Groh slightly happier this week

In case you’re interested, the following is the complete transcript from Virginia coach Al Groh’s weekly press conference, two days after the Cavaliers broke their seven-game losing streak.

COACH GROH:  Congratulations to Anthony (Poindexter), well deserved.  He is one of the all‑time great players here.  I thought they were retiring my jersey once, too, between games 9 and 10 but I found out that somebody stole it so I had to change numbers.  That’s about the closest that I came to envisioning something like that.

I think our team is very excited about the challenge that we have in playing a Big 10 team.  It’s only the third Big 10 team we’ve played; since we have been at Virginia; the first was our first game against Wisconsin.  So since that very first game we’ve actually only played one, and that was Minnesota in, I believe, 2005, so it’s a very physical, very competitive game and we expect the same kind of challenge here this week against a team that ‑‑ one thing for the coaches today, it’s pretty clear it’s a different kind of day from other weeks because we don’t have any of that built‑in information about the team.

How they tried to play us in the past, who the personnel is, we don’t know anybody from recruiting and what his natural speed is so it’s taken deeper research.  It’s a fun project to be on but it’s very challenging and that makes today a very, very important today because everything that follows from today is based on what is discovered during the course of the day from the coaches.

So this is a day of great diligence for us.  We are pretty impressed with a physical team like this.  They’ll play the most physical style of anybody we’ve played so far this year, so what typically is the longstanding reputation of the Big 10, although clearly that’s changed, the style of the teams, the Michigan offense and what Purdue has done over recent years, but still known as a smash‑mouth league, and they clearly play a physical style.  They have that kind of players, I’m sure they played that way in high school, too.

So it will be a real good challenge for our team.

Q. Coach, I wanted to get your thoughts on Vic Hall returning against UNC. I guess he lived up to ‘Do-it-all Vic Hall’ last week.

COACH GROH:  You know, Vic ‑‑ if it weren’t for the few ‑‑ a couple of circumstances had gone a little differently, Vic would have caught a pass, thrown a pass, run the ball, had a sack and played on special teams.  He was ‑‑ on one of our pressures, he was the first one there, a sack eventually went to Nate Collins.  He had a pass called back because of a penalty.  He had his catch, I believe, and if one of the passes were thrown better he would have had two.

He was in on one of our field goals, so he’s just one of our best players.  He’s able to keep it all straight.  He played two different ‑‑ for not having practiced any defense since preparing for the Clemson game last year, he played two different spots on the dime, and he played a number of positions on offense.  So he’s ‑‑ I mean this is just a football guy.

Q. If you were a baseball manager, you would refer to him as a utility player?

COACH GROH:  He might be a little bit of a small target as a catcher, but you know, as we have said about Vic since he’s been here, number one, whatever job is given to him, he finds a way to do an outstanding job with it, whether it’s play offense, defense, special teams, make his grade, be the captain, just whatever it is.  He’s a “can do” guy.

Q. Talk about the trick play involving Vic.

COACH GROH:  Well, I mean there was no question, but the game was scoreless at the particular time, and we were trying to win that particular game, and George Allen was the one who said it and it certainly applies to everything we do:  “The future is now.”

Q. On a week-to-week basis, how much variance is there in the defense?

COACH GROH:  I think in a lot of ways by necessity, it does, because whether it’s what the players do after the snap, offense has so often been called assignment football and defense has been called reaction football.  Obviously there is a combination of both on each side of the ball, but it’s the same thing in planning.

You have the way you want to play, but you have to be reactive to what the offense shows in terms of the sets, the formations that they put together, the pass patterns, this coverage this week is very appropriate to majority of their patterns, but maybe not appropriate next week.

I guess I would say by way of example, since we’ve used this example before, in 2007 we had back‑to‑back games with Maryland and Wake Forest.  Had we run the schemes against Maryland, those schemes against Wake Forest we probably couldn’t have beat Wake Forest and if we had run the schemes against Maryland we did against Wake Forest we probably couldn’t have beat ’em.

