take over a game. That’s what I would love to do. Our running backs I think are playing well, and Wayne [Taulapapa] and PK [Kier] and Mike Hollins’ last game in Wayne’s absence, so our running backs are playing at a higher level than our offensive front.

However, our front did take steps forward. It is becoming clearer what they can and will do effectively. That’s going to have to continue for us to have ACC success, not only in protecting the quarterback, but run blocking consistency. To do well and win Championships, there has to be times where even if the opponent knows you’re going to run it you still have to be able to run it. Even if they know you’re going to throw it, you still have to be able to protect.

So we just have to keep relying more and more on the building of that unit. We’re doing so with elements in practice as well now that we’re clearer of what that group might look like.

Q. Going back to Bryce Perkins, where he is physically? I know he has a brace on his knee and doesn’t look like he’s 100%.

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I think you just said it. Where he is physically is he has a brace on his knee and he’s not quite 100%. I don’t know how to say it any better than that.

Q. Bryce seems to be a popular topic. How do you try to manage his exposure? It seemed like in the William & Mary game he — I kind of assumed he wouldn’t run much, but then seems like sometimes instinct just has him off and running.

BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s part of our design for him regardless of opponent, and we think that it’s essential that he does run, not only in designed runs, but creative and scramble runs, to have us be successful as a team.

That’s one of the things that makes him and us difficult to stop when that’s going well. So there are traditional runs and passes and traditional plays, and then there is just Bryce. I’m for just Bryce plays.

Yeah, I’m not working to limit those and really not working to limit the exposure. When he’s promoted and encouraged to when he sees to do and not overanalyze, look through his progression, and if he sees something, then to take it. I want him to be confident, I want him to be assertive, and I want him to be fast thinking and aggressive. Part of that is through plays that maybe are off script. From the defensive side, that is really hard to handle. There is no design to stop that. If you do design for it, it takes away from something else.

Yeah, I encourage it, and I’m just philosophically okay with living with the risk knowing what it’s like to try to defend it. I would say in comparison, the best one — I think Lamar Jackson, when he was at Louisville, man, there were times he was getting sacked so much, but then he would pull it down and run and score on a 50-yard play. Just very difficult to scheme, to manage, and to stop.

Yeah, I’m for it.

Q. A player who redshirts during his first four years is not automatically invited back for a fifth year. What is the determining factor for you when it’s a player who doesn’t necessarily have a huge on-field role like a Chris Sharp or a Reed Kellam?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: I would say the easiest thing is commitment level. There are players and people that are exemplary in what they are willing to do to help their team and the influence they have on their team through acts of – for lack of a better term – water carrying. They just will do anything for the team.

They know it; the team knows it. It’s sincere and authentic and absolutely captivates the hearts and minds of the team and their program. It’s the essence of team sport. There are a number of examples – you just named two of them – that the team wouldn’t be as good without the presence of those two players.

So I think that’s a fairly objective thing or subjective thing that I’m calculating, but I reserve the right to make that decision. When there are young people that committed regardless of production, yeah, it captures the soul and the culture of a program.

I think it speaks volumes to a future employer and what they might be able to add besides what their competency is. How they make everyone else better. I think that’s a tangible thing.

Q. De’Vante Cross, early in his career you had needs elsewhere. Did you guys see anything early out of him that made you feel comfortable putting him in as many roles as he has played?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: What we saw early was just a dynamic athlete. Our needs were changing so frequently, and at the beginning of this program, yeah, we put a lot of pressure on him. There weren’t many great athletes in the program that didn’t already have a significant role.

De’Vante is very skilled. He didn’t have a great role, meaning already established, I should say, and so he was a journeyman, because we just needed the next-best player to play somewhere, whether it be corner, quarterback, receiver or defensive back.

And I’m happy for him especially that we’ve been able to find a place to just allow him to put up roots and now start to thrive. I thought he was the best performing safety in last week’s game. I’m also happy for us that he is now able to contribute at a level for the team that maybe matches what his potential has been all along, but the program didn’t allow him to have roots anywhere.

Q. On De’Vante Cross

BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think just maturity. I think our program has helped him mature in a manner where who he’s been surrounded by, especially in the secondary room and how to prepare and what that takes and what that looks like in managing all the other aspects of his life to where he can be successful in Division I football, as well as having a place to be successful from, there is just a clearer identity for him not only in what position he plays, but how he’s going to go about it.

