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Meet the Press: Todd Graham Previews the Cincinnati Game




Oct. 31, 2011

PITTSBURGH -

Opening Statements:
“We are very excited today to be starting this week after coming off a big win. We are competing for first place in the Big East. Our student organizations are here to promote the “Turn It Blue” night on Saturday at Heinz Field. We are excited about that and our student section does a tremendous job. We are going to need everyone out there filling the stadium and turning it blue to support our team this Saturday in what I believe is our biggest game of the year. Our student section again does a tremendous job and I am really appreciative of our fans. Hopefully we can get the stadium packed and create a great atmosphere for our team on Saturday.

“After coming off last week’s game against UConn, we are very pleased with how our guys responded and how they played together as a team. We played well offensively and made some good adjustments. We had a lot better rhythm in what we were doing on the field. We faced some adversity in having some key players go down, but I liked how our guys picked up the slack and continued to play together as a team. I’m excited about our football team right now and so are the players. We know the magnitude of this week and know what type of team Cincinnati has to offer. It will be a big challenge for us defensively. Cincinnati has the best rushing team in the Big East as well as the best scoring offense. They are a very well coached team. Coach Jones does a tremendous job. We are probably most familiar with Coach Jones because he has worked with some of our guys (coaching staff) before. He has done a great job with their leadership and I am impressed with Cincinnati’s players. I had the chance to meet Zach Collaros. I was very impressed with him and how he came up and introduced himself. Cincinnati is playing extremely hard and it will be a big challenge for us defensively. We have to do a great job at stopping the run and make sure we don’t give up cheap touchdowns. This is the biggest challenge that we have faced defensively and we are looking to our guys to come and have their best game.


 

 

“Our players continue to improve every week. Andrew Taglianetti played very well last week along with Jarred Holley and Max Gruder. Aaron Donald is developing into a special player and has made about five sacks in the last couple of weeks. It gives me a lot of confidence that we are playing well on defense but we’re capable of playing a lot better. I think Cincinnati is third in the country in turnover ratios and the key for us is to take care of the football. I was pleased with our team both offensively and in our kicking game against UConn. Last week, we did not turn the ball over and we only gave up about three negative yardage plays with the quarterback sack. Offensively that will again remain as the focus. We are playing a very good football team but we’re excited for this Saturday. I’ve barely been able to sleep and I am excited about the opportunity. I’m confident in the team we have right now and our guys are playing hard together. I like the attitude and approach this team is taking, and an example is Ray Graham. Ray went down and naturally he is heartbroken and disappointed, but he showed back up the next day to practice. He started talking to the other guys about beating Cincinnati, winning the Big East Championship and going to the Orange Bowl. Ray has that mentality and that is the same mentality of the rest of our guys. It will not be easy but nothing worth having ever is.

“Overall, we are excited and we have some things really coming together. The biggest area I was not pleased with last week was our special teams. I thought our punt coverage has been stellar all year and we didn’t do as good of a job in that area. Our kickoff return was not very good either. We were very average in special teams last week and we need to do better. What is most important down the stretch are the details and special teams, along with the defense, are going to be very critical. Offensively we need to take care of the football, no negative yardage plays and we will score points. I feel like we have some momentum going and I’m excited about this Saturday. I encourage everybody to come and support our team. We’re playing for first place this weekend and it’s going to be a big game against a very good football team.”

On Cincinnati’s offensive strategy vs. Pitt’s offensive strategy:
“Offensively Cincinnati does a lot more looking back. On offense they come to the line, have a cadence, look back and get the call. We go a little bit faster. Cincinnati wants to run the ball and be balanced in what they’re doing so I think they are similar to us there. There are a lot of similarities in our run game and we also have similar backgrounds. Cincinnati is probably the most similar to us out of anyone we have played.”

On the running back position:
“You can’t stand up and talk about replacing a player as good as Ray Graham. You cannot replace a player like that, but in the same breath, Zach Brown did a tremendous job in coming in and being productive. We will have one of our freshmen come in and play the role that Zach played. We have Corey Davis, Malcolm Crockett and Isaac Bennett that we will look at for that position. I am very confident in all three of those guys. I’m also pleased with Ray and Zach and how their relationship has developed and how they have mentored those young kids. It will be important for those freshmen to step up and play. People will be surprised at how well these young guys can play.”

On Tino Sunseri and the rest of Pitt’s offense against UConn:
“We made some adjustments with Tino. We were very efficient in getting the ball out, established ourselves as a runner and managed the game. We were a lot better in rhythm, we made some adjustments, we did some things to simplify plays and we executed better. We were on task in what we were doing and our eyes were where they needed to be. I will tell you what I told Tino, that we played average but we can play a lot better than that. I was pleased with the performance but it was not a great performance. The one thing that was great about this game was not turning the football over. If we had not taken three sacks then it would have been a good performance. It doesn’t matter if it is this year or last year because I would still be saying the same exact things. I would be talking about 100 percent ball security and no negative yardage plays. If we do those two things then we are going to score points.

