Just so you know, three players will be suspended for this game, Jeremiah Mathis, Henry Coley, and LoVanté Battle for violation of team rules.
How much time did you spend on self-scouting? Did you find anything on film that will help you going forward?
Yeah, we spent a considerable amount of time looking at what we do, lined up, motion to, motion away, down and distances. I think those open weeks give you an opportunity to do that, to kind of self scout yourself and use critique from both sides of the ball, you know, our defense to our offense and vice versa. We don't get a lot of opportunities to do that and go out and practice the fundamentals of what we do, what we need to do, and that was a large portion of spending those practice opportunities in getting better but also making sure that we correct a lot of things, whether it's personnel, scheme wise, that we take a good look at what we're doing and how we're doing it and who's doing it. Those are things that an open week allows you to do, and we try and take full advantage of that.
I trust you don't want to go into further detail on suspensions.
No, I'd prefer not to.
You mention evaluating personnel and schemes. Will we see changes this week in who is out there and what they are doing?
You may. I mean, you may see obviously in talking briefly about the suspensions, obviously you're going to see players in the backup roles and roles that they've have to step up in terms of substituting or filling in for some of these players that I mentioned. You'll notice that Eli Harrell will start, the defensive end, and that was a change that was made. But there may be other players that may be in the two deep that will see considerable amount of time in trying to find out how these players can play and how they can perform. So we spent a lot of time, as I said, with the open week trying to find out what we do and who can do it. That's one of the benefits you have of getting guys healed, getting guys evaluated again and then looking at what you do to put players in a position to help us win. We desperately want to win a game. We want to play and win a game. That's priority for us, and the who and the what and all those things are important for us to answer. But we're going to try to put the people and places and things in place to help us win the game. This past week was primarily the focus on that.
I listened to an interview with Tony Dungy who spoke about not making changes but playing better and then going on to win the Super Bowl. Is there something to be said about using the personnel you have and simply playing better [instead of making wholesale changes]?
There's something to be said about that, about just don't go in and just change schematically what you're doing.
We spend a considerable amount of time teaching and coaching techniques and fundamentals. What you need to do is also look at those who can execute that, and sometimes you may have a player or two, whether it's a player that hasn't played as much, give them an opportunity to go in the game and show what they can do.
That's happened, and that's happened in the course of Eli Harold, and it's happened in the course of Chris Brathwaite and it's happened with David Dean, players that come into the season not having a great amount of experience, but as the season has gone on and they've had those opportunities extended to them, they've gone on and gone in the game and they've executed. So that's a large part of it, executing better and then getting players in there that may not have been on the forefront of executing or playing at the beginning of the season or to this point. But when they've gone in, they've performed. They've demonstrated they can help us.
And so that was a lot of what we did to try to shore up those opportunities on both sides, offensively, defensively, special teams. It may mean putting some defensive starters or offensive starters on those special teams units. Like I said, whatever it is and whatever it takes for us to put ourselves in a better position in all three phases, that's been the focus.
Should we assume that Romero will start in Coley's place and where is he [Romero] in his development?
I think it's safe to say that he will start, but he'll also be backed up and we'll allow Demeitre Brim time to play, as well. Demeitre is a first year true freshman that played primarily on special teams but has done a nice job in terms of getting in the game and making some plays and very athletic, can run. So he stepped up with an opportunity to go in himself. I think Romero Da Da has done a nice job of when he's been in the game of performing, and now here's an opportunity for him to step up and either solidify that spot by performance or create a spot where, again, it's open for competition by Demeitre Brim still battling for that spot. We'll see what happens with Henry when Henry comes back, but the signal is that a position that's open now due to the circumstances that have occurred is wide open in terms of the competition. The best man up, the best man to step up and make it happen.
How long will the suspensions be?
It'll be, depending upon how the things that are required and the things that has to be done on his part to see if that's satisfied or not. We'll know again the following week.
You and other coaches have said that whether Phillip or Michael is quarterback, it is the same offense. It seems that Phillip is more inclined to look for homeruns. How much is it changing his thinking and how much is it changing the strategies of the offense?
