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Meet the Press: Todd Graham Previews the Utah Game




Oct. 10, 2011

Todd Graham Press Conference
October 10, 2011
Utah Week

Opening Statement:

“Saturday was disappointing for us. There’s not much we can say other than it’s my responsibility to have the guys ready to play and we obviously weren’t ready to play. We have to move forward. We still have a lot of positive things. We came off probably the biggest win of the year (against USF), but you have to give the other team a lot of credit. In the Big East, there is a lot of parity. Teams are going to come and play every week. I have a great belief in this team, we have to learn from our mistakes and move forward to the next week. Our guys are going to do that. I have a lot of confidence in our guys. I‘ve got a lot of confidence in what we’re doing. We simply made too many mistakes. Our goal going into the game was to win the turnover ratio and have no negative yardage plays. We didn’t execute that. We didn’t play well. There were a lot of positive things out of the game. Ray Graham continues to be impressive and is doing a great job. He is the leading rusher (total rushing yardage) in the country. I really feel like we’ve gotten better every week defensively. Our secondary played two of the better receivers in the country and held both those guys in check. We gave up one big play on defense that we can’t give up. But, there are a lot of positives and those guys are playing extremely hard right now. We were just really inconsistent (on offense) with negative yardage plays and takeaways, and that was the difference in the game. You have got to give Coach Schiano and Rutgers a lot of credit. They did a good job defensively. I thought that was the difference in the game – their defense and the turnovers they created. Our guys are focused on moving forward and learning from our mistakes. We have to move forward in a hurry, with the type of schedule that we have. We’re playing Utah and Coach Whittingham is one of the best coaches in the country. They have great character, toughness and class.  They are very, very well coached. They are a very good defensive football team and one that will put a lot of pressure on our offense. They have had similar problems that we have had (on offense). They’ve turned the football over. They are a lot better football team than their record shows. That is a very good football team coming in here to play Saturday. It is all about us. Each week I say that, but it’s all about us maturing and getting ready to play a complete ball game every week. We are pressing forward to Utah and we’ve got a big challenge.”


 

 

 

On the Rutgers loss:

“We made too many mental errors in key areas. We didn’t execute our plan at all. We made an uncharacteristic mistake on kickoff coverage. We’ve been one of the best in the country and they returned a kick deep in our territory. That was a key play in the game. They had a short field most of the time, that’s how their scores resulted. If we would have taken care of the ball and, even if we didn’t score, play field position, I think it would have been a different game. We didn’t do what we needed to do. I did think our punter, Yoklic, did a good job punting against a team that puts a lot of pressure on the punter. We knew that we had to win the turnover ratio, we emphasized no negative yardage plays and we emphasized special teams. We had to win special teams and we didn’t get it done there. I thought we had good practices, we’re just being inconsistent and we are not being mature enough as a football team to execute the plan. That’s our job. It’s my responsibility to do that. Obviously, I didn’t have them ready. We are working as hard as we can to get that done. We have a great belief in these guys. We are at the halfway point and it’s far from over. It’s not how you start, it is how you finish.”

 

On whether the team’s inconsistencies are the result of transitioning:

“That’s just not my thinking. There’s been more (inconsistency) than I thought there would be. But there are a lot of things that are going extremely well. At the start of the season it was kind of new, we were playing a lot of different coverages and we were giving up a lot of passing yards. That has steadily improved and exceeded my expectations. We are playing pretty good defense. We have to eliminate giving up a cheap play (touchdown on a screen to Martinek). We were pressing and trying to make something happen. Some of those you would like to have back. I think it is part of the process. I think we have a good football team. I have great belief in our guys. There is no question that we can be a team that wins a championship. We can still do that. We are making too many mental errors. It is far and away the most turnovers that we’ve had. That is supposed to be our single focus, eliminating turnovers and having no negative yardage plays. We don’t have any goals for yardage or anything like that – we want to have 100 percent ball security and we want to have no negative yardage plays. If we do that we are going to score points. You also have to factor in that the other team works out and practices. We didn’t operate very well under pressure. I tried as hard as I could to emphasize how motivated this team (Rutgers) was going to be. Each week it’s going to be like that. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing Rutgers, UConn, Syracuse or whoever you’re playing. They’re going to bring it every single week. That is the history of this league. It (the team’s progress) has been slower than I thought. But there are other things that have exceeded my expectations. I like this team, I like these players. We have to stay the course. I talked to them about the “Pitt Way.” It is how you do the little things. It’s the little things you do that make big things happen. That is a Coach (Johnny) Majors quote. I really believe that. We have good people on this team, they are going show great resolve, bounce back, learn from this and get better.”

