A transcript of Wednesday’s ACC coaches teleconference, courtesy of the league office:
COACH GROBE: Thank you. We’re off this past weekend, and I think that’s been good for us physically. I always hate to have an open date after a loss, but I felt like we were beat up pretty good after five really, really tough games against really good teams.
So I think the break came at a good time for us physically. Mentally, I don’t know. I think we’ve got a young football team, so I think our guys are bouncing back pretty good mentally, but we’ll find out Saturday. We’ve got to go on the road and play another really, really good football team in Maryland.
Q. Is there any key aspect that your team worked on in preparing for Maryland during the bye week?
COACH GROBE: We did. We went back to something that you really have problems doing, is you get into the season finding enough time to individually work fundamentals, especially with younger players. I think that’s something that was hurting us at the first of the year. We were at times in the right place but not playing our techniques and being very good fundamentally. So that’s what we tried to work on.
We tried to spend more time with the coaches and their individual position groups. Trying to work through some fundamentals from stance to start to tackling to shedding blocks, all those type things that you kind of lose track of once you get into the season. Because you’re spending so much time on your schemes offensively and defensively that you don’t work fundamentals, so that was a focus for us.
Q. In your performance against Virginia Tech a few weeks ago, do you see Harris as becoming your primary ball carrier in the back field?
COACH GROBE: Certainly right now I think he’s the guy. He’s earned that opportunity. We’ve really not been disappointed so much in Josh Adams and Brandon Pendergrass, of course, Pendergrass is hurt. But we just weren’t getting as much production as we felt we needed.
So we felt Josh Harris deserved the opportunity, and certainly had a great game against Virginia Tech. There are always things you can improve on. We want him to be a little better in pass protection and routes, blocking, things like that. But from just a carrying the football standpoint, he gave us a lift. He’ll be the starter when we go up to Maryland Saturday.
Q. What are your concerns defensively facing that Maryland offense, and after giving up so many points against the Hokies? How confident are you in your defense?
COACH GROBE: We don’t have a lot of confidence, honestly. We’ve had two games that were just off the charts bad; out at Stanford then at Virginia Tech. So, you know, we started four freshmen against Virginia Tech. We could start five on Saturday against Maryland.
So they’re young guys that are enjoying playing. They’re playing really, really hard, but there’s not a lot of experience on our defensive football team. We’re just trying to go day-to-day, and do a better job assignment-wise, better job fundamentally, all those type things.
But as many young guys as we’re putting out on the field, there is not a lot of confidence with them right now. But, the good thing is, I think our kids are playing hard. Sometimes you don’t play good defense because your guys aren’t really getting after it. That’s not been our problem. Our guys are trying as hard as they can, we just are making too many mistakes.
The other thing is too we’ve played some really good football teams. Some of the offenses that we’ve gone against in Stanford and Virginia Tech and Florida State and Navy, you saw what they did to Notre Dame this past week. Then Georgia Tech is pretty good offensively. So we’ve gone against some really good football teams.
But I think from our standpoint, we’re not a real confident defense by any stretch of the imagination. But I think we can play better, and that’s what we’re trying to get the guys to kind of hang their hat on is that we haven’t played very well, but we’ve got five games left and we can play better.
Q. Just wondered, how do you evaluate Tanner Price at this point in the season? I’m sure he probably benefited a lot from the week off. I know he had a difficult day in Blacksburg, but where is he in his evolution as a freshman quarterback?
COACH GROBE: Unfortunately, I think he’s exactly where you would expect a true freshman quarterback to be, and that is in a position where he does some things well and at other times he’s very inconsistent.
I think that’s our biggest concern with Tanner. He’s got a lot of skill. He’s got the nice arm strength, and he’s a really smart kid and he works hard to do what you’re coaching had him to do. But we’ve been playing some really good football teams. Not only have we played some teams that play really good offensively, but we’re playing some teams that are good on the defensive side.
So we’re not disappointed. I wouldn’t say that we’re disappointed in Tanner’s play. But what we’re searching for is some consistency. He played lights out against a good Navy football team a few weeks ago, and then we went to Virginia Tech and he didn’t play well at all. So I think the consistency is what we’re looking for with Tanner.
But it’s about what you would expect. We’re hoping these last five games that he can play a little above what you would expect out of a true freshman.
Q. Also on defense, you said that you might have five freshmen starting. Who is the fifth guy?
COACH GROBE: Well, we’re looking at some of the guys on the defensive front as possibly rolling another guy in there, another young guy up front. I think the guys that we’re looking at right now are possibly John Gallagher, I think another guy Kevin Smith, has done some really good things for us here lately.
So we’re just kind of looking at that right now. My guess would be based on what we’ve done these first couple of days that we’ll look at those two inside guys, Souza and Nikita Whitlock as starters. Then possibly at defensive end looking at another starter, and then in the freshman class, whether it might be Gallagher or Kevin Smith.
Then we’ve got to decide what we’re going to do at corner. Both the two corners, both Kevin Johnson and A.J. Marshall are still both competitive to start right now with A.J. being a little shakier than Kevin. But we’ll see how today’s practice and tomorrow’s practice go.
But we’ve got a bunch of those young guys that are all in the mix to start, and if they don’t start, they’re going to probably play a lot.
Q. I was looking at a list of the less experienced offensive linemen in the ACC and it’s amazing to me how many centers are on that list. Is there any reason for that? You have one of the more experienced centers in the league. Is that a quality you have to have at that spot?
COACH GROBE: Yeah, I don’t think there is any question. If you had your druthers, you want your veteran guy to be at center. I think what so many people do, and we did the same thing, for us Russ Nenon was a really good offensive guard when we had Steve Justice here who was a pretty good center. We were able to move Russ out to guard, even though we thought he was a center for us. Then when we had the opportunity, we bumped him back to center.
I think that’s what you see a lot of people do. Where, if you’ve got a pretty solid center, you might have your best player behind him playing guard and tackle for you for a year or two until you can move him back into center, and that’s what I think you see a lot of veteran centers in the league.
Q. In your system, does your center call out blocking assignments or does he do any of that?
COACH GROBE: We’ve done it both ways. We’ve used the guards to do that when we’re in a scheme where we’re calling the plays from the sideline. Because the center’s got to see the quarterback when the clock’s getting down to zero so we don’t get delay of game.
Then when we’re doing actions off our wrist bands, we’ll let the centers I.D. the fronts and do it that way. So we do it both ways. Your center plays better if he can I.D. the calls. That’s a little tougher if he’s counting on the guards to let him know what the front is, but we do it a little bit of both ways.
Q. There is so much shotgun being played these days. Is that a difficult skill for a center to pick up? I mean, it seems simple, but I’ve seen some teams wreck from bad snaps.
COACH GROBE: Yeah. I think the key is most kids — now if a kid’s a center that’s come out of a high school program that’s in the gun all the time, I don’t think it’s much of an issue. But the issue you’ve got with a kid that’s been an under center guy with the quarterback his whole career in high school and he gets to college, now you want him to snap shotgun snaps.
The problem that you get is not really only the accuracy of the shotgun snap. Of course, he’s got to step as he’s snapping to block, especially in running situations. But the other problem is the speed of the snap. Because if the snap floats back there, that gives the defensive guys that much more of an opportunity to get there when they pressure him.
So it’s a problem for a youngster especially, and the only way you get better at it is through repetitions. And not just repetitions in practice, but I think there is a little more pressure in games. So you’re more likely to see that ball going a lot of different places in a game.
Usually, once you get a kid with two or three games under his belt, that starts to settle down. So my guess would be you’re probably seeing fewer mistakes this time of the year than you probably did early in the year.
