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Just starting out with another difficult loss for us and obviously very sick about that, disappointed, hurt, all the different negative adjectives you can use to explain that game. We did not play up to the standard that we believe we need to play with. Giving up too many big plays again, defensively. #4 (wide receiver Zay Flowers) that we talked about last week, knew he was a big-time player, and he is. He killed us with a couple of big-time routes, catches that were one-play touchdowns for 60 to 65 yards, had a couple of those. Offensively, I thought they did a good job. Penetration really hurt our running game; we did not get that going like we’d like offensively. We still did a good job in the red zone to score points. Defensively, we created turnovers, which I thought was a definite positive in the first half. (Linebacker) Monty Montgomery had some outstanding plays. Two fumbles, we ended up having an interception that was nice to stop that drive. But again, it came back to the big plays.
Status for Malik (Cunningham) is obviously a big question. He came out of the game on the targeting penalty, and there was a TV timeout there. He went, got checked out by doctors and was able to come back in the game and felt great. I talked to him after that play, felt really good about it, came back in, and did some really good things. He took another shot later on in the game. He came off to the sideline, felt a little different after that shot, saw our doctors and the doctors pulled him from the game at that point and then we continued to play with Brock (Domann). (Malik’s) status now is day-to-day, it’ll be determinate upon our doctors and what they will allow him to do. If he’s able to go, then obviously he’ll go. If they say he’s not ready, then he won’t go. He’ll be listed as day-to-day, and it’ll be determinate of what our doctors say, and our doctors do a fabulous job. As you guys know, anytime there’s any kind of injury, the doctors are going to give the go-ahead to play or not play. It’s not any coaches or any training staff when it comes to those types of injuries. Those guys do a fabulous job, unbelievable job.
I think, for me, in running this program, I think there’s some things certainly that need to be different. I think I’ve got to spend more time helping all the facets of the game, particularly defensively and on special teams. So, this week, that’s what I’m doing. I’m spending more time on that side of the ball, starting as soon as we got back. It’ll be that way all the rest of this time. If I can help out the defense in any way in looking at it from an offensive perspective like I would do, to help those guys out and if I can help on two to three plays, maybe that’s the two to three plays that’ll be the difference to win football games. We’re certainly in the business of winning and that’s where we’ve fallen short. We have to win these games, and I’ll help out in any way I can. Coach (Lance) Taylor and the offensive staff have done a great job. They’ll be a lot more involved in play calling and in running the offensive side of the ball, and they’ve done a really nice job this year with that. Our last three games, we’ve scored over 30 points and moved the football and done some really nice things. Obviously, this week, we got potential running backs that are down, and we’ll see where we’re at with that. Tiyon (Evans) didn’t finish the game, and he’ll be day-to-day as well. (Trevion) Cooley will listed as day-to-day as well, he’s another guy that didn’t finish, so we’re a little bit beat up on that side. But again, we got to go out there and play with the guys that are healthy and that will be available to go play, and that’s what we’re going to have to do.
Virginia certainly has some talent on that football team with really good wide receivers, big guys that can run. (Quarterback) Brennan Armstrong led the country last year in passing. They’re obviously a new team this year with a new coaching staff doing some different things offensively, but I think it all goes through Armstrong. He runs a lot better than people probably think. He’s got speed, he’s got toughness, and we all know he can throw the football, so I do think it all comes through him about what they’re doing. They do want to establish the run; they have solid running backs that can do that. Defensively, I think they do a good job defensively with keeping everything in front, not giving up a lot of big plays, and really just trying to make the offense move the ball and drive the ball down the field. They’ve been excellent in sacks. I think we’re leading the conference in sacks, but I think they’re number two. They do a good job of getting after the passer when it’s on obvious passing downs, and they rush the passer really well. They’ve struggled on the road this year, but they’ve won both their home games. They’re very similar (to us) in the fact that they’re sitting at 2-3 like we are and are in search of a win. I know we’re certainly going to get their best shot; it’s going to be at home. But it’s really about us putting together a great gameplan, about our guys going out and executing, making plays, and about us coaches putting our guys in position to make plays and not asking them to do things that they struggle doing. That’s poor coaching when we do that, so we got to do a better job in that aspect as coaches.”
(You mentioned that Lance Taylor will be more involved in the play calling, what is that exactly going to look like?)
