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Nov. 28, 2011

Todd Graham

Syracuse Preview Press Conference

November 28, 2011


Opening Statement:

“Reflecting back on Friday it was a heartbreaking loss for us. I am really proud of our players after going back and looking at the film. It’s frustrating and disappointing because it is my job to get our players ready. Our guys are giving us everything they have and they are playing so well in so many different areas. Our special teams played outstanding. Our punter Matt Yoklic has done an amazing job and has continued to get better every week. Our coverage teams were fabulous and our kickoff return did a good job. Special teams did really well and it was one of our best games so far in that particular area. Defensively our guys continued to play stellar (against) the best offense statistically in our conference and one of the best in the country with throwing the football. Our secondary has improved every week and continues to get better. We gave up one big play, but we played very well defensively. Andrew Taglianetti played one of his best games. We have a smart secondary and they are able to give a lot of different looks. Our corners really did a great job with challenging West Virginia and playing man coverage. I was proud of Buddy Jackson. He had some alignment issues but he did a great job with challenging and playing there. We pressured the quarterback and did the things we wanted to do. Coach Patterson along with the defensive staff has done a phenomenal job with coaching their players. That is what is most frustrating is we are so close in a lot of different areas. The offensive line did a great job. Our goal was to come out and run the football. We had a formula where we wanted to run 80 plays on offense and 60 plays on defense. We ended up running around 81 on offense and 61 on defense. All of those things went the way they should have on Friday.

“Zach Brown played great and Isaac Bennett did as well. It really hurt us losing Zach Brown and Ronald Jones. It also really hurt us losing Isaac Bennett for those two or three series he was unable to play. He had a little virus and he was dehydrated so he was cramping up. Those injuries really hurt us in the second half. We didn’t execute especially towards the end of the game. What really hurt us in the end was not executing and taking the sacks late in the game. We lost a very close football game.

“What makes it so tough for me is that I feel like I let down the players and our fans. This university means a lot to me and this program means a lot to me. We are winning every day and we have made tremendous progress in so many different areas. I am so proud of these kids and this program.

“I was reflecting a little bit today about coming in on the first day. I remember coming in this very room and meeting them for the first time. I remember it was somewhat of a difficult situation and transition for this team. That is what attracted me to this place, because when I saw the situation I knew there were kids hurting. I felt like I had something to offer these players and I believe we came in and delivered. We developed great relationships with our players. Every single person in this program has improved and has been transformed. We are bringing out the best in each player every single day and we are very close to one another. I told the seniors today that this week is obviously about them with Senior Day coming up on Saturday. We want them to finish up with a win at Heinz Field. We want to get this program bowl eligible, which is very important. We want to be bowl eligible this season for the seniors and for the future of this program. The practices we have now are invaluable. I am proud of this football team. When I think and reflect back on my time here I am very proud of what we have done so far. We have not accomplished what we set out to. These young men that I am coaching are tremendous. I have developed a personal relationship with every single one of them.

“When I first got here I remember talking to Myles Caragein about what we planned on accomplishing. I have met some of the finest young men that I have been around since I began coaching. Greg Williams is guy that stands out to me. When I first got here he always had a frown on his face and he didn’t smile very much. He use to look at the ground most of the time, but now he walks around and he is Mr. Positive and always has a smile on. I have been very blessed to share relationships with them. Chas Alecxih has been phenomenal in how he has developed and the player he has become. I love being around him on game day. He has a unique passion for this game. I could go through every single one these guys. Greg Gaskins is a tremendous kid and he has worked very hard this year.

“We have had a lot of injuries but I am very proud of how our guys have responded and reacted. We have some special young men and these seniors are really special to me. I told them the other day that sometimes things don’t happen as fast we want them to, but with this group we are going to do tremendous things in the future. I wanted the seniors to know that they are a very key part of it and that they laid the foundation for the things that are going to happen. I really believe that and I am indebted to our seniors. We are going to bust our tail and we are going to the send our seniors out the right way with a win. That way we can get an extra game and spend another three to four weeks together. They are a very special group to me and every single one of those seniors has bought in to what we are trying to do. I have asked them to do some things that are different and I really appreciate their efforts. All these guys are going to be winners in whatever they set forth to accomplish.”          


On possible changes at quarterback this week:

“No. We didn’t play very well down the stretch and at the quarterback position and that is part of the execution, but Tino is still the guy that gives us the best chance at winning…we just need to get better.

“We have worked with Mark Myers and he shows a lot of promise. In the spring he got hurt and he was a little behind for this fall. Trey Anderson’s injury has put him out for the rest of this year. Mark has been pushed to get more and more reps and he is a guy who definitely has a future. He is a guy who can compete, but he has not been in the position to have a complete understanding of what we’re doing to give us a chance to win. We will evaluate him throughout the week to see how he is developing and see what happens.” 


On Ronald Jones status:

“I don’t know and it will probably be a day to day situation. We are very hopeful about Ronald Jones as always. Hopefully he will be able to practice by Wednesday and be able to play. I didn’t realize in the game how many things he did until he was no longer there. That is something we are very hopeful that we can get him back. Anthony Gonzalez will play a bigger role because we can’t afford to lose the wildcat part of our game. Anthony started practicing that last week and will play more of a role now if Ronald can’t go.”


