Q&A with Al Groh

The Virginia coach addressed the media on Thursday…

Games could be lost quickly in the secondary with some of the inexperience going in. How would you rate how your guys did in the opening game in that respect?
Yeah, I think it was certainly positive in that respect. We didn't get tested back there very much as a result of the value of the pass rush. Most of the balls that got thrown; had the quarterback waited any longer, we would have been there. So, that points out the necessity of it and the great value of it. We saw one there at the end. We didn't have our front line guys in there. We didn't get much pass rush. We didn't do a good job stopping the vertical entry, and we saw the result of it when they got the long pass play. That was a team that had been coming into the game doing a good amount of vertical passing. I'm sure that was their intent once again, but it was the pass rush that really protected us back there as much as the people who were back there.

Do you expect North Carolina to put more pressure on your secondary?
That team tried to put pressure on the secondary. The quarterback just couldn't hold the ball long enough to throw it there. So, I'm sure most teams will have an intent somewhat to that degree, and how we rush the passer will be a factor in how we can mitigate that intent.

Does QB Darian Durant still worry you the same way he did two years ago?
Oh yeah, this is a pretty dynamic player. He's shown throughout the course of his career what he can do throwing the ball. He's an elusive as well as a strong runner. But more than his running out of the pocket, he's particularly dangerous is his ability to avoid within and move within the pocket, and he's got a very strong arm. He can throw on the run. So, he's a very dangerous player and has been a very challenging player for us for three go arounds already.

What are your impressions of RB Ronnie McGill?
Well, we saw him last year and were very impressed with him physically. He's a good back. They got a lot of good backs. They had two guys rush for over a hundred yards. That's pretty good. I'll bet there are not too many teams in the country who had that on Saturday.

They have a new defensive coordinator that came over from South Carolina. What kind of differences do you see in their scheme or their approach?
Yeah, I've known John Gutekunst for a long time. We wear the same number. So, we've been around for the same amount of time. He was playing at Duke, when I was playing here. He was coaching at Duke, when I was coaching at North Carolina. He was a head coach at Minnesota when Michael Groh was being recruited. So, John's a terrific guy and a really quality coach. I'm sure that he'll have a major impact on their team as the season goes on.

Is UNC using much of a different scheme right now?
Yeah, I think it looks quite a bit different.

TB Wali Lundy said the other day that this is the best he's ever felt. Does it look to you as if he's at full speed for the first time in a while?
Really since the home stretch last year he was at full speed. He's been at full speed here throughout the practice sessions. So, you know Wali looked much the same as our most recent observances of him have been. I thought he did look good. He ran with authority. He ran with decisiveness.

You've talked about him as your most physical back. That touchdown run he had where two guys hit him as hard as they could, and he just bounced off. Was that one of the tougher runs?
He did have two real good individual touchdown runs. The first one he got, really he had to beat two guys to the corner. He showed very good speed doing that. The second one he had to really knock two guys down to get to the corner, and he showed good power doing that. So, two pretty good traits for a back to have, speed and power. He demonstrated both on those two runs. Very strong on the one in between on the second score that he got. A couple of guys were on him a yard or so out, but that's while Wali's body weight number hasn't gone up significantly since he got here. His strength very definitely has. Two of those plays that were indications of the increased strength level with which he can play.

I think on the third touchdown WR Michael McGrew gave him a block. I think l McGrew had a couple of other good downfield blocks. Is there a dropoff with him from the blocking you got from Ryan Sawyer and Ottowa Anderson?
That was a good news-bad news play. He passed up the guy he was supposed to block. Maybe out of remorse, he increased his effort to find somebody else, and he was pretty physical with that guy. So, I'll let WR coach John Garrett handle it in his inimitable fashion. I can kind of hear the session right now. But, I liked his effor;, I liked his effort.

In general, though, is McGrew a good blocker?
Yes. That's one of the reasons why he's at the Z.

With WR Fontel Mines out, obviously you guys like those that run to the edge, putting Imhotep Durham and Emmanuel Byers out there. Can they block as well as Mines?
We'll find out. They'll have to if they're going to continue to play. That's one of the criteria.

Was that as good of an opener as you've been a part of in terms of your team being ready to play in the first game?
Well, you know we were pretty good last year. We were 27-0. That was a shutout. You can't do too much better than that. You know, as I've said before, I'm not necessarily in the comparison business. But, in and of itself, I thought the players had themselves very well prepared for this particular game, for the particular challenges that this opponent possessed whether it was in scheme or personnel. They knew what they had to get done, and they were pretty intent on doing it.

