Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday Q&A with Mark Richt

Read on to see everything Mark Richt was saying following practice Tuesday as his 4-4 Hurricanes prepare to take on Pittsburgh this Saturday.

Opening Statement…
“We’re getting ready to play University of Pittsburgh Panthers. I’ll start with their head coach - Coach Narduzzi is doing a wonderful job there. He’s got them going on both sides of the ball, playing an extremely physical brand of football. Offensively, they are second in the league in scoring with 38 points per game. They have great balance – they’re running the ball for 231 yards per game and passing for 191 yards per game. Most of their passing game is set up because of how they run the ball, they’re just doing a wonderful job there. In the red zone, touchdown percentage – not total percentage, but touchdown percentage – is 81 percent touchdowns in the red zone. That’s why they’re up there in scoring, because they’ve done such a great job there. It probably starts with their offensive line. They have over 140 combined starts, and are a really physical bunch of guys. [Adam] Bisnowaty is a guy who is kind of the ring leader, a guy who has been there for almost 40 starts in his career. He’s a real physical football player, just as the rest of them are. We’ve got a right tackle in [Brian] O’Neill, who we have to figure out a way to cover him - he has caught a touchdown pass, he has run for a touchdown…he has more stats than a lot of running backs across America. They’re a very impressive bunch of guys up front. [Nathan] Peterman is a kid who was at Tennessee and transferred in. He’s a really good athlete - 6-2, 225 [pounds], mobile, can throw it extremely well. He’s got 12 TD passes and 3 interceptions, really doing a good job on that ratio. [Quadree] Henderson is a very dangerous return man, I’ll talk about him in a minute on there, but he also runs a lot of their speed sweeps. He has rushed for over 345 yards and has 20 catches for 220 yards. He’s considered a midseason All-American as a return man. [Jester] Weah has got 448 yards receiving and five touchdowns as their leading receiver, doing a beautiful job. He actually had 176 yards versus Marshall.

“On defense, Ejuan Price – I think everybody knows who he is, as they should. He has over 25 career sacks. Half of his tackles are tackles for loss. Between tackles for loss and sacks, he’s kind of a game-record kind of guy. Overall on defense, they have nine returning starters. They have seven seniors, Price being one of them. Six out of their front seven are all returning starters and a very physical bunch. Tyrique Jarrett is massive - very difficult to move, not many people are moving him at all. Great run-stopper but a good bull-rusher on the pass rush, pushing the pocket up in the face of the quarterback. He really does a good job there. The rest of them are outstanding up front as well. Their linebackers are very tough, physical, downhill pluggers that will knock the heck out of you. Outstanding players there. On the perimeter, their leading tackler is [Ryan] Lewis - 52 tackles, a pick and six pass breakups. Everybody knows they play a lot of man coverage back there, and in doing so, they allow safeties and the nickel – the SAM, as we call them - to get in the box and play the run. That’s one of the reasons why they’re sixth in the country. By design, and by numbers, they’re not going to give you an advantage to run the ball. The advantage is always going to be to stop the run and see if you’re good enough on the perimeter. That philosophy has served Coach Narduzzi well his entire career. It’s very impressive to watch their defense.

“In the kicking game, their kickoff man is [Chris] Blewitt. 21 out of his 53 kicks have been out of the yard, so there have been some returnable kicks. As far as field goals are concerned, he has made four over 50 [yards] and a long of 56. He is their all-time leading scorer as a kicker, so he’s having a tremendous career and a tremendous season. Their punter [Ryan] Winslow is averaging 43 yards per punt, so doing a nice job there. Getting back to Henderson as a return man, he has five kickoff returns that have gone for over 80 [yards]. He has two for touchdowns this year, he’s averaging 31 yards per return – which’ll probably be the biggest challenge of the game for us in special team, just trying to hem him up as a kick returner and punt returner, for that matter. He is averaging almost 13 yards per return as a punter. They’re a very complete team, a team that is very well-coached. They have been in every game they’ve played in. They’ve lost a couple, but just fractionally. They have had a couple of heartbreakers too.”

 

On whether he thinks quarterback Brad Kaaya trusts his offensive line…

“In general, quarterbacks have to trust that every time the ball is snapped, if it’s a pass, that they need to focus on their reads, they need to focus on their progressions. That’s what I mean by ‘trust the pocket’ or ‘trust the protection.’ There’s time when the protection breaks down. Any game across America, you watch it, there will be times when it breaks down – a quarterback is scrambling and making a play, or gets sacked and throws the ball away. That happens. That’s part of the game when you drop back and throw it. If you’re more concerned about watching the rush than what’s happening downfield, that’s when you have a problem. I’m not saying he has a problem in that area, I’m saying that’s how I teach a quarterback – that every time we drop back to throw, he has to focus on his job, not on the offensive linemen’s job. That’s all I was talking about there.”