You know, it's a little bit of both. You look at the different aspects of both quarterbacks and what they do and what their strengths are. You know, the open week was geared towards trying to make sure that all the surrounding pieces are the pieces that can help take their game to another level or get us points on the board or convert third downs or whatever it might be. And I think that when you look at it, you have to evaluate the strengths that they have and you have to evaluate where we are now with giving us the best opportunity, the best chance to go in a game and win a game. That's what you do. That's what we've been doing and trying to craft a game plan that fits their strengths but also not detouring what the surrounding cast has been able to do and can do. As I said, we'll continue to keep looking at what those two guys do and what they can bring to the table, and as I said, we're trying to find the right kind of combination to help this team win.
Bye week, we talked about getting people healed. Was it good for Tim Smith to have that game where he played so well, and then have time for him to heal? How is his healing?
I think specifically for Tim it was great timing for that to occur. When you have those ankle sprains, those high ankle injuries, sometimes it takes a long time for a guy to get back from that, and particularly when you're a runner and you're a receiver and you have to run routes that you've got to cut and do things on, and I think that that's been something that it's healing for him and has gotten to a point where I think he's maybe about as close as to 100 percent as can be, but you're one route away from back in the same situation. But I think for Tim and for a lot of other guys, getting those nagging injuries that they've gotten back to where they feel that they're ready to perform again.
You participated in the Weenie Bowl over the weekend. Any standouts?
I don't know how you found out about the wean I Bowl, but yeah. Probably was tweeted or whatever. But a lot of young players had a chance to play kind of in a scrimmage situation, and most notable Divante Walker got an interception, Kye Morgan, a running back who's red shirted this year had some dynamic runs, Kwontie Moore who was playing but had an extended opportunity to play the middle linebacker position made some very physical, physical tackles. So there were a couple guys that stood out and made some plays. They had fun, it was good to see that the older guys had a chance to root and cheer those guys on, and it was a very energetic practice, and any time you get an opportunity to do that and let these other guys play and let them get after it, it was a full scrimmage, and for about 35, 40 minutes, and I think if you were to ask those guys, it's something they look forward to and perhaps they might have an opportunity to do it again. But there were a few young players that really did a nice job, and I'm quite sure with the strength and conditioning and all those things that are geared towards building them up that there'll be players that can help us in the future.
You have a young secondary going against Mike Glennon, an older quarterback. Is this a concern?
Well, any time the quarterback is a guy that's been around the system for a while, Mike has been around Dana Bible offense and Tom O'Brien offense for a while, and he's demonstrated he's got a great arm. I think he's thrown for about 3,000 yards, I believe over 31 touchdowns, and so he's a guy that is engineers a lot of scores like the scoring drive at the end of the game when they beat Florida State.
So there's a lot of things that he has going on for him being an experienced fifth year guy. As far as from a coverage standpoint, obviously we're going to have to play really good coverage, and I think most of the teams that go and play NC State, the game plan is to try to get him off the spot.
You hear about that on the TV games they play, not letting it be kind of be seven on seven where he jumps back and he can stay in the pocket and just throw the ball. That's been the game plan for a lot of the teams that have played him. But he's done a good job staying on the spot, he's done a good job moving out of the pocket, and it's evident when you watch him play, that experience of a fifth year guy in that system has done him well.
He's definitely a major concern for us.
Is the storm impacting your practice schedule at all this week?
You know, today's classes were canceled by President Sullivan, and our athletic director Craig Littlepage canceled any activities for our student-athletes because of the direction of the president. It just kind of fit into not having the student athletes practice or have them have to get transportation over here.
We practice on Tuesday, and that's tomorrow, so we'll see how that's impacted. So obviously we're waiting, I'm waiting for the direction of which way the leadership will how they'll deal with the school and then we'll see. We practice in the morning and maybe there's an opportunity to maybe extend it in the afternoon or early part of the evening. But we'll know more here soon as our school officials meet with the local authorities about any issues or plans or impending weather situations. We'll know more, as I said, later on this evening.