They weren’t things we invented during the course of the games; they were in the system but they were just featured more one week than the other week.  Within the context of your philosophy and the things that your players are familiar with, it has to be blended in there that you have to be ready to play the kind of game you need to play each particular week.

The great variety of offenses that we see from power offense to spread offense to options to mainly drop‑back passing requires from the outside of the season that you have enough variety in there to match the different things that you’re going to have to face.

Q. Getting back to Vic, do you see him moving back to the punt return role?

COACH GROH:  I wouldn’t rule that out.  We don’t necessarily see that there and become a point of reason here where we have to say how many things can we ask this player to do.

Q. After correcting some of the mistakes from the first few weeks, do you feel you’re as close as you can be the team’s true identity?

COACH GROH:  Well let’s say it this way, Mark.  We now have graphic examples ‑‑ the players have graphic examples just this season of how the result can be dramatically different as a result of those two circumstances.  Do a real good job with it and you have a real good chance of a happy result.  Don’t do such a good job with it and no matter how well you run your plays or run your coverages, you get the other result.

As we discussed last week, so much of everything is about what happens to the ball.  Yet we see on every level that the team that didn’t get any turnovers one week, gets five the next week and they win, you know, or the team that didn’t turn it over turns it over four times the next week and they lose.  Maybe they played the same game on offense and defense.  It’s such a determinant that it almost trumps everything else that goes on with the game.

Q. Al, do you use the nickel?  Have you used it much?  Or are you on to the dime now?

COACH GROH:  Last year we were ‑‑ the last couple of years we were much more nickel oriented in the use of our personnel.  This year because of the personnel available we’ve been more dime oriented.

Q. Who’s playing the linebacker role in the dime?

COACH GROH:  Well, that’s where Dom Joseph is playing, he’s playing in that position.  He doesn’t have quite the body that Nate had but obviously as a corner instead of a safety he probably has a little bit more elevated level of coverage skills.

Q. We had some questions earlier this year if whether Jameel was rusty, but Chris Cook was out even longer. How much improvement have you seen from him from game one to game four?

COACH GROH:  A measurable difference.  He was on his game very nicely, a little rusty the first week.

Q. The North Carolina were fairly vocal in their displeasure yesterday. Is that something you’ve seen more of as time has gone on during your tenure here?

COACH GROH:  Everything passes down, whether it’s schemes, we see what the NFL teams do, we learn from them, I’m sure it works in other ways, too.

I think that it’s easy to keep everything in perspective.  I guess I got home about ‑‑ I got home about 11:00 last night in time to see Heath Miller make his second touchdown catch, and at that time it looked like the game was pretty well in hand, but if Heath Miller is in the game my wife is going to watch it until the end.

So I was happy to sit up and watch the end of the game with her.  Toward the latter part of the game the Pittsburgh fans were quite vocal in booing the Pittsburgh Steelers, if you can imagine that.  So just take that as a perspective orienting thing, they just won two Super Bowls in the last three years and they are winning the game and the fans are booing them.

The interesting thing is the psychology of that, if anybody believes that that helps anybody play any better ‑‑ now if it makes thousands of people feel good, then I guess that’s good for thousands of people but what they want is for their team to play better, it doesn’t necessarily ‑‑ I haven’t ever been around a circumstance where players were saying, sounds like they’re getting on us, so let’s play better!  (Laughter.)

Q. Brandon Woods started the first three games last year, then Corey took over. How did Brandon handle that moving forward?

COACH GROH:  Right, very admirably, Jeff.  Obviously that’s challenging circumstances for a player.  Brandon has always been a player that’s put a great deal into it.  Things weren’t going as well as he would like, he would always want to say, “Coach, can I come in and go over this video with you or talk about what I need to do?”

His game has always been very important to him.  He handled it admirably, and that’s why I was ‑‑ he played very well the other day.  So he’s from Durham and a nice thing for him to play well and for his team to get a win.

