Fresh off a three-point win against Georgia Tech, and with a matchup a Virginia looming five days away, a surlier-than-usual Pat Narduzzi met with the assembled media to discuss what went right against the Yellow Jackets and what awaits with the Cavaliers.
Injuries, rather remarkably, were not discussed, but there was talk about preparing for a team with a new coach, the depth chart and a few other personnel-related topics, including an exchange about how to gameplan for teams with a player whose injury status puts him in limbo.
Below is a full transcript of that conversation.
All right. Just to close a chapter, last week I had an opportunity to sit and watch all the tape with our staff, as well as our players, and there was a lot of great things. I think as a complete game, you know, you looked, there was a ton of good things, offensively, defensively and special teams-wise, and a lot of stuff we've still got to clean up.
But offensively, we were clicking for most of the day. You know, probably only disappointing thing was the turnover. When you look at it, you know, how could you be perfect. Just a problem with the handoff, led to seven points for them.
And again, we gave them a kickoff return. When you think special teams, you're pretty happy with your coverage all day. Kickoff coverage was excellent, except for one time and didn't have great kick coverage which I think I explained immediately after the game which leads to seven points. You can't give a good team those two breaks and really 14 points we spot them with a 40-yard drive and a kickoff return for a touchdown. You can't do that. But offensively, we played pretty darned good.
Defensively, when you watch the tape, one of the guys here today sitting in the back was clearly a dominant player Saturday, Shakir Soto. He was our Defensive Player of the Week, without a doubt. You saw that halfway through the tape. He was making plays everywhere, and you know, I'm excited for him and just the little things he did.
He played with great fundamentals, some of the things we didn't do the last time we played these guys. Last time we played them, we gave up I think 279 yards rushing. This time, we gave up 240 yards, I believe, which is a lot less. And when you look at what you gave up versus the dive, what you gave up versus the keep by the quarterback and the pitch, those were held to a minimal. So when you talk triple option, that's what you stop.
Now they came in with some different formation motions, the guy over there really unloading you, unbalancing, tossing the ball, which toss play is a deal. So they obviously didn't like what we did to stop the option. So it's a tribute to our coaches and what they did there. So they are like, forget the option, let's toss, just try and toss. Just wish they would line up in the I-backs and run it instead of all the junk they do. Give Coach Johnson credit for that.
But for the most part, I was happy with the way we've played defensively. There was some coverage things that we wished, you know, we had played a little bit better but they did some nice things with getting two guys in a zone on a vertical route one time. But give them credit for doing a good job.
This week, obviously, get to go on the road and try to get our first win, which I think is critical. We go gown to play a good Virginia team that's on a two-game win streak. Bronco Mendenhall, he's had a ton of success as a head football coach at BYU, he brings his game, his defense, to the ACC. It's really totally new for us.
So some of the things we do know about some of the players, you know, because we played against their players, but they are really a totally different offense and defense from what they were a year ago. So that will be a challenge, saying, hey, what are they like against us, what are we like against them.
But the quarterback is playing really well. They are throwing the ball, you know, very well. Kurt Benkert is doing a great job throwing it. He's a quick-release guy that is tall, good in the pocket, doesn't take many sacks, throws it away, very intelligent.
And the Mizzell kid, No. 4, their tailback, I remember No. 4 from last year. He was, my opinion, by far their best football player. He can beat you in the run game and he's a great receiver coming out of the backfield screens.
He hit us on a couple wheel routes a year ago, which really doesn't matter what they did a year ago. But it does matter that we know that guy. Our kids know who he is. So we'll know where No. 4 is in the run game and pass game all day.
They are a spread offense. They are going to be in ten personnel. Four receivers in the game is their favorite thing to be in. They will be in, probably second favorite would be putting two good tailbacks in the backfield, and probably third is putting that tight end in the game where he'll be attached; we call it 11 personnel. Very multiple, a lot of personnel groupings, no-huddle football team with a little tempo to add to it.
Defensively, they are a 3-4. Bronco is a defensive guy. They run a lot of 3-4 and a lot of different blitzes and coverages. So our offense will have to be on top of their game mentally to pick up everything they do, and Nathan will have to be sharp as far as deciphering all the different coverages that they use to try to confuse you, and they do a good job of that.
