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September 27, 2017

Paul Johnson

Greensboro, North Carolina

PAUL JOHNSON: Good morning. I was pleased with the way that our team played a week ago, especially on defense. Offensively we did some good things and turned the ball over, and hopefully we can make some improvements this week to play a North Carolina team that we've actually struggled with the past couple years, so it's going to be -- historically these have been pretty high-scoring games, and it'll be interesting to see if we can slow them down a little better this Saturday.

Q. How do you prepare for a North Carolina team that has so many different quarterbacks that you may not see on Saturday? How do you get ready for a team like that?
PAUL JOHNSON: Well, they've been pretty -- I mean, they've played the one guy the last couple of games, Surratt. Really good athlete. We tried to recruit him ourselves. He's a good dual-threat guy. I think he's had a couple of really nice games throwing the ball, and he's a real threat to run the ball. You get ready for their system, whether they play either quarterback, they can both, I think, do what they want to do offensively.

Q. What are the three keys for you guys to get a win on Saturday against North Carolina if you're an analyst?
PAUL JOHNSON: Well, we've got to do better in the special games. We can't have kicks returned on us, and if we can control the ball and not turn the ball over and limit the big plays on defense, usually you can win if you do those three things.

Q. What are you most pleased about with your team the first three games of the season?
PAUL JOHNSON: You know, I don't know. I think we've played much better defensively the last couple of games. The first game not so much, but the last couple of games we've been much better on defense. And I think that's been something that I'm probably the most pleased with to this point.

Q. What do you ask your defense to do better than they have in the last three meetings with North Carolina?
PAUL JOHNSON: Give up less points. I mean, we've given up a ton of points and a ton of yards. We've got to be able to stop them and get them off the field.

Q. I know you talked about the frustration with the fumbles; I'm wondering if you have any specific routines or anything like that that you harp on when fumbles start becoming an issue other than just talking about it a lot during practice? Do you have anything specifically that you have players do or routines that you go through to kind of drill it into their heads?
PAUL JOHNSON: No, we practice the same way. I mean, in the game before we didn't have a turnover, so this past game was the one, and we had a couple of issues with ball security, but we coach it every day. We've got to do better with our fundamentals and our footwork on some of it. You know, it's just something that we work on every day, and hopefully that's an enigma. We've played three games, and the first game it hurt us, but it was a guy broke a run and went running downfield and got punched out from behind, and Saturday was the first time that we've really struggled fundamentally, and you have to get Pitt credit. They did a nice job punching it out at times.

Q. Looking at North Carolina this year, what do you see both offensively and defensively from them that might be either the same or different from what it's been in the past?
PAUL JOHNSON: Well, I think that the systems are very similar, and they're the same. They've got a lot of younger guys playing. I mean, they lost a ton of talent from a year ago. They had three senior receivers, the running back who left, the quarterback on offense. Defensively they lost some of their better players, more experienced players anyway, so it's like -- I think they're a lot younger, but they're still very athletic, still have good players, and we've still got a lot of respect for their coaching staff. They've been ahead in all four games in the fourth quarter, so they're not very far from being 4-0, actually.

Q. And your offensive line seems to have played well the first couple of games; is there anything particularly that you're pleased with there?
PAUL JOHNSON: We've played okay in the center guard box. We've got to get better at tackle, and we've got to get better at blocking the perimeter, but I think we can help our perimeter folks if we do a little better fundamentally at quarterback. You know, it's an ongoing process. We're just trying to get better every week.

Q. What can you say about what Marshall has done leadership wise for your team for the first through games and what you've taken from him under center at this point?
PAUL JOHNSON: Well, I think TaQuon is still learning. He does some really good things. He's a really good athlete, and he can make some great individual plays. He's got to be more consistent and be more attention to detail and do a little better with his fundamentals stuff, his footwork, his misreads, all those kind of things. But for a guy who just started playing, he's done a nice job, and we're excited that he's playing well. I think he like the rest of the team will continue to get better, and certainly we're going to have to as we get deeper into our schedule.

Q. On the focus from the outside looking in, there's always a lot of talk about your offense, but defensively in the two victories that you have this season, you've held opponents to 17 or less. Just what you can say about what you've seen defensively from your team and maybe some of the leadership through these first few games on defense at this point.
PAUL JOHNSON: Well, we've played much better defensively the last two games. We were hoping that the defense would be able to carry the offense a little bit early on because they've got seven or eight starters back, we do on defense, and we were breaking in a lot of new guys offensively. We only have one senior that's actually playing on offense.

So the last two games they've done a nice job of creating some negative plays, and 3rd down defense has been way better than it has been in the past. So hopefully we can continue on that trend and continue to play the type of defense we've played the last two weeks. It'll be a challenge this week. They have a lot of good skill guys. Their quarterbacks are mobile and can hurt you running and throwing, and as I said, we've had a hard time slowing them down the last couple years.

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