Q. He’s a big, strong, fast kid. Is it more of him just grasping things?

COACH GROH:  Yeah, a little bit.  That’s been one of them, but he certainly ‑‑ it’s not the case right now, he does a real good job with the calls back there.  I think McCleod is very comfortable working with him.  Certainly as to what we saw on Saturday one of the draw backs for him was his tackling, his tackling was excellent on Saturday, so…

Q. On the coaches’ call last week, Butch Davis talked about the difficulty of preparing for the 3-4. Why do you think it is not used as much in college as it is in the pros?

COACH GROH:  You know, I wondered the same thing sometimes myself.  I don’t give a great deal of thought to it.  Probably a lack of familiarity with it.  Clearly because if you look on the NFL level a third of all the teams are running it.  So it’s got a preference level there.

But I really, really wouldn’t know.  I guess the people that are making the decisions as to what they want to play don’t have a knowledge base on it.  But as we can see it’s ‑‑ there are a lot of systems that work, there are a lot of systems that work, there are a lot more “right” systems in football; they’re different but they’re right.

It’s not a question of this team is in that system so they’re right; this team is in that system to they’re wrong, okay?  It’s a lot of ways of getting it done with the components that you have, and a lot of it is knowledge base, what you can coach as far as skills and what you think you can get your personnel to do.

And once you go down the road then whatever your personnel acquisition is, then you build it around whatever it takes to play that particular scheme that you have.

Q. Is it a challenge in the recruiting process?

COACH GROH:  Well, in that they are sometimes playing a different position, we certainly have found that on both levels, but they’re there, you know, maybe just not doing it at that particular time.  Clint Sintim, Darryl Blackstock, Chris Slade, Willie McGinnis, those kinds of players converted to it very well.

Q. Some people tend to forget you had ‑‑ talk about the importance of the third quarter and obviously the keys to the games, did you harp on anything different and act on it?  There was any keys to that?

COACH GROH:  I’ve been walking this line closely and entertaining questions on the past, but I think I’m going to stick with the way my whole day has been, I’m looking into the future here so I’m not going back into the past here about that last game that we had.  In a flight way I think I’m saying ‑‑

Q. Some people tend to forget that you had led two earlier games at the half. Talk about the keys to the third quarter. Did you harp on anything differently at halftime?

COACH GROH:  ‑‑ I’m refusing to talk about the North Carolina game.  Third quarter is really important.  It’s one of the four‑most important quarters in the game.  (Chuckles.)

Q. Some of the Carolina guys said you threw some new blitzes at them? Could you talk about when you decide to use new blitzes?

COACH GROH:  Kind of a combination.  Of what we feel we have to go against and just to put our players in the best position possible to make some plays.

You know, that’s really the way we see our job is to put the players in position to make plays.  But that’s what our job is, to put them in position.  So I’m always uncomfortable when we talk about schemes because it sounds like, well, look, the coach was there with the magic marker and he dry it all up and that’s our job to put the players in position, but then the players got to make plays.

So that’s what was pleasing about what happened the other day is the players took the game plan, took what we asked them to do and really invested it, and when it came time to make plays, they made the thing come alive; they took the plays off the drawing board and made it come alive for real.

Q. Coach, did you notice any difference in the spirit of the players yesterday, after the win?

COACH GROH:  Not really Jeff.  The players have come out with a positive energetic attitude to start each work week.  It doesn’t mean that it’s ‑‑ it’s not a business ‑‑ I guess it is a “business as usual” attitude but it’s a business as usual attitude looking forward to what the challenges are and to what we have to do to get ready.

If you do that week after week after week then you give yours the best opportunity not only to be mentally prepared for the game, but to be emotionally prepared for the game and that starts up early in the week.  Obviously you’re not as “jacked up” on Sunday evening as you are when you go to bed Friday night or Saturday morning but there has to be an anticipation of what’s going to happen.

Q. After the game you praised the play of your secondary and backs. How much of that can be contributed to your front seven as well?

