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Sept. 12, 2011

Coach Graham Press Conference
Iowa Game Preview
September 12, 2011

Opening statement:

"Well we're excited to be heading into week three at 2-0, but naturally there are a whole lot of things that we have to get better on. Reflecting back on last week and Maine, I think the big thing going back and looking at the film is we had opportunities to blow the game out and didn't do that.

"Takeaways and turnovers have hurt us. We turned the ball over too much. I think we've turned the ball over like five times just on critical error bad decisions so we've got to eliminate those things offensively.

"The last two minutes of both games we've made some really poor mistakes (defensively). But all those things are correctable. I do have a great deal of confidence in our guys, in our team. Probably one of the bright spots in the first two weeks to me has been how well our guys have played as a unit on special teams. Our kicks have been bad. We've just missed field goals and Kevin Harper is a guy I think has as much ability as anybody I've been around. We've just got to iron that out and work that out. But our kickoff unit has been stellar, our kickoff return unit has been stellar, our punt block unit has been great. Our punt unit, we haven't punted very much. We've punted I think two or three times with our quarterback - it's been productive all but one time. So there are a lot of positives there.

"Defensively, I think we've been very strong and stout against the run and I think we made a lot of improvements last week. On the defense, I think a guy that really stuck out to me this last week that really improved his game and that I really challenged was Aaron Donald. I thought he played his best game, he was very physical inside. Brandon Lindsey played his best game and we're asking him to play to the field and to the boundary and he did both in the game and played very well. I think we've been very consistent in the secondary. Most of the passing yards have been on quick-game passes where we've had alignment issues which really has to do mostly with the underneath coverages. We've basically had five plays in two games where we've had critical errors. We left a seam uncovered in the first game they didn't hit that could've been a big play. And then this last week we had a blitz and we had a critical error there that resulted in a big play. We've given up very few big plays and we have the makings of a very good defense. I think there's a lot of moving parts and we've got to just keep working and keep getting our guys where we're not making those mistakes down the line.

"But really if you take the last couple of minutes out of both's the end of the game that's just been really poor, and that's coaching. I've got tremendous belief in our players. I've got tremendous belief in especially the seniors, our captains, our leadership. We're 2-0, if we get through the end of the year and we win every one of the games and they're a whole bunch of ugly wins I'm going to be happy. But you know and I know that the first two opponents aren't anything like the next opponents coming up. Naturally going into the Iowa game I think our guys know that. They know what they're in for. When you go into Iowa you better be ready to play. I have great confidence that our guys will be ready to play. We've got to tighten up the things that we're doing fundamentally. It's all fundamentals and it's all assignment stuff. But I feel really good about this football team. I feel as good about them as I did the very first week.

"Obviously, there are things that happen in what we're doing offensively. We've got two new guys playing up front on the offensive line that have made some errors which are not surprising. Any person that's new starting at a position is going to make errors. Both of those guys have improved, they've gotten better and that's going to be a process. We've got the leading rusher in the nation. I mean that's a positive. The guy competes unbelievably. We've got the best leadership I've ever been around. So I'm one that believes we're going to get those things corrected and move forward.

"Offensively it's just decision making. We're really close. We sit there and watch the film but we're not executing the system. Somebody asked me `Are you where you thought you would be?' No, I thought we would be doing better than how we are executing what we're doing. In this offense you can't ad-lib. You've got to be extremely disciplined every play to read your key and distribute the ball and this offense is a timing offense.

"These are all things that can be corrected and our guys have a tremendous belief in each other and we've got to be patient about what we're doing and I'm looking forward to going to Iowa this week and I know that our guys are going to play their best game.

