Bronco Mendenhall Monday Press Conference Notables: Coastal Clash At Pittsburgh

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University of Virginia head football coach Bronco Mendenhall met with the media on Monday, November 15, for his latest weekly regular season press conference. Mendenhall’s Hoos, who are coming off a 28-3 loss to Notre Dame in which starting quarterback Brennan Armstrong was sidelined with a rib injury, take a two-game losing streak into this Saturday’s crucial ACC matchup with Pittsburgh.

Virginia football head coach Bronco Mendenhall addressed the media ahead of his team’s crucial class at Pittsburgh this Saturday. ~ Photo by Mike Ingalls/TheSabre.com

As was the case last week, the status of Brennan Armstrong is the most important question facing Virginia, which can claim the ACC Coastal Division title by defeating Pittsburgh this week and Virginia Tech at home on November 27. Coach Mendenhall mentioned post-Notre Dame that he saw improvement in his star quarterback’s health over the course of last week. Has the improvement continued?

“Man, I haven’t seen Brennan yet today. I’m praying that [Armstrong’s health] is more second to second rather than day to day,” Mendenhall said. “I haven’t had my Monday report yet. Yeah, I’m hoping more for second to second than day to day. Put it this way: It might be hour to hour. I’m not sure we go from day to day to second to second. I might have misspoke. I’m hoping it’s at least hour to hour, but I would prefer second to second.”

Clearly, Armstrong is very much questionable to suit up against Pittsburgh. And if he plays, how high of a level can he play? How long can he go? Many questions here, and with the very real possibility of true freshman Jay Woolfolk manning the quarterback spot in a critical ACC matchup on the road, Mendenhall is seeking to build off of this past Saturday’s performance in case Armstrong cannot play this week.

“I thought there was a lot of positive things from the game from how Jay played to how our defense played to how others saw their roles, maybe what they had been with Brennan (Armstrong) and what they would be with Jay, right? That clarity I think was helpful for everyone,” Mendenhall said. “It doesn’t mean that the roles can remain the same or possibly even the performance with Brennan versus Jay. I think that became clear as the game went on. I think Keytaon (Thompson) was one of the first to realize and see what he would need to do. I think Mike Hollins was similar. Dontayvion (Wicks) was becoming as the game went on. It was just helping us craft a different chemistry and identity as it went. It certainly wasn’t intentional. It was just becoming clear, this is what I’m going to have to do with the new quarterback.”

Elaborating further on how the wide receivers can help and how the passing game can be tailored more favorably to the true freshman signal caller, Mendenhall said: “Yeah, so there’s all kinds of certainly position mastery things with intent that allow more separation in a more timely manner, right? That’s what I was referring to after the game. Again, that’s a product of now training the entire year with one quarterback, and now during the game realizing, Wait, this is going to require more. Maybe where we thought it was we’re going to have to expand that a little bit more. That’s what Dontayvion was talking about. There’s position, mastery and effort things. Then there is also formationally. A lot of teams as Pitt does, you’ll see restricted formation and motion to kind of free up receivers. All of those things come as well. We certainly have to be careful with the amount we give Jay in terms of motions, formations and shifts, just in the play. That expands over time. We’re being really methodical and sequential in his build in becoming a great quarterback, which he will. The tough part is the urgency we have, the teams we have coming up, right? That’s kind of where you can see the stress point. So we’re managing both.”

While Virginia awaits the return of Armstrong and prepares for the possibility of Woolfolk playing once again, the Hoos may be without more key offensive pieces on Saturday. Senior wide receiver Billy Kemp IV suffered an apparent leg injury against Notre Dame. After a long stay on the ground, he was assisted off the field, hobbling noticeably. The tough-minded receiver came back on for one play, but he was clearly not 100% and missed the rest of the game. Senior running back Wayne Taulapapa missed the Notre Dame game entirely because of a concussion suffered against BYU. This was the second concussion of the season for the Hawaii native, one of UVA’s most valuable all-around players on offense.

