How are you and the team doing?
Well, I mean I didn’t get hit by a bus on the way over here, so that’s pretty good. When I walk out of the office, I have to cross the street there and the guy driving the truck stopped and waved instead of speeding up or swerving to get me. Things are alright. Our team is resilient and together and tough and invested in what we’re doing. They’re obviously not happy. I’m not happy. But they’re still together. I thought we had the best Sunday workout we’ve ever had. I look forward to tomorrow and getting out there on the field and getting ready to attack our next challenge.
I am proud, I have been proud, I believe that I’ll continue to be proud of our group. I’ve had individual conversations and then conversations with them as a team. We got a lot of guys playing their hearts out, out there. We’ve got to find a way to play a little bit better and give our guys a chance to have some success.
On talking to the team at the half:
Well, I mean, I just addressed them separately. The defense, I tried to talk to them before the coaches came in with adjustments. I talked to them about not letting all this other [stuff] affect what they’re doing, go play the next play to the best of your ability. You know, just tried to kind of calm them down a little bit. On the other side of the ball, I just challenged them to go compete and they did that.
I don’t know, like I got into it with a chair in the coaches locker room. I’ve got bruises on my body, I’m not sure how they got there, but I’m not sure who won, I’m not sure the chair didn’t just whip my tail. I don’t know. My dad has a pretty good temper and he said ‘you have the same temper but you’ve learned to control it,’ which I took that as a compliment. I think he meant it as a compliment, but occasionally some of that Spanish blood boils up on me and I get a little bit fired up.
On injuries in the game:
I think both Jermaine [Waller] and Kaleb [Smith], I know they’re gonna be fine. Those are good things. Kaleb’s injury looked to be serious and it’s probably scary and he’s pretty sore, but there’s no structural damage in there, so that’s a good thing. I think Jermaine’s gonna be okay and ready to go. He’s in a great place mentally. This is a guy that a couple years ago played the whole season pretty beat up and did a heck of a job for us. Those guys are focused and anxious to get back.
I hate it for Devon [Hunter]. All that he’s been through to work to get back and to have it end so quickly right there is disappointing for him. He’s just become a very mature, good leader for us. And then Dean [Ferguson] has just been patched together all year. Literally, I think he has three, not to get too much into his medical deal, but I think he’s going to have three surgeries on three different things. He was already playing with two of them and trying to make it through the season with this third thing, which was his shoulder. He’s going to eventually have to go under the knife for three separate things. It just speaks to his toughness and his dedication to this team that he’s hung in there as long as he could.
On the miscues in the passing game:
Well, I mean, obviously if I could walk out there and fix it, I would. I just think the way that they play is challenging. You have to play that way, in my mind, to have a chance. We knew there was going to be some of that. You can’t hit on all of those, but we’re so close to making so many of those plays in the first half. Tayvion’s [Robinson] ball comes to mind. The same ball I saw him catch on the goal line in the first game of the year. Catch and immediately bring it to his chest and roll away from the defender. In this one, I think in Tayvion’s defense, looking at the film and talking to him, he was trying to turn away and keep his feet to try and continue to score and it just got knocked away there at the end.
Sometimes the differences between big plays and second and ten or third and ten is really small. There were a couple of balls that were affected by the wind, but it’s not like the wind was blowing thirty miles an hour. It was a factor, I thought, more in the kicking game than it was in the passing game, but the margin of error is pretty thin.
On the flag being picked up on the Pittsburgh interception:
I think he did start to slip and then was tackled by the linebacker is what happened. He didn’t fall to the ground and then the linebacker jumped on top of him. He did stumble and then was tackled by the linebacker, so it was a tough break right there.
On the no-call on the incompletion to Tre Turner:
We switch [refs] at half, so the pair that’s on the opposite side for the first half comes to our side, so to start the second half I asked about it, because they were the two that were over there. Said like, ‘talk to me.’ I tried to be in a very nice manner. [They said] ‘well, coach there was some restriction there, but your player made no attempt to go catch the ball.’ And that’s, I don’t know, that was pretty hard to swallow. ‘So you’re telling me that our senior wideout that’s played fifty games here didn’t try to go catch the ball?’ ‘Yeah that’s what we’re saying.’ That was hard to stomach. Anyway, I turned it in, they missed it. Then, to be honest with you, they got a tough job, right? They have a tough job.
What were you proud of defensively?
