They did. As we looked at it and read what they had to say about starting the season over and related the bye week to it. Sometimes when the bye week comes real late in the season, what it can be best used for is self scout, get started on the next game (and) rest your team. When the bye comes early in the season a lot of times you feel that your team is still in the developmental stage, so you use that as kind of a time to go back to core fundamentals, (the) installation of the plays, (and) the techniques that go with it. What I am leading up to here is that I can understand how in the first year of that staff being there, this deep into the season they can still feel as if they were in the installation (and) development stage, where a bye week could be best used to improve their performance rather than for rest or scouting or so forth. The results would certainly back up that type of approach. They certainly looked a lot crisper in the execution. There were some personnel changes that obviously they were able to make as result of having a little more time to think about things. Not the least of which was apparently brought about by injury to the other quarterback, but (Daniel) Evans really gave quite them quite a lift in performance also, playing the quarterback position.
Among the plays that Mikell Simpson made the other day was, obviously, that fourth down play where he reached out for the first down. Do you marvel at the things that he did that a seasoned player would do and he seemed aware and didn't play like a guy who had touched the ball seven times?
You are exactly right, he certainly did not. He played with a savviness about him throughout the course of the game that we would expect from a player that had got a lot more turns and frankly, was well in excess of anything that we had seen evidence of up to that point. That sometimes brings up that question or that issue (that) some players just show a lot better in the games than they do in practice. It's always, 'how do they get in the game if they haven't shown well in practice?' and then maybe that was a little bit of this particular case here.
You guys are now 3-1 on road. It seems obviously the team is growing, please talk about the turnaround away from Scott Stadium. I know you guys think about playing between the lines no matter where it is, but it's got feel good to have that confidence there:
It goes along with everything that they've done. They've got a particularly strong attitude to whatever challenge comes up. There's no doubt it's a bigger challenge than say for more normal circumstances. What you have to do is, you have to make everything normal circumstances, that's really the deal. You've got to make everything normal circumstances: that means that you don't feel that you have any advantage at home and you don't feel that you at any disadvantage on the road. Wherever they set the pylons up, that's the ball game. I think mature teams understand that there is nobody that can do it but ourselves, whether they are home fans, visiting fans or what not, nobody can do it for us but us. And nobody can do it against us, but the guys we are playing against. I think that's a competitive maturity that you're aiming for with each particular team.
All your years as coach, have you had a run like this where you have been able to win so many close games on the last series or last second? Can you think back and remember any stretch like this before?
In other circumstances, I have been on some teams that had a successful season in winning a lot of the close games whether they were all at the last play of the game or not. (Those teams) had a real good record of that particular year of winning a lot of those games. Unless you're a dominate team, dominate personnel-wise (and) you're just going to go out there and knock everybody down and win by a large margin of which there are very few every year-one of the keys to amassing a positive record is being able to win them in that nature. In a lot of ways your execution is pretty much the same whether you end up with one more or one less. That's a skill that certain teams have. It's like anything that happens repetitively after a while, it's not just an accident.
How vocal will you be from here on out about Chris Long being mentioned as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy?
If it's for the best player in college football, it's hard to imagine that anybody's been playing his position better than Chris Long is. It's usually difficult to amass the type of numbers that (get attention if you're a defensive lineman). You have to see him to appreciate him. You all get to see him every week, you know how good of a player that he is and the impact that he has on games. He had 10 tackles the other day, that's pretty terrific. It's not the same as completing 25 passes. So for some guy in Seattle or Portland who's trying to mark his ballot, it's hard to pick a guy who had 10 tackles or eight tackles over somebody who scored four touchdowns; we appreciate that fact. That's the way the award has become and everybody in football understands that, but if it went strictly by the definition of the best player in college football, it's hard to imagine that there are many players who are better than Chris Long is. With a few games like the other day when he has those kind of numbers for his position, that speaks for itself. That speaks a lot more than somebody saying, 'look, I'm trying to tell you people, this guy's a really good player.' And then anybody can say, "okay, but what do you have to show us.' He's got the numbers to speak for himself there. Whether it's for that award (Heisman) of some others that are position specific-whether it's for the outstanding defensive lineman or outstanding defensive player-certainly he would have to be in the top finalists for any of those awards.
In the first half of the year, Virginia might not have been an opponent that the other teams would have circled on their calendar. Now that you're ranked, and you're playing better and you're leading the division, do you talk to the players that they're going to get everybody's best shot (now)?
We have. We've cited the fact that it's more now than just your natural rivals, those people who point for you every year. And it really didn't change until Saturday night. We have addressed with them the fact that the teams that we're playing and their perception of us is going to be different than it was before. That ought to serve as another source helping us elevate our game. It really falls in line with what we've really tried to emphasize, (which is) when you get into this time of year the teams that continue on are the teams that continue to play better. At this time of the year it really is not about what your record is. There are some teams who have pretty good numbers right now, but really aren't playing any better and they're probably going to disappear before all of this is over. There are some teams that nobody's watching very closely, but they're playing some of their best ball right now and by the time this is all over with they'll be there. What's really critical for our team to understand, and I think we do appreciate this fact, is: we've been doing this since Aug. 5. We're pretty close to putting our pads on every day for three months. We've played two-thirds of the games on our schedule, so it would seem as if (we'd say), 'Boy, we've been doing this a long time,' (but) we've only played four of our eight conference games, so we're really just getting started in terms of how this thing is going to turn out. This is the time that individually and collectively we need a surge of energy and enthusiasm and interest, not a wearing-out of it. As challenging and exciting as some of the previous games and weeks have been, it would be more so now. That stimulus hopefully will be part of the overall progression of the team, so that we're one of the teams that continue to improve our performance in those areas. What we see every Saturday, despite the results, and one of the things that competition clearly points out is where your flaws are and what you need to work on.
Do you feel like you're playing your best ball? Or is it a little ways to go or a long ways to go?
I think we're progressing. I think there's a lot more we can do better; I think there's a lot more that we need to do better and we're all very cognizant of that fact at every level. I think there's a lot of things the head coach can do better; I think there's a lot of things that the staff can do better and I think there's a lot of things that we can do better at each position. We're centering in on those things as much as we are on the opponent.