COACH HITE: Obviously, we have a big game coming up on Thursday. What we’re doing right now we met with the kids on Monday at 6:45 and showed them the film from the Duke game. Then we did our special team meetings Monday afternoon.
We practiced yesterday and we’re going to practice today. Then obviously they’ll be off Thursday and Friday, and all of our coaches will be out on the road recruiting.
I know Coach Beamer has a plane scheduled. We’ll be at Hargrave and Fork Union on Thursday to see them practice. Then the rest of the coaches will be in their area of recruiting.
Of course Saturday becomes Monday for us and everything we do on a Monday practice we’ll end up doing on Saturday, and then Sunday obviously becomes Tuesday. So we’ll be on a crazy schedule here until next Thursday.
Q. I’m curious how Ryan held up after getting back in action for the first time in about a month. How is he doing health-wise and what do you expect to get out of him come next Thursday night?
COACH HITE: I was very pleased with Ryan. He didn’t rush for a lot of yards, and he was always on the short side of the field and down on the goal line.
My big concern was, number one, I wanted him to get back in and get some playing time. I wanted him to get knocked around a little bit and that’s exactly what we got. I was more worried about conditioning. When you miss 35 days of practice, and you have the hamstring he had, you can’t do much conditioning work. So that was the big concern that I had.
I told him I was only going to give him 10 or 12 plays. I believe he ended up getting 11 plays. And on the goal line, he did score a touchdown, and he had a couple of broken tackles, made a guy miss one time. And I think Ryan’s back to his old form right now.
He practiced well yesterday, at the end of practice we conditioned and he ran his sprints very well. And I told him the next couple days when we’re not practicing, he needs to get out and do some running every day just to try to get in a little bit better condition.
Q. I was wondering, you guys are riding this six-game winning streak. This bye week, for it to come right now, is it a good thing to kind of get some rest and have a little extra time to get ready for Georgia Tech, or is it not such a good thing because you guys are pretty red hot right now?
COACH HITE: Well, I personally feel it’s a good time. I think it’s not only good for our players, but I think it’s good for our coaches to get a little bit of a break in there also, even though we have been meeting quite a bit. And it’s good for us to get on the road for a couple of days and go recruiting.
It’s very important that we’re in the high schools and visiting with the coaches. At the same time, we’ve been a little bit banged up, but I think everybody’s going to be — except for D.J. Coles, is probably going to be ready for the Georgia Tech game.
Whitley last week didn’t play, and I think he’s going to be back and ready to go, and just all the little nagging things that you have. It gives your players a chance to get healthy again, so I think we’re, from a standpoint of unless something happens in practice, I think we’re going to be — I think everybody on both sides of the ball will be ready to play.
Q. Is there anything that you guys feel that you need to work on this week with the extra time?
COACH HITE: There is no question about it when you’re facing the offense of Georgia Tech. I know Bud Foster’s in there, and they’re pulling their hair out.
They’re so well-coached on both sides of the ball. Of Course, you know I’m very familiar with Coach Groh. He coached at North Carolina when I played there, and he’s got a great defensive scheme that you have to prepare for.
Then, of course, their offensive scheme is just absolutely unbelievable. The big thing is I think whoever controls the football in this game is the one that’s going to have the opportunity to win. That’s what they ended up doing to us last year.
Our offense, I thought we didn’t score well in the first half. I thought we played pretty well and moved the ball from the 20 to the 20, but we didn’t get any points out of it. Then in the second half, we couldn’t stop them and they controlled the football. You know, so we have a lot of preparation to do on both sides of the ball.
Q. Last year there was some talk about alleged illegal blocks in the Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech game. When you broke down film of Tech so far this season, have you seen those types of blocks or is everything looking more clean, I guess, for lack of a better phrase?
COACH HITE: I’m on the other side of the ball, so obviously, I haven’t seen their offense. But I have not heard — I have not heard anything said from our defensive coaches so far, so I would imagine some things changed.
I think the rules the way they are, I know it’s been addressed I think really what it boils down to is two really good football teams going after each other. I know the illegal chop block, somebody did say it’s only been called twice this year, so I don’t think that’s an issue in this football game.
Q. Lastly, because you are so familiar with Coach Groh, how much of an advantage is it when you’re preparing to go against his defense, even though it’s with another team?
COACH HITE: Coach Groh does such a great job. He’s scheming us, and we’re going to try to scheme him. He’s a veteran at this. He’s been in the business a long time. I think we’re seeing more things out of his defensive scheme than we’ve seen in the past. I think he’s done a great job there. He really has.
You know, a lot of the things that we’ve done in the pass, I’m sure we’ll do. We’re working on a few wrinkles also right now.
I know our guys — it was a tough loss for us last year. I know our guys are really excited about having the opportunity to play.
Q. I wanted to ask you, you talked about Ryan a little bit. This Georgia Tech game sounds like it will be the first time in almost two months now that you’ll have basically all three of your running backs at your disposal. You were talking to me a little bit a few weeks ago about Dave Wilson and Darren. But now that you’ve had a break and a chance to step back this week, how would you rate their performance with Ryan out of the lineup for four weeks?
COACH HITE: Well, I think Darren Evans has done an outstanding job in every aspect of our offense. He’s caught the football well. He’s obviously ran hard and broken tackles and scored touchdowns and made big plays for us. And David, overall has done the same thing.
David’s going to be a special guy. He’s still learning. He’s still having a little trouble at times reading his blocks where he ought to be running inside, but he’s running outside. We’ll get all that corrected.
I think the big thing with having all three of them back, all it does is make each one of them better. The competition out there on the field in practice, when they get into the games, they want to try to outdo the other one at the same time.
They’re each other’s biggest cheerleaders right now. They communicate well on the sideline. When they’re not in the game if they see a certain blitz that comes, they tell them what they see. They’re paying attention. I really like the situation that we’re in right now.
Obviously, Ryan is very special. Now that he’s back and 100% full speed, obviously, we need to have a big game out of him against Georgia Tech.
Last year he played and he had a couple of big plays against them, but he had the flu last year. Had a fever of I think 103 and still ended up playing pretty well for us in that ballgame.
But, again, I’ve been very pleased with the other two that have taken Ryan’s place in his absence with the hamstring.
COACH FISHER: We’ve embraced our few off days, I think it came at a great time for us so we could heal up. I think our kids are responding very well. We’ve had a good week of practice, and looking forward to going to Raleigh and playing a great North Carolina State football team.
They’ve done a great job. They’re very dynamic, and we will definitely have to bring an A-game to that stadium in all three phases. Coach O’Brien has done a great job with them, and they’re playing very well. They’ll be juiced up and ready to play us when we get there. So we’ll have a great challenge on our hands and hopefully we’ll be ready for it.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Russell Wilson and preparing for him and what he brings and his ability to move around. It seems he’s moving more in the pocket just about the time to throw instead of scrambling as much as he did early in his career. Can you talk about some of the problems he presents?
COACH FISHER: Well, like I said, he can beat you from the pocket. He can beat you from outside the pocket. He can beat you running. But like you say, as a guy matures and he really understands what his offense is doing and the game slows down a little bit for him, you’ll see a lot of guys scramble. They’ll do a great job of keeping their eyes up and be able to find those guys down field. His receivers do a good job in the scramble rules of getting where they need to get to, and he can make all the throws.
He’s got terrific arm strength. He can throw it a mile, but he has touch, he’s accurate. He’s a complete football player and a very dynamic football player. Like I say, at any time and anyplace, he can make a play.
Q. I just wonder what you see in terms of his numbers. They’re still very, very good, but for a guy that kind of got famous for his non-interception streak and all that, he’s turned the ball over a little bit this year. Is there a reason you see on film that maybe happens?