“No, no update on [Kemp IV],” Mendenhall answered. Asked about Taulapapa, Mendenhall said: “No update either. Wayne was at the game, on the sideline, just in his jersey. He’ll be going through protocols again. A lot of times when a player has had multiple concussions, if it’s the second one, it takes longer than the first to clear protocol. If it’s ever more than that, it’s usually a sequential thing where it takes longer each time. I stay completely out of it, right? I just wait for the medical staff to tell me when a player’s cleared. It’s best for our players that they don’t feel undue pressure. They already know they want to play and be back. They don’t need to hear that for me. I just try to be supportive.”

Defensive Improvement?

Coach Mendenhall continues to take a hopeful tone with respect to the defense. However, in what has been a recurring theme throughout the year, the Hoos failed to make numerous key plays versus Notre Dame when the opportunities arose.

There were plenty of examples on Notre Dame’s second, third, and fourth drives of the game, which all resulted in touchdowns. Notre Dame converted a 4th-and-1 at the UVA 20 on drive no. 2 and scored a touchdown the very next play. On drives three and four, the Fighting Irish were a perfect 4-for-4 on 3rd down conversions.

“Yeah, any successful play, there’s a couple reverses that worked against us, then the running back — it’s interesting, the running back’s timing was a little more Wake Forest-ish, pretty patient, then kind of bursting out of there. We had a few of those,” Mendenhall said. “Any significant play that happened the other night, there was an unblocked player missing a tackle that led to extra yardage or points. We gave up 28. It could have been better than that. But it is where we are. It just gives us another focus point. Against good players, ranked teams making the plays we need to at the right time.”

Tackling “controls points,” Mendenhall said. “There’s been two games this year that got away from us, right? If you could wave a magic wand, those go away, it’s 22 and a half points per game rather than what the other marker is. Really that leads to tackles in space. Really point production is tied to that.

Mendenhall was also asked about his team’s inability to pressure the quarterback and the impact this has on the defense. Virginia had zero sacks against Notre Dame and is currently tied for 121 among 130 FBS teams in sacks per game with 1.2.

“Yeah, again, I think I’m much more contextual than the way that most see it,” Mendenhall said. “I frame two games differently than the frame the rest of the year. Again, it would measure out in terms of points and it would measure out really in terms of controlling the game or helping manage the game. So much of our approach earlier in the season was three-man rush, not four, five or six, but three, right? That was to add extra players in coverage. We’ve learned, we’ve diagnosed. We’re working with the identity that matches this team specifically. But it contributes for sure. Routes have to be covered longer, further downfield. Sometimes the exchanges downfield — the exchanging happens more downfield than sooner if you’re not sending as much pressure. Again, we’ve learned through, as I mentioned, at least two of those games, right? The rest of them I’m not going to say anything other than the takeaways weren’t nearly as drastic from the rest as they were from those two.”

In terms of defensive personnel, Coach Mendenhall was asked about the status of sophomore cornerback Fentrell Cypress II, a starter who has not played since Louisville because of injury. Will he be returning to the defense any time soon?

“Hopefully, yeah,” Mendenhall answered. “Man, we got some news on him last week. Yeah, hopefully get more news this week. We’ve been hopeful from the time that that hand or injury happened that we’d have him back before the year. It’s taken a little longer than I think what we thought it would, what the medical staff thought it would. Stay tuned just like I am. We’re hopeful.”

Notable Quotes

– Coach Mendenhall was asked about the below tweet sent out by Jay Woolfolk following the Notre Dame game.

“Yeah, I didn’t know that,” Mendenhall said. “It doesn’t surprise me. I think that’s what leaders do, is they claim accountability. Jay has high standards for himself and for our team. It’s helpful for me to know. We monitor it as closely as we can, non-social media, work just to do it within the program. I would say in a way I am proud of him for claiming ownership, because that’s what leaders do. At the same time I’ll add the realism as to the collective and where other areas can and need to improve. That’s part of my job, as well.”

– Count Brennan Armstrong among those helping Woolfolk adjust as smoothly as possible to major college football. And not just on game day.

“During practice, man, Brennan is completely engrossed in every single play,” Mendenhall said. “You can see him kind of stepping and moving, concentrating as if the ball is in his hands. Each time that Jay comes off, Brennan is telling him what he saw, then how that matched with what Jay saw. Cues and pointers to possibly enhance what he was doing. It was the same on game day. Really a positive, encouraging relationship, as it was from everybody. I would say Brennan was the point or the tip of the spear in that in terms of really wanting Jay to succeed, try to help him see what he was seeing.”