You were talking about (Kwonte) Moore, who seems to be physically imposing. [Demeitre Brim, other young players named] Is it the scheme, the people in front of them, that has kept them from getting more time this season?
Well, in any young player, particularly a linebacker position, where you're a run defender and you're a pass defender, it's the experience or the lack thereof, and as the season has gone on, they've been exposed to more plays, more playing time, and I think that as the season has gone on that it's warranted an opportunity for Demeitre to be in the mix. You look at Kwontie, you have a player like Steve Greer that's been an all star here in this league in terms of the ACC, so playing behind a guy like that would limit your reps and your opportunities. But I think for the most part as they get the practice reps, as they learn the concepts and they get bigger, stronger, faster that those things, the gap between going in the game and saying, all right, you've got it this time is very much closed. But I think the biggest thing is probably the experience part of it. As I said, particularly when you're a linebacker and you talk about Demeitre (Brim) and Kwontie (Moore) defending the run and also defending the pass. But they'll be good players. They're young players, but they'll be good players, as well, because they have the physical tools of being able to run and hit. I remember there was a kickoff return that we had that Khalek Shepherd was returning a kickoff, I think 70 something yards he was returning, and Demeitre Brim was on the kickoff return unit, and you look up, he's running stride for stride past a lot of the opposing team members and leading Khalek up the sideline. So there's a skill level of a guy that can run. Now you just want to get him pointed in the right direction in terms of being a defender, particularly a linebacker. So as I said, I think the future is bright for guys like Demeitre and Kwontie and a young man in Mark Hall who's going to get redshirted. They're all big, physical, can run linebackers. I believe Mark Hall's brother will be playing basketball here, as well. So there's an athleticism to those guys that you look forward to, and right now they continue to grow and develop.
The ACC seems pretty top-heavy with talent in the Atlantic Division, and it seems like the best team in Coastal Division, UNC, is not eligible to win. How frustrating is it when these teams --- Virginia Tech, Clemson --- are not as good as they usually are, to not rise in the mix? It's got to be weird to see it so topsy-turvy.
You look at the conference and you look at teams and how they're doing. Duke has made tremendous improvement from where they've been, and for whatever the reasons there are up in Blacksburg, I can't speak to those. But you look at the frustration of being where we are right now, and as I said, a couple of games that we've lost have been within a touchdown, you win those games, it puts you kind of back in that having won some conference games and being .500 or slightly above.500. It's frustrating that you're not there, but to me, this has always been a process of building a team that has an opportunity to take some of those young players that have been talked about and get them to a point where they become older players and they become players that can contribute significantly to you.
Being eight and five last year was it was a good season for us and reality of those four games, winning on the last play of the game, you always think about those moments and those opportunities that were extended going to a Bowl game, and then you are frustrated by the fact that a couple games that same situation, last play, last opportunity, last two minutes, it goes the other way and you are where you are record wise. That's why you recruit, and that's why you just keep on trying to take what you have and grow them up and also try to put them in those positions where, if not this year, then the opportunity for building upon this to take some kind of foundation and start growing it. I feel confident about that happening as far as the foundation.
But when you look at it right now, it's just we are what we are, and you look at the other teams that are in our league, as I said, UNC is ineligible to go this year, and you look around and everyone has their own issues. But all I can control is what we have here, and we'll continue to keep working on our process.
Looking at NC State and David Amerson last year took away a side of the field. He's still up there with interceptions. What are your plans in attacking him?
He's a great player. I mean, I think last year he had 13 in interceptions, and this year I think he has three. But he's a 6-3, you look at their secondary, they're all 6-2, 6-3 across the board. They are tall and thick when we say thick, I mean in a complimentary way. Their defensive line, they're heavy guys that are athletic guys that can move.
When you look at David, you look at him as a guy that, when teams go three receivers to one side and then a single receiver back to the backside, most of the time you put your best receiver over there. Well, they put him over there and say, all right, I'm one on one over here, I'll cover him. And he does that under nickel packages.