COACH GROH:  Well, you go ‑‑ during the course of the game it’s a nice trade‑off.  I guess I’ll use what one of the commentators during the brief period when I was watching last night when Philip Rivers or one of the quarterbacks got sacked and a commentator, Chris Collingsworth, who is a good commentator said “Well, that’s a coverage sack” and we’re always emphasizing to the quarterback “throw it, don’t hold the ball,” but sometimes there is no place to throw it.

Sometimes the rush bails out coverage.  The guys are open and they can’t get them the ball because the rush is there right away.  Eventually the pass coverage team, particularly on third down, you have to be proficient on both ends.

Q. Sticking with the secondary, it appears Ras-I has gotten over his slow start and is playing well.

COACH GROH:  Accurate, yes.

Q. Is progress measured game-to-game or looking at the whole body of work?

COACH GROH:  There certainly are players, and when you get to Thursday night you can see as a result of, A, what the player experienced the previous Saturday and those things that have carried forth in the week of preparation this guy is a better player than he was last Saturday.

I can remember I’ve cited this to a couple of other teams, I remember during the 2002 season a number of times during the season the coaching staff talking on either Thursday night or Friday morning and saying, “Wow, we’re a lot better than we were Sunday morning”; that team would make a lot of progress during the course of the week.

And during the course of the season it showed up on Saturdays also that we were better the next Saturday than we were the previous Saturday for quite a few weeks.  I would say it takes a while for that part of the team ‑‑ if that’s going to be part of a team’s identity it takes a little while for it to show itself in this point of the season but with certain players you can see it and you cited Steven and he certainly seems to be one of those players.

Q. Coach, I know you talked about the total team effort but in some cases you can talk about as this player goes, the team goes.  Seems like Mikell Simpson is one of those players, and if he has an explosive game over 100 or 200 yards, the team does well.  Do you think you could say that about him?

COACH GROH:  Well, if you notice the other day, some of those lanes that he had a chance to run through were petty big so just like that secondary is the beneficiary of pass rush, so, too, is he the beneficiary of the guys up in front.

It’s the same thing.  There are certain players that aid the linemen, they make those reads faster, get through the creases, a little better, and at the same time there are bigger linemen that create bigger holes for those guys.  Certainly the running back position is dependent upon the guys up front ‑‑ you’ll notice that rarely is there a running back that someone sticks a microphone in his face and he doesn’t immediately say, “Boy, my linemen had a really great day today, the holes were really there.”

Q. Now that you have used Drew Jarrett, what role would you like to see him play the rest of the year?

COACH GROH:  We’re going to keep that competition active throughout, and they both obviously were successful in the roles that they were in the other day, and since August 7th it was a daily thing during the course of the previous two weeks, and we’ll keep it going that way.

Q. Where do you feel comfortable using Robert Randolph right now?

COACH GROH:  We probably wouldn’t go beyond the 30-yard line as the line of scrimmage.  He’s made ’em at the 50‑plus in practice, but I think practically speaking we would prefer that it not go beyond that spot.

Q. Last night you mentioned BJ Cabbell. The last time you mentioned him was a couple weeks ago when he was battling injuries. Is he doing better?

COACH GROH:  We manage his situation; we didn’t work him last night.  That will give him Sunday and Monday, it will give him two days of complete inactivity, so we manage his situation.

Q. The little I have seen of Indiana, it seems they try to take some downfield shots.

COACH GROH:  Indiana is a very, very diverse scheme.  They’re doing some pretty cool stuff.  I’m impressed by their scheme.  The quarterback obviously is a player who has the capacity to handle a lot of variation in what they do.  Many different personnel groups, some very unusual formations, they’ve got the whole passing package, they’ve got quite a bit in the control ‑‑ most likely to be completed game.  They’ve got a nice play action game, they will take their shots up the field.

I wouldn’t say it’s beyond a normal amount but they’re going to threaten you up the field and he handles it all very, very well.  You can see he’s very smart, very accurate with what he’s done.  He’s impressive in how he plays.  Clearly in having played back‑to‑back teams like Ohio State and Michigan there is not much higher level of competition that their players will be exposed to.