On Ejuan Price's performance against Maine:

"I thought Ejuan played really well. He's just too good of a player not to be on the field. And there's a lot of moving parts. A lot of the quick-game passes are coming to the weak side and he's still trying to figure out what he's doing in pass coverage and all that type of stuff. We've rushed him most of the time, which is probably a good idea because he's a pretty good rusher. I'm really proud of him and how he's handled that. It's not easy for a freshman to play. I think I counted like eight freshmen that won't redshirt this year. But he's one that has really stepped up and he was markedly better from week one to week two so we have a lot of confidence in his abilities to play. He's just got to continue to get better because it's not where it needs to be for sure. But I thought he played well."

On moving Brandon Lindsey to defensive end:

"It's one of the things about getting your best 11 guys on the field and I'm really appreciative of Lindsey and how he has approached this. I've probably spent more time with him personally than any kid on our team because I think he's got a lot of potential and we're going to have to move him around a little bit. That also helps him, he's got two sacks now, and he played very well at the field-side end. In our defense, as you look and you watch it, the field-side end and the boundary outside linebacker are really guys that are going to rush more than they're going to do anything in pass coverage. So he's taken that on. I told him you're going to have to play two positions. We're going to ask you to do these things. And I think he's been very receptive to that and I thought he played his best game."

On commitment to the game plan and schemes:

"It's just like in that (Maine) game. I don't know how many times I went for it on fourth down, but I'm not sitting there punting the ball to Maine. I'm not going to do it. No offense to those guys, I mean they did a great job and deserve a lot of credit but it's inexcusable for us to not have closed that game out. And that comes back to us as coaches and I want our kids to know I'm going to be aggressive. We're going to be aggressive in how we approach those downs. Sometimes those work and sometimes they haven't but I thought we executed well and we kept some drives alive because of that. But we're going to take what the defense gives us. We won't flinch, we will not change. We're going to run this offense, we're going to run what we're running defensively. We are going to attack on defense. Most of the big plays we've given up have been the result of a critical error while we're pressuring. `Well if you don't pressure then that won't happen.' Well the tradeoff is that when you get down and you get in a big game and you want to win a championship, then you're one dimensional and you can't win the big games. So we want to build this thing to win championships. If we would've lined up and played 4-3 cover four every down for the first two games, we probably wouldn't have given up a few more things than we gave up. If we lined up and ran the ball every play and never threw a pass play in the first two games we probably would've won by more points. But that's not what we're building towards, that's not what we're trying to accomplish. I think we've been about 50-50 run/pass and that's been really predicated on what the opponent is giving us. I think Ray Graham has touched the ball somewhere between 20 to 30 times a game and that's something that is a directive. We're going to do that because obviously he's a pretty good player so we're going to get the ball in our best guys' hands whether it's run, whether it's pass.

"The bottom line is we're going to stick to what we do. What we do works, it's been proven to work over and over and over again to me. We've got to continue to adapt and learn as coaches what we need to be doing with our players and we've got to execute. The biggest thing during week one and two is a lack of execution. I think at the end of both games we've become complacent. It's not how you start, it's how you finish. There's four minutes left in the game and we're winning 35-15. We should've scored to make it 42-15, but `should've, would've, could've' doesn't count. You have to actually play the game. But I'm telling you, I have all the confidence in the world in what we're doing and we are going to throw the football. We want to be extremely balanced and we want to have a prolific attack and to do that you have to be able to do both. I think we will be able to do that, we just have to get better."

On the passing game's timing:

"We want to get it out on timing. Our whole deal is we're a timing passing team. The ball should be `one, two and out' on our quick passing game. It should be `one, two and out' on our drop-back passing game. We ran 90 plays in that game and we're giving up 5,6,7 sacks. You can't have negative yardage plays because the key to this offense is the initial first down. If you keep making first downs you keep the ball.

"(Against Maine) it was 90 plays for us and 70 plays for them. We've got a good chance to win that game. But what's happening is we're holding the ball. What's causing us to hold the ball, I think, is we're just not executing, and like I told you guys from the very beginning, there's a lot on that quarterback and we have to run our system exactly how we teach it and we obviously have not gotten it taught yet, but we're going to get it taught. Once we do that, the ball needs to be out on timing and I never feel like it's out fast enough.