– Pittsburgh senior quarterback Kenny Pickett, who currently ranks fifth in the nation in yards per game (351.7) and is fourth in touchdown passes (32), has been one of the nation’s top signal callers in 2021. How has he ascended over the course of his career? What makes him so special?

“I think the two main things would be, first of all, time in the system, right? So where the ball is going, how fast it’s going there,” Mendenhall said. “He’s seeing things really quickly. When he’s delivering it, he’s confident, right? He knows where it’s going, why it’s going there, and versus what coverage. If he doesn’t like that, then he’s mobile. He’s difficult to sack. All of those things, which is time. We’re talking about Jay (Woolfolk), and now we’re talking about in your words someone that’s been there forever. Most things look different in terms of the timing and the confidence and the diagnostics. That’s probably just a really good contrast.”

FULL TRANSCRIPT OF BRONCO MENDENHALL’S NOVEMBER 15 PRESS CONFERENCE, COURTESY OF VIRGINIA ATHLETICS MEDIA RELATIONS

Q. You mentioned after the game or acknowledged that some guys could have stepped up a little better to kind of fill the void a little bit. Generally speaking, how did you feel like the guys kind of rallied around Jay (Woolfolk)? Did you get that sense?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: I thought they did. I thought there was a lot of positive things from the game from how Jay played to how our defense played to how others saw their roles, maybe what they had been with Brennan (Armstrong) and what they would be with Jay, right? That clarity I think was helpful for everyone.

It doesn’t mean that the roles can remain the same or possibly even the performance with Brennan versus Jay. I think that became clear as the game went on.

I think Keytaon (Thompson) was one of the first to realize and see what he would need to do. I think Mike Hollins was similar. Dontayvion (Wicks) was becoming as the game went on. It was just helping us craft a different chemistry and identity as it went.

It certainly wasn’t intentional. It was just becoming clear, this is what I’m going to have to do with the new quarterback.

Q. Jay (Woolfolk) tweeted afterwards, I got to do better, simple. Do you have to monitor his mindset and his confidence if he’s taking a lot of that on himself?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I didn’t know that. It doesn’t surprise me. I think that’s what leaders do, is they claim accountability. Jay has high standards for himself and for our team.

It’s helpful for me to know. We monitor it as closely as we can, non-social media, work just to do it within the program. I would say in a way I am proud of him for claiming ownership, because that’s what leaders do. At the same time I’ll add the realism as to the collective and where other areas can and need to improve. That’s part of my job, as well.

Q. The pass protection this season I think has been generally very good overall. Of the sacks that Notre Dame had the other night, were those all instances where the Notre Dame pass-rusher just beat his lineman or his blocker or was some of that a result of the line’s unfamiliarity with Jay, how long he held the ball?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, it’s a good question.

To the first point, our pass protection has been excellent throughout the year and consistent, which has allowed Brennan (Armstrong) and our offense to score a lot of points. Protection is where it all begins. I think that has been very good.

Most of what happened in terms of pressure or sacks on Saturday was a matter of timing, where it was taking Jay (Woolfolk) a little longer to see, diagnose the coverage, deliver the ball prior to pressure arriving. Very seldom was there an unblocked player or someone getting beat. Kind of within the normal time frame of delivery, reads and balls could have been thrown.

However, let’s just be clear with the expectations. We’re talking now about a first-year quarterback that is seeing, reading, and his timing is becoming with every rep. A lot of that was just growing pains in terms of the timing, seeing it quickly enough. It was just taking him a little longer, like it would any of us, to see, read and react.

Most of pressure, in answer to your question, would be just because of that. It was just taking Jay a little longer to diagnose.

Q. You mentioned after the game that your wide receivers could do more to help Jay (Woolfolk). Dontayvion (Wicks) this morning talked about getting open quicker. When you face a team like Pitt that gets up and presses guys at the line, how do your guys get open quicker?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, so there’s all kinds of certainly position mastery things with intent that allow more separation in a more timely manner, right? That’s what I was referring to after the game.