So they move him around a lot, but they always end up putting him on your best receiver, and he has a penchant for finding the ball and playing the ball in the air. So I don't know if it's as much as trying to throw away from him or whatever you try to do, but I think you have to recognize where he is because he is a very talented player. He's a high draft pick, an All American and all those things that you talk about.
But for us it's more about attacking the coverages as opposed to just the one individual, but you have to be cognizant of where he is at all times because he's a dynamic player.
What kind of things do you think Sims needs to improve on to put you guys in a position to win? What sort of things did you work on with him this week?
You know, for a quarterback in the system that kind of relies on timing, obviously the timing of when the ball has to be thrown based on the breaks of the receiver is something that Phillip has been, needs to, continues to keep working on. I think that's been part of the issue is knowing when to throw the ball. Sometimes a receiver is not going to be looking at you when the ball needs to be thrown, and sometimes you have to throw that ball in a spot or in an area that will lessen the rush on you.
And so those are some of the things that we continue to work on with him, his timing, because I think it's important that it adds to less hits on him, less opportunities for teams to sack him and more opportunities for the passes to be completed, and then there goes the efficiency. The efficiency goes up.
So we continue to those are some of the things when his plays or the plays that Coach Lazor packages that he calls for him that he does, so it's something we'll continue to keep working on. The issue is that these games count. They're Ws and Ls, whether you get them or you don't get them. So for him, getting there and accelerating that process of when to throw the ball is critical, critical to our success, the same way Michael's success, whatever issues he has to work on, is critical to our success. We spend a large portion of time working on those elements for him.
Looking at the absence of passes that you've intercepted, I can't think back to a lot of balls you've dropped. What do you think about the turnover rate?
Well, you can look at it anyway you want to look at it. There are a couple that have hit the hands of our guys and were dropped. When you're out of position and the opportunity for being in the right window of throws being made can lend itself to that. There's a couple the balls have been tipped, and I've seen them bounce right in front of our guys, and when you look up and see the ball coming down or whatever it may be, I've been on teams where there were a lot of turnovers generated and on teams that not as many were generated. But on the other side of it, when you give up the ball that many times, that makes it worse.
And so when you're giving the ball up and not getting it back as much, you have more of a situation there as if you minimize the time that you give the ball up, even though you may not be getting a lot of turnovers, at least you can put yourself in the game just for whatever reason, lack of whatever, concentration, squeezing the ball at the pressure point, making the good throws, making sure the windows are open when you throw the ball, securing the ball once you run through the line of scrimmage. Those are things that are constantly preached and harped on at practice. But for some reason we're not being able to follow through on those.
Well, I think there's 17 takeaways I mean, giveaways. Basically you'd like to get the ball back. When I say take away, you like to take the ball away. I think there was a statistic that I was watching, one of the TV games that talked about teams that were high in the turnover ratio were teams that were undefeated, and they talked about several teams. And then teams that had a high amount of penalties, led their league or conference in penalties, that that wasn't a direct effect on their record.
For us, not having the turnovers, that hurts, obviously, but giving the ball away, it's more opportunities that an offense has to score. Again, that's frustrating from the standpoint of giving away and not getting enough. We spend a lot of time here again, here in the open week, of creating drills, creating scenarios in practice where those turnovers that occur for us defensively as a matter of fact it goes back to the Weenie Bowl, I think there were two interceptions and the fumble recovery, and the celebration of that, because you want it to be contagious. You want guys to understand when you get those balls, when you intercept them, when you recover the fumbles, when you cause a fumble, those are game changers. A lot of emphasis is made on that.
When we had the scrimmage for the young players, there's always a renewed sense of energy when those things occur because they're game changers, and that's going to be critical for us going down the stretch here over these last four games, that we have to be able to generate turnovers, and then again on the other side, not give the ball away.
When you were out recruiting last week, what questions did you get from the recruits about this year and the way it has gone so far?
Well, you're not allowed to talk about the recruits, number one. But for the most part, in meeting with coaches and administrators there's encouragement. These young players see that they're being recruited to play, that in regards to what's going on with this season that the other reasons why young men look at the University of Virginia is because of the school and its reputation, its academic reputation, its networking opportunities, the kind of professors, our coaches and all those things.