"I think the first game the kids were just adjusting. I mean it was hot and they were blown away by the tempo of things. This last game we were snapping the ball every 18 seconds, and there's some we were getting a lot faster than that. But on average we were somewhere around 17, 18 seconds a snap this last game.

"To  mention a positive, we also converted a 4th-and-5 and executed flawlessly on that play and made a spectacular play. So we're fully capable of executing. It's just discipline to do what we're coached to do each play. That's what we have to have because like I say, everything comes on execution and the people that are doing the executing are the people touching the football.

"There's not just one area, we have to get better at receiver fundamentally. Mike Shanahan's playing outstanding, been very steady. Other than that we've been very inconsistent (at receiver). I think Hubie Graham has been very consistent and done some good things. I think our running backs have far and away been the most impressive. Ray Graham's been very impressive, Zach Brown's been very impressive and we've got to be careful that Ray doesn't get gassed and we need to use Zach, because Zach's a very experienced, confident guy. That's one of the things we try to point out to our players when we watch and say `look at No. 1 and look at No. 4 and look at the purpose they play with.'

"We have to be decisive in the pocket and we have to be decisive in our decision making and it doesn't always go well, but be decisive in what we're doing and execute what we're doing and the exact same thing I went through in 2007 is exactly what we're going through now. What we have to do is just continue to be disciplined and just do what we're coached to do and execute the system and it'll work."

On the quarterback position:

"Tino Sunseri is our quarterback. We've got confidence that he's going to get it done. Has he played well? No, he hasn't played well. He's made some good plays, but he's got to play better and execute our system and I've got a lot of confidence in him. I've seen him do it in practice, I've seen him do it in games, and in this system there's no question I think he can be successful and he's a guy that has come a long way in his work ethic and all those things. So no doubt Tino will be our starting quarterback going down to Iowa and we've got a strong belief in him.

"(Against Maine) it was 35-15, we should've scored, we didn't score because we made some errors and I said `I'm going to put him (Trey Anderson) in. We planned on putting him in anyway and I wasn't going to go through Maine and not have our backup quarterback play. Trey has some things that he brings to the table, that you could see him in a package in the game. But we have one starting quarterback and that's Tino."

On freshmen getting playing time:

"I think more of them need to play. I think we've got to get some young guys in the receiving corps and get some more speed on the field. I thought Drew Carswell showed up and made a few plays there and we're excited about Anthony Gonzalez being back this week and Anthony will play this week. So that's more athleticism on the field. I think we've got to get Corey Davis more involved. I think Darius Patton has to play, he's not going to redshirt. I think Ronald Jones has got to get more involved. The key is we need more speed out on the field.

"You like to redshirt them. There's some guys we'd like to try to redshirt but the bottom line is if we have to play them to win, that's what we're going to do. Nicholas Grigsby is coming back this week, he'll be back. I doubt that he will redshirt. LaQuentin Smith played last week, he's not going to redshirt. Ejuan Price definitely is not. Lafayette Pitts is our backup bandit (safety) and backup on most special teams and we'd like not to play him but if he progresses and he can help us win then we've got to play him. Lloyd Carrington is in the same role. Malcolm Crockett is sitting right there if we have to use him. So we have a lot of guys on the bubble. I think we have some guys that are a little bit behind on the learning curve and learning what we're doing and they're going to have to step up and play because we need more speed.

On how much Pitt has shown the first two games:

"I'm going to tell you that we've been fairly bland about what we're doing (schematically) and we felt like we could win the first two games and do that. Whether that was right or not, I don't know. But the bottom line is we're 2-0, I like where we're at and we've got to improve. We have the makings of, the personnel of a very good football team. I believe our team can win a championship. We've got to be more disciplined. We've got to get better in everything that we do - leadership, coaching, and getting those things corrected."