On the offense’s inconsistencies:

“It comes down to failing to execute. It is very frustrating because I have never dealt with anything like this. If you look at Friday’s game in the first half we are executing down the field and we missed things like you would in any game, but we didn’t play well in the second half from an execution standpoint. We weren’t executing the reads in this game very well at all. We came off our best game in executing at the quarterback position, but it is my job to get him ready and our job as a staff to make sure he is prepared. We have tried to adapt to a lot of things and to simplify things. You also have to give West Virginia a lot of credit for playing well. Taking sacks and making mistakes in those types of situations are the ones that are most frustrating. It is a new problem and we haven’t had these same types of problems in the past. It comes down to executing the system and involves being disciplined to do it. It also has to do with us being able to teach and obviously we are not doing a good job with teaching it. We are not consistent despite the good things we have done. It is frustrating and all we can do is work hard to get better. It is going to get better and we have learned a lot as we have gone through this season.”  


On the nine sacks in Pitt’s final 25 plays:

“We held the ball. Our offense is about throwing the ball on timing and they were rushing three guys. West Virginia was not blitzing and they were rushing three guys. Prior to that we had only taken one sack in the game. We were getting rid of the ball and getting better at what we were doing. In that situation, we had 1:58 left and we had plenty of time to run our base offense. We have not done a very good job of preparing for that type of situation. We need to work on those things because we are absolutely not executing there. It seems like when we play ahead of people we are okay, but anytime we have a situation come down to making a drive to win we have zero success. It comes down to executing the fundamentals and looking at what you are supposed to look at. There are a lot of factors that go into that. The bottom line is we played very poorly in the last 25 plays of the game. On the same end there were other opportunities that we missed. 

“I felt like at halftime we should have had 28 points at least on the board. The turnovers down on their end and a critical holding penalty also hurt us. It wasn’t just in those last 25 plays we did not play well. I thought we were physically dominating the game by running the football on West Virginia throughout the first 50-some plays of the game. When Zach Brown went down that compounded things, and with Isaac Bennett being in and out sporadically, all those things contribute to a little bit of uneasiness. Everything you say other than that is an excuse. We played poorly. Our offensive line played well but we did not play well at receiver. We obviously played poorly at quarterback. We need to do a better job and we need to do better job with coaching. We took two steps forward and three steps back in this past game. It is frustrating but we need to keep plugging and continue to work on getting better. We have adapted a lot of things to what we’re doing. Everything went as planned with 81 plays on offense and 61 on defense. There were some big plays made on West Virginia’s end that you have to give them credit for. Our defense is playing good enough to win the Big East. We are not executing from an offensive standpoint. It is our job to get that done and we didn’t play very good.” 


On the significance of making a bowl and getting extra practice:

“It would be huge for this team. We have lost a lot of close football games and these guys have played really well. If you look at the Notre Dame game, the Iowa game, the Cincinnati game and West Virginia, we are not far off. Especially with guys improving and playing at the level they are playing. It is very important for these seniors and this program. It also gives you extra practice time to develop younger players and it would invaluable for us.

“Our guys are going to play their hearts out like last week. Until the very end our guys played hard. I challenged our defense and special teams to get three takeaways and they got them. Our guys were covering kicks and running to the ball with tremendous passion. I challenged our offensive line to come off and dominate the game. I thought our offensive line as far as the running game was concerned was very good. Those extra practices are something you can’t put a price tag on in how important they are for the future of this program and moreover for the seniors and this football team. These guys have worked really hard and are very deserving of it. We are so close and I feel like I have let them down. I want to make sure we finish this thing the right way. We have done a lot of great things and have developed as a team. I am very confident in these guys and there will be championships to look forward to in our near future.”


On fan support:

“I am very appreciative of our fans and students who come out and support us. I understand it is an important thing and I am never going to dodge from winning. That is how you get the people’s support and that is how you fill the stadium up. We have fallen short of that. I am proud of the body of work these guys have put in well before I got here especially to those who are seniors. I hope our fans come out and support these seniors that have represented this university in a great way. If you want to fill the stadium up then you have to win games and we intend on doing that.”


On 6-6 qualifying for a bowl:

“That is the bench mark to be bowl eligible. I think our team deserves it and if we are able to win this last game then I would consider us the best 6-6 team in the country. The bowl experience and the development of your program are important. That is how the system works. I think (winning) a championship is deserving of going to the higher bowls. I believe we are very deserving to go to a bowl game if we win this last game against Syracuse.”


On Syracuse:

“Syracuse is a very good football team. They have lost four in a row and they have a lot of the same frustrations we have had. They are capable of beating anyone in this league. They went out and dominated West Virginia. Syracuse is a very physical team and they can run the football. I am very impressed with them defensively. They have had their woes on special teams and turnovers. Every week there is a lot of parity in this league. After watching them on film what is surprising to me is that they are a lot better of a team than one that is sitting at 5-6. They are probably a mirror of what we have faced this year.”    

Meet the Press: Previewing the Syracuse Game

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