So I’m sure they’re very confident in the fact that whatever they meet here, we would like to say would be of that level, but we’ll have to prove ourselves that we’re like the guys from the Horse Shoe and the Big House.

Q. Have you ironed out the communications issues?

COACH GROH:  That was then, this is now.

Q. How has Landon Bradley’s first season of playing gone?

COACH GROH:  Quinn is a real good player.  The good news for Landon and Barker, is having to deal with Quinn, Two years ago Chris Long won the Ted Hendricks award as the outstanding defensive player in the country.

Two guys from Indiana have been finalists for the Ted Hendricks award, one from each of the past two seasons, so it’s certainly our anticipation that everything that Landon experienced last Saturday he will see in multiples here this week and hopefully that’s ‑‑ he saw a little faster fastball than what he had seen in the previous three games, and he will probably see at least a fast one coming into him this week and we will see likely the same thing, these two guys are really, really good pass rushers.

Q. In talking to some of the players last week, to a they said they were 0-0 going into the conference. How does your team deal with that going forward, I know they had the same situation last year against East Carolina?

COACH GROH:  That’s a good point, Zach, I had not thought of it as to how the East Carolina game fit in last year as compared to how this game fits in this year.  Certainly it’s an accurate assessment of the similarities of the situations.

Last year’s game took care of itself a little bit because we had played the team two years before and for reasons our team kinda saw that with the same ‑‑ we had our eye on that target as if it were a conference game.

As I said earlier, there seems to be a real excitement about the challenge of playing a Big 10 team and seeing some of the things that we did the other day provide us, as I said after the game, provide us as an opportunity to use those things to move forward but there is no guarantee to that opportunity.

We’ve got to make sure we take advantage of that opportunity or else somebody else is going to, so I think for that reason we will have our eye on this target pretty good, too.

Q. How does Jameel decide when to run or stand in and throw?

COACH GROH:  Yeah, I think I cited last evening a play that was very significant to the game where he really stood in there and passed up any opportunity that might have been there to run with the ball and completed a very vital play to the outcome of the game, but that’s one of the things that players of his style do.  If Vince Young had stopped running he probably would have won the Heisman Trophy.  We haven’t put out any flyers on that yet have we, Jim?  Not quite going down that road but there might be some capacity there.

Q. He wouldn’t have a won national title either.

COACH GROH:  Jostens isn’t coming in anytime soon.

Q. Listening to the radio over the weekend, Indiana radio was talking about kickoff returns. Were you pleased with your improvement on special teams last week?

COACH GROH:  They’re as diverse in their special teams schemes as they are on their offensive schemes, so it would appear it’s part of the program philosophy, and they’re doing a nice job of finding ways to put their players in good positions to make plays.  Historically Michigan and Ohio State in that conference have had among the very best talent.

So when you’re in the situation that IU is in, you have to find some creative ways to overcome that sometimes and they do that with their offense and with the special teams and the schemes can create some difficulties for us.  We did show some progress on what we did, most particularly, probably because of the nice day that Chris Hinkle did a great job of putting it where we wanted it put.  And he did a good job of that and we were not nearly as proficient at putting the punts where we wanted those to be.

Q. It seems like 20-25 years ago, you hear more about strong or free safety. How much difference is there in those two positions?

COACH GROH:  For one thing there is so much ‑‑ with all the spread formations, we classify a lot of the formations ‑‑ they all have different names based on who is where, trims, trucks, trios, trays, doubles, twins, deuces, but in a general sense it’s either a three‑by‑one or a two‑by‑two, and a two‑by‑two is pretty balanced.

So there isn’t a strong or weak safety, each has comparable responsibilities, particularly if you’re playing a balanced coverage or if the formation moves from a two‑by‑two to a three‑by‑one then suddenly if it goes from the defense’s right to the defense’s left somebody who thought he was the strong safety is now the weak safety and somebody else thinks he’s the strong safety, all of which is to say that they have to be able to do both.