Were your front three (DE Chris Canty, NT Andrew Hoffman, DE Brennan Schmidt) as dominant, when you went back to review the film, as they appeared to be?
Yeah, I thought they were pretty strong. All three of them, they're not the only players that I would say this about, all three of them demonstrated that they progressed well, that their game has progressed beyond the last time they played. That is, last December. They're not just a year older; they're better players.

It seems like you've been getting to develop a pretty good rotation with that defensive line with a lot of guys coming in. Is that a sign of where that unit has come in depth of talent?
Well, we got a number of players in there early. We didn't really have too significant of an ongoing rotation. It was our plan, on a fairly warm day, in a game that was going to be a spreadout game. We knew there was going to be a lot of running. Whether it was rush-the-passer running or run to the edges on screens and those plays, we wanted to have a concerted effort to start a little bit of a substitution pattern early in the game. So we did get some guys in there early. And we did a good job of keeping the ball for some multiple drives. So, really, our offense gave the defensive rush guys their substitution, if you will. We had a number of good time consuming drives, so as a result, the defensive guys could sit on the sideline and that slowed down the substitution pattern.

Getting back to TB Wali Lundy, he's put up some impressive touchdown numbers. What is your philosophy for using him down in the goal line? What makes him a good goal line runner?
Well, of our tailbacks, he is our most physical back. So, that certainly is a factor. Certainly being a physical back was a major factor in two of his three scores. So, that's a key reason why he's back there. And, in being a physical back, he's got shiny enough wheels to get to the edge if he needs to outrun them.

Getting back to the defensive front, certainly DE Chris Canty gets most of the attention of those front three, but you know NT Andrew Hoffman and DE Brennan Schmidt have been starting for several years now. Break down their strengths. What is it about their games that makes them so effective?
They're all pretty good the other day. Chris in particular was very effective. He was very physical, very athletic for a 6'7" guy. This is a very athletic player. You saw him range to the outside for a number of plays. I thought that the most significant thing though, whether it was rushing the passer or playing in front on the run, the three of them all played with very good power. And, that's the essence of what the front three guys have to provide to us. They have to provide power. And they did a good job of that.

Was that play he made on the wide receiver screen as athletic a play as a defensive end can make?
Yeah, that was real good. I'm sure a lot of people will pay attention to that in the coming months. Actually, he was out there twice. He was out there on that one, and he was out there on a screen in the third quarter. We gave that play a lot of turns during the course of practice, so besides an excellent effort play and an excellent athletic play. It showed the extent of his preparation for the game. He read the scheme immediately, got out there on it, it was real good.

NT Andrew Hoffman has been very close to getting a sack on a number of occasions and finally broke through Saturday. Just a matter of time before he got one, or has he been working on his pass rush?
You know he's primarily a regular down player for us. His first and second down pass rush, throughout the course of training camp, has shown a lot more life to it. And, there was evidence of that here on Saturday. He's going against a pretty good guy here this Saturday, real good guy, this Jason Brown. This is good. This'll be a real good test for Andrew and where his game has progressed to.

Is that by nature, nose tackle, a tough spot to get a lot of pass rushing?
You're sort of bottled up in the interior, not coming off an edge. It is, and it's not just his position but the schemes that he faces. Most teams are, predominantly, what we call slide protection. That means against a true nose tackle, that's playing a nose-up technique, the center's going to snap the ball and offset to one side, and the guard opposite the side the center offset to is going to block down. So, he's not on the edge, he's really caught in between these two all the time, so it's hard to establish or reestablish his rush lanes under those circumstances. This is what occurs on a regular down. That's why when run is not a big issue by the down and distance circumstance. We go to the nickel, get off the nose, and soup up the technique and the pass rush.

Did PK Connor Hughes have his moment of solitude? Have you discussed with him what you've seen on film?
I haven't seen him since we got back Saturday night. So, I'll sit down and talk with him today.