“We’ve been this way and I’ve been this way my whole career offensively. Our guys in the offensive staff room have great input in what we do offensively. When I say great, they say “hey, let’s run this play,” we write the playdown, and we go out and practice it all week long. So there’s been great input by coach Taylor, coach Thomas by all of our coaches. On game day there’s great input. All of us have worked really well together and they’ll continue to do that. But if I’m spending more time looking at the other side of the ball, then Lance is running that room (offense). Then on game day, Lance has called plays this year and he’ll continue to do more of that. But we have to, I have to do everything I can to help his team win. That’s what it’s all about. And that’s why he’s going to be more involved with that because of the time that I’ll be spending on the other side (defense).”
(When you look at the big plays on defense that you’ve given up, is there any common theme? It seems like last year, guys might have been out of position. It seems like that hasn’t been the case this year, but you’re still giving up big plays.)
“It depends, obviously you go back to some games that were the big plays in a Florida State game where we were getting isolated. I think probably one of the common things is when we’re getting some really good receivers isolated one on one with a safety. The safety their role is usually more run stopping, not one on one covering a guy. We have to do a better job and that’s what I’m talking about putting our guys in a position to be able to make their plays and not put in a position where it’s going to be very difficult. It’s very difficult. I don’t care who you are, as safety to try to cover Flowers, he’s a tremendous receiver. The first touchdown that he had Minkins was right there, we had a corner underneath it, that was an unbelievable play. He goes up and dives and catches the ball over the shoulder and stays on his feet and scores. I mean, it was an unbelievable play. The second long one that he had, that’s on us because we isolated Minkin’s one-on-one with him. That’s not Minkin’s fault, that’s our fault. He (Flowers) had all the field to work with on that post route, they maxed protected, we couldn’t get a pass rush on that and we get beat on that. That’s what I’m talking about for us we have to do a better job of putting our guys in a position where they can make plays. Then some of it was tackling I think, some of the big plays earlier in the year were missed tackles. We have a guy right there and we missed a tackle and then it goes for 40 or it goes for 50. Those are backbreaking plays those big plays. You can stop somebody for 70 plays on defense, but if they hit six of them, you are going to have a hard time winning, you can’t have those, you have to get them down. The biggest thing that I’ve seen really good defenses do is that offenses can move the ball. It is not about the yards, you can give up 500 yards but if you give up 17 points, you have a great chance of winning. Because when you get into the red zone, and our red zone defense has been solid this year, but when you get in the red zone, you have to hold them to field goals. If you hold them to field goals every time then you have a chance to win. It’s about getting them on the ground. As a play caller, if I have to call three plays and it’s a touchdown, that’s easy, that’s easy work. If we have to drive the ball and we have a 14-play drive and we’re just scratching and clawing just trying to get a touchdown, you can’t do that six times in a game. It just doesn’t work out, it’s just hard. But the one and two play drives, I mean, that’s where you have to eliminate those.”
(In the fourth quarter, I think you guys had a fourth and four at the 39 and went for it instead of punting and trying to pin them down. What was your thought process during that?)
“We were up two in that scenario, we were on the 39-yard line. We had already had a punt earlier that day that landed on the three-yard line but ended up going into the endzone and if you do punt it you’re gaining 19 yards if it goes into the endzone. They just needed a field goal, our thinking was, let’s get a first down, let’s try to go get some points, at least get a field goal because we only needed 10 or 15 more yards to get into field goal range and now we’re up five. The other thing was there were five minutes to go in the game at that point in time. If we didn’t get it, and somehow they do drive the ball and get a field goal, just like they did, we had two minutes left. So you do have time to go down and win the game with a field goal. So that’s kind of the thinking if you score right there. There were also some calls there at the end of the game that were hard, some hard calls, and there was a lot of tight man-to-man coverage out there. You go back and watch the film I mean it was tough. It’s tough to get open if you have guys all over you and grabbing you, and some of that happened in the last two drives. But our thought process was to go for it, get this first down, we get into field goal range, let’s kick it and now we’re up five. Now it’s going to take a touchdown to beat you so that t was the thought process. You’re in that 35 to the 42-yard line, most teams are going to go for it right there and it was fourth and four. Had it been fourth and 10 or nine, then probably punt. But at fourth and four you have a chance to make it.”
(It was a young defense a year ago, you didn’t really make any changes there, they kind of grew up. How many of these big plays are happening can you fix given that they are basically the same group?)
