For the first time all season, Pitt was in the plus-department in turnover margin, finishing the Notre Dame loss with a +2. That's all fine and good with head coach Todd Graham, but at the same time, it was the turnovers that got away that irk him a little bit more.
"We had two (interceptions) that were dropped in this past game," Graham said. "We have dropped about six interceptions and really five in the last two games. We have to work hard on that."
For the season, Pitt is still a minus-2 in turnover margin. The +2 turnover margin is a start in the right direction. Even moreso is the number of passes deflected that came up in the Notre Dame game—five. Entering the Notre Dame game, Pitt had 13 passes deflected. Along the lines of this them that Pitt needs to finish out games—especially in the fourth quarter—if Pitt can figure out a way to finish out some of these interceptions, that may be a start.
"It goes back to fundamentals. You spend your time teaching someone how to line up, what they're supposed to be reading, what the scheme is and it's still all about blocking, tackling and catching the football," Graham said. "We need to get better fundamentally."
In the last two games alone, three of those pass deflections could have resulted in not only turnovers, but easy touchdowns for the defense. For a team that is 2-2, and has only been outscored by the opposition by a total of eight points in two games, capitalizing on these turnovers is even more critical.
Against Iowa, in the third quarter, Antwuan Reed made a great play on the ball with his receiver in check. Reed stayed with the ball, had it thrown right to him, but he couldn't haul it in. Had he caught it, there was nothing but green in front of him.
Reed had a similar play on Saturday against Notre Dame. He read the play perfectly—something he's improved on. Who knows what kind of accolades could head his way if he starts picking up on some of these interceptions. He leads the team with three passes defended, and his tied with several other Big East defenders for fifth in the conference. The fact that at least two of those three passes defended have been thrown right to him in the last two weeks, means the difference between just another defensive player in the conference versus a ballhawking corner in the conference.
"We had some bad luck on the one with Antwuan Reed," Graham said. "Actually Myles Caragein hit the quarterback right as he was throwing the ball. If Myles wouldn't of hit the quarterback then he would have thrown it right to us and we would have intercepted for a touchdown. We didn't have any luck on that deal."
Todd Thomas—one of the players who drew praise for his improvement from the Iowa game to the Notre Dame game—also had one in his hands that he dropped. With Thomas in a unique Spur position that is a hybrid safety/linebacker, he will be in that position to make a play again. We'll see if he has the opportunity to capitalize on one of them.
"Todd Thomas had one where he's kind of going for the hit instead of going for the ball," Graham said. "You don't get those opportunities a lot. We had the quarterback confused and off balance, but we didn't execute. We had two takeaways but we should have had two more. That is what could have made a difference in the game and it is something we are really emphasizing to our players."
Jarred Holley—who has nine career interceptions—knows a thing or two about being a ballhawk. He's also a team captain. With a good view of the defense from his safety position, his own personal experience in collecting turnovers—he gave his two cents on how defensive players like Reed, Thomas and some others are getting close to producing more turnovers for the defense.
"I think a lot of our guys on defense, I think we played with a lot more confidence; a lot of guys were a lot more settled down and just more confident," Holley said. "I think they played a lot looser than uptight and I think that helps out a lot."