It wasn't the best outing for the offensive line on Saturday against Buffalo, but it wasn't the worst game either. Of all things—for as much of a concern as there was for Ryan Turnley making his first start, and as much of an emphasis as there is on getting the shotgun snap ‘100 percent,' Turnley's play was one of the high points.
"If anything worried me going to bed the first night was that we would have a bad snap but Turnley was great," head coach Todd Graham said this week.
The line had some trouble opening room for Ray Graham early on. Graham came on in the second half. Evidenced by his 75-yard run at the end of the game, if there's even the slightest bit of an opening, he can make the most of it. The line did allow just one sack, but also gave up seven hurries which rattled quarterback Tino Sunseri early. Pitt's defense matched Buffalo with one sack, and only two hurries for a defense that thrives itself on impacting the quarterback.
The concern came from the tackle position, where senior Jordan Gibbs had what has been referred to as a breathing problem. The weather combined and the anticipation got to Gibbs a little too much. Some of the other guys on the line were thrown off by the last minute switch. Still, they had to overcome that in a hurry. Though anything can happen in a game, a senior starter hyperventilating moments before kickoff is not something you prepare for every day.
"He was breathing super fast," Chris Jacobson said. "I walk over, and I see this big tube down his throat. He's all right though. It was really hot too."
Greg Gaskins filled in at right tackle, while Juantez Hollins made his first career start at left tackle. Though the line had to adjust at the last minute, they were also trying to get through their first game. What started off as a lot of excitement to get on the field for the first time of the season turned into a series of obstacles. Even so, Pitt still pulled out the win. However, the offensive line was under a microscope. The juggling of the line, and the first career start—and first career game for that matter—Hollins were other things the line had to overcome.
Offensive line coach Spencer Leftwich felt he couldn't have asked for more from Jacobson and Lucas Nix. He did feel there's some improvement in store for Hollins.
"They played really hard," Leftwich said of the two seniors. "Chris Jacobson really had a fine game. I was really pleased with him. He plays like the kid he is. He's a really hard-nosed kid. He gives you everything he has. He did a nice job for us.
"Hollins, his first time playing in the game. Those things; the lights get a little bit brighter and the crowd gets a little bit louder, those kinds of things. I thought all and all it was a good game to build from."
After the first game last year, there was less of a settled feeling than there is now along the line. Despite the switch with Gaskins, and a couple of new starters, Leftwich feels Hollins just needs repetitions—a word he used frequently when describing Hollins.
"I told (Hollins), ‘I'm going to be a little harder on you because you're a guy that hasn't played and has a lot of ability, and it was my job to get that out of you,'" Leftwich added. "Our approach is, lets really coach them hard. It was his first game. There is a lot of understanding it was his first time (starting). The young man has a lot of talent. He is really a gifted athlete. He just needs reps and reps and reps and reps. I think that everything that he did, along with all the others—the one thing we got out of the film—can be corrected. It's all fundamentals and it's all techniques. It wasn't a scheme issue where we got beat, so that's a positive."
Jacobson is also taking it upon himself to help Hollins along. He sensed a comfort level with the way Turnley was playing. Now, the senior only feels the need to guide Hollins along a little bit more.
"That was his first game," Jacobson added. "Like (Leftwich) was talking, your biggest improvement is from game one to game two. We'll see how he does this week. Turnley did a good job. His snaps were 100 percent. He was comfortable in there. He was making all the calls, so I knew he is comfortable with what he was doing.
"There were calls, sometimes (with Hollins), I had to make. He's catching on and he knows that, but he needs to get in that film room a lot. So do I, but he needs to get in there and know what he's doing so it's second nature. He'll be better."
Most importantly, Hollins feels a little more at ease with one game under his belt, looking forward to improvement in this second game.
"It was a lot different because I haven't played in a real game since the twelfth grade (in 2008) when I lost to Wilmington in my last high school game," Hollins said. "It felt good to get back out there. I'm a lot more comfortable because I got the first game out of the way. Now, I know what's expected and I know what plays I'm going to run. I know how the game mentality is going to be."