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October 5, 2016

Paul Johnson

Greensboro, North Carolina

PAUL JOHNSON: Good morning. We've got another huge challenge this week as we go up to play a Pitt team that's playing very well. They're scoring points in bunches. They have a very unique offensive system that's a little bit different from what they've done, but it's giving people fits, and they have good personnel in it.

I think their quarterback's playing at a high level, and defensively very aggressive. Always good against the run. They do a very good job coaching with the personnel that they have.

Q. My question is about your football roots and how the triple option became to be your offensive choice, going back, I guess, 30-some years, maybe?
PAUL JOHNSON: Well, actually I guess where it all started was at Georgia Southern. When I was playing in high school, we ran the wishbone. But actually I was coaching defense at Georgia Southern in the early '80s, and we were kind of a run-and-shoot team one year, and we were an I-formation team the other.

And Coach Russell asked me to move over and take the offense, and they had kind of merged or married the two a little bit. About the third game of the year we started doing it, and we've been doing it ever since. We won a couple National Championships in '85 and '86 that first year I moved over. Just kind of took it to the University of Hawaii, to the Academy, back to Georgia Southern, to the Academy and here.

So we've been doing it for a long time. It's kind of a combination when it first started, it's a combination of run, shoot, and wishbone. And through the years we've gotten a little more run heavy and probably have a few more wing T principles in there as well.

Q. Looking at the game against Pitt last year where your team gained almost 500 yards total offense, lose on a last-second field goal, what is your big takeaway from that game, and how much has that guided your preparation this week?
PAUL JOHNSON: Well, I think that we turned the ball over and they're very good at getting turnovers. If you watch the tapes of the games this year, they've gotten tons of turnovers.

But when you get a chance -- you have to score when you get a chance to make good plays. When teams are as aggressive as they are, when you catch them, you have to make big plays. And sometimes we didn't finish.

The thing that happened a year ago down here is we had a hard time getting them off the field. They were really good at staying on the field offensively and controlling the clock and doing that kind of thing. You know, it was a really close game. I think the two teams were fairly evenly matched.

Q. Pitt hasn't thrown the ball a whole lot particularly the first four games of the season. They've put a lot on tape last week against Marshall. From what you saw, seeing Peterman and Weah, what they were able to do, does that really concern you when you mix that down-field passing game with what Pitt has done running the football so far?
PAUL JOHNSON: Sure, they've been -- as I said in my opening statement, they've been very explosive on offense. They've scored a ton of points in every game. They haven't had to throw it much. They've got a good combination on the speed sweeps. Of course, we all know what a strong, physical player James Conner is and what a good football player.

The thing that impresses me offensively too is the quarterback is really playing at a high level. Even though he has not thrown a bunch of passes, he doesn't make very many mistakes. He manages the game and he's a good thrower when they ask him to throw. They're very impressive on offense. They've done a nice job.

Q. When you look at your offense, how much do you have to temper your evaluations of your team by saying I may not have an NFL receiver on offense this year, I may not have an NFL lineman on the O line this year, so the expectations have to be different? Maybe this offense has different potential than other offenses you've had?
PAUL JOHNSON: Oh, I don't know about that. We probably don't have a whole lot of NFL guys on offense. We only have two seniors. I think we've got good enough players, we just have to execute better. Last week we were able to hold the ball for 40 minutes, but we can't turn the ball over like we did, and especially give up scores on turnovers. So we've got to play at a little higher level and execute a little better.

I think we've played some pretty good defenses. I think Clemson is good on defense. I think Boston College is good on defense. Miami's good on defense. So we've played some pretty good defenses, and we need to execute at a higher level.

Q. I see that Pitt leads the ACC in rushing defenses. Is that a function of who they've played or is that a function of how good their rush defense is?
PAUL JOHNSON: No, I think their rush defense is really good. They're very aggressive and they get a lot of tackles for loss and they get a lot of sacks. So when you do that, if you can get a lot of negative plays, you know, your rush defense is going to be good. So they're very good against the run. They have a good scheme and they understand it. Their players execute it very well.

Q. Quadree Henderson has been by far the most effective kick returner in the ACC this year. How big a weapon or function is that and how aware do you have to be of somebody like that?
PAUL JOHNSON: Well, it can be big. It can be a huge play in the game. Harrison Butker has done a nice job for us all year. We've only had a few runbacks. I think he's only had five kicks that have been touchbacks. But certainly you've got to be sound in the kicking game and cover all those aspects, because it can change the game quickly.

Q. Talk about growing up in Pittsburgh and playing the Panthers this weekend, what are the three keys for you guys to pull out a victory up there in a good NFL stadium? You guys have had a good couple of weeks with the teams you've been playing with?
PAUL JOHNSON: Well, I think it's probably no different than most games. We've got to try to stay away from turning the ball over. That's a killer. And we need to get some turnovers. We haven't forced many turnovers this year. So last time we were up there, they kind of rained on us with turnovers, which helped a lot.

But that's going to be huge. They're a really good rushing football team, I think, with what they do. So we've got to try to limit the big plays, especially in the running game, and do better on third down, both offensively and -- defensively we played much better against Miami on third down in the second half. But we've got to be better on third down on both offense and defense. I think if we do that, we'll have a chance.

Q. It seemed like last week against Miami, that second quarter was your Achilles heel. Is it something that this week you want to avoid having a quarter like that and turning the ball over and fumbling and all that stuff?
PAUL JOHNSON: Well, yeah, it's the second quarter of the series we went back-to-back with turnovers for touchdowns. And against a good team, you're not going to survive doing that. And we got our quarterback hit in the back and they picked it up and ran it in. And then we just kind of fumbled one. We made a poor decision and should have eat the ball and didn't, and they picked it up and ran it in. So you can't do that, and especially against a good football team.

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