That’s allowed us to coach him at a higher level, I think.

Q. What do you like about Mike Hollins’ game, and did you guys have a lot of recruiting connections to Louisiana prior to signing him?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Ricky Brumfield is our connection to Louisiana, and we have a personnel staff member named Jordan Arcement who is also from Louisiana. Those two, if you look at our players that are coming or have come from Louisiana recently, you can trace them to those two coaches or that one coach and one personnel member.

They’re excellent recruiters. They know the state really well. They have amazing relationships. I thought Mike Hollins was the best running back in the state of Louisiana last year. I think he’s physical, he’s tough, and dynamic.

I continue to push our offensive staff to get him ready as fast as possible with Wayne and PK just because of the physical and dynamic and presence that he gives us when he runs the ball. I think he’s really excited. When I saw he and Brennan Armstrong in at the same time, I was smiling as a quick glimpse of what the future might look like.

Q. Talking about kids from Louisiana, what is the backstory on [Terrell] Chatman? When did you know that you could possibly get him?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: I don’t remember the exact date of when I knew. The back story was at the end of last year, again, we believed we were effective and efficient offensively but not dynamic enough. Other than Bryce we didn’t of many dynamic things happening. Olamide [Zaccheaus] was second most dynamic I would say. And I’m talking about down-the-field throws and stretch players consistently; vertical threats. So, we were looking specifically for one of those players.

I’m not sure how it first started. Might have been from Bryce when he saw that Chatman put his name in the portal, and then it was just three validations I think I mentioned after the game. Former graduate assistant of mine who is the defensive coordinator at Arizona State told me about him, and then Griz [Shawn Griswold], our strength coach, told me about him. Then Bryce told me about him. Those three people are all people that I trust. They had a similar message, and we had a need that appeared that would not only be good for him but for us.

So that’s how that worked.

Q. I know you guys work ahead for the first three or four opponents scouting-wise. Has Florida State been what you expected, and particularly defensively what is not working there for them?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, yes, they have. They’re similar, and doesn’t always match the work that we do prior to the season, and then when the season starts that doesn’t always match. In this case our work has been relevant and fairly accurate, not perfectly accurate.

In terms of what has worked or what hasn’t worked, there is a unique style when you go that fast on offense. There is a complementary toll that that takes on your entire team, and so every coach just has to decide what kind of — what brand of football they want to play. The more plays the defense plays, the harder it is to limit points. The faster an offense goes, they usually have a great chance to score more points.

But in terms of time of possession or the effect it might have on your defense, that sometimes works the other way just by volume of plays. So, I’m not going to say what’s not working because I think they’re capable and skilled, and, man, really talented defensively.

But I’ve been in systems that require you play a lot of plays and systems that don’t require you to play a lot plays. From a defensive coach’s perspective, less is more.

Q. I think Tanner Cowley has caught the ball every time he’s been targeted this season. Where do you think that position is with him and how is how is [Grant] Misch coming along as his backup?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: First of all, regarding Tanner, there is a consistency and a seasoning that happens when you’re under the direct tutelage of Robert [Anae]. He’s demanding. There is a maturity that’s heightened pretty quickly to where a player in that room is usually prepared beyond what like the stage is necessary for because of just the demand. So Evan Butts was a good example of that, and Cowley spent a year kind of watching in tutelage there. He looks the same. He catches it when you throw it to him and makes critical catches in critical times. If you throw it to him, kind of a terms we used from last for Evan Butts, he’s always open. Just means he’ll catch it if you throw it to him.

Olamide benefitted from that as well, of three years of development. Grant Misch is on the same track. His role has been more blocking oriented but integral already, and the secondary role would be like Tanner was to Evan in terms of catching. That’s where Grant is moving.

So his role has been more blocking oriented and pass catching is developing. We really like what we see there, and it’s been a really good move.

Q. Writing a feature on Joe [Reed] and Jordan Mack. As you look back at the last few years, how integral have they been in the transformation of the program and pillars that you could help build on?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: There is no better pillars that we could build on. They are UVA. They’re excellent students. Joe is already graduated. They’re excellent people. Their life-styles are clean and wholesome and positive in terms of influence on others around them, no matter what the setting is.

They influence our team in a manner that says what we’re looking for at UVA: great people and great students and great players; they are that. They’re completely committed to what we’re trying to accomplish, and I think proud of what we’re accomplishing. They have never batted an eye at the work capacity they’re expected to have. There is always a smile on their face with just a positive outlook.