Again, that’s a product of now training the entire year with one quarterback, and now during the game realizing, Wait, this is going to require more. Maybe where we thought it was we’re going to have to expand that a little bit more. That’s what Dontayvion was talking about.

There’s position, mastery and effort things. Then there is also formationally. A lot of teams as Pitt does, you’ll see restricted formation and motion to kind of free up receivers. All of those things come as well.

We certainly have to be careful with the amount we give Jay in terms of motions, formations and shifts, just in the play. That expands over time. We’re being really methodical and sequential in his build in becoming a great quarterback, which he will.

The tough part is the urgency we have, the teams we have coming up, right? That’s kind of where you can see the stress point. So we’re managing both.

Q. On the other side of the ball, what are some of the challenges Pitt presents offensively, specifically Kenny Pickett?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think very similar to our offense, the ball goes to a lot of different places. The quarterback is really skilled, capable of making any throw, mobile, he can scramble and elude pressure. Then there’s just a lot of different challenging concepts they use offensively which have generated a lot of points.

Yeah, I think basically their statistics kind of tell the story. The diversity of what they do and the volume of players the ball is distributed to I think are probably the two biggest challenges.

Q. Coming off of three straight weeks without playing an ACC game, what is the mind shift change, or is in any, coming into this week? How do you think some of those ranked opponents have helped you prepare to jumping back into ACC play?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I would love to say it’s a completely different approach, there’s now this brand-new I touch the team with a wand and we move into some other realm, go through the wardrobe, there’s some other sphere that we’re into.

We played two really meaningful games. We wanted to win them both. In the meantime we learned a lot about our team. We had weaknesses exposed at a high level defensively at BYU, responded really well at Notre Dame, made some corrections needed. Offensively we saw Jay (Woolfolk) now as our backup quarterback becoming our starter, where he is, what that looks like now, which is great information going into the finish of the Coastal (Division). We would have preferred to win both, but key learnings along the way.

As you really consider where we are, I don’t think there’s a chance for two games to be more meaningful for a season and to our team than these two with the implications, which is a Coastal championship, a state championship, then anything that would come after the results of these two.

I think our team acknowledges that and understands it.

Q. You talked about the offensive line. Ryan Nelson started 47 straight games on that offensive line. How has he kind of been a rock throughout the years on that line?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, there’s three kind of hallmark attributes that are essential to building a program. I would argue building people. That’s durability, consistency and productivity, right? You’ve got to be durable just to keep going. At that position especially, that’s really tough. Consistency is the only way you get to stay in the lineup. That means doing your job, doing it at a high level, which leads to the productivity. You only get to start if you’re being productive and helping our team.

For someone to remain in the lineup that long is probably the highest tribute we could acknowledge for him.

Q. With Pitt’s pass-rush, I think they’re the top three in the country for sacks, led the country in sacks last year, what is the challenge there? What do they do to disrupt the quarterback?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: They have an aggressive mindset just within their scheme. Probably some of the most pressure in all of college football, meaning numbers. They certainly aren’t afraid to use six rushers. Six rushers is, yeah, about the most you can bring consistently. Pitt makes that kind of commonplace. They do it really well. They max their coverage with that.

When they’re not bringing that amount, right, there’s other combinations, really active front players that are taught to be aggressive and kind of I would say attack first and react second in terms of their mindset. They do a really nice job.

Q. I wanted to ask you about Coen King. He had two back-to-back plays in the Notre Dame game that forced them to punt the ball. What has he meant to your program? How has he grown in your program since joining you guys as a walk-on?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. Those are the most compelling stories I think when someone comes on their own, kind of carves out their way. Then through their play, through their work ethic, through their production, they earn a role. They earn a role that not only has them on the team, but the role continues to increase to where they then make plays in critical situations to help their team.

He’s really impressed me with just his diligence. I know the productivity allows him to stay on the field.

Q. When you assess a quarterback’s ability to diagnose a play, a defense, quickly, when you evaluate practice reps and game reps, are you putting a stopwatch on it? Do you have a metric that your quarterback needs to meet on specific plays in terms of seconds?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, so that answer is yes as a starting point. But that moves really quickly from seconds to, man, based on the number of football snaps that I’ve seen, there’s windows that open and close. Intuitively you know it’s on time or too late. That’s also based on the route and the play first the coverage and the pressure, right?