I thought we covered well. Particularly in man coverage, we held up really well and they tried to do a bunch of short motions and pick guys off and we passed things off and we communicated well in the secondary. I was really proud of that. We actually created some pressure with three and four man rushes, but what we talked about a little bit to begin the week was really what hurt us the most was [Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett’s] ability to manipulate the pocket, to get on the move and either complete a pass or run for six yards. You didn’t see the whole checkdown to the tailback. It was really him moving and running and getting five or six yards to keep them on the chains when we had defended it really well and created pressure. There’s a cumulative effect of that.
It gasses you eventually on the defensive line, because you’re rushing and rushing and rushing and chasing all over the place. There’s not really a lot of control you’ve got over that. You’re trying to get him off the spot, you can’t just let him stand back there all day and you finally get him off the spot, with good coverage and they still stay in front of the chains. To me, that’s one of the things that sets him apart. This is a guy that is an accomplished passer, but has enough of that savvy and athletic ability to stay in front of the chains when things break down and don’t go very well.
On Keshon Artis and Brion Murray doing a good job filling in for Dax Hollifield and Jermaine Waller:
Both of those guys, that’s what you’ve gotta have as the season goes on. It’s a luxury, and I don’t mean this in any bad way, it’s a luxury to have somebody that is a backup that’s not a true freshman, that has actually played in games. You really want to develop those freshmen early on, on special teams and into backup and eventually starting roles on offense or defense as opposed to just being forced into action before they’re ready. It’s harder nowadays to have veteran backups because of all the things we’re dealing with with college football, so I think it’s a testament to both of those kids.
Keshon, his ability to continue to produce and contribute on special teams and when his time came to step up and play well. The same thing for Brion, who got a tremendous amount of work last year, we did not have Jermaine [Waller], obviously from week-to-week we didn’t know who was gonna play, but Brion played a whole lot last year, has played quite a bit less, but still is getting in in our dime packages. [He] was in there when Jermaine came out. It’s really nice and a luxury to have those veteran guys.
On Amare Barno’s performance:
This is a guy that just is really amazing. He covers punts. He’s just such a good athlete and he’s really remarkable. It stands out on film and as we go through this season, I just feel like he’s put together two weeks in a row with elite pass rush opportunities. I don’t mean every single snap, I just mean there have been a couple times where he’s rushed the passer the last two weeks and you watch it and go, ‘that’s what I’ve been looking for.’
You can just see the maturation, you can see the evolution of him as a player. We know he can run around and go chase things down, but the next step for him is to become a dominant pass rusher and he’s not there yet but we’re starting to see flashes of that.
Is having success the only way to build confidence on offense?
Well, I think it’s to do it, and to do it at a high level. The way that you get to do it at a high level without it counting is through practice and being demanding of each other in practice that it look a certain way. I think that’s what we’ve got to have from that group to get that way.
I told the team that too and I felt like coming into the season I was concerned about, not that I didn’t think we could play defense, I had watched fall camp and I was just a little worried about how it was all going to look but I felt really good. And I’ve just watched it switch and part of that is just confidence, part of that is the ability to go execute and make plays under duress. Losing a guy like James [Mitchell] affects that, but we have to move past that and get to the point where we can go execute at a high level.
What’s it like when you lose confidence as a quarterback?
I think it comes down to your fundamentals and your ability to – we can all concentrate in a clean environment, right? There’s a reason when you take the SAT they make everybody be quiet, there’s not a crowd there, there’s nobody yelling and screaming, they’re not blowing horns, they don’t buzz you if you’re wrong. You just answer the questions and turn it in. What happens sometimes to players, sometimes it’s quarterbacks, is you get affected by all this other stuff and there’s scar tissue in there from previous experiences or whatever it is and you start to let previous plays affect future plays, and you can’t do that.
It’s very easy to say, very difficult to do. Continuing to try to hold yourself to that level every single day and every single opportunity. Playing the game in your mind over and over again when you’re out there in practice is paramount to giving yourself a chance to have success, knowing that it’s difficult and it’s not a perfect game and sometimes things aren’t going to go your way.
On Nasir Peoples’ development this season:
He’s just done a really good job, he’s just a really intelligent player. JHam [Justin Hamilton] does a great job mixing up looks and he asks a lot of those guys in terms of trying to disguise looks, in terms of giving multiple looks to the quarterback. Held up in man coverage as well. He just continues to get better with more and more game experience and kind of a calming force back there to kind of help us in the secondary.
On Parker Clements’ performance:
I was pleased. I was really, really happy. Some people may roll their eyes at this, but I really felt we played better on the offensive line than I thought we did during the game. Parker’s a good reason for that. He held up in pass protection. Obviously, there were more drop back passes in that game than we usually throw. There were more one-on-one pass protection and blocking responsibilities for him because of how they play. He went out there and competed. I was really proud.