You just want to make sure you go out and continue to keep talking about the process that I've been talking about, about recruiting these young men to the opportunities that exist for them and for the most part the message is positive, although the season is disappointing, but the message is positive because these young men see themselves playing here.
I remember back to the Richmond game and it got chippy with Morgan and the defender, driving him out of bounds. Does he need to play angry, or do you think he's been consistent?
I think if you ask Scott Wachenheim, Morgan's grades, I think he'd be pleased with Morgan as far as his overall grades during the course of the season. Each player has to find that personality or that identity that they can play with. Some players want to give that tough guy persona, but in actuality they can't perform like that. Some guys want to talk and be chippy when in actuality they can't perform because I always talk about tough talk doesn't make for tough play, tough play does. And so Morgan is a physically imposing type of young man, type of player, and his identity is when you turn the film on. And if that's an identity that he's blocking people and making holes and things like that, then nice, mean, whatever it is, that remains to be seen.
But I know there was one particular play that I don't know if it was the Richmond game, he took a guy and drove him all the way out of bounds near the bleachers or the stands over there. We're always talking about get into that identity of being a player that's going to allow you to execute what we're asking you to do, to play physical, to play tough. And if you want to help the guy up after you've knocked him down, that's fine, but just make sure you knock him down. Whatever mindset you need to be in to make that happen, as long as it's legal, doesn't create any penalties, then that's what we're looking for.
North Carolina had a ton of success running the ball against NC State. Did you or Coach Lazor watch and think that there needed to be adjustments made to the strategy?
No, as I said, last week we spent more time on ourselves than what we do the opponent. NC State is a zone pressure team where they do a lot of line slants, they bring a linebacker or they'll bring two linebackers, they do a lot of different things, so there's a lot of movement that they do up front. What you see is you see some teams that run the ball have those opportunities to create those creases or those gaps.
It's a defense that they also lead the I think they're one of the tops in the ACC in tackles for losses. So what they do is there's movement and there's linebackers coming, and when they make when it's working, it's creating those tackles for loss, and I think they're up there in sacks, as well.
But when you have an opportunity to run and you can crease a run because of the movement, then you see some success in that area, too. Sunday, yesterday Sunday and today, today being Monday, those two days, we'll be committed to seeing what they do here and then put it to use on the practice field tomorrow. We'll be geared towards what they do and the game plan will be more specific in terms of what type of run or what type of attack, perimeter, inside or whatever it may be. But it's a good defense. It's a lot of movement, a lot of zone, not much man pressure stuff, but there's a lot of movement that's created plays for them but has also created opportunities for other teams to gain yardage.
There's only a handful of seniors on the two-deep. You don't write off games, but last year there was a lot of talk about bowl preparation. With all of the young players, do you expedite that process to get them more game experience?
I think there's some validity to what you say in that. It goes back to giving players a chance to get game experience, and I'm reminded of Brandon Phelps and Anthony Harris, that last year their game experience was on all four phases of special teams, and then they go into spring practice, as being the two starting safeties with not much game experience playing the safety position.
So you kind of find yourself kind of back in that situation again that some of these guys, if you afford them an opportunity to gain some game experience when they're playing first, second, third down and then perhaps fourth down but some special teams, as well, that's where they're going to gain their experience.
We are close to or at that point of making sure that the players we talk about and that you see in the two deep, that they gain some of that game experience. But first things first for us is to put us in a position where we can earn, we can get a victory, and then hopefully hang onto another opportunity. These are a series of one game playoffs or however you want to call it.
These games are Bowl games for us right now. We have to win these games that are this game that's being presented to us. That's how we have to look at it.
There's so many things you want to do with the development of the younger players, but you also want to have an opportunity to be competitive and be in some games to win some games at the end, the last three, the last couple, six point or seven point loss, as we talked about before, eliminating those things that put us on the other side of not having a chance to have that final play to win a game or put us up in the fourth quarter so we can extend a drive or stop a drive. That's kind of where we are with that.