COACH FISHER: Sometimes you can look at interceptions in different ways. A guy doesn’t throw interceptions, but how many chances does he take? Sometimes he can play too conservative, and sometimes you’re aggressive and you make plays and interceptions occur.
Interceptions can be good and they can be bad. Because there is, at times if you’re too cautious, you don’t throw them, but you don’t make plays either. Sometimes when you take opportunities and you’re confident in your abilities, you’re going to make a few throws in there that get tipped or guys make an interception on that. That’s part of the game.
But he always comes back and bounces back and makes plays, and sometimes we overanalyze that. We don’t want interceptions. You never want them, but you can’t tell a guy to make all these plays but don’t make a mistake. That’s hard to do.
When you’re confident in your abilities and you have the abilities you have, sometimes you’ll make one. But he also makes a lot of big plays with that too.
Q. Moving to the other side of the ball for N.C. State, their linebacker Nate Irving, of course, he missed all of last season. Just wondered what you saw on film? He tends to be a guy who is involved in a lot of plays. How do you scheme for a guy like that?
COACH FISHER: You’ve got to know where he’s headed at all times. He’s very dynamic. He can rush the pass, plays pass coverage, gets his hands on a lot of balls and makes a lot of tackles. He’s athletic and strong with his hands and plays a lot of instinct.
You definitely have to know where he’s at.
He’s the leader of their defense. You can see they rally around him. It’s great to see him back on the field after what he overcame. It’s a great testament to him. And we’ll have our hands full with him because he’ll be involved in a lot of plays and we know that.
Q. Also, you guys are sitting at 4-0 in your division. I know you’ve still got four conference games left to play, but are guys feeling pretty good about their situation in the standings right now?
COACH FISHER: We don’t even think about our standings right now. We’re just thinking about playing well. We feel confident that we’re playing better. We’re getting better. Hopefully we’ll continue to get better each week, and that’s our goal.
We can’t worry about our standings or where we’re at. What we have to do is control what we can control and that is trying to play well in this football game. That is the only focus we have. We’re not caught up in all of the other things.
We have goals of where we want to go. But like I tell them, to get to a goal, you have to take it one step at a time. The biggest step we have now is playing a great North Carolina State team. So don’t worry about the outcomes or things you can’t control. The only thing you can control now is preparing well and trying to play well when you go to Raleigh.
COACH O’BRIEN: Our football team is excited about the opportunity to play Florida State. Obviously they’re the class of the division right now, a very talented football team that’s playing great. But we look forward to the opportunity to compete against them here Thursday night.
Q. I wondered, when the season began, you had an idea that Nate Irving was going to be effective for you. But after missing all of last year and, I guess, you weren’t quite sure until you saw him on the field. Now after seven games, do you feel like he’s back to where he was or even better than he was? How would you sum up where he is now?
COACH O’BRIEN: Well, I think he has probably exceeded our expectations, especially after looking at how he was last year and thinking that he would ever play college football again.
The thing that is amazing about Nate is he’s probably the most senior guy we have on defense, yet he’s only started 20 games in his career in five years here. He’s still relatively young in terms of experience and playing the college football game. So I think he’s exceeded any of the expectations that we thought he would have this year.
Knock on wood, he’ll stay healthy here these last five games that we have to play, and he’ll continue to play great football for us.
Q. Are there things that you see him doing better than he has before?
COACH O’BRIEN: Certainly the move to middle linebacker was different for him. So the reads are different, the drops are different. His responsibilities are different. So I think he’s worked extremely hard and gotten better each and every week as the season’s gone on.
Q. Can you talk about this game is essentially, if you want to compete for the Atlantic Division title, it’s a be all end all. You’re two games back, but you’d have the loss in the tiebreaker. Do you approach it that way that this is a game you have to win to win the division?
COACH O’BRIEN: Well, you’re always careful about saying you have to do something, but certainly circumstances you just talked about, I think everyone here is aware it’s a very big football game if we want to be the team that represents our side of the conference in Charlotte.
So with that being said in the past that every game is important, but certain games, because of the significance of them, takes on a different life in itself and this is certainly one of those games.
Q. I know you’ve both had the same preparation time and everything, but does it increase the home-field advantage to have the Thursday night game, to have the crowd there at night?
COACH O’BRIEN: I think any time — I think we have a home-field advantage any time because our crowd is so good. They show up, they’re very passionate. They’re loud. So home field definitely is an advantage for us, I believe, when we play here in Raleigh.
COACH DAVIS: Obviously, this is a bounce back week for us from the standpoint that we lost a tough game on the road. For our kids emotionally and psychologically we’ve got to bounce back and hold ourselves more accountable for the way that we play and practice.
Our kids are working extremely hard. This has been a very challenging season from a standpoint of a variety of things. Obviously, Saturday there were a significant number of injuries that occurred during the course of the game, and that’s put even more of a challenge on this football team from a physical standpoint to get prepared.
Immediately upon watching film, your kids start making decisions about the talent level of the team. And instantly I think all of our coaches and all of our players recognized that William & Mary is a very, very well-coached football team. Fundamentally, techniques, scheme-wise, you don’t see them making mistakes. They are in the right places. Kids play very well.
There is a reason they’re ranked as high as they are. You know, they’ve got some really good, talented football players, and I think that our kids recognize that we’ve got to play well.
Q. Does it seem strange to be game planning against somebody that used to play for your team, Mike Paulus in particular?
COACH DAVIS: It’s a little unique. I don’t think I’ve ever faced that before. Mike’s a very good kid. He’s a very good quarterback. He’s led them to some significant victories during the course of the season.
The bizarreness of it is it is a little bit odd that somebody that played for you is on the field playing for another team. I don’t think I’ve personally ever faced that before.
Q. How do you talk to your guys about the difficulties that this game might present? Do you bring up the James Madison-Virginia Tech example? Are there other games to invoke, or do they need to be reminded?
COACH DAVIS: Well, I think every football team in the country certainly gets reminded of that because they watch the outcomes of games. The Jackson State win earlier this season was just as dramatic as Appalachian State’s victory was over Michigan a couple years ago.
But if you’ve followed our program very much over the last three and a half years, two things that we obviously try to stress in our football program is that our performance on Saturday is a direct relationship about our expectations for the way that we play. It has absolutely nothing to do about the opponent.
We want to try to hold ourselves to a performance level, and we didn’t play well last week. So regardless of the opponent, we’ve got to play better as a football team. You’ve got to continue to improve.
Then I think secondly, your football team, kids that play the game, they watch film, they look and they have respect by the opponent. They take a look at it and they see kids that are playing hard, making plays, fundamentally sound.
You don’t see people lining up and they’re lined up wrong to certain formations. They’re making mental mistakes, they’re turning the football over. This is a good football team. This is a team with dangerous athletes and I think our kids recognize that.
Q. I know they’re sitting on your radar, but am I correct you’re not on the voting panel for the USA Today Coaches’ Poll?
COACH DAVIS: No, this is the first year as a head coach they’ve not been on the panel.
Q. I still would be curious to know your reaction to the big debate topic? How do you feel about the teams like Boise State, TCU in regard to the national title picture, or how would you be ranking them compared to maybe one-loss teams in the SEC or the Big 12?
COACH DAVIS: That’s a difficult thing. I think each individual team has to be evaluated on the merit of its schedule. I think certainly in the case of Boise State, they had a very, very impressive victory early in the season against Virginia Tech. I think that certainly gives credence to how good of a football team they are.
I think over the last couple of years TCU has played extraordinarily well against people outside of their conference, whether it be in Bowl games or non-conference match-ups. I think people sometimes take all of those things into consideration.
I think the more prevalence that teams like Boise, Nevada, and some of those schools that maybe don’t get as much national notoriety from success over a lot of years or period of time certainly warrants the fact that they definitely deserve consideration, you know.
