Devin Street set a new career-high with 8 catches for 118 yards last week against Cincinnati. His previous career-high was a 7-catch, 138-yard performance against Iowa in Week Three. He's now Pitt's leading receiver with 33 receptions for 471 yards. While he leads the group on paper, Street may be ready to take his game to a new level. He feels the need to do that, starting in practice.
"It's just been carrying over from practice. Coach Graham and Coach Norvell called for me to step up. It hasn't been anything physical. It's been more mental. I've just been practicing like an animal; going 100 percent on every play if not 110. I'm trying to be a young leader out there; help everyone get together. Of course we're not where we want to be yet. We're progressing right now."
Do you think you're ready to take that next step?
"I think so. It was a little inconsistency too. Now, it's just trying to bui.d and build on each game.; get the best out of me and the best out of the team. It'll carry over. We have to be disciplined. We got to finish games. We're not losing by much, though."
Did this new comfort level start with the Cincinnati game, or did it come prior to that?
"I got a little more comfortable as the season went on. It's just been, I don't like losing. I can only control what I can do. I just decided to put my game up to another level. It wasn't like I wasn't giving effort in the beginning. There's a different effort right now. It's all out."
How tough is it, trying to get over the hump in some of these close games?
"It's tough. It's very tough; not because we know how close we are, but it comes down to the little things. That's what's going to win you ball games. Cincinnati was a great team. We had the opportunity."
"It's motivating. But, at the same time it hurts. We know we're not far away, and we have to fix those little things and we'll be fine; concentrate on that."
Is it easy to get frustrated as a result of losing those close games?
"I think sometimes, individually, people can do that. I think we need to concentrate on that a little more. If we just do our job, take what defenses are giving us, I think we'll be fine."
Ryan Turnley has been bothered by a rare foot injury. Still, despite being held out of some practices, he's fought through the pain and continued to start at center. Todd Graham has often called Turnley a warrior for fighting through his pain.
"I've just been dealing with feet. Both my feet have been pretty bad. The Utah game, I hurt my right foot, then came back and was able to play against UConn. I did the same thing to my left foot (against UConn)."
"Playing through some pain, stuff like that, but the biggest thing about getting ready for the games, is just taking mental reps throughout the week. You stand there in practice, and I've watched more film than I've ever watched. That's the hardest thing about the games—not being able to practice, then going out and having to perform."
How do you help push your teammates, if they too might be bothered by nagging injuries?
"I don't advise (taking the week off). It's pretty tough. I just think that me, constantly, being able to keep playing the same position every week and getting comfortable with it, I think that's why I'm able to play better."
How are you able to fight through the pain?
"It's mostly just mental; just have to get out there and focus on that. Once you get the adrenaline going for the game, it's a lot easier to do. Just go out there and put it out of your mind for a couple of hours, and then get some treatment during the week."
"I know that I'm going to be able to play on Saturdays. Our trainers do a great job. I have complete confidence I'll be able to play when Saturday rolls around."
"There's a lot of injuries like that. I'm lucky that it's one of those injuries where I'm still able to play. I'm glad. I'm thankful for that. It's not a broken bone."
Is part of it being frustrated from having to sit out at other times of your career, like missing the entire spring last year?
"A couple years in a row, I've had some pretty bad luck with stuff like that. I'm fortunate that I'm able to play with this. I'm fortunate that the trainers have done such a good job getting me ready to play. It's unbelievable. I've just been told that it's rare, and they don't know why."
Tino Sunseri was Pitt's leading rusher in its first game without the services of Ray Graham. He talks about how the offense has shifted its game plan without Graham. He also talks about how he admires Turnley, for going through his injuries.
Can you put into perspective what Turnley is going through?
"I can't. The good thing is, is that he plays in a position with a lot of double teams. He's lucky that he plays the position that he does. He shows extreme toughness. He's coming out to play each and every week. It just goes to show how much character, and how much he wants to be out there playing. It makes everyone else suck everything up. If somebody gets hit, they look at Turnley and just keep on going forward."
"Turnley has been doing a good job. He actually moved from tackle to guard, and from guard to center. He's actually played all three. He's a very smart guy. He understands the game and he has a football savvy about him. He understands what the defenses are trying to do. We're able to talk to each other on the sidelines throughout the week to kind of gauge on what kind of blitzes are going to come, different shades and stuff like that. He's able to help the guards out, and really help them understand where it's going to come from. Turnley has been really able to make that adjustment to center. He's been able to do a really good job in doing that. I think Turnley will play center as long as he's at the University of Pittsburgh."