Did you see anything on film?
No, obviously, we looked at it very hard. I even went back and looked at quite a few kicks from last year when QB Matt Schaub was the holder to see if there was any difference in relationship of the ball to his step or the ball to proximity of the holder, and you know nothing has turned up before. Of course, now, one of them was a 49-yarder. Now, we're accustomed to seeing Connor make everything. When you're out there 49-yards, the target gets a little bit smaller. The other one he just didn't hit real well. And then, the extra point, that's really the one that's more of interest than any of the others. One was 43; one was 49?. Whether you're going from 39 to 44, or 28 to 33, or 3 to 8, sometimes those five yards can make a difference in ball flight, so I'm sure had we moved both those kicks within 40, it might have made a difference for Connor. So, I guess my point is I'd be a little more concerned if they were 19-yarders. But, he expects a lot of himself. I'm going to have to give Connor that message, because if we were asking for 62-yarders and he didn't make them, he'd be very upset with himself that he didn't make them.

You gave long snapping duties to one from southwest Virginia, what did Tyrus Gardner do to stand out in that area?
The snappers have been very equal. He had a bit of a lead early, but Justin Markey really in terms of accuracy of the snap and speed of the ball going back had really cut in to that lead during the course of camp. Towards the end Tyrus responded and cut a little bit of time off his snap without decreasing his accuracy, so the combination of his accuracy to the punter and the speed with which he got it back resulted in that choice.

LB Jermaine Dias had a big hit on a busted play, and he was out there on the nickel. Is he a guy you see competing for more and more playing time as the year goes on? Do you expect that out of him?
We do. But, whether he'll get it or not. If he can do that, that would be very good for us, because that would be able to get Dennis Haley and/or Darryl Blackstock whenever they need a break. This would enable us to do that. Both of those guys do an awful lot for us between regular, nickel, and special teams. They play a lot of plays. So, if he could take some plays off of them, when need be, that would be good. This is a good way for him to get in the game. He's on a couple of the special teams. He's on the nickel. It gives him a chance to specialize in a few things and not carry the whole load early as a young player. But, I think he should be, besides a good outside linebacker, he ought to be a very good nickelbacker for us here for quite some time. So, we're very enthused about what he can do at that spot.

Are you still trying to figure out how to use LB Vince Redd? Does his size prevent, or is it an advantage in some ways? Is it hard to figure out how to fit him in?
Not right now. He's definitely an OLB. You can see that with all these linebacker positions, as long as they can still run, we like them big. Bigger rather than smaller. And, he's big, certainly. I think probably had I not had experience with a player like Willie McGinest who's about seven or eight pounds heavier? I might have thought, 'Gee, you can't be this big and play OLB.' But, with the right athletic ability to go with it, a guy can be that big and do it. And if he can be, certainly in terms of pass rush and play on the tight end, that brings a unique size that ought to be a huge advantage for him. Now, all we've said to Vince is train as hard as you can, and let nature take its course. So, that might result in him going to 260, it might result in him going to 290. But, we haven't tried to squeeze him into any particular position. Just as a young player, just train, develop his body, if that results in his becoming trimmed down and get stronger, then he'll be able to stay where he is, if he ends up getting bigger and bigger then that really will be the best place for him to go anywhere.

Has LB Dennis Haley gotten more physical, a better tackler?
I would just stop at the first part of your statement, and that would carry over to every phase. I would say, clearly, yes. Which was really a requisite for his improved play, so he's done a good job of responding to what he's needed to do.

Was TB Michael Johnson someone you were particularly interested in seeing out there Saturday?
Yeah, he was. It's really been quite some time since he really has played. I think he got hurt in the South Carolina game, which was the third game his freshman year. He missed five or six weeks, came back, and was quite behind at that time, obviously. When a first year player, who's really still got a lot to learn, misses five, six, seven weeks of training, then he's really behind. He had a little bit of mop up duty at the end of one of the late season games. I think he had three or four carries. So, really, it's been close to two years since he's played in a game. I thought it was important for him to get some time, and we were anxious to see what he would do. I was glad he had 11 carries in the game. He had some time on the punt return. He made two blocks on the punt return that TB Alvin Pearman returned for a touchdown. He was on the other end of it. He's accustomed to being the guy running it, but he made two blocks on that play, which is, I think, noteworthy, as far as some the transformation of his game. And, he was running the same plays that everyone else does, and you can see they happen pretty quickly when Michael's running them. He's also now on pace to have 11 fumbles in a season. As I told him, one a game. You have one each game, that'll be 11. Usually no one in this lineup stays in there long enough to get to 11. So, I'm pretty sure the point was well taken.

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