Q&A with Pitt linebacker Mike Caprara

Linebacker Mike Caprara (30) says the Panthers are playing better defense thanks to a simplified scheme. AP Photo/Mike Stewart

Pitt rebounded nicely from a two-game losing streak, but if it wants to win the Coastal Division, it will need some help from North Carolina. So how are the Panthers approaching the final two games of the regular season? We caught up with linebacker Mike Caprara to find out.

After losing to North Carolina and Notre Dame, how important was it to go on the road and look as sharp as you did against Duke?

Caprara: It was pretty crucial to go out and do what we did. Our perspective was that it was an ACC game, so we needed to win it. And it was the last time for the seniors to go out on the road and get a win. That was another big thing. But more so, just that it was an ACC game.

You can still win the Coastal, but you need help. How does that affect the team’s perspective on what still lies ahead?

Caprara: We view it as more that it’s about us. We focus on the things we can do, the things we can control. And week in and week out, it’s our game plan and what we can do to be successful on the field to get a win.

How has this defense evolved this season under the new coaching staff?

Caprara: We’ve learned a lot. One of the things is Coach [Pat] Narduzzi and Coach [Josh] Conklin’s defense is very simple, so it allows a lot of guys to be able to make plays, line up and just go play football. That’s one of the things we’ve been missing the last couple years. There were too many parts to the defense, and a lot of people weren’t really able to be football players and have the freedom to go make plays. That’s what we can do with this defense.

With the number of teams that go spread, go [up]-tempo, is that approach something of a necessity to succeed?

Caprara: More so now more than ever. A lot of teams are spread, try to tempo you. We’ve seen that numerous times this year. And our staff has prepared us really well. And from their past experience, too -- like when Michigan State played Baylor, how quick they go. They’ve prepared us well, because we’ve been ready for the spread and the high-tempo teams.

Pitt’s sack numbers are way up this year. Is the approach to pass rush different, and how big of an impact has that had on the entire defense?

Caprara: One of our main goals is to make them one-dimensional, stop the run. And with the pressure we’ve been putting on quarterbacks, our goal is to first stop the run, and as we keep applying pressure, we’re getting more and more sacks and attacking the quarterback. It’s showed in our results. That’s been in our game plan, but the main perspective is stopping the run, but doing so by adding pressure.

You’ve lost three games, all to teams currently ranked in the AP top 12. Are people giving you guys enough credit?

Caprara: In my perspective, a loss is a loss and a win is a win. I feel that all three of those games we could’ve won. We came up on the short end. We put it on us. I come back to, we try to focus on what we can control, and we came up short in those games. I don’t think we’re looking for people to feel sorry for us. We’re looking for another opportunity so we can prove ourselves.

If you were in the committee room, how would you stack up those three ranked teams you’ve played?

Caprara: All three of those teams -- their offenses were fundamentally sound and had a good game plan they stuck with. They established the things they went out to establish. I don’t think I could rank them in order, but I’ll give them credit. All three of those offenses are great, and they’re still continuing to do really well.

I know you want to focus on what you can control, so what’s the focus for the next two games?

Caprara: We still want to win an ACC championship. Our goal is to win out, and if other teams come up short, we still have a chance. Other than that, to answer the question, it’s just to win out and do the best we can.