There’s a core time frame, but that can accelerate, and seconds could be added or shaved based on then the look you’re seeing versus the play versus the coverage and where you’re throwing it, right? There’s a lot of variables in there which leads more to the intuition part, which takes time to get to that part.

Yes, there’s a framework. Are there variables within that? Yes.

Q. Would a quicker diagnosis have prevented the interception on the deep ball to Dontayvion (Wicks) that the safety came over, was able to pick?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Sure, yeah. A lot of those, too — I shouldn’t say a lot of those. Another thing is we have a lot of confidence in Dontayvion. You hear about balls that are called 50/50 balls. It’s only going to be 50/50 if it’s one-on-one. As soon as the safety is within range, right, it’s no longer 50/50 because it’s two against one.

We have confidence in Dontayvion, which is why the ball went there. Just didn’t quite see the safety leaving as quickly to be a two-on-one situation.

Q. A little more specifically on (Kenny) Pickett, he’s been on their team forever. How have you seen him in the times you’ve seen him prior, now watching him this year, improve? How has he grown as a quarterback?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think the two main things would be, first of all, time in the system, right? So where the ball is going, how fast it’s going there. He’s seeing things really quickly. When he’s delivering it, he’s confident, right? He knows where it’s going, why it’s going there, and versus what coverage. If he doesn’t like that, then he’s mobile. He’s difficult to sack.

All of those things, which is time. We’re talking about Jay (Woolfolk), and now we’re talking about in your words someone that’s been there forever. Most things look different in terms of the timing and the confidence and the diagnostics. That’s probably just a really good contrast.

Q. When we talk about Brennan Armstrong, what he’s brought to this team, we talk about stats. He has intangibles, has the mentality of a safety linebacker instead of a quarterback. Who have you seen step up on this team to grab the team with that? Brennan is on the sidelines, but can Keytaon Thompson be someone in the huddle to do that as well?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, you have to have a team of leaders. Rarely is a leader the most effective. Brennan is our leader. That doesn’t mean he’s the only one. I’ve seen multiple players really respond well. You mentioned one, which is Keytaon.

There’s different ways to respond. You can do it vocally or by how hard you train and prepare. I saw Nick Jackson and Joey Blount, Mandy Alonso, Billy Kemp, Olu (Oluwatimi), right? It’s really harder to say who isn’t stepping up. Now it’s clear how far we need to step up with Jay as our quarterback. But to say Brennan is replaceable that way, hard after 10 weeks to just kind of now have a little bit of a void there, say the same chemistry and leadership is present.

Others are emerging, roles are being defined. That’s just kind of where our team is now.

Q. You talked a little bit about the pressure that Pitt likes to bring. Who is sort of responsible on your end, what is the key in how you want to attack, picking up blitz, making sure whoever is at QB has time to get the ball out? Is that primarily going to fall onto your running backs? How much does that adjust what you need to do?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Every team in the country has different protection plans. Some teams have their offensive front or their center identifying, some have their quarterback identifying it. Certainly the running back is in the loop as well. Depending on how many you choose to protect with to combat the blitz, that’s the next issue.

Some teams free release backs and try to get the ball gone before pressure arrives. Some max protect, which includes using tight ends and backs. Others you’re kind of checking players out based on what they see and how they see it.

It’s a coordinated effort between the offensive front, the quarterback and the running backs in our system. Diagnosing is really important. That’s really not atypical or untypical of really any team that plays football at the college level when they’re facing a pressure team. I would love to say we’re unique and different in that regard, but I would say we’re more like industry standard.

Q. On the other side of the ball, you talked about tackling this year, particularly how Pitt likes to get those big, athletic receivers they have into space, make some yards after the catch. How critical does that end up for you this week?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, it controls points. There’s been two games this year that got away from us, right? If you could wave a magic wand, those go away, it’s 22 and a half points per game rather than what the other marker is. Really that leads to tackles in space. Really point production is tied to that.