On the gratification of developing guys into NFL players:
Oh, without a doubt. When you’ve seen behind the scenes, and all of these guys are elite athletes, but when you’ve seen them grow and you’ve seen them mature and you’ve seen them develop and the work that they put in behind the scenes. The elite athletes that don’t put in the work, they don’t make it to that level. They don’t get those opportunities, or if they do, they don’t get them for very long.
Whenever we have guys, whether they’re drafted high or not, Chuck Clark’s the one that always comes to my mind. In that 2016 class, everybody was talking about all the other guys that were coming out in that class and low and behold Chuck Clark has had an incredible career. We take a lot of pride in that, kind of like a proud papa, when they’re out there playing.
On the performance of Da’Wain Lofton:
I don’t know if you guys noticed when D’Loft caught that ball, I don’t know if you saw the sidelines. I thought that was pretty indicative of their feelings towards him. I’ve talked about my relationship with D’Loft and D’Loft’s high school coach, but to bring a guy like that in, that really nobody knows about, Hokie Nation doesn’t know about him. This is kind of my guy, right? His high school coach was kind of my guy and he’s come here and I’ve watched him work and I’ve watched what he does in the classroom and all that sort of stuff.
For him to quietly just keep going about his business and then get an opportunity to make a big play, make it and to watch his teammates get excited. I pointed that out to D’Loft in Sunday’s practice, like, ‘your teammates don’t do that for everybody, they do it for the guys they really respect and you’ve been here a very short time and garnered a tremendous amount of respect from your teammates.’
On the comparison between Da’Wain Lofton and Tayvion Robinson as receivers:
He’s got the strength and a little bit of the stride that Tayvion has. They look similar, like they have similar builds. Tayvion is a strong kid and D’Loft is the same way. When I’m out there at practice, if I don’t see the jersey number or something, the way they move is really similar. Tayvion had a really good freshman year, probably played more than D’Loft is playing, but I think as the season goes on, D’Loft’s gonna continue to just start to rotate in there all the time so we can continue to keep those guys fresh.
On Syracuse’s run-heavy offense and run-stopping defense:
They are dedicated to running the football. They have a great tailback. They have a quarterback that is really big and athletic, I mean, 6-4 kid, that can really run the football. They’ve committed to that and they’re very, very effective. On the defensive side of the ball, they’ve moved to a defensive coordinator that’s from the Rocky Long tree, which not a lot of people on the east coast know probably as much about Rocky, but Rocky was the head coach at New Mexico, and ultimately the defensive coordinator at San Diego State, then the head coach at San Diego State in the most recent history.
When I was at TCU, we were playing those teams and they were a pain. I mean they were a three-three stack pressure, moving people all over the place, shell coverage, rolling coverage. That’s the direction they’ve decided to go, they being Syracuse, on the defensive side of the ball and they’re reaping the benefits of it. This team, I think it’s the last three games, they’ve lost by three points apiece. They’ve played really good people really tight and they’re playing at a really, really high level.
On Syracuse running back Sean Tucker:
He’s got a great low center of gravity and balance and power. He’s not an indecisive runner at all. He makes up his mind and he gets north and south and people tend to bounce off of him. There are just some guys like that that have big lower bodies, big hamstrings, big quads, and it’s hard to get them on the ground and they’ve got a combination of balance and power and he’s got it.
On the uniqueness of Syracuse’s defensive scheme:
No question, it’s totally different. That’s the fun part about the season, though, is you get totally different philosophies and some of them you match up well against, some of them you’ve gotta find ways or determine the best way to give yourself a chance to have some success. Essentially, if you take third down out of it, for Pitt, they lined up the same way every single snap. You know exactly where they’re gonna be and what they’re trying to do and that’s to keep you from rushing the ball for a single yard.
This group is a different philosophy. This group is more multiple on early downs, changing the front from four man to three man to maneuvering the secondary to playing some softer coverage while mixing in some tighter man coverage. A completely different challenge this week.
On Syracuse’s return game:
We’ll have to do a great job covering kicks. We’ve gotta find a way to make a play to help us kick start it off, whether that’s on punt return or kickoff return. Their kickoff coverage unit is fantastic as well. They are very well coached. We just had our special teams meeting and while we don’t play these guys every year, we see their film in crossover. James Shibest was remarking, ‘I’ve watched them in crossover so many times that I just know that they’re well coached and play with great effort.’
Virginia Tech has held the Commonwealth Cup for 310 days. #Hokies
— Commonwealth Cup (@CommonwlthCup) October 19, 2021