On Anthony Gonzalez's progress the past two weeks:

"Outstanding. A lot of people would probably tell you that was a pretty harsh punishment and it probably was because it wasn't just the two games. He had to do a lot of other stuff, community service, things like that. Anthony's a great young man. He made a mistake. I've got tremendous belief in him. He's a winner. And we have four quarterbacks on this team that all won state championships. I'm excited for him. I think he's worked his tail off. He's a very selfless guy in that he's going to play another position for us this year. I'm excited about him. I'm really pleased how he's handled this situation. I've got a lot of confidence in him and I'll be real honest with you, we watch his development and I'm excited. I think he can really help us. He's going to play. I don't know if he's ready to play every play. Hubie's done a good job. There are definitely things that Hubie is going to do, but Anthony is (also) going to play at three-back. I really like our three-back personnel right now. You've got Carswell who is a tremendous talent. As soon as he catches a seam route you'll see what I'm talking about. He is really an explosive player. I think Anthony is an explosive player, a very versatile player. I think Hubie has been very solid in the things that he does. But the other two guys provide some things in addition to that. So I think all three of those guys will play. I'm looking forward to seeing Anthony in his first action. I think he's excited about it too."

On Iowa:

"It's going to be extremely loud, a very hostile place to play. They're coming off a triple-overtime loss to their rival. They're a very well-coached football team. They're not going to make mistakes, not going to panic. We've got to go in there and we've got to come out of this game with zero turnovers. We do that, then we're going to have an opportunity to win the football game. We've got to get takeaways on defense.

"Probably the worst thing we're doing on defense right now is the fact that we haven't gotten any takeaways other than the one interception. Last year we were No.1 in the country in getting (interceptions). Turnovers are the emphasis .

"Going in there it's going to be loud, it's going to be hostile for our offense. Our defense has to play big-time and I expect them to do that. I've got no doubt in my mind they're going to do that and I'm looking forward to our guys playing their best game this week.

"I think the key in this game is going to be playing hard-nosed smash mouth. A 3-yard gain is a positive gain for them. That doesn't bother them one bit. They'll line up and do it again and again and again and again. And you're going to have to stop the run. You're going to have to control their two really good wide receivers that are big-time playmakers. You can't give up cheap ones, that's what it's going to boil down to. We've got to get takeaways, we've got to give our offense a short field because I think the strength of their team, no doubt, is their defense and their special teams. This is going to be the best offensive line we've played. They're very big, physical, and grind it out. Their center is an outstanding player, left tackle is an outstanding player. They're not going to beat themselves."

On Heinz Field:

"I love it. Love the fans passion, love our student section. It was neat and last week was special. I'm an old school and patriotic guy. And it was the 9/11 weekend. I think Pitt's kind of old school, Pittsburgh's kind of old school.  I liked our crowd. They're very educated fans and are not very forgiving but that's the way you want them. They want to win and expect us to perform. Just be patient, we're going to."

On Kevin Harper:

I'm worried more that I'm not yelling at him. (Laughs) I've tried really hard not to yell at him because I get really frustrated when field goal kickers miss field goals, much less miss an extra point. I can tell you that, no, I'm not worried about it. I think that's the last thing you start thinking about. The kid's got a big leg. He's made a 52-yard field goal. He makes 45-yarders and he misses a 35 and I think that's because he's not played. He's not been the field goal kicker. So I've got a lot of confidence in him. We're going to keep working to get better. He is far and away the best guy that we have and we've just got to get more consistent and I've got belief that he's going to do that. I think some of the reasons why you miss one, and you usually miss another is because you're worrying. That's why you never see me yell and scream at the kickers, I'm not going to do that. I don't do much yelling and screaming on game day. But we've got a lot of belief in him. It's just like with our quarterback. It's the same thing. The best guy we've got on the team to run our football team is Tino. He has the best experience. There's been some growing pains there and we've got to get it done." 

Meet the Press: Coach Graham Previews the Iowa Game

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