West Virginia put up over 500 yards against Louisville, yet they're still a pretty good defense.
"I think Louisville has a really good defense. I think they're very well-coached. Charlie Strong is a great coach. He has those guys playing really hard, confident. You can throw for 400 yards (against them), and they're winning. What it comes down to, is Louisville is able to make enough plays in that game in Morgantown. They're able to some things. We're just looking to take, and find out some things we can do with our offense. We're different from West Virginia's offense. We're just going to try and move forward, and score points."
What does the offense need to go to come through in close games?
"It's discipline. It's being able to execute for 60 minutes, keeping the focus on things you can control. The last couple games, whenever it's coming down to the last few plays, you can pick out three plays that can change the (outcome) of the game. You just have to be able to know your assignments; play assignment football for 60 minutes, and you can win those types of games."
Does everything change without having Ray Graham?
"He was the third leading rusher in the country. Our mindset changes a lot. When you have a talent in there like Ray, obviously you're going to try get him the ball any way out of the backfield. Obviously, you're going to hand it off to him. Zach has done a good job of coming in. Ray makes a couple of runs, and you look back on tape, and you say, ‘only a great player can make a run like that.' I'm not saying Zach can't make those type of runs, but Ray has done it before. Obviously, we changed our gameplan around a little bit, and it was working. We really moved the ball effectively up and down the field. As we got into the second half, looking back at the tape, we should have been able to execute. We have to be able to play sound for 60 minutes up front, on the perimeter and in the backfield."
Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson talked about how some of the personnel moves are based on the matchups with each opposition. He also talked about the challenges in facing this Louisville squad.
Despite the loss, were you pleased with some of the changes you made personnel-wise?
"I really do, because one, we're trying to get the best players on the field. I think that we did that. It may not be the position that they're the best, but as a team, as a unit, it's the best. He provides so much athleticism. In the passing game, I thought it really helped us. Some of the run fits were a little bit loose at times. We fought through it, and he played a solid game."
Will the defense have a tough time adjusting to an entirely different set that Louisville runs from previous opponents?
"Not necessarily. When I say that, they're throwing the short, underneath control routes in the passing game, picking and choosing where they can throw in the vertical passing game. They've given up a lot of sacks this year. I think they're ranked 115th in giving up quarterback sacks. They're not letting him sit back in the pocket. They're moving the pocket; get him out where his vision can see. They're throwing the short passing game underneath and setting him up for success. He's responded well. He's accurate. He's very athletic. He's able to escape pressure. We have to do a nice job keeping him in the pocket, try to disrupt his timing."
What has led to Louisville's successful run over the last month?
"They have a very simplistic running game. That's why you see the improvement they've had over the last four weeks. They really made great strides as an offense over the last month of the season. We've got to get them out of that running game. If we can make them one-dimensional, be able to pressure them, confuse and give him some different looks, I think it'll be to our advantage."
What's been the reason for players like Ejuan Price and Shane Gordon disappearing from the lineup, reappearing on special teams, and possibly contributing more?
"Especially young players, we see them get overwhelmed with everything that goes in to being a college football player. We kind of back off them a little bit. I think you'll see Ejuan Price step up this week, get more involved in the game plan, as well as Shane Gordon. Again, it sometimes has more to do with what other players are doing. Some of the other players are stepping up, being able to perform. Not necessarily playing time is based off performance as trying to get the right fit. Plus, game plans. UConn game plan is much different than the Cincinnati game plan. Louisville game plan is much different than the South Florida game plan. It just depends on a lot of variables."
Isaac Bennett saw the first collegiate action of his career. He finished with six carries for 26 yards, and also showed he can be a pretty good blocker too.
How did you feel, getting the call in this last game?
"I was excited. I was really excited. It's been awhile since I played football. It was my first time on a college field. I'm excited."
Did you feel ready for that first game?
"Yes sir. Coach tells us all the time to be prepared. I was prepared."
You had a nice block opening the hole for Zach Brown on one of his runs.
"Our running backs coach, he loves for us to be physical. He was real excited."
Are you disappointed, losing that redshirt?
"No, not at all. I just love to play. I was happy."
Was there a point earlier in the season where you expected to play, or were you preparing to be redshirted?
"I wasn't really expecting to play. (Malcolm) Crockett was the next to get up, so I thought he was going to be playing."
Is the speed of the college game different from high school?
"In high school, I could extend to the outside easier. It was faster (at the college level)."
Is that a tough transition to make?
"It didn't throw my game off that much. I just had to make my reads faster."