“We have to do a better job of putting our guys in positions to stay on top. You know, the bottom line is if we’re down, and we want to be a pressure defense, but if you’re down at seven yards, eight yards, and they get past that there’s nothing else there and once you get past that it’s a touchdown. We have to do a better job of planned pressure defense but also having that umbrella back there where we’re keeping everything in there. You have to know when to call that stuff and when. You also have to protect your guys. Again, what I mentioned earlier, you can’t ask a safety guy who normally is not going to be a one-on-one cover guy to cover a guy that can really run and play. That’s where we have to help our guys out.”
(What did you see from Brock (Domann) at the end of the game? And if he does have to play this week, how do you get him more comfortable with the offense?)
“He (Brock Domann) was very poised and calm once he went out there. I think one of the first pass plays, he hit Marshon (Ford) for about 19 or 20 yards up the sideline. I thought he played well. I know that his stats don’t look good. But you go back and watch the film, he did what he needed to do from his position. We had to get guys open, and they were tight. They were man-to-man. They were all over our guys and we did not get free. We did get the one call, they called Ahmari (Huggins-Bruce) for a facemask and called him for PI (passing interference) as an off-setting penalty. But there’s about five or six other passes that were questionable. It’s hard for the referees. I get it. They’re jockeying right there, but it’s hard on Brock if a guy’s not getting opened on where to throw the football. I thought he played well. We got to do things that can make it easier on him, to find ways to get some easy throws, easy completions. And to get him comfortable in a running game. It helps that if we can get these back rolling and get the running game going that’ll help him as well. He’s got confidence. We have confidence in him to make the throw. He’s been practicing really well. We have confidence if he has to be the guy.”
(One of the constants with this team, the last couple of years, has been the struggles late in the game. Obviously in this last one, you lose Malik (Cunningham) and that impacts it a bit, but there have been fourth quarter struggles. Are there things you’re seeing on film or things you can do to rectify and change that kind of trend?)
“You go back and watch the film and there are certain things that certainly we could have done a lot better. One of the big plays in the game was the end of the third quarter we hit a 60 yard touchdown and we get it called back for a chop block, which is very unfortunate there.
That’s a different point because now you’re up two scores. They (Boston College) have to go get two touchdowns as opposed to two field goals, which they ultimately got. In the fourth quarter… there’s a bunch of different ways to win games in the fourth quarter. And we have not done that in a lot of them. We did it in the central Florida game. We did a great job in that game, down there. You’ve got to occupy the ball if you’re on offense and then when you are driving it, you have got to get points. Just like we had the fourth and four, on the 39 (yard line). It was a good drive. We took the ball down the field and if you’re going to win the game, get a first down. You’ve got to get a first down, kick the field goal or make the touchdown to where now, they’ve got to go drive and get a touchdown to win instead of putting it on our defense to hold them to a field goal. They did a good job, they broke off a good run, and then we held them to a field goal opportunity. We had another opportunity, we had another chance with two minutes to go. We needed to go down and get a field goal, and we just couldn’t get free. We couldn’t get free to go to get that. There are plays there to be made and we just have to go out there and make them.”
(Can you take us through the week? You’re changing the way you’re handling things while you’re also waiting on if Malik (Cunningham) can play. Malik means so much to what you do offensively. So how do you balance that not knowing if you’re going to have him? Is that something that they update you on hourly or daily?)
“We certainly get the update daily of where we’re at with everything. And then as we go across game planning, it’s really watching the film: What are they going to do defensively? Offensively? How can we attack that? Obviously, if you’ve got a Malik (Cunningham) plan, or you have a Brock (Domann) plan, there’s a difference. There are some different things that we would be doing. I think offensively, and Lance (Taylor) can talk a little bit more about it, coming up with the plays that we feel good for Brock to run or plays that we feel good Malik can run offensively. I think that’s how you approach it. And as we get closer to the end of the week, we’ll obviously know a lot more about how we need to approach the game plan with that. And then, for me, it’s just spending time in both rooms. I’m going down the defensive room, I’m in the offensive room. We’re here all day and all night. It’s just a matter of spreading out the hours throughout the day to figure out the best time to utilize myself. Meanwhile, the guys are working their tails off trying to come up with the best plan.”
(You mentioned Tiyon (Evans) and Trevion (Cooley) being kind of day-to-day (in terms of injury), is there any change in (Jalen) Mitchell’s status moving forward?)
“Yeah, (Jalen) Mitchell is getting closer. You know, he had the injury, the lower leg injury, against Central Florida. This Friday will be four weeks. He’s really, really close to being available. We’ll probably know more with him toward the end of the week. But he is getting really, really close.”
(You mentioned being more involved with defense and special teams. What, if anything, specifically prompted you to make this change at this point now in year four?)