High octane message

Graham spells out how he expects Panthers to perform


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Members of the Pitt athletic department distributed gray T-shirts to season ticket holders that had on them, in blue ink, "High Octane Football, Coming Soon to Heinz Field."

Those shirts summarized football coach Todd Graham's message to fans during a "Let's Talk Football With Coach Graham," event Sunday at Petersen Events Center: Next season his offense will stomp on the gas pedal, creating more offensive possessions and more explosive plays.

"This isn't nanotechnology or nuclear science," Graham told the crowd of approximately 2,000. "We are going to mentally and physically wear you out."

Athletics director Steve Pederson created the event, said Graham, who came to Pitt in January after spending four years as Tulsa's head coach. Fans got to ask Graham and his assistant coaches questions following a two-hour presentation, where the coaches explained what they were looking for from each position and how their schemes would work, sometimes using video clips to illustrate.

"What does it mean to be high octane?" Graham said the fans asked after the presentation concluded. "How is your no huddle different from other no huddles? We spelled out pretty clearly what we're about."

Nearly every coach described the system as unique, and their description of the offense lived up to that ideal. The Panthers will run a two-back spread offense, co-offensive coordinator Mike Norvell told the fans, and keep the same personnel in the game as much as possible.

"You don't want to change personnel because it slows you down," he said.

Pitt will snap the football no more than five seconds after the referee marks it ready for play and run a two-minute style attack the entire game, Norvell said.

Graham said the coaching staff will script the play calling for every series, and included in those scripts will be four reverses and 10 40-yard passes outside the hash marks per game.

"Across the 50-yard line, second down is first down, third down is second down and fourth down is third down," Graham said. "We're going to be aggressive."

Graham's Tulsa team ranked fifth in the country last season with 505.6 yards total offense per game. Pitt, at 366.9, ranked 72nd. Oregon, which uses a similar fast-forward offense, was first in the nation and reached the BCS title game last season. Despite the spread nature of the offense and the high yardage total, Pitt will run 65 percent of the time and pass 35 percent, Norvell said.

"We're going to have a balanced attack but we're going to have a run [and] play-action pass football team," he said after the program.

On defense, Graham will use a 3-4 scheme to get more speed on the field as part of a unit that pressures the quarterback.

"Four guys are rushing and you have no idea which four," he said.

Graham began his career as a defensive coordinator and coached defenses before becoming the head coach of Rice in 2006. His defensive coordinator, Keith Patterson, set goals of nine tackles for loss, seven three-and-outs and three or more turnovers per game.

"We will get that ball back to our offense as fast as we can with great field position," Patterson told the fans.

Graham said no fans asked him about the Sports Illustrated report released last week that showed 22 players on Pitt's roster this past season had a background of legal trouble, more than any other team in the magazine's preseason top 25. He said he told his players what type of behavior he expected of them.

"I talked to them about where we're going from here, what our standards are, what our expectations and what the foundation of our program is," he said after the program. "It's definitely doing those things with great character, high integrity and being disciplined."

Graham and his coaches told fans they want to win a Big East championship, a BCS bowl and a BCS title. To reach those goals, Graham said, learning the system presents the biggest challenge to the players.

"This system requires a lot of discipline and it requires a tremendous amount of training, and very skilled training, mentally and physically," he said. "That's where we have the farthest to go."


Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com . First Published March 7, 2011 5:00 AM


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