COACH FLOOD: We are excited for another Big East championship game this week, a great opportunity for our program playing against an excellent Pittsburgh football team. I don't know if I can say enough about the job I think Coach Chryst has done.
I think he's done a tremendous job with that program. They've certainly gotten better and better as the season has gone on and in the face of a really difficult situation for him because of the coaching changes they've had over there the last couple of years. It puts a program in turmoil. Puts personnel things in turmoil, and he's done a great job of steadying their ship and making that program improve week by week. You see it when you put the film on.
And there is no doubt they're a very talented football team. You probably have to start with their running backs, Ray Graham and Rushel Shell, as good of back field, a good of pair of guys as there is in our league. Certainly we're very familiar with Ray being from our home state and being Khaseem's brother.
And they have a senior quarterback. I think there is always an advantage when you have a senior quarterback. And Tino Sunseri is playing a lot of good football in the Big East and probably playing his best football, currently, 16 touchdowns, two interceptions. When you think just a year ago he threw ten touchdowns and 11 interceptions, you see how hard he's worked, how much he's improved and his decision making has gotten better and the great a job their offensive coaching staff at Pitt has done to get him to play that efficiently. Those are the things that you expect out of a senior quarterback, and he is certainly producing for them.
They use a host of skilled people: Tight ends, wide receivers, fullbacks. They're similar structurally offensively with the football team to what we are. Not really knowing Coach Chryst personally, but watching the film, they seem to believe in the same things we believe in offensively in terms of running the football, and his pedigree at Wisconsin certainly everybody is aware of that how effective they were. They've done a great job of playing really good team defense.
They've got one of the premier inside defensive players in our league in Aaron Donald, No. 97, a tremendous play maker, somebody that I remember very keenly from last year and having worked with a couple of guys that have been at Pitt the year before, somebody that as we were getting ready to play Pitt last year, we were very aware that we needed to make sure we paid very close attention to where he was and to make sure that we were trying to minimize his effect on the game.
They play a lot of people up front. They play a lot of people at the linebacker level. They do a good job of keeping their players fresh. They run to the football. They've given up less than 24 points a game. They've done a tremendous job on defense.
Again, for a team that's had to take over a group of players that have been forced into a couple of different systems over the last couple of years, I think they've done a tremendous job of playing really good, consistent defense the entire year, despite the fact that their starting will linebacker, No. 36 is out for the year with an ACL injury he got in the Louisville game.
Despite some personnel changes and injuries, they've continued to play high level of defense when you look at the points scored, because that's the most important statistic.
So it will be a tremendous challenge for us going to Pittsburgh. A great venue for football, Heinz Stadium, and we're looking forward to it. That's where we've set our sights this week. Any questions?
Q. How did you come out of the game injury-wise?
COACH FLOOD: I think we came out well. I don't think any worse for wear. I don't anticipate anybody who played in the game not being available for us this week. And hopefully guys like Jawan Jamison will be that much healthier for not having played that much.
Q. Is he still the same? Have you seen some progress?
COACH FLOOD: I don't think he's the same. I think the combination of only carrying the ball a couple of times. We didn't hit yesterday, we had practice, but didn't have pads on. Today he'll be in the training room getting his body feeling good. So I think he'll be better tomorrow than he was on Saturday.
Q. How will you approach comparing with the running back situation with Savon coming off the big day, Jawan injured? What is the plan leading up to the week with the two of them?
I think we handle it the same we did last week, and as Jawan gets healthy, his role will get bigger and bigger.
Q. You said yesterday you can't really talk about the Big Ten. It's up to Tim. But now there are reports that Maryland voted unanimously to pursue the Big Ten. Is there anything else you can add?
COACH FLOOD: Really, no. Those questions are best served being asked to Tim because he's the one that's involved in it. I'm going to stay out of it. We have 11 days left in our season. I think what I've said to the players is what I say to myself. We're going to control the things as a football program that we can control. And the only thing we can control this week is our performance against Pitt, so that's where we'll put our focus.
Q. Before the season and Savon got hurt early in the season, the idea was you thought had you two starting running backs and they were going to share carries a little bit. Then Savon got hurt and his carries went down. Has he earned the right to get, even when Jawan is healthy, be it this week or next week or the bowl game, has he earned the right to get more than the three or four carries he was getting between when he got hurt and this week when he was starting?
COACH FLOOD: I think every week is a different situation. I think we have to evaluate that game by game. This week Savon was a hundred percent and Jawan wasn't. I think Savon carried the workload. Whatever guy is in there, we have confidence in. We don't change the offense because one guy is in there or the other. We don't do that. Every week will be different.
We'll go into this week, see where Jawan is at the end of the week and call the game accordingly.
Q. How concerned are you with Gary's decision making, 11 turnovers in the last four games?
COACH FLOOD: Not concerned at all. I think Gary has learned from every mistake he's made this year. I think he's gotten significantly better as the year has gone on at making good decisions. The stat sheet says two interceptions in the last game.
But from a coaching perspective, it's really only one, because the other one he was trying to throw the ball out of bounds and couldn't get enough on it because we busted the protection. I know the statistics go down that way. But in terms of coaching him and his decision making, he made right decision on that play, and the situation didn't allow him to execute it.
The other one at the end of the half was certainly a decision we'd like to have back, And he'll next time we have full confidence and make a better one.
Q. In a game where they're both getting carries whatever the split may be, are they a good complement? Because you've said they're not the same kind of runner. Jawan is the make-you-miss kind of guy, and Savon is a run-through-your-arms kind of guy. Do they make a good complement? Like a thunder and lightning type thing?