It doesn’t diminish the fact, I don’t think, that week in and week out playing in the ACC or the SEC or the Big 12 is significantly challenging. That’s not trying to pass judgment on the depth of any other conference, but those present enormous challenges. And sometimes there might be a one-loss team that might actually be truly better than any of the undefeated teams.
Q. Just as a philosophical question: If they were one of the last two undefeated teams, do you think they would at that point deserve a spot in the title game or would you really look at those one-loss teams?
COACH DAVIS: Well, again, I think it has to do with the one-loss teams, who did they beat? They may have beaten four or five teams with losing records. I mean, it’s hard to speculate until you say, okay, here’s the two teams that you’re considering. Compare their schedule, compare how they’re playing, who they’ve played and maybe margin of victory.
There are a lot of things that you would take into consideration as to whether or not you would take an undefeated team just solely because they were undefeated or a one-loss team solely because they played in a particular conference.
COACH SHANNON: You know, this week is another game for us on our road trip. And playing Virginia is another ACC Coastal opponent. Just watching Virginia on tape, Coach London has done a great job by watching film with those guys, playing hard for the whole entire 60 minutes of a football game.
Offensively they do a great job of running the football and also using the short passing game. Between the sticks they have been doing a great job of getting a lot of yards. As you watch them, you know they can be a team that can score points.
Defensively they’re going to lineup in a nine-man front. It will be very hard for us to run the football. We have to have an opportunity that our passing game has to evolve and try to loosen up their nine-man front.
It will be a difficult game, tough game like always when you go on the road. And when you play up in Charlottesville, it’s always a tough place at Virginia always tough to play.
Q. When you watch film of an opposing offense, do you tend to look more at the offensive line as a unit or do certain players stand out? The reason I’m asking is if you ever notice the other team’s center?
COACH SHANNON: Well, we watch and try to evaluate what we’re seeing on film. You evaluate the scheme and then the defensive line coach goes to evaluate the offensive line what he thinks, as a staff what they think who is the strong points and who is the weak points of their offense. And we try to always evaluate that all the time.
Q. So the reason I’m asking is I didn’t know if Virginia’s center had done anything that might have grabbed your attention at this point or that kind of one of those nebulous things?
COACH SHANNON: When you watch them, they play together as a group. They play hard. It’s not just one guy. So I think that when you watch them, you make sure you see what they’re doing when they’re running their scheme. I think that’s the one thing you have to continue to watch is what they’re doing to get better as a football team. And when you watch them, they do some good things up front, like I said, and they’re running the football pretty well right now.
Q. When you’re playing on the road, what is your preference as to a game time?
COACH SHANNON: You always want to play early because you want to have enough time for recovery time on Sunday to get back in town. And I think most coaches will say they want to play earlier than night time games. We’ve had both, so it just depends on how you feel and what part of the season. Preferably you want the earlier game, like I said earlier.
Q. Such a good performance you guys had against the heels and the team playing really well throughout all three phases of the game. Does it feel like your team’s coming together at the right time, especially with the slate of games that you have coming up?
COACH SHANNON: We feel like we’re doing okay. We feel like we’ve still got a lot of improvement to go from our football team. We’ve given up too many big plays in the run game early in some games that we’ve played early this season, and we’ve got to be consistent.
Offensively we’ve had some big runs that were taken away from us because of holding calls or illegal procedures. As a team, you want to get better, and you want to make sure that you eliminate those mistakes if you want to have success down the road and down the year.
Q. In the game against North Carolina, it looked like some of the defensive players were getting into it on the sidelines with some of the offensive coordinators — I’m sorry, against Duke. Rumor has it that the players had a players’ only meeting last week basically saying “screw the coaches, screw the crowd, screw the press, we’re going to play the rest of the season for ourselves.” Was that altercation sort of an extension of that players’ only meeting?
COACH SHANNON: I don’t know anything about altercations or what you’re trying to insinuate. Players always have players’ only meetings just to make sure they understand what we’re trying to get done.
As far as altercations or anything like that, that was never said or anything like that. So I don’t know where you’re getting your information from.
Q. I think maybe to an earlier question or interviewer you talked about consistency. Do you think your team has been as consistent as you would like this year or has it been a little too up-and-down to suit your taste?
COACH SHANNON: We’ve been up-and-down. We haven’t been consistent at all. I’ve been saying that the more consistency we are as a football team, the better football team we’ll become. We know we did some great things at certain times in the game, and then sometimes we’d have some lulls or sleepless moments and those are things that we’ve got to continue to stress and make sure that we correct those things.
Q. Do you think all teams are like that, and most seasons are like that or do you think it’s really something that it’s something that you can be consistent?
COACH SHANNON: I think every year everybody’s different. Every team has their own identity. This team has their own identity. They start to come and develop a lot of things for themselves and for this football team what we’re trying to get done and you can see them develop.
I can’t compare this team to any other team that I’ve coached or been along with because it’s different.
Q. The Pac 10 has gone for championship play to let the team that has the best record host the game. Considering the challenges that the ACC has had with its attendance at its title games, should the ACC do that, let the team with the best record host the game?
COACH SHANNON: I don’t know. I don’t know. When you have conference games there is some success when you look around the country of people playing games at a neutral site.
So it just depends on I guess that league or that conference on what they’re trying to get done. I don’t think it’s a disadvantage or advantage at any point in time. It’s just what the crowd and how much the crowd’s going to come to the game in that specific area.
Q. So you don’t think it would make much of a difference?
COACH SHANNON: Of course, home-field advantage, you get the home-field advantage, of course that is a big difference. You play best record play at home, you’re going to have all the fans. That’s home-field advantage.
I’m just saying when you look at the Southeast Conference and other conferences that play championship games, like I said, those people are getting a lot of crowds. It doesn’t make a difference which teams show up. It’s just that the fan base for the ACC has to travel.
Q. So should the ACC do it?
COACH SHANNON: No, I think what we’re doing is great.
Q. What is your evaluation of UVA quarterback, Mark Verica? Do you guys think you’ll try to heat him up and try to force mistakes?
COACH SHANNON: No, we’re just going to stick to our game plan and what we’re trying to get involved as a defensive unit. We can heat somebody up and just to be blitzing someone and not be able to get a chance to run our defensive scheme.
If it calls for a blitz, we’ll blitz. If it calls for us to play base defense and our front four to get out, we’ll do those type of things. He’s been doing a great job of orchestrating what they’re trying to get done on a new system, which is always different. I think that’s why they’re running the football.
Their running game is very big for the success of their offense, because they’ve got some potential, what I call, big backs. They’ve got some big backs that can pound the football and they rotate them.
Q. Did I understand correctly that you challenged some of your receivers to make plays? And if that’s the case, it looked like Travis Benjamin stepped up and made some outstanding plays.
COACH SHANNON: No, there are a lot of rumors going around these days about the University of Miami.
Q. Sorry about that.
COACH SHANNON: No, every day that you go out, every player’s getting challenged, not just receivers, but the whole football team. Challenging players I think that’s their job to go out there and perform to high standards and things like that. We challenge them in practice every day, and we’re trying to get them to do the things that we need them to do in practice to be successful.
Q. I know Hankerson had been making some great plays at a great game, I think it was against Clemson. But Benjamin really seemed to step up his game against North Carolina. Can you address that?
COACH SHANNON: You know what, it’s something that happens. We look at our offense and Hankerson had a great game against Clemson. But then you go back and look at Travis had a great game against Pittsburgh and he had a great game this week. LaRon Bird has had some great games.
It just depends on what the offense is trying to take out of our offense. If the defense is trying to double team Hankerson, the other guys have to step up. So those are things we’ve been seeing a lot of different things of, and Jacory has to recognize in game situations who they’re trying to take out and things they’re trying to get done.