 

On the areas that have exceeded expectations:

“How we’ve responded defensively, especially on the back end. We were giving up a lot of passing yards early and we’ve really improved there. I have a lot of confidence in our secondary. Max Gruder is a guy that has really exceeded my expectations. He’s played extremely hard. Up front we have been very consistent at impacting the quarterback. We’ve given up a couple of big plays, but they’ve exceeded my expectations. There are some second- and third-team guys that have come in and battled. You don’t really expect that, but it is football. You’re going to have injuries and you’re going to have those types of things happen. Ray Graham has exceeded my expectations. Zach Brown has exceeded my expectations. (Drew) Carswell is coming along and has a chance to be a great player. Mike (Shanahan) and Devin (Street) have been very consistent. We’re frustrated because when we execute, and you saw that against South Florida, what happens is the ball gets dispersed to a lot of different people instead of just one person. We want to make sure Ray gets 30 touches a game but that leaves a lot of other touches for a lot of other people. Our punt cover has been really good and our kick cover has been good up until this last game. You are not going to go through a season that you don’t have one (big return) and I am proud of the effort that stopped it from being a touchdown. There are a lot of things that have exceeded my expectations. I like the character of these kids and the things that we are teaching them off the field and how that impacts you on the field. By no means have we accomplished all of that, but I think we have made significant change in that. There are a lot of things that we’ve made progress on every single day. That gives me great belief in what we are doing and in our program. We have a solid program and we are building a great foundation. It was a very disappointing loss but we still have our goals out there on the table for us. We have to go out and get better. Sometimes adversity helps you get better in a hurry. We are now in a position where we are going against a very good football team. Utah is a lot better football team than their record shows. They are a very good defensive football team. These guys know from playing them last year that they are a very physical football team. We have to bounce back this week in a big way.”

 

On Ray Graham’s health going into this week:

“I think he’s doing great…Other than the normal wear and tear, I think he’ll be fine.”

 

On Lucas Nix and Todd Thomas being available this week:

“I hope so. Not having Lucas is tough for us. Not that the other guys behind him aren’t battling, but when you don’t have (Chris) Jacobson and Lucas out there it’s tough. (Jordan) Gibbs walked up to me the other day and said ‘Coach, I am the only senior on this offense.’ Honestly, it’s day to day. I’m hoping to have him back this week. If not, I would say for the next week. Todd (Thomas) is in the same boat. That was another loss for us. We had to move Greg (Williams) back over. Todd was really playing well. He really makes things happen. He is a very imposing guy out there on the slot. We’re hopeful that we will get those guys back. Injuries are part of it, you can’t whine about that. Everybody has them. We’re hopeful that those guys will be back this week.”

 

On Utah bringing pressure similar to Rutgers:

“Yeah, they are very similar. You will see a lot of man-free. They are very well coached. Coach (Whittingham) has a defensive background. They are going to play hard, tackle well and be sound about what they’re doing. I wouldn’t say it’s exactly the same, because it’s a different front and different looks. They will be a lot of the same as far as man-free and pressure.”