COACH FLOOD: I don't know that I'm into the nickname part of it, but I think they make a good complement because they're both high-level players. If you have two guys with different running styles and one wasn't as good a player, I don't know that they'd be as good a complement.
What makes them complementary backs is they're both capable of having a good day, and it allows you to keep a fresh running back in the game all the time.
Q. Could you talk about the job of Nick Borgese, just him stepping into a situation like this?
COACH FLOOD: Well, we're very pleased. Nick has become a major asset to this football team because he provided depth at a position where a lot of times it's overlooked. You don't enter a lot of games with a major concern about losing your kicker during the game. It just doesn't happen that often. But for us, it did. And Nick was able to step in, steady the ship, and really we haven't had to change anything about our offensive thought process since he's been in there. And that is a tremendous luxury for me as the head football coach.
Q. With all the Big Ten talk, are you worried about distractions to your team as they prepare for this game?
COACH FLOOD: I'm not. I think when you have the opportunity as a football program, as a coach, as a player, to do something that's never been done in the history of your program, and we've been playing football as long as anybody has been playing college football, as the sign says in our stadium, we are a very focused group. The football people in this building are focused on one thing, and that is trying to be 1-0 against Pitt. We have very qualified people on campus led by Tim Pernetti and Jason Baum that will handle everything else.
Q. Getting back to Nick for a second. Can you tell us a little bit about him? I know he was a walk on, and he just really stepped up here in a couple of big spots for you.
COACH FLOOD: Nick was a walk-on for us, and what I would tell you is he's got a very laid-back demeanor a little similar to Kyle. He's not shaken easily. Even after the first kick got blocked, and he knew it was low, I talked to him on the side. He said, "Don't worry, Coach. I got it." I said, "That's good, because you're going to get another opportunity," and he did, and he was right. He had it.
That type of competitive composure, I think is critical. Especially for a player at a position where you're not in the game every play. You get called, you run out there, you execute your job, and go back to the sideline for a certain period of time. So he's been a major asset to the football program and somebody who has become a very valuable piece to the puzzle here.
Q. You've talked about the maturity of this team and the experience, and I know it's your first season. But how has that altered how you have approached this team in coaching it?
COACH FLOOD: I don't think it's altered how I coach the team only because I felt that way from the beginning. When you have a mature team like we do, it helps you to eliminate distractions from the younger players. When you have an immature team, you spend a lot more time as a coach and coaching staff trying to make sure that younger players don't distract the rest of the team.
But I think what I found with this group is that the senior leadership and the established players on the team have handled that for me. I think that's positive.
Q. Because you've been around a lot of teams, have you seen how it's worth when it's not such an experienced team? Is that where you draw your -- I don't know if I'm making sense. You've been around teams that are inexperienced too. How much have you taken from that in being around those teams to how you are handling this team?
COACH FLOOD: I've certainly seen it both ways in 19 years. I think every team is unique. Every season is unique. This is a very special football team. And I think the number of established players and leaders on this team is a great testament to the quality of the people that were recruited in the first place four and five years ago.
I think what happens when you have a less experienced, less mature team is you spend a lot more time on the maintenance part and not enough time on the things that are more important. You get distracted a lot, and it ultimately gets you on the field.
Q. Your team is first in turnover margin, and Pittsburgh is second in the Big East. Has your team approached this game on offense and defense as far as trying to win the turnover battle?
COACH FLOOD: We really approach it the same way we have every week. We're certainly going to go into the game with securing the football being a major priority. Anybody who touches the football, whether it's the center, the quarterback, the receivers, the tailbacks, tight ends, et cetera. And on defense we'll do everything to take it away, as long as it fits into our tackling system.
I don't think that changes, especially in a game like this where the team has done a very good job protecting the ball and taking it away like they have. It makes you more conscious of the fact that one turnover in the game may be the only turnover in the game. There is no guarantee. You still have to go out there, protect it, and try to take it away. Every play becomes critical. But that's also the nature of championship football in November.
Q. Coach Khaseem Greene, can you talk about his continued play?
COACH FLOOD: He gets better and better. As I've said, I really believe he's at the beginning stages of his learning curve. He's less than two years into being a linebacker. So I think when you see him getting better and better, what you're seeing is more and more experience playing into that. The more he plays linebacker, the better he's going to get. I don't think he's anywhere near where he's going to be a couple of years from now.
Q. You mentioned Ray Graham in your opening statement, but if you could expand on him a little bit. It seems like he's fully back from his knee injury now.
COACH FLOOD: Oh, he's back.
Q. Does he look like he did before the knee injury? And Khaseem, is he any different on game days than he is other days because he's facing his brother?
COACH FLOOD: No, I don't think so. I think he approaches this game like they have a really talented running back on the other side. Happens to be his brother, but talented nonetheless. There is no doubt Ray Graham is back. He's a hundred percent, and he is as good a tailback as this league has had. He's an excellent football player. A guy that can put his foot in ground, change directions in one step, make you miss in the open field and run away from you. He's a complete football player, and it will be a tremendous challenge to our defense this week to minimize him.
Q. Could you talk about the defense a little bit? You know, is this one of the best groups you've seen since you've been here? I know it's a senior laden group, and it seems like everything is really coming together at the right time here?
COACH FLOOD: I don't know if I could say that before the end of the season. I think those kinds of classifications, you wait until the body of work is done, and then you can kind of look back and compare. I thought the effort last week was as good an effort for a game as I've seen.
We're certainly playing defense at a high level. But nothing we've done in the first ten games of this season will get us anything this week. We've got to go back to work this week and focus on being 1-0, and make sure that all of the things that have allowed us to perform well in the past, we're continuing to do those in preparation. So we can hopefully do a good job this week against a very talented offense at Pitt.