COACH FRIEDGEN: We’re preparing for a team that is very, very dangerous. They have discovered a new running back who played extremely well against Virginia Tech. I always have a tremendous amount of respect for Jim Grobe and what he does. We need to be ready to play this week.
Open it up for questions.
Q. How do you assess the play of Danny O’Brien up to this point?
COACH FRIEDGEN: I think he’s played extremely well. For a redshirt freshman, he plays with tremendous poise. He’s bright, understands the game, has a tremendous work ethic and I think he has a bright future.
Q. With Torrey Smith having another good year for you in the return game, what is it about him that has made him such a weapon?
COACH FRIEDGEN: Actually, he hasn’t returned the ball as much this year. He hasn’t gotten the opportunity. He’s been a little nicked up. We haven’t done a good job of executing our kickoff returns as we have last year. It’s one of the areas we have to get better. Torrey has done such a good job as a receiver. He’s made a lot of big plays in almost every game we played.
He has a tremendous work ethic, he has tremendous ability. He’s big, strong, fast. He can catch. He’s a wonderful kid. Comes out every day in practice and works extremely hard. We couldn’t be happier that he’s a Terp.
Q. What do you attribute most of your team’s turnaround from last season?
COACH FRIEDGEN: I think there’s a couple things. I think, first of all, even though we’re still a young team, we have a lot of kids that have experience now. We played 24 freshmen last year, now they’re sophomores. They’re not in awe of everything as they were then. Plus I think we’re better. I think we’re faster on defense than what we’ve been. I think we’ve got a lot of big-play potential on offense. We’ve been doing a better job of executing in our kicking game. We played very well, and we haven’t turned the ball over like we did last year.
Q. Having more of a veteran team this year, is your team more focused against Wake Forest, trying not to look ahead against Miami next weekend?
COACH FRIEDGEN: I’m hoping that’s the case. We’ve been taking one game at a time all year. That’s one of the goals the kids came up with. They need to do that.
I think Wake Forest is a very dangerous team. To me, they have a lot of talent. In some ways they remind me a little bit of us last year. They have some youth on their defense. Obviously they have youth at quarterback. They have some experienced guys in their offensive line and their receivers. Josh Harris has given them a whole new dimension at running back. We need to be ready to play, otherwise we’re going to regret it.
Q. Ralph, I wonder what were the things you saw about Josh Harris that concerned you? You mentioned he does add a dimension to their offense. What is that?
COACH FRIEDGEN: I wonder ifm picked him up on waivers because I don’t see him in the press guide or anything like that. He came in the Navy game and made some good runs. But then, in the Virginia Tech game, he was explosive. He’s a big, strong back. He’s probably 5′10″, 205, 210 pounds, but has really great acceleration and great speed.
If a team had 240 yards rushing against Virginia Tech, that would be a great day, let alone one back. That got our attention real fast. I don’t see him in games before Navy or Virginia Tech.
He kind of has come out and I’ve really been very impressed with him.
Q. How do you feel about your run defense going into the game?
COACH FRIEDGEN: We’ve been playing pretty good. I think we’re one of the leaders in the ACC in run defense. We’re going to really get tested this week, and we’re going to have to be at the top of our game.
Q. Ralph, do you think the ACC should do what the PAC-10 is going to do and let the team with the best record host the championship game to increase the crowds a little bit?
COACH FRIEDGEN: You know, I haven’t really given that a whole lot of thought. That’s not something I sit around and ponder. My opinion probably wouldn’t mean a whole lot anyway.
I don’t read the papers so I don’t really know what’s going on outside of who I’m playing this week. I couldn’t really answer that.
Q. The ACC has some challenges with their attendance at their championship games.
COACH FRIEDGEN: I’m anxious to see how it is this year in Charlotte. I think for that game to be successful, I think you have to get good support from the nearby community. I think you’re not going to sell it out with each crowd because whoever is playing in that game is going to go to another game. It’s either going to be the Orange Bowl or another very good Bowl. With the finances the way they are, and the economy the way it is, it’s hard for people to go two places at once.
If the local community can support that Bowl, then I think it will be very successful, that championship will be very successful.
Q. Would you get a sellout crowd at College Park?
COACH FRIEDGEN: I think we would. If we were playing in it, I think we definitely would.
Q. Ralph, I was watching some teams in the SEC. A lot of them have picked up on the Nevada offense with this pistol formation. What is the next thing in offensive football? Everybody is doing this pistol, half of a shotgun.
COACH FRIEDGEN: We played Nevada two years ago in the Humanitarian Bowl. After the game, I went up to the coach and told him I’d like to sit down and visit with him. I think he was upset. I don’t know. He looked at me like I was crazy.
Basically he was running the triple option from the pistol formation. One of the things, it kind of involves the triple option, the spread zone option all in one. What’s different with the pistol formation is that you can’t get a key on where the back is. You can go either direction. But he did a great job of it. He motioned people, got unbalanced situations, always seemed to get an extra man on you, raising havoc again this year.
A lot of people are not running his offense but they’re running the zone play and running some things with the back and the ‘I’ formation behind the quarterback and the gun. It doesn’t allow for the defense to have a key on which way they could go.
I think it’s very inventive. I think it will be around for a while.
COACH JOHNSON: Good morning.
I think the bye week comes at a good time for us. Certainly we’ve played eight straight games and are pretty beat up, I guess. We’ve been fortunate, we don’t have a lot of major injuries. But just had a chance to take a couple days off, get cranked back up, getting ready to go play probably the team that’s right now the marquee team in the league. They’re playing the best. They seem to be blowing everybody out.
You look at tape, Virginia Tech, they’re dynamic on offense. Tyrod Taylor is having a great senior season. He’s such a playmaker. They’re always good on defense. Bud Foster always does a great job. They’re always going to be sound. So it will be a tough challenge coming off what was a disappointing loss.
I thought Clemson played well, physical, they got after us. We didn’t make enough plays to win the game.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Johnson.
Q. Considering that your team already has one of the best quarterbacks in the country, is there anything special you feel you need to do to prepare for another dual threat quarterback like Taylor?
COACH JOHNSON: It’s hard to prepare for him. We haven’t been able to tackle him in three years. What he’s so good at is making things out of broken plays. I was talking this morning, you’d be hard-pressed to go back and look at one of their games where he hasn’t scored at least one touchdown, maybe two, sometimes off of scrambles, finding guys behind people, making something you can try to spy him, but you have to have a guy can that tackle him. It doesn’t do any good to have a guy in there when the guy can’t get him down.
We’ve had a really hard time containing him. Then you couple that with all the quality backs they’ve got. Their receivers are playing good. It presents a real problem. They’re a very talented team.
Q. Considering that your team still has one of the top rushing attacks from the country, anything you’re going to focus on trying to adjust, seeing that Clemson was able to shut it down last week?
COACH JOHNSON: I think we rushed for 250 yards. We need to score in the red zone. We’re probably not going to rush for 350 yards every week. I think what we have got to do is take better advantage of our opportunities when we get down there and score touchdowns instead of field goals, maximize that way and see if we can’t hit bigger plays.
In answer to your question, we try to get back to the basics and fundamentals. A lot of mistakes we made last week were fundamental errors. Certainly some of it you have to give Clemson credit. They whipped us at times and did some things. A lot of our stuff was self-inflicted.
Q. Coach, Clemson said they spent a week in August working on defending the option. Virginia Tech’s coaches went to Iowa to talk to them about some of the things they did against y’all. Did any of your coaches go anywhere this summer to talk about any of the opponents?