As you cite, you can go back of that because you’re a little older than I am, but as I understand it, in those days of mostly two‑back offenses and heavy‑duty running there was a down‑low safety who was almost a halfway linebacker and those guys were really hammer guys.

These modern formations or the current formations have stretched out to the point where that player is not really ‑‑ a lot of teams aren’t looking for that kind of a player.  For example, the safety from Oklahoma who Dallas took some years ago, Roy Williams, is a linebacker‑looking body, 235‑pound guy who was a disruptive force in there.

That league has gone to more and more spread formations and he’s now out of Dallas and I think he’s in Cincinnati or someplace.  But he just ran into great difficulty.  Teams said why hammer the ball up in there, this guy is killing us so we will spread it out and make him play deep field so it’s made it difficult for those types of players.

In some cases those guys have to adjust to getting bigger and becoming linebackers or kind of like when Zach was talking about earlier when we were talking about systems, systems in how you have to adapt to the schemes that are out there creates opportunities for some players that weren’t there before and certain systems do and in certain ways the scheme that you run or the things that have to go against eliminate concern players.  Some who are really good players.

An NFL player because he was able to play a 3-4 linebacker, Clint Sintim was a high school defensive end and isn’t going to be a NFL defensive end at 249 pounds, so he just started playing the position here four years earlier than he was going to play.  So the system provided the opportunity for him that wouldn’t have been there in another system.  There is always a trade‑off there is a player who fits not your system but somebody else’s system.

Bob Price and I were talking about a player today, who is a very good player, he’s a really good player and he’s got a good reputation and he’s going to play in somebody’s system and be a real good player and I think he’s a real good player and I’m like “Where is he going to fit in terms of what goes on here?”  And I think that happens in every sport but the safety thing is definitely wanted.  A player like Roy Williams, who is a first‑round draft choice is having a hard time finding a spot because he’s got it be a high safety, whether you call him strong or weak he’s got to be a high safety and it rules out players.

By the same token, players like Rodney McLeod, there is a big role for players like that now because they have so much space to cover and you can now rotate them down, and a safety of that style, (Brandon)Meriweather is the same kind of player in New England, (Troy)Polamalu, those guys have coverage skills well beyond what safeties have had, they can cover the slot receivers just like they were corners because they’re close to being corners themselves.

Q. With the changes on your staff, do you feel Chris Cook could be one of your big improvers?

COACH GROH:  I wouldn’t want to sit here and predict that would be the case but, yes, going into the season we can see that might be the case.  Will we try to come out of the gate slowly?  Clearly not, but we understand there might be mitigating factors in there that in some cases we would have preferred not to be there but that was the reality of it and one of the things we believe in is reality as opposed to fantasy, it was a reality with some of those circumstances.  Did that reality make us drop some of the balls that we dropped or missed some of the calls that we should have had?  No, it didn’t so that’s not a full explanation to it but it probably it’s there as part of it.

As I said earlier, coming off last Saturday if we all take the opportunity to move forward and continue to progress through it then hopefully we’re moving into our best time.

Q. Have you seen improvement from Jameel on his deep ball?

COACH GROH:  Yeah, no, I thought ‑‑ you’re right, Paul, I thought anybody could see there were four really well thrown balls, one is a touchdown pass that unfortunately gets forgotten, but it was an excellent read on his part and he got the ball out of there right on time and that was an excellent throw.

The ball that Jameel threw to Kris Burd on second and 18 and over on the sideline was a real rope; and as I cited here, last evening, two balls that we led off the possession following the field goal, two balls that he threw both for 15 to 18‑yard gains back‑to‑back were really well thrown balls so you’re accurate in that, yes.

Q. What about the deep ball to Smith?

COACH GROH:  Yeah, right, they’re like 3‑point shots, they’re harder than the put‑backs, but it was right there where we had a good shot at it and it was a small opening. Their player had good position, but you wouldn’t tell the player to do anything differently with the next throw.