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Pitt tries to put turmoil in the past

Rather than dwell on the way Todd Graham left Pitt, center Ryan Turnley turned is mind to the future.

He watched Wisconsin play in the Rose Bowl against Oregon, just to get a first glimpse at what new coach Paul Chryst will bring to the Panthers.

"Just from watching Wisconsin play, I know he’s going to bring a physical brand of football back to Pitt," Turnley said in a recent phone interview. "We're all looking forward to it. I watched the Rose Bowl. They executed their offense so well, which means they’re taught extremely well. That's something as a player, when you watch other teams do that, you know they have great coaches, and we're looking forward to that."

Turnley was probably not alone in watching that game. It is a way of looking ahead after the distractions of the last month. The players will attempt to put all that behind them as they head into the BBVA Compass Bowl against SMU on Saturday.

"I think everybody knows what (Graham) did, and I think he took some criticism for it," Turnley said. "It’s time to move on. We’ve been through things like this before, and we’re not going to dwell on it."

Turnley was much nicer than a few of his teammates, who began bowl week interviews with more scathing comments. Linebacker Max Gruder called Graham's actions despicable, and defensive tackle Chas Alecxih said he had no desire to ever see Graham again.

Because of all the turmoil, many have wondered where Pitt would find the focus or motivation going into a bowl game it already played in last season, under similar circumstances.

"We have to do it for each other and Pitt," cornerback Antwuan Reed said. "We’re a Pitt family and we’re keeping our Pitt family together. We’ve come closer because of everything that’s happened, come closer. We've just got to play for each other and we’ll be fine. That’s the motivation."

This will be Reed's final game as a Pitt player, so ending it with a victory is something that would be special. Turnley also mentioned winning the game for all the outgoing seniors. Pitt is looking for its third straight bowl win, and also its first two-game winning streak since September.

This has been a maddeningly inconsistent team that finished the season 6-6, but one that did show signs of improvement on defense. You could make the argument that the defense is the the reason why the Panthers are in the bowl game at all, after forcing six turnovers in the regular-season finale against Syracuse.

But Turnley said he expects the offensive line to play better against SMU because it will have had the same unit playing together for the third straight game, and through all bowl practices. Expect Greg Gaskins, Ryan Schlieper, Turnley, Lucas Nix and Jordan Gibbs to start the game. Also, the Panthers have slimmed down their playbook and are not going to rush the offense.

"I think it's a good plan," Turnley said. "At times this year, we were a little out of control with our offense. If we slow down a little bit, that should allow us to execute a lot better."