To credit Coach [Mike] London and his staff for finding both of them. They’re amazing people. I really like being around both of them every day. I would say Joe Reed is probably my kids’ favorite player. They love just who he is. The jersey selection I think he had a fishing hook on his hat and he’s driving a pickup truck and he’s very comfortable in his own skin. It’s a great message for a lot of young people that his identity and his goals, he’s very clear about that in a positive way. He has a great self-identity and self-concept.

And Jordan Mack the same.

Q. Talk a little bit about the speed or at least the tempo that Florida State plays with. Are you guys in a better position to handle that with your depth this year defensively, or how did you guys stack up against that?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, we’re becoming more equipped. Defensive line certainly we’re better. Inside linebacker certainly better. Almost all positions certainly better. And then just experience we’re better. When I mention the speed and tempo versus Florida State, I think you have to put it in two different categories. It’s the number of plays they run and how fast they run them, but their skill players in particular from an exceptional running back to a fleet of receivers that on any given play they can go the whole way.

The number of balls that go down field, I’m not sure I’ve seen as many in teams I’ve prepared for. And so, they’re certainly talented enough at every position. Well, you’ve already seen the points they put up. That’s not an accident. So, tempo and speed apply to not only the rate of plays but who is out there running the plays.

Q. You mentioned a few times this is your maturing football team. Only six penalties through two games. Is that another example of that?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I sure hope so. We think we’re improved and improving. We’re trying very hard to eliminate things that get in our own way. We think we’re perfectly designed for the results we get. We emphasized again and through our pocketbook bringing extra officials to every practice. To this point, it appears that that design element has manifest on the field and yield for that emphasis.

I hope it holds. It’s harder in season for that to keep going with practicing early in the morning because of officials’ schedules. That’s one of the things we targeted early, especially having to go to Pitt and knowing the physical and combative nature of that place we would have to be ready. It’s yielded strong dividends so far.

Q. You had a pretty strong turnout for your home opener. Curious, Florida State you would think is a bigger draw; ACC game. What are you anticipating? Do you now see progress that we are talking about?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, one of my favorite things from Friday night was our student section. It was jammed. It was so much fun. What a cool thing for college students to have a chance on a Friday night to go to a football game and see good and winning football in an environment like that. I hope it’s just the beginning. I really do. It was noticeable to me. I pay attention usually just before the game, and then they have to be pretty loud for me to notice during the game, and I notice not only their section, but the grass hill on the end. It just started looking like, ‘Hey, this is starting to take shape’.

I hope. That was the home opener and it was a Friday night, and so I think that’s a strong draw in and of itself. I would hope it’s just the beginning and that the community at large, the state, as well as our student section and the long-time fans that have been so loyal, I hope they’re optimistic and enjoying what’s happening and encourage their friends to come. It’s Florida State, ACC football, with a UVA team that seems to be on the right track.

Q. Florida State is one of those Atlantic Division teams you do not play every year or even play regularly. From the standpoint of preparation by your staff, how much does that change things? Do you do more off-season research or is it just like playing a nonconference team almost?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: I’d say it’s more of the second because I haven’t been in the league long enough to go through like — it usually changes for me when we go through twice. But it’s more of like a nonconference team, even though it has conference implications.

So you can’t say it fits into either category perfectly, but our preparation would be more like nonconference with in-conference implications is the best way I can I think frame that.

Q. On Saturday when you’ve played Friday, do you click on the TV and watch other games, and did you happen to see the end of the BYU games?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: So, I do click on games. My son, Breaker, loves watching college football, and my wife Holly loves watching college football. Holly was watching the end of the BYU game on her phone while I was watching another game on the big screen and she kept making comments. So that’s how that worked. Yeah.

Q. Did you turn the BYU game on?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: No, I did not. No. So the way my personality works is it’s pretty unique. When I move on from something, I move on and I don’t look back. So, yeah, it could be a flaw or a strength, but that’s where I am with that.

Q. You mentioned adding the referees to practice. Is this something you’ve done for a while or a recent change?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: No. We’ve done it for a while. We just were more consistent with the volume and number and emphasis, which I think has made a difference.

Q. How strictly are those guys calling practice? Are they treating it like a game?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: I ask them to, and I think that’s really helped. What I ask them to do is if it’s even close, throw the flag. I’m not trying to have them build bad habits for the season. It helps us every time the flag is thrown because there is a teachable moment.

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