One Last Shot

In a season that has symbolized no guarantees, Saturday's regular season finale is far from a guarantee. During his weekly press conference, Todd Graham reviewed the West Virginia loss, and added some news on the injury forefront that makes this weekend's game look all the more challenging.

Pittsburgh -- Sorry there's no video to post, but I'm thrilled to pinch-hit for Tony at Todd Graham's final regular-season press conference.

Graham was extremely reflective Monday. He discussed the West Virginia game and even revisiting the initial player meetings when he took over the football program, but when the Pitt head coach looked ahead he saw a bowl game for the Panthers this year and added that "there's no question there are championships in the near future for this team.''

There might be some who believe a 6-6 team should not receive a bowl bid, albeit a minor one, but don't count Graham in that category.

"We want (the seniors) to finish up with a win at Heinz Field (to) get this program bowl eligible,'' Graham said. "It's important for this season, these seniors and the future of the program with an additional few weeks to practice. They're invaluable. ... It's huge for this team, (and) we're so close. We lost a lot of close football games, so we're not far off. ... So, it's important for our seniors and important for this program.

"And for that extra practice time to develop our younger players for the future, it's invaluable. (So), you can't put a price tag on how important they are for the future of our program. ... Obviously, we did not accomplish what we set out to. (But) we've had a lot of injuries, probably more than our fair share, but I'm really proud of how our guys responded and reacted and how some stepped up.

"I told our seniors that sometimes, things don't happen as fast as we want them to, but this group is going to do great things in the future,'' Graham added. "And they laid the foundation for what's going to happen, so ... we're going to bust our tail to send them out the right way, and that's with a win, (to) get an extra game and spend another 3-4 weeks together.

"When you look at it, we're probably one of the best 6-6 teams, if we're able to win this last game, in the country. And I think the bowl experience and everything that comes with it is important. (But) I think this team is very deserving of going to a bowl game if we win this last game. (So), I'm pretty confident. I feel pretty good about it if we win this last game.''

Graham ran through nearly every position on the team, noting that those areas played well against the Mountaineers. From special teams coverage and return units to the specialists themselves, the defense -- which he said has played well enough this season to be Big East champions -- and the offensive line all had strong performances against WVU. The weak link was the quarterback position.

"The bottom line was that we just didn't execute, especially down toward the end of the game,'' Graham said. "Just not executing and taking the sacks there late really hurt us, and we lost a very, very close football game. It's tough for me, because I feel like I let down the players, let down our fans. This university and this program mean a lot to me.

"(So), we didn't play very well down the stretch and obviously didn't play very well at (quarterback), but that's part of executing. We had a plan, so losing Ronald (Jones) hurt us and we were going to use him in some situations. (But) Tino is the guy who gives us the best chance to win, and that's what we have to work with. And we've got to get better.''

The Panthers allowed 10 sacks against WVU, including nine during the final 25 snaps of the game.

"It's just execution, and it's very frustrating,'' Graham said. "I've never dealt with anything exactly like this. ... We came off our best game executing at the quarterback position, so it's my job to get him ready and our job as a staff to do that. And we've tried to adapt to a lot of things. We've tried to simplify things, and you have to give credit to (WVU).

"They played well down the stretch, but just taking sacks ... it's just executing the system and being disciplined (enough) to do it and us being able to teach it. Obviously, we haven't done a very good job teaching it because (Sunseri) is just up and down, inconsistent. We've done a lot of good things, but it's frustrating, and all we can do is work hard to get better. And it's going to get better.

"We just held the ball,'' Graham added. "Our offense is just throwing the ball and timing. They were rushing three guys. They weren't blitzing. They were just rushing three guys. ... In that situation there, we had a minute and 56 seconds, plenty of time. (But) we absolutely just didn't execute there. It seems like when we play ahead of people, we're OK, but when we have to make a drive to win we've had zero success with that.''

Still, Graham said there will not be a change at quarterback, but he noted that Mark Myers continues to get additional snaps during practice and would have been further along if he wasn't set back with an injury during the spring and set back earlier this season for some reason.

On the injury front, frosh quarterback Trey Anderson is out for the season with a hand injury. The status of running backs Zach Brown (bruised sternum) and Isaac Bennett (virus, dehydrated, cramping) and wideout Ronald Jones (concussion) were undetermined. Graham said he planned to use Jones in some Wildcat formations against WVU, but his injury scuttled that plan. So, Anthony Gonzalez will run the Wildcat this week if Jones can't play.

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