Q. Could you give us a little bit of an idea how Brennan (Armstrong) contributes when he’s not on the field? He’s wearing a headset, talking to teammates. How much interaction does he have with Jay (Woolfolk), giving him pointers?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: During practice, man, Brennan is completely engrossed in every single play. You can see him kind of stepping and moving, concentrating as if the ball is in his hands. Each time that Jay comes off, Brennan is telling him what he saw, then how that matched with what Jay saw. Cues and pointers to possibly enhance what he was doing.

It was the same on game day. Really a positive, encouraging relationship, as it was from everybody. I would say Brennan was the point or the tip of the spear in that in terms of really wanting Jay to succeed, try to help him see what he was seeing.

Q. You said after the game that Brennan (Armstrong) was day to day to day, then second to second. How close are we to a second to second?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Man, I haven’t seen Brennan yet today. I’m praying that it is more second to second rather than day to day. I haven’t had my Monday report yet. Yeah, I’m hoping more for second to second than day to day.

Put it this way: it might be hour to hour. I’m not sure we go from day to day to second to second. I might have misspoke. I’m hoping it’s at least hour to hour, but I would prefer second to second.

Q. From the press box, a less skilled eye than yours, it seemed like missed tackles were a huge problem the other day. They’re trying to break tackles and all that stuff like your guys are. When you reviewed the film, what was your assessment?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, any successful play, there’s a couple reverses that worked against us, then the running back — it’s interesting, the running back’s timing was a little more Wake Forest-ish, pretty patient, then kind of bursting out of there. We had a few of those.

Any significant play that happened the other night, there was an unblocked player missing a tackle that led to extra yardage or points. We gave up 28. It could have been better than that. But it is where we are. It just gives us another focus point. Against good players, ranked teams making the plays we need to at the right time.

Q. It seemed like Williams’ patience when he ran the ball was pretty incredible. There were times he almost seemed to stop and wait for something to open up. Do you ever take film like that and show it to your running backs, say, Be more like this?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: There are plays and designs that call for it, and there are plays and designs that don’t.

As I mentioned, it wasn’t Wake Forest, but it was probably the next closest to that timing that we had seen. Yeah, it wasn’t a surprise to us. They do it effectively. We knew that going in.

Q. Noah Taylor leads the team in sacks, tackles for loss. He also has a blocked kick, a fumble recovery. How would you assess his performance? I’m sure he’d like to have even more of those.

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Noah is capable of making a play. That’s a very strong skill. There are players that are capable of doing their job, but the best players do their job and then make the tackle, which means they beat a block, then make the play. You move from an infantry level player to a different level of player when you’re capable of doing your job and then doing more. Noah is in that category.

Basically he really didn’t practice or train almost the entire bye week with an injury he’s battling. Yeah, the production you just mentioned he’s had really through limited preparation most of the year actually.

Q. How much have kind of the issues in the pass-rush, the inability to really get to the quarterback consistently, contributed to the overall struggles of the defense?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, again, I think I’m much more contextual than the way that most see it. I frame two games differently than the frame the rest of the year. Again, it would measure out in terms of points and it would measure out really in terms of controlling the game or helping manage the game.

So much of our approach earlier in the season was three-man rush, not four, five or six, but three, right? That was to add extra players in coverage.

We’ve learned, we’ve diagnosed. We’re working with the identity that matches this team specifically. But it contributes for sure. Routes have to be covered longer, further downfield. Sometimes the exchanges downfield — the exchanging happens more downfield than sooner if you’re not sending as much pressure.

Again, we’ve learned through, as I mentioned, at least two of those games, right? The rest of them I’m not going to say anything other than the takeaways weren’t nearly as drastic from the rest as they were from those two.

Q. You speak about your pillars. I asked the guys about adjusting them because you have a different quarterback. Is that not your approach? Why wouldn’t you adjust the pillars now?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, the pillars, kind of they really don’t care who plays. It kind of takes certain metrics to have success. That doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge and try to manage the game in a manner to generate those as you saw a fake field goal the other night, or an attempted one, a couple yards short.

We take them into consideration as much as we can. But ultimately there’s certain marks that have to be hit to give us our best chance to win. My job is then to manage the game acknowledging what you’re talking about to then hit the pillars. Certainly that all has to be considered by the leader, which is me.