COACH JOHNSON: No. Our defensive coach, Al Groh, went to New England to visit the Patriots and spent a week with Coach Belichick. Offensively we didn’t go anywhere, no.
Q. Why not?
COACH JOHNSON: There’s not a lot of people doing what we do. I’ve got a pretty good idea of what Navy’s doing. So, I mean, at times in past years we went to West Virginia, visited with Rich when I was at Navy. We’ve been different places. Coaches came in here. We had a coach from Mississippi State come in here, a bunch of other schools.
But we didn’t go anywhere ourselves. We just didn’t do it. No reason.
Q. What do you think is the biggest difference between last year’s team and this year’s team that might not be happening for you or is giving you trouble?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I think there’s a few things you can point out. The big thing is third-down conversions. Last year I think we led the country or were second at 52 percent. This year we’re sitting down in the 30s. Turnover margin, we were pretty good at it last year, this year we’re not. Basically we’re not getting any.
We just haven’t executed as well. I think we’ve got the offensive line, we had a nucleus coming back that had some starts, but really I think somebody showed me a stat the other day that said we’re 105th in the country in offensive line starts, guys who actually started games. That’s been inconsistent. No question we miss Bay-Bay Thomas. He was a big-play guy. We haven’t had a guy step up and take that role.
I’m not sure you have to take that role. We have to be way more efficient throwing the ball than we’ve been. I don’t think we need to throw it a lot but we need to be more efficient.
Other than that, we’re doing just great (laughter).
Q. Paul, what is your approach to a bye week? It probably gives your players a few days off. Do you want them to not worry about football for a couple of days and then get back to business? What is your approach?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, basically the way we try to do it is we took Monday off. I just told them I didn’t want to see them around, just get out of here. We always take Sundays off. So we’re going to start back today. We’ll practice Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, then give them a chance to maybe go home for the weekend. They haven’t had a chance for eight weeks.
We’ll come back and we’ll have a regular Wednesday practice on Monday. Tuesday would be our normal Thursday practice. Then Wednesday will be a travel day for us. Thursday’s the game.
Once we play Thursday, we’ll come back and probably take Friday and Saturday off, then come back and gain one day for the next game.
Q. Is there an ideal time for an off week during the season? I guess it depends on the health of your team. If you could schedule one yourself, would there be a point where you’d like to do it?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, it just varies. You never know. Truly, you never know when is a good time. Certainly you’d like to have it when you’re beat up and banged up a little bit. We’ve got a brutal stretch of games coming up. It’s good to get a break and regroup before we have to go play again.
Q. Since we’re on the off week, a big-picture question. Do you vote on the coaches poll?
COACH JOHNSON: I don’t.
Q. I’m trying to get a read on the big debate going on about Boise State and TCU. Could you see the argument for or against, if they’re one of the last two undefeated teams, or would you suggest a one-loss team from an SEC would deserve it more?
COACH JOHNSON: I don’t know who would deserve it more. I would see they would have every right to play for it. I said before, I’m a proponent of having a playoff.
I don’t vote in the coaches poll, simply to be quite truthful, I don’t see the teams on the West Coast play, I don’t see the other teams play, and I don’t think the other coaches do either.
You have your game. If you’re playing Saturday at 3:30, who are you seeing play? You’re not seeing anybody play. You might look at the scores. The other problem I have with it is, you know, when they make your vote public or however, how do you tell your team, I may be getting ready to play Virginia Tech, okay, and I think they’re really good, I vote them 10, and I don’t vote for my own team, is that telling them I don’t think we have a chance, they’re just way better than you?
I just think there’s probably a better way to do it. That’s just my own personal opinion.
COACH LONDON: Thanks for having me again.
Another opportunity for us to play at home. One of the last of two more opportunities to be at home here. Obviously playing a very, very good Miami team. We’re looking forward to playing and competing, getting the crowd out there, being a TV game. Practice has been going well. Just moving toward having a good game. Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Anything that you can take away from the Eastern Michigan game and transfer into something useful this weekend against Miami?
COACH LONDON: The fact that any contest, any football game you play is hard to win games. When you have a chance to win a game, obviously you take away the feeling that you have immediately after the game, the things you’re able to do in order to win the game. You take that as a learning process.
It’s something you can look forward to if you do the things that are necessary. Third-down conversions, two-for-two on fourth down, red zone scoring opportunities, things like that. We’re going to have to play, again as I’ve said in the past, we’re going to have to play a game versus an opponent that’s coming in here now that’s very athletic, very fast, play a game of few penalties, few errors, make sure we tackle well, make sure that we don’t get in second-and-long, third-and-long situations. Miami I believe is first in the country in tackles for losses, fourth in the country in sacks.
It makes you have to play exceptionally well to make sure you don’t get in those adverse situations.
Q. Jacory Harris, he can beat you deep if you give him time, but he’s getting impatient under pressure. Any new wrinkle that your defense is working on?
COACH LONDON: Other than rush 12. I think the thing is, he’s got an arsenal of receivers that he can throw the ball to. He’s got runningbacks that are in the backfield to hand off to, throw the ball to.
You just have to play good coverage. The pass-rush is going to have to help us out here because you can’t just guard a guy all day long. Jacory is a tall athlete. The thing about him is he’s not afraid to throw the ball up. It’s risk/reward. If he throws the ball up, he’s got some go-to guys, go-to receivers that can get it done in Hankerson and Berry. Sometimes that might present an opportunity for a defender to make a play for a ball on an interception.
The guys he’s throwing to, handing off to, they do a nice job of putting points on the board and providing big plays.
Q. Coach, I wanted to ask you about Anthony Mihota. He played very sparingly as a defensive lineman his first couple years at Virginia. Wonder what you saw in him that you thought might make him a good offensive lineman and how he’s handled that conversion to center.
COACH LONDON: Well, probably basically by attrition. When I first got here and Jack Shields had another year of eligibility, said he was going to concentrate on his academics and not play, that thrust Anthony into a position where, Listen, you’re the next guy on the depth chart. You’re the next guy that has the skill and the skill set to play the position.
Going into spring practice, Anthony knew he was going to be the starting center, so he had to work on all those things that centers have to do: being able to move left and right, snap, QB under, shotgun, whatever it may be. He embraced the role. He’s improving as we go along, as we speak.
Another young player that hadn’t had a whole lot of experience thrust into a starting position where he has to do a lot of things. A lot of times the center makes the calls on the Mike linebacker to set the protection. So his learning curve was that. Being the starting center, you have to learn fast and quickly. Then the fact he’s playing against 300-pounders plus, having to block guys.
He’s improving and he has improved. Miami is very big up front. He’ll have all he can handle, for sure. But he’s a guy we got, a guy we’re playing with. As I said, he’s doing the best he can. We’re looking forward to a productive game for him.
Q. I understand he has a very artistic side to him. Have you seen much of that? What are your impressions? I know he’s involved in animation, things like that.
COACH LONDON: It’s interesting. Here you got a guy, interior lineman, tough, gruff, get-after kind of guy, but very artistic. Andy Warhohl-ish. He can draw, paint, animation that you talked about. He’s very talented from that standpoint.
When you look at a guy who is a starting center, all the things a center does playing in the trenches, to find out he’s an art major. He’s very good at what he does and he enjoys doing it.
Q. What is your feeling about recruiting in Florida? It seems over the years there have been times when Virginia has said, It’s not worth it. You got a couple people there last year. How do you look at recruiting in Florida?
COACH LONDON: Well, I mean, first of all you have to look at those profile schools that are attractive to students that are out of state there. There’s some students that are from the Florida area that are here. In the past, Virginia has had players from Florida.
