Pitt had an impressive 35-17 win against Virginia Tech last week, and the offensive line played its best game of the season, allowing only one sack while opening huge running lanes for Ray Graham and Rushel Shell. I had a chance to catch up with center Ryan Turnley to get his thoughts on the team's performance. Here is what he had to say.
How much is the victory against Virginia Tech a springboard from the rest of the season?
RT: If there’s one thing we learned from the Virginia Tech game, it’s that you have to come out every week at practice and every week during the game focusing on executing and playing together as a team and having fun doing it. I don’t know if we’re going to use it as a springboard, but we have the momentum going our way, and we have to fight as hard as we can to keep it on our side.
How did this team keep its head up after losing to Youngstown State and then Cincinnati?
RT: This team’s been through a lot together, and we’ve been through some things that people couldn’t even imagine. We’re never going to lay down. We’re always going to stay together. That’s one thing that can be trusted, no matter what happens. We do love each other and we’ve been through a lot together.
What was the mood like around the facility?
RT: The mood was great. Coach (Paul) Chryst had us working hard. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we had good work days and got after it. The mode of the week was pick one thing every day you’re going to do better than you did the week before. Guys did that, bought into that and believed that. Every guy on the team got better.
How about the performance of the offensive line against the Hokies. That had to be one of your better games in a long time.
RT: I think that we were extremely well prepared by our coaches. Coach (Jim) Hueber did a great job getting us ready. The whole coaching staff in general, we had a great game plan going into this week. We executed a lot better on Saturday, and I give all the credit to our coaches.
You had both the run and pass games working. That had to be gratifying.
RT: It felt great. We know that the pass game feeds off the run game and vice versa. If you can get the run game going, you can slow down the pass rush. They’re going to be in a different mentality than if they know you have to pass the ball. Everything feeds off each other, if we can get the ground game going, that makes our job easier in pass protection.
How about the game Rushel Shell had, running for 157 yards, and Ray Graham nearly getting there with 94 of his own?
RL: They did a great job. With Ray back there, it’s just fun to block for him. If you have a good game and Ray’s behind you, then you have a great game, he fixes so many mistakes. He’s a veteran guy. Rushel came in and was really just unbelievably physical running the ball. He turned runs that were 7, 8 yards, into 12, 20-yard runs in the fourth quarter. I’m used to watching him do it on the high school level -- we went to the same high school. For him to do it against Virginia Tech, it was f un to be a part of it.
How good did the team feel for Tino Sunseri after that game?
RT: Every guy in our locker room feels the same way about Tino. Some of the things people say are just outrageous, and he’s never complained about it one time, never said a word about it. He goes out there and leads us.
That was evident by the way he came back into the game after turning his ankle.
RT: I think it goes back to him being a leader on this team and in the locker room. He didn’t say a word about it. He said, ‘We’re going to get this ball and score and put this game away. You could see he was hurt. But he kept leading us down the field. The whole atmosphere was fun to be a part of, especially seeing Tino play as well as he did.
What was the scene in locker room after the win?
RT: It was fun. To get your first win of your senior year and for Coach Chryst to get his first win, and all these coaches. All the players, we all believe he’s a great coach and he’s going to take this program where we want it to be. Everyone was just really was excited.