 

On knowing Norm Chow (Utah Offensive Coordinator) as a play caller:

“In 1995 or 1996, he came to Allen High School (Texas) and talked to my staff. He was at BYU at the time and we used to bring in a different speaker from all over the country. He came in and visited with us. I was very impressed with him. He is a very classy person. He is one of the smartest guys in the business. His concepts of the passing game are all over college football. He has been really a trend-setter with the West-Coast (offense) and the triangle reads. He is a very good football coach and I have a lot of respect for him. But right now our whole deal is about this football team and what we’re doing. I’ve got a lot of belief in these guys. We took two giant steps forward against South Florida and there’s no question that we took a couple of them backward last week. Our guys know that. They are focused on getting those things corrected. We are doing it to ourselves by turning the football over. We are working very hard to get those things corrected. The bottom line is we have the potential to be a very good football team and win a championship, but we have to go to work, get those things corrected and get there.

 

On whether the Pitt passing game missed hot-reads against Rutgers:

“The whole premise of our offense is timing, so there are a lot of factors that go into that. We didn’t play very good up front, I can tell you that. It’s a combination of both. The bottom line is that it is our responsibility to coach them and teach them. We’re getting there sometimes and then we are not other times. I think the pressure element and the inexperience up front was a contributing factor. The number one factor in that game was that we didn’t have our guys ready to play. I didn’t think our guys played hard like they should. Especially on the offensive side of the ball, I thought we at times looked confused and didn’t play hard. That is our job as coaches to get our guys ready to play. It wasn’t one singular thing. There a lot of factors there. The key to our offense is taking what the defense gives you. When it works, you’ll see a lot of different receivers touch the ball if we’re taking what the defense gives us. There are things we have to do better. One of them is our hot reads, getting the ball out and protecting the quarterback. We played our worst game offensively.”

 

On field position issues:

“You have to flip the field position. I think we had two three-and-outs on offense the first few series. That’s the most we’ve punted. I think we’ve punted nine times and we’ve only averaged two or three a game. The key is the first, first down. You’ve got to make first downs to flip the field. We’ve been working on trying to flip the field with our punter. The first couple of punts were shorter punts and we gave up five or ten yards on one return, it’s just field position. I think we have to do a better job on kickoff return. We are catching the ball going backwards, which is fundamentally unsound. Anytime you catch the ball going backwards on kickoff return, you’re going to make ten less yards on that return. Our best field position is the 25-yard line. We were inside our 20 twice. That’s hurting us, because if you don’t make the first, first down, the field gets flipped. That was a game where they were really patient. They knew they needed short fields to score. We couldn’t get the field flipped. You have to make first downs and execute in the kicking game. Our kickoff return is something we have got to get better on, it’s hurting us field position-wise. Our kickoff cover has been stellar, other than one kickoff it’s been pretty good. That’s football, you’ve got to flip the field and the best way to do it is to make first downs.”

 

On Ray Graham:

“I think it’s phenomenal that he leads the country in rushing and we’ve had injuries to our two top offensive linemen. I think that says a lot about not only him but about the guys up front and how they’ve battled. He’ll be the first to tell you that they’re doing a good job. He’s special in that regard. I think he’s a great competitor. He finishes runs and makes people tackle him. I think he’s made great progress in just about everything he does. I think he’s done a good job. He’s got a long way to go and a lot more improvement that he can make.”

 

On the switch to Trey Anderson in the second half:

“We were trying to create some type of spark. We felt like his ability to be a little more mobile would help us. Obviously, it didn’t.”

 

On Mark Myers:

“Mark is basically our third quarterback and he is our backup punter. He is doing a good job. We’re not going to play musical quarterbacks and get ready to play a football game. He is definitely a guy that we have looked at…he is a guy that is in the equation as he progresses. Where Coach Norvell and Coach Magee feel like we are at, that is what we are going to do. Our starting quarterback is Tino. I have said that all along. He knows what he has to do to get better and we know what we have to do to get better as an offense.”

 

On what the offensive pass interference penalties looked like on video:

“I thought one of them was our guy coming off and actually running over the defender. Carswell was being physical, but that is a foul even though it was away from the play. Sometimes it isn’t called, but it is a foul and should have been called. The other one was… you know, you know… I don’t know. Officiating had nothing to do with the outcome of the game. Officiating is what it is. I think those guys do a good job. I think ours work hard to do it right. There is a human element involved in it, but no excuses. We didn’t play well.”