One of the biggest surprises when game time rolled around on Saturday, was Greg Williams starting at the Spur position. Earlier in the week, the focus was on Andrew Taglianetti running with the first-team at Spur.
Todd Graham clarified that Taglianetti would not be the Spur 100% of the time, but that it would be situational depending on the opponent. Since Buffalo was a spread team running a no-huddle offense, it was expected that Taglianetti would get most of the reps. Against a more traditional offense, for example Iowa, Thomas would be in there. Greg Williams hadn't even entered the conversation.
That was until about Thursday, where linebackers coach and Keith Patterson had to go with what felt right. Williams had been injured through much of training camp. Towards the end of the week, heading into the first game, Williams was consistently taking more reps in practice. As a result, Patterson felt that Williams was the right call.
"Every day is a new day," Patterson said. "(Williams) just kept progressing as the week went on. He had a really good practice on Thursday. We sat down as a staff and decided that was what's best for our football team. I think it showed up on Saturday. He had a great practice Thursday and Friday. Sometimes, you just go with your gut feeling. We had a good feeling about where he was."
Todd Graham had somewhat of a similar take as far as having a good feeling. Graham went with something other than his gut reaction—which defensive coordinators often have to do in a game situations.
"Just experience and knowledge," Graham said. "Todd (Thomas) is going to be a really good player too. We're really very blessed to have both of those guys. At the end of the day, it was a good decision because (Williams) played really well. He did a good job for us. He was the best guy to give us the opportunity to win."
Williams made the start at the Spur. Even though the defense had the Buffalo offense on the field for 93 plays on Saturday, Patterson and Graham still feel good about Williams as that Spur. Chazz Anderson completed 32-of-49 passes for 276 yards. Of those 32 completions, nine were made with the linebackers in coverage. Of those nine, Williams was in on two of the stops.
Overall, Williams finished with four tackles in the game. No one was more surprised than him when it was announced he was the starter. "I was surprised," Williams said. "I was surprised when they came up to me and told me I was starting off the game. I'm guessing because I might have been a veteran, and they were impressed with me more but I'm not sure. Nothing is different between me and Todd (Thomas). I still have to work hard, and he still has to work hard. If he would have started, or if I would have started, we're both going to keep pushing each other to work harder every day." The one thing that slowed Willliams' progresson was something he labeled as concussion-like symptoms.
"During blitz period (in training camp), I got hit in the side of the head a little bit," Williams said. "I kept practicing, telling the trainers and stuff. I was out for a week, but I'm back 100 percent and ready to go right now."
When did he start feeling 100 percent?
"Probably after camp," Williams answered. "I was banged up for awhile, and I kept trying to practice banged up. I just made it worse for myself."
Patterson doesn't need to watch film to know that Buffalo ran 93 plays against his defense, putting up 403 yards of total offense and possessing the ball for 38:48—nearly two-thirds of the game. The Bulls also sustained three drives of 10 plays or more, and consecutive drives of 76 and 64 that both led to touchdowns.
Settling on a starter at Spur is less of a concern than where Patterson finds fault with penalties. Pitt was only penalized five times for the game, with three of those calls going against the defense. Myles Caragein was flagged for a personal foul late hit in the second quarter, Antwuan Reed was flagged for a pass interference call in the second quarter—one that looked close on the replay, but at the same time, one Graham did not defend.
"We had a hands to the face which could have gone either way, and we had a pass interference that could have gone either way," Graham said. "We want to eliminate all penalties. I thought our discipline, the sportsmanship, how they went about their business, I thought they played very physical.
"It was a first-game type of mistakes being made, which are unacceptable. I can tell you that. We make no excuses for anything. We have a whole bunch of things we can get better on."
K'Waun Williams had the other defensive penalty—a defensive facemask call in the third quarter. Reed's pass interference call allowed the Bulls inside the 30 for the first time all day, which resulted in a field goal just before the half. Williams' facemask call led to the Bulls' second touchdown. Patterson felt in both cases, even though penalties were few, these two in particular kept drives alive.
"If you look at it, the first eight possessions, they never even challenged us," Patterson added. "I think sometimes you lose your mental focus and you let your guard down a little bit. All of a sudden, they make a play and what happens is you have people trying to operate outside the framework of the defense. If you look at it, penalties kept three of those drives alive."