I think a lot of times you utilize the relationships that you either have on your staff with coaches that are either on our staff now. Whether it’s the bowl school or schools in Jacksonville, whatever it may be, if a coach during his coaching tenure at other places has had any particular success or has developed a relationship with other high school coaches down in that area, and they fit the profile of what you’re looking for academically, and when you talk about speed and things like that, they fit that part of that, the need that you have, you try to use it that way.
I think to go down there and develop those relationships, if you don’t have a coach that knows anyone down there, IT is going to take a while to do it. But you always have to make sure that the profile schools that have sent players here before, that you continue to at least engage them, contact them, film, visit them. If you’re lucky enough to develop a list of players that are interested in coming up our way, then you go with it.
I think it’s kind of a three-prong approach to it: about coaches having prior relationships, profile schools, then people that have gone here that are alumni that had a good experience.
Q. Mike, the game Saturday is on ESPN. Virginia hasn’t been on national television a whole lot in recent years. Is that a big deal for the program from a recruiting,exposure standpoint, or is does it matter at all?
COACH LONDON: No, it’s always a big deal when you’re on television, particularly the package that the ACC has with ESPN, being nationally televised. You’re going to be playing in front of, auditioning for potential prospects that you’ve been writing or calling. Now they get a chance to see you up close and personal in terms of watching you on TV. Having a good showing, being competitive, can only help you.
On the other side, if you’re not very competitive and you don’t do well, it may hurt you. But it’s a risk/reward that if you play well, people see you. I know part of the commercials, part of things they do, they’ll show the grounds, talk about Virginia here a little bit. That’s something that letters and phone calls can’t afford you.
Television exposure, the opportunity is very, very important. This game is important for us in a lot of ways, and that’s one of them.
Q. I anticipate Miami is going to load the box up and try to make Mark and those receivers make some plays down the field. How do you see that? How big will your quarterback and receivers be in this game?
COACH LONDON: Well, you might be right. You’re probably right. Again, alluding to the fact that they’re first in the country for tackles for losses and fourth in sacks, that’s one of those things the key for us is to get first downs. We’ve got to avoid the second-and-10, third-and-10 situations because that’s where they thrive.
Our quarterback, Mark is going to have to play efficient and smart. Second-and-five, second-and-four is not bad. But we got to get first downs and not go three-and-out, then kick to Benjamin, who is an excellent, excellent returner, then have our defense on the field all the time.
It will be important for us to be able to hang on to the ball, eat some clock up and move it when we have opportunities.
Q. What is your message to your fan base? You’re trying to rebuild this program. This is when you need your fans the most, in a game like this on Saturday. I see you’ve already been reaching out to your fan base since day one.
COACH LONDON: I appreciate the question. It’s consistent with the fact that when you take over a program, you’re trying to build a program, it’s important that people show up and come out. Recruits still come to our games because they want to see, can they see themselves playing here. They want to see what type of atmosphere it is. It’s important the fan base come out and show them they support the team regardless because of the turnover.
So I’ve gone around, all over the place, all over the state, within our own school, different student organizations, in the community, Hey, keep coming out and supporting the team. We need to your help. We need your voice.
Hopefully it will pay off. That’s the message. We’re a program that’s building. I want the fans to feel part of the process of building with us this year and for years to come.
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Everybody is aware that Navy is coming off a huge win where they dominated Notre Dame. Have another fine team that’s become a consistent thing in regards to Navy. Certainly with Ricky Dobbs, one of the better football players that we’ll play against. They do a fine job. Extremely impressed.
I’m also very happy with our preparation this week under difficult circumstances. Our team continues to work hard. Our team continues to prepare. We’re a morning practice team so we had great work yesterday and this morning. Hopefully we keep working, this process turns into something positive for us quickly.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Cutcliffe.
Q. One thing we didn’t talk about, I heard on your radio show, you were talking about being a voter in the coaches poll, the fact you voted Boise number one. Talk about that. A lot of debate nationally. Can you fill us in on your thinking?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: I felt like a year ago when the two went head-to-head, I am extremely impressed with Boise State. I looked at Boise State very closely on tape. You know they played Virginia Tech. I just think they have a heck of a football team, a lot of maturity, very difficult team to beat under any circumstance.
Right now, until somebody proves differently, I really have a high opinion of Auburn right now, although have them third and Oregon second. Oregon has a heck of a football team.
The great part of it as I said on radio last night, it’s still early. A lot of things are going to happen between now and the end of the season to make this much more clear.
Q. You coached in the SEC, which most people perceive as the toughest league week in, week out. Can you balance the pressure of having to perform every week against a team like Boise which maybe gets a slightly softer run in their conference?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: I don’t think there’s any question that they have an easier path. Our conference, the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, doesn’t matter really where. When you go on the road in our league, you have to play at somebody’s place, you’re in jeopardy all the time. We’ve become familiar with each other. There’s a lot of good athletes. We have a lot of good athletes. As you well know, we’re not near as poor as people might think looking at our record. So it’s difficult. I do agree with that.
I just think this Boise team, with what they’ve accomplished over a couple years here, what they’ve been continuously able to do, is a team that I think deserves that opportunity right now.
Q. What is your opinion of your run defense at this point in the season, given the challenges you face with Navy this week?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Navy is obviously a huge challenge. We’ve played better. I’m not trying to knock on wood here. We were able to contain Virginia Tech’s running game. We couldn’t contain Tyrod Taylor running or his ability to make big plays throwing. We really handled their run well. Since we were a disaster early in the year, we’ve come miles and miles and miles.
We just have to go out and play very disciplined, continue that path of getting better to have an opportunity. You don’t stop Navy running the football, you just hope to slow them down and prevent big plays.
Q. You just mentioned Tyrod Taylor. Going into the Tech game, you said you had great respect for him. Coming out of that, I respect your evaluation of quarterbacks. What do you think now of Tyrod? If the season ended today, would you consider voting him the ACC Player of the Year?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Yeah, I would certainly consider. We don’t have that vote, but I would certainly consider that if we did. I think he is an All-American candidate. I said going into that game, everybody always thinks it’s coach talk, I’m not really big on coach talk, that I thought he was the best dual threat quarterback in America. And I do believe that.
He is a guy that has drop-back passing ability. The first ball he threw on a deep-out in our ballgame, I knew he was on. I mean, you could not have laid it in there from an inch away better than he did. I mean, one of our defensive coaches was ready to get on the safety. I said, Hey, there is no answer for that. No, no, no. That’s about as good as it gets.
He’s just so fast, so agile, so athletic. He loves to compete and play. I like him a lot, as you can tell.
Q. Anything you’re doing to prepare for Navy’s ground game?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: We had Army, who is really an option attack. We play Georgia Tech every year. They’re in our division and league. We spend spring practice time, fall camp time. No matter how much time it is, it’s very hard, difficult to simulate the speed and execution that obviously Navy has.
Big challenge. We just have to continue to believe that we can make some big plays. It’s what you’re going to have to do when you get them behind the chains a little bit.
Q. This part of the season, pretty much in a must-win to make Bowl eligibility. Are you more focused on that or building toward the future of the 2011 season?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: We’re thinking about this team, these seniors. Our focus is on one play at a time. We’re not getting beyond that right now. We certainly know what’s at stake. Kids realize those things. But we have to play as hard as we can play the next play. That’s all we can do. Hopefully that starts turning into wins.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thanks for being with us. Good luck this weekend.
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Thank you.
COACH SWINNEY: Good to be with y’all today.
Really for us, this is another big opportunity to try to add some momentum. Just coming off another good win for us. It’s a one-game season. That’s kind of been our mentality. That’s what we’re trying to take up there to Boston College. It’s a place we have not had a lot of success, just winning up there one time.
We have a ton of respect for this program. For us, it’s just trying to continue to prepare well and take another step. They’re always tough. I see them getting better. They’ve had two tough losses, one to FSU, one to Maryland in a row here. They got good players.