“UConn was giving us some man coverage and we like that match up. That was some of the things that we had done to help ourselves out. The ball should be out quick and it should be dispersed. This was really a game were we did a good job taking what they give us. I was pleased with Brendan Carozzoni and Hubie Graham. Hubie has been really steady and has been doing a good job for us. I am very pleased with him.

“I like getting fresh guys in there. Hubie is a very good player and we think Brendan has tremendous potential and is a very good athlete as well. I like how Mike Shanahan and Devin Street played. We got a lot more players involved with getting their hands on the football and spreading the ball around. It really has to do with Brendan’s maturation and getting better than it does anything else. He is getting better and doing a good job for us. Anthony Gonzalez was not healthy last week and wasn’t able to play much but hopefully we will have him full speed this week. We are also excited about his role in this upcoming game as well.”

On Lucas Nix and the offensive line:
“I really think we have an opportunity to get Lucas Nix back and that’s what he has told me. I feel good about him coming back and I believe that will help us tremendously. A lot has been said about passing yards. Our offensive line played their best game last week with Greg Gaskins, Ryan Schlieper and Cory King coming in there. We challenged them not to be replacements but to come in and play with confidence. I thought they did that and Jordan Gibbs played his best game of the year. Ryan Turnley’s toughness and what he’s playing through is something I have not witnessed before since I have been coaching. He is unbelievable to go out there and fight through what he’s fighting and being able to play is impressive. He is doing a great job especially at the center position. His snaps have been very consistent. I was very proud of the offensive line. I have also challenged them to take it to the next level and getting Nix back would help us tremendously.”

On the tailback position:
“Corey Davis has been playing in special teams, some speed sweeps and perimeter runs. Malcolm Crockett or Isaac Bennett will have to burn one of their redshirts and we hope it is just one.”

On Trey Anderson:
“In addition, a guy who was not available to us last week was Trey Anderson who is out with a wrist injury and he will continue to be out next week. It’s kind of a week-to-week deal with him. We have a long list of those players who are season-ending but Trey is not one of them.”

On Pitt’s strategy against Cincinnati:
“We simplified our procedures because we ran a lot of different plays but it is not a simplified playbook. How we will go up against Cincinnati is like how we do every week. We will run our offense and we will take what they give us.”

On the OLB position:
“Todd Thomas is another guy coming back that showed tremendous courage and toughness. I think he was a little tentative after coming back from an injury like that. I look for Todd to be at full swing this week because last week he was only about 75-80 percent. He will have to take all the reps there at the spur position.”

On Ray Graham’s injury:
“The one thing I am most excited about our football team is that we have made tremendous progress in development of relationships and character. What you and I see Ray Graham do on the field is exciting, but I am even more excited about the things that are going on in his life. We have never had any other conversation than him being here.”

On the lessons learned through this season:
“You look at college football and you have to remember you are dealing with young men. You have to get ready every single week. I don’t know how in the world you cannot be ready for this week. We are playing Cincinnati and they are undefeated in the Big East. We have four games left and if we win all four of those games then we control our own destiny. I know how excited I am and I sense the same excitement from our players. We could stand up and talk about the number of injuries, but it doesn’t matter because we started this thing to win a championship and that is on the line Saturday. The winner of this game Saturday is in first place in the Big East. We have a great opportunity ahead of us and we have four opportunities left. We have really focused on one at a time and this is what we call the second rock. It is an obstacle that is in front of us and a challenge is ahead of us. We can’t be up and down anymore. We have to be up the rest of the way through. I feel like this is when we play our best, when your back is up against the wall and nobody thinks you can do it. That is when your true character comes to the top and I think our guys are going to play their tails off.”

On Rutgers loss and concluding remarks:
“All we can worry about is winning the next game. You practice and do all this stuff to go into November and this league is won in November. Right now we are up against a team that is undefeated in the league and at 6-1. Cincinnati is a top-25 team in the country and this is the biggest challenge ahead of us. If we want to win the Big East then we have to go and win this Saturday. It’s not easy to win championships. The thing that has always been a common denominator for me is a championship caliber defense. I think our guys are close to it. We are not playing championship caliber defense yet. We are playing good but we can play great. I think we are capable of doing some things in the kicking game. We are punting the ball better and kicking the ball better. This is the time of the year where you start to see the injuries and the wear and tear, but everyone has that right now. We need to keep pressing forward. It’s not how you start but it’s how you finish.”