With that, I'll open it up for questions, because I'm sure you guys have got some.
Q. Three games in a row here, new head coach you're facing. Have you spent a lot of time this week watching BYU film and next week you after watch --
No, we are not watching any BYU tape. We watched that in the summer. We've got a good idea of what they did there and what they have carried over. You know, good coaches are going to not necessarily do everything they did at BYU.
They will have all their tricks and halfback passes and everything they have done over there, which is the main thing. Like (what) tricks haven't you seen in the first five games that they have played, so you really want to know what other things you haven't seen formationally. So we've got a good list of everything they do offensively and defensively over there. Any new blitzes, how many safety blitzes do they have, just different stuff you may not have installed yesterday because I know Bronco doesn't have everything in defensively that he would like to get in, so there will be some new wrinkles for us, I guarantee you.
And their offensive coordinator, I'm sure, has some stuff that he has not shown yet, either, and they have had two weeks to prepare for. That will be the next challenge. They have had two weeks to prepare and get a great game plan going. We are under, I guess for compared to them, we are a short week for us. So we'll be moving around pretty quick.
Q. Just to build on that, what are some major differences between Mendenhall's Virginia team thus far and his BYU teams --
It's pretty much their basic stuff they are doing is the same. It's the same stuff.
Q. You had a good idea that you could make a (positional) transition (with Shakir Soto from DE to DT) -- I'm sure you did; you've had success?
Yeah, we've always had success with moving guys that are big, athletic, defensive end that we just made a lot more athletic inside. He's (Soto) been special inside, and he's been good all year to be honest with you.
It was one of the great moves of the off-season. I don't know if he knew it but we knew it. I had no -- because he was tough and physical. It would be different if you had a big defensive end, if you want to call it, a big defensive end that was soft; then he couldn't make the transition. He would just sit out there and be a good backup.
He's a guy that's transitioned well because he's physical, he's tough and he uses his hands well. So it didn't surprise me he's having the success he's having.
Q. You guys have had success moving guys at positions. What's helped you guys move guys around?
That's coaching. It's our job to put guys in position to make plays where they can be most successful, and I think, you know, that's kind of what we do.
Q. With him (Soto) being a senior, is there any hesitation, it's only one year, not a whole lot of time to make that transition.
No, because I think playing D-Line is playing D-Line, whether you're a five-technique or a three-technique, all do you is move over a guy and get to play against a lesser athlete probably at guard.
But there was no hesitation. We're going to try to get him a sixth year, too. I think I asked him after the game, didn't I, see if we could get another year out of you, I don't know. Going to have to check with the trainer on that. It's been done before, by the way.
Q. With position changes, what are some of the things that tip you off that you know you can make the switch?
Just athletic ability in size and potential. I mean, you've got to look at the potential. Same thing with our freshman class, and every freshman class will come in, you're just trying to put the best athletes on the field. And I think that's, you know, for Scott Orndoff or Brian (O’Neill) to both be playing tight end right now would be like, how many two tight end sets do you want to line up in. We don't line up in a lot. It's just trying to get our best 11 on the field offensively and defensively.
Q. Shakir had a big day statistically on Saturday, and you mentioned what he's done all season. What has he done the first five games that's stood out?
He's been consistent in what he's done, really. You think about stopping the run, D-tackles better play well, and we have done a pretty good job of stopping the run this year. I don't know where we are, but we've held people's run game in check. And then again, to cut (Georgia Tech) 130 or 140 yards less than what they got a year ago; and you know what, we'll play the toss a lot better next year, I guarantee you that. As well as I just told the defense last night how much better will we be in a year.
So having that second year, you feel like, okay we got this. There's a lot of things we can do better. And I think every year you play a team like that, you know, you get better, and I think, you know, same thing with playing Virginia and the Cavaliers with a different offense, you need to find out what they like to do against you. So that's a challenge.
Q. When you're preparing your staff in the lead-up to the game, how does it help you to know whether an injured guy is going to play or not?
Say it again.