Probably the biggest thing about them is they’ve not been very settled at quarterback, but they seem to be now, and they’re getting better. Got an outstanding running back. Number one rush defense, number three total defense. It will be a big challenge for us to go up there.
For us, we’ve yet to finish a game on the road. That’s what we have an opportunity to do and look forward to it.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Swinney.
Q. There’s a lot of pros and cons about mid-season coaching changes. A lot of coaches have told me when there’s a change in mid-season, you can often lose the kids, there is a division, separation. When you took over two years ago, did you have to do any patchwork, kind of reinforce with the troops? How united was the team when you took over?
COACH SWINNEY: Oh, man, we were a team that was in complete disarray. The season was out of hand. It is a very difficult thing to take over a team in the middle of the season. No doubt about it.
For us, thankfully we had great senior leadership and guys made the right decisions and bought into some things. We were able to win some ballgames and finish on a positive note, make a Bowl game, all that stuff.
It’s difficult. I’ve also been on the other side of that. I’ve been on a staff where the head coach was fired and finished out the season. Everybody knew it. That was a really bad situation, as well.
It’s not great either way. But the main thing is you have to try to make the best of it.
Q. When the coach was fired, what happened there? How did the kids react?
COACH SWINNEY: Didn’t go well. Didn’t go well at all.
Q. Your defense put together some good games of late. What has been the key there?
COACH SWINNEY: Just playing smarter. They put three good games together playing smarter football. We really did some just dumb, dumb things in a couple of ballgames earlier in the year. That’s probably the biggest thing, they’re just playing smarter, taking more accountability, really practicing well. They’re starting to gain a little bit of confidence that’s growing from the success they’ve had the last three weeks.
Hopefully they’ll continue to play that way.
Q. Coach, the PAC-10 says they’re going to play their championship game at the home field of the team with the best record. Considering the challenges the ACC has had with attendance at its title game, do you think the ACC needs to consider that more?
COACH SWINNEY: I mean, that’s certainly an option. I have a little bit of a different opinion on that. That’s not for me to address at this point. But I’ve got a different solution. Nobody’s asked me. It’s one of those things that you address at the appropriate time. I’ll do that within our league meetings and stuff.
But I definitely think that’s something as an option that wouldn’t be my first choice.
Q. It would not be your first choice?
COACH SWINNEY: No.
Q. So if you won the league, you wouldn’t want to have it at your place?
COACH SWINNEY: I mean, yeah, you would. I think for me and for our conference, I don’t think that’s the best thing. I think there’s a better solution.
Again, I feel like it could be really a good situation for us. I’m anxious to see how it goes this year up in Charlotte. I think they’ll have good attendance, all that. I still think there’s a best-case scenario for our conference.
Q. What is that?
COACH SWINNEY: Again, there’s a time to address certain things. I’ll keep that to within our league meetings.
Q. Da’Quan Bowers had a terrific season for you last year. He seems to have even stepped it up this year. What made him so much better?
COACH SWINNEY: He’s been a good player his first two years, but he’s not been a dominant player, a great player. That’s the biggest change, is he’s been dominant every single week, every game. That is just a credit to his maturity. He’s a third-year player. He understands it more. He understands the big picture better. He really got serious in the off-season. He took some criticism, took it to heart, went to work. He went from 290 pounds last year to 273. He’s just a very focused player.
Had a great summer. He’s really studied the game. He’s a smart player. I’m just awful proud of him for how he’s come to play every week. He’s really become a big-time leader for us. The guys are rallying behind him. Really proud of how he’s playing, seeing him have the success from all the hard work he’s put in.
Q. I know he was really close to his dad, whom he lost earlier this year. Have you heard him talk dedicating the season to his father, anything like that?
COACH SWINNEY: Oh, yeah, I think he plays every game for his family and his father. His dad was his best friend. Very close relationship. Like I said, he was already just really dialed in and focused. He had this tragedy in his life right in the middle of camp. One or two things happen when we deal with things in life like what he’s dealt with. We either spiral out of control and lose our focus or it fuels you. I think that’s been the effect on Da’Quan. It’s fuelled him to continue to stay the course. His dad was his biggest fan. He is playing every play like he’s on a mission.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thanks for being with us. Good luck this weekend. We’ll talk to you next week.
COACH SWINNEY: Okay. Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We now welcome Boston College head football coach Frank Spaziani. We’ll bring on coach, ask for a brief opening statement, then go to questions.
COACH SPAZIANI: Thank you.
We obviously have a home game and a conference game in our division against a very good Clemson football team. We’re certainly going to have to play one of our better football games.
With that, questions.
Q. Frank, do you feel your team is playing well enough defensively, and that if you can get that extra boost on offense, that could turn the tide for you?
COACH SPAZIANI: I don’t want to sound too cliché. It is a team game. Every aspect of it balances out. We tell our players this: no matter what you did on what position, what team you’re on, special teams, offense or defense, if we didn’t get the W, then we need to improve, we need to get better, it just wasn’t good enough. That’s the way we’ve always looked at it, I’ve always looked at it in coaching.
We can always make more plays on different sides of the ball.
Q. Any things that you see specifically on either side of the ball that you can point to and say, Yeah, we need to fix this?
COACH SPAZIANI: Well, when you have a situation like we’re in with a lot of young players, guys being in and out, it’s usually multiple things. As I’ve always said also, when you win, the problems are minimized. When you lose, the problems are maximized.
The problems are always there on every team around the country. You just have to manage them and deal with them. We’re well aware where we have to go in, what areas.
Q. Coach, I want to ask, Luke leading the nation in tackles, that’s a pretty high number. How much of that is a function of his special quality? How much of it is a function of what you ask of that position?
COACH SPAZIANI: Well, I think it’s a combination of both. Once again, he does have a special instinct, special talent. You coach him, try to make him better, put him in the right positions. But he has that instinctive ability, as I said all along. Certainly being in the middle I think has helped him a little bit because he’s in the middle.
Q. Montel Harris just topped three thousand yards midway through his junior year. He can make a run at Ted Brown’s conference record. Could you see him doing that? Remarkably consistent and durable throughout his career.
COACH SPAZIANI: He is that. He’s out there every day. He doesn’t miss any practices. He practices hard, with enthusiasm. I mean, he’s a model football player and certainly has skill.
I think the sky’s the limit. And Montel would be the first one to tell you he would give up some of those yardages for W’s.
Q. I know your linebackers are the ones, because of the amount of tackles and plays they make, get a lot of attention. You have a guy on the interior, Damik Scafe, who is a pretty solid player. Talk about his contributions, what he means.
COACH SPAZIANI: Well, in our defense, we need a big guy up front, like a lot of people do. In our system, we need a 300-pounder that can move, dominate, knock people back. Damik has certainly been in that mold for us. He’s a team player, works hard, as all the guys do. He’s certainly reaping some of the rewards of his hard work in the four years we’ve had him.
Q. That guy in the middle on your defense has got to do a lot of drudgery-type work. Does it pay off when he can pressure the quarterback, get a sack or something like that?
COACH SPAZIANI: Yeah. Obviously it helps us in stopping the run. Damik has been able to make some headway with pass-rush. Usually those guys inside have a little bit more of a problem pass-rushing because of the nature of the offenses. There’s people coming at you from all angles and stuff. But we certainly need them. We try to put them in a position to give us a pass-rush when we can.
THE MODERATOR: Frank, thanks for being with us today. Good luck this weekend. We’ll talk to you next Wednesday.
COACH SPAZIANI: Thanks.
THE MODERATOR: This concludes today’s edition of the ACC football coaches teleconference. We’ll be back next week. Thanks for being with us.