 

On what quarterback Brad Kaaya can do to buy more time in the pocket…

“The big thing, of course, is we have to have a good scheme for him to be progressing through. If it’s man coverage, it usually doesn’t take too long to figure out who to throw to - you’re going to throw to this guy. More zone coverages, you have maybe a first and second, and sometimes a third, progression. Part of it is the scheme, to make sure we know where to go with the ball, on the rhythm of our feet, as we drop back in the pocket. If you get pressure up inside, sometimes you can go right or left. But most of the time, people are going to rush hard off the edge, he’s going to work up in the pocket and a lot times just hold his point and make a throw from the pocket. There’s sometimes where he has to flush, right or left - we’ve seen him do that a few times this year, and seen him make some plays. You have to focus on your job downfield and react to what happens in front of you. That’s the main thing.”

 

On if Pittsburgh does anything specific scheme-wise that contributes to their high sack total….

“They’re really good pass-rushers. Price, in particular, is a jet. He is very, very fast off the ball. Very strong. Kind of a low-to-the-ground guy, too, which is problematic. A lot of times you’ll get a relatively tall offensive linemen trying to work on a guy that can play low and play powerful, play strong…so just his get-off, when the ball is snapped and how quickly he gets off the line. If you have a tackle concerned about being beat on a speed rush, you tend to overset at times, and then he comes back underneath. If you have just one guy on him, it’s almost not fair, quite frankly. You have to try to get some help from tight ends, and backs, maybe a guard sliding towards the guy…but if you just say, ‘Hey tackle, you block him all day,’ and drop back to throw, I don’t know if anybody in America will hold up very well against that.”

 

On the team’s mindset in the midst of a four-game losing streak…

“The players are working hard. They’re focusing. When you’re learning how to be a man, you do your job, every day. You do the best you can. When you’re on a team, you do your best – not only for yourself, but for your team, because you care about each other. The motivation for our guys is that, every day, we show up and get to work. Regardless of the circumstances, you have to get up and go. That’s just like in life. You might not want to get up one day, for whatever reason, you don’t feel well. But guess what? You have to get up and do your job. If you don’t, you have people counting on you, and it won’t go well for them. I think they take pride in showing up every day and getting to work. Obviously we want to win games too, there’s no doubt about that. But every single day, you have to make a choice on what your attitude is and what your effort is – you can control that. That’s what I tell these guys – you can control your attitude, and you can control your effort. That’s up to you. If you care enough about your teammates, and you truly are doing things that a man will do, you’ll take care of business.”

 

On what a coach can do to help his team finish….

“You try to do it all offseason long. You try to get them learning to finish all offseason. I think we’re doing the right things in that regard. Even today, we talked a lot about starting faster, because that’s been a little bit of the issue as well. We didn’t start very fast last game obviously, for sure, then we got things rolling. When we got the lead, we didn’t finish like we should. We really emphasized how we wanted to start practice today - we changed that up a little bit, got into more high-tempo drills right off the get-go. Last thing we do is go against each other, offense versus defense, and that needs to be a really high-tempo deal as well. I stopped the drill before we got started and reminded them that we started well today, we had a pretty good practice in between, and now it’s time finish. I think you keep preaching it, you keep demanding it, and when it happens, everything becomes just a little bit easier.”

 

On if quarterbacks can learn a better sense of the pocket, and his preferred timing of release…

“There’s quick game where the ball gets out pretty quick, maybe 2 ½ or 3 seconds kind of thing. If you’re holding the ball longer than 4 [seconds], you’re asking for it. We need to have everything set up when we get the ball thrown sooner than that. There’s times, for example, at the end of the game, or it’s 3rd-and-long, they give you a three-man rush and drop eight [players], sometimes you’re able to hold the ball a little bit longer and let people work themselves open, because when you have eight people in coverage, things don’t really happen on rhythm a lot of times. They have three deep, they usually have five underneath zones covered, or they have man-to-man underneath - sometimes it takes a little bit to get a guy to work open. But in a three-man rush there’s times you can hold the ball a little longer than that. For the most part, anywhere between 2 1/2 to 4 seconds is when you’d like [the ball] to be out.”


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