Q. Can you help us take some clunkiness out of our articles this week. How do you characterize Brennan’s injury, a rib fracture, rib cage injury?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Man, I’m not the one. I think that ought to go directly to Kelli Pugh, then you might have something that resembles being accurate. If I get my description, the clunkiness would probably have increased on the clunkiness dial, or clunk-o-meter would have gone higher rather than lower. I think that’s a Kelli Pugh question.

Q. Do you anticipate him being able to do more in practice this week?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Hopeful. Hopeful. Back to Hank’s point, I am hopeful we’ve gone day to day to hour to hour. I’m hopeful.

Q. You mentioned earlier when you’re talking about leaders on the offense with Brennan Armstrong out, you mentioned Olu (Oluwatimi). He’s a guy that’s been on that line for a while now. What does his leadership provide you with Jay (Woolfolk) at quarterback?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: He touches the ball first and he touches it every single play. When you have a veteran center, that certainly helps your quarterback because Jay is not having to wonder where the ball is going to be going. If the snap is high, low, when it’s coming, if the protection is going to hold, he has the advantage of Olu doing that.

Besides Ryan Nelson, he has Ryan Swoboda, (Chris) Glaser. There’s lots and lots of experience. It’s really the ideal front to have a first-time starter at quarterback developing behind. I’ve seen a lot of quarterbacks ruined just because of the front. The state of the program really wasn’t ready to help them. Poor habits develop along the way if you don’t have the veteran front needed.

At least in that regard it’s about as good as we can do.

Q. This is such a veteran offensive line. How much have y’all been able to lean on them a little bit even more this year? Y’all are passing so much. Now with Jay (Woolfolk) at quarterback.

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, we’re having to. They’ve done a really nice job. It’s fit with what Brennan (Armstrong) can and does do really, really well. They’ll have to be an expanded role now with Jay where the run game will have to be relied on a little bit more, more consistently in addition to. As I’m talking about roles and chemistry developing, all that is becoming clearer after game one.

I would have loved to have seen it all before we play. I make mistakes, too, right? I’m never perfect in seeing what it’s going to look like. I’m clearer after one game, clearer after two. I’m also realistic how much time we have and what’s at stake with the Coastal (Division) race and the state championship. That’s just the backstory or the context it’s all within.

Q. With the numbers that y’all put up offensively, how much credit do those guys deserve?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, I’m not taking anything away from Brennan, but it doesn’t work if you can’t protect. It all starts there. The scheme that Robert has designed, our offensive coordinator, Jason (Beck), our quarterback coach, they’ve done a really nice job of using our resources, using them in a creative way.

I’ve been really impressed. No one quite knew for sure in translating from practice to game where we would be with Jay (Wolfolk). We are much clearer now. I saw improvement happening as the game went on. Oh, yeah, it’s getting better, it’s getting better, it’s getting better. I anticipate that happening. We have to try to expedite that as fast as we can.

Q. Any update on Billy Kemp yet?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: No, no update on him.

Q. How about Wayne (Taulapapa)?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: No update either. Wayne was at the game, on the sideline, just in his jersey. He’ll be going through protocols again. A lot of times when a player has had multiple concussions, if it’s the second one, it takes longer than the first to clear protocol. If it’s ever more than that, it’s usually a sequential thing where it takes longer each time.

I stay completely out of it, right? I just wait for the medical staff to tell me when a player’s cleared. It’s best for our players that they don’t feel undue pressure. They already know they want to play and be back. They don’t need to hear that for me. I just try to be supportive.

Q. Fentrell Cypress, do you anticipate him being back this season?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Hopefully, yeah. Man, we got some news on him last week. Yeah, hopefully get more news this week. We’ve been hopeful from the time that that hand or injury happened that we’d have him back before the year. It’s taken a little longer than I think what we thought it would, what the medical staff thought it would. Stay tuned just like I am. We’re hopeful.

Q. How much importance do you put throughout the course of the season on competing for the Coastal Division?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: You can’t put more emphasis on it than we have. That’s the expectation that I have for our program, is that we’re the Coastal champion every year. We were the defending champion going into COVID. Coming out of it we want to repeat. We have every chance to do that with two Coastal games remaining.

I like that opportunity and I like how hard the program has worked to earn that chance. Yeah, so here we go.

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