Q. How does it help you to know --
I'm trying to figure out your question.
Q. -- for the other team, how does it help you to know whether or not he will play?
Well, we need to know because it depends on, you know, what you're working. I think some positions are different than others, as far as, can he not practice all week and still be effective in the game.
As a coach, I've always been to the point where if he can't practice during the week, it's tough to play the guy. I don't want to ever -- because then I blame it on myself: Well, he wasn't mentally, physically ready to go. We played him because -- he didn't play. That's a coach's call, that's a head coach's call, whether you play that guy or not.
And I'd rather play the guys. I think you play like you practice, and if you don't practice, you'll have a hard time playing the game.
Q. The other team, how does it help you to know whether a guy is going to play?
What are you getting at here? I mean, quit beating around the bush. I'm the other team. Is their quarterback hurt, something I don't know about? Mizzell, is he out? If I knew Mizzell was out, it would change what we play --
Q. I'm trying to ask the question the best way possible. Bronco Mendenhall saw Maddox get hurt on Saturday. How does it help him to know whether or not Maddox will play or not?
He'd like to know I guess.
Because he knows who is playing that corner spot and if he knows there's a backup there in, he thinks he can go after him, that's all I would say.
Next question. Geez, that's a long question for nothing.
Q. When you look back on some film, what are your thoughts on Dane Jackson?
I was impressed. You look at Dane's first play in the game, Dane did a nice job. Dane did a really good job of coming in and making -- it wasn't like he was tentative. I think the first play he came in, it was run his way and he stuck his head and dove in the pile and got in on the action. So you didn't see a timid guy out there going, oh, my gosh, what am I going to do. He's shown, you know, we practice a lot, so we've seen that. I was impressed with what he did.
Q. Do you feel better about your cornerback than you did the start of the regular season? Because Motley and Jackson, they have had to play. Do you feel better about how those guys have performed when they have been out there?
Q. Speaking of (Therran) Coleman -- introduced those guys (to the depth chart this week)--
Just thought I would mess with you guys, shake it up this week and throw them out there.
You know, they have been there all year. They have been -- you know, you could put them on a depth chart all you want. I just thought with Avonte not finishing the game, it would cause some stir.
But Damar (Hamlin) and Therran, for really the last three weeks, have been battling back and forth. And you know, we've traveled to both of them I think the last two or three weeks, and they are just getting closer. They are freshmen and we'll see how much closer they are.
Q. I know the turnover this week -- how challenging is it for Nate, the jet sweeps, and having a player right behind him and the timing and footwork; how much do you work on that stuff?
We work on it every day. If you came out and watched us in practice, I think you guys were still there, when they are working on all the mechanics of handing that thing off. You know, it's the first one we've had in half a season, and you know, don't need anymore, but it was tight. It was a timing issue that wasn't great.
You know, whatever, but we work it every single day. It's our snap and exchange. I mean it's worked every single day and I don't expect to see it again. It's one of those, it was almost in, but it was just a little late and hard to stick it in there.
Q. Has (offensive coordinator) Matt (Canada) had success (with jet sweeps) in other places you've been?
You've got to watch the tape. Put the tape on. Yeah, he's had success. I mean, they were a productive offense. I don't know where they were, second or third, productive offense in the ACC a year ago. So that's why he's here.
Q. In college football (are jet sweeps becoming the trend)--
I don't know, I don't get to watch. I'm busy watching the Panthers. I have no idea. The Panthers and the Cavaliers, that's what I'm watching. I'm sure people will start to pick it up like they do everything. Coaches are thieves. They will steal whatever's good.
Q. Do you feel like you're defining some roles for your tailbacks? How much of an advantage do you think it may be in November having one guy?
I think it's a huge advantage. We've been able to keep guys fresh and Chawntez (Moss) and James (Conner) obviously getting a bulk of those carries but then having a package where he is on the field as well and he gets his carries depending what it looks like and then you have George (Aston), he might as well be a tailback, too. Might as well put him in the tailback category. I think it's going to help us down the line. We'll have fresher people.
Q. Is Rachid Ibrahim a linebacker for you all now?
No, he's a tailback.