Q. Dennis, a couple times this year your coach has mentioned about the importance of staying on message for everybody in the program. Do you have any examples of how you were able to focus on a singular message this year, especially when things weren't going well, and also if that was a real factor in being able to lead to the turnaround?
DENNIS BRIGGS: I think one of the central messages we try to focus on every week that we prepare is to fight. We have to expect, going into every game, that anybody can win. I think we've had a lot of close games this year, a lot of close scores. I think focusing on that message has been key to the games that have gone our way.
Whether it was an overtime game or a second half comeback, we definitely had to fight. Coach has preached that throughout the year. It's definitely something that we focused on.
Q. The last time Pitt played Clemson, you were on the field. What was the message from coach and what was the key?
DENNIS BRIGGS: I remember that entire week. We were focused on us. I think when we focus on us in general, it's always a better mindset going into the game, focusing on what we're good at, playing within ourselves.
Clemson is a top-tier program. You don't want to get outside of yourself in the things that you do in your preparation or during the game. So throughout that whole week and going into the game, Coach Narduzzi talked to us about focusing on ourselves, playing within ourselves, doing what we do best. I definitely think that aided us when we went out there to play that day. I definitely think it helped us throughout the game.
Q. What is the biggest difference between the '16 Pitt team and the '18 Pitt team?
DENNIS BRIGGS: For me, I'm closer with the guys this year. I can't not note the chemistry I built. I was a younger player back then. From my perspective, it's more of a family atmosphere this year, not that it wasn't back then. But naturally as you go along in your program, you get closer to your guys, closer with your coaches. That emotional aspect is magnified as you get older because you have history with the guys, history with the coaches. You've bought into the program, what everybody preaches.
The emotional aspect for me personally is double what it was in 2016. That definitely translates into how I play on the field.
Q. What do you think playing in this game means for the program, getting the program to the next step?
DENNIS BRIGGS: Playing in the championship game is a goal for every program. It's extremely exciting for us since we joined the ACC, this being our first chance to play in the game.
I just think it's absolutely a positive for everybody in the facility, for the future of the program. We just want to carry this responsibility the right way and prepare for it the right way, do everything within our power to go out on the field with our best product.
We realize it's an opportunity not everyone gets, a once-in-a-lifetime chance. It goes without saying it's huge for the program, for us right now and in the future.
Q. Do you think you or the players are looking at this as even bigger than the bowl game that looms?
DENNIS BRIGGS: There's an aspect to that because it's a championship game that magnifies how big of a game it is. At the same time you have to couple that with going into it like you would any other game because if you don't, you start to get outside yourself. You always want to stay within yourself and what you do with preparation each week. That allows you to stay in rhythm and prepare for each game how you have in the past, not stray away from the things that have led you to be successful.
We do recognize it's a championship game, a huge game, but at the same time we try to approach it like we approach the other games every other week, which is to come to work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and go out and play on Saturday.
Q. Just seems each week this year you have been challenged with great quarterback after great quarterback. What have you seen from Trevor Lawrence? What do you think he's going to bring to the table this weekend?
DENNIS BRIGGS: He's impressive, without a doubt. He's a young guy who has come in and really established himself as a leader of the program. That's respectable and admirable. Great pocket passer, athletic ability, leadership capabilities. Really is the total package. That's exciting for Clemson to have a guy like that at a young age for the future of their program.
We have to prepare like we always do. We have to be good in coverage, apply our pressure, and do what we do best defensively. Like I said, I alluded to it before, not get outside of ourselves and realize we're doing with a top 10 quarterback, come to play our best defense.
Q. You have seen a bunch of different teams that have tried to run the spread up-tempo offense against you. How would you character Clemson's offense? How is it different or the same from the ACC look we see week in and week out?
DENNIS BRIGGS: Clemson uses more tight end sets than a typical spread team. They have the athletes to do whatever they want to do. You have to continue to stay prepared. Traditionally they're not a spread team. Like I said, they use more tight end sets. That doesn't mean they can't switch it up at their will given the talent they have on their roster.
We want to prepare for what we expect based off of the film, but you always have to have contingency plans in mind knowing the talent they have on the roster.
Q. How important is the tight end to what they're trying to do? Typically one of your matchups.
DENNIS BRIGGS: It's extremely important, being in the blocking game. It allows the team to be dynamic. Like anything else, you have to be prepared for both threats, and me in particular being that I'm matched up on that guy a lot, I have to be prepared to come downhill in the run game and be on my toes for the pass game.
Q. What were your first impressions of Kenny Pickett when he was running the scout team? What development have you seen from him as a player and guy in the locker room?
DENNIS BRIGGS: I could tell you a quick story. Whenever Kenny was still not at the top of the depth chart, I remember I think like a Thursday practice, we were scrimmaging, one of the last periods. Nobody really knew what kind of quarterback he was yet, I didn't either. Called a blitz. I'm running towards not his upfield shoulder but his downfield shoulder. Should have been running for his upfield shoulder. He spun right out of the pocket, almost broke my ankles coming out of the pocket. I'm like, Who is this dude? I'm thinking it's going to be an easy sack because I haven't seen this guy play yet. I'm probably not running full speed.
That shows me right there that we have a guy on the depth chart who is dangerous. His development has been fun to watch. He's always been a locker room leader. That's something that comes naturally to him. It's something that translates out on the field. The offensive huddle is an intimate setting. I can tell in guys' eyes they trust what he says when they're out there on the field. That's a great thing for our program to really trust a guy that's out there going to battle every single day.
I'm excited for him. He's been developing at a really fast pace. He's just going to continue to grow. It's been really fun to watch him.
Q. Because you guys run the ball so well, he hasn't been required to throw as often as he anticipated. Do you have any sense that stuff wears on him, the fact he's not a guy that's going to sling it 25, 30 times? Does that wear on him in terms of not being as dynamic as he thought he was going to be?
DENNIS BRIGGS: My honest opinion, I think Kenny is a guy who is ready to go out and do whatever he's called to do. I think that's what has allowed him to thrive in his position. That's what allowed him to be the leader of our offense and our team. He's not concerned with how many times he has to throw the ball or how many times they run the ball. He's concerned with doing his job according to what's called that play. He takes that seriously.
My answer is no, I don't think it wears on him. I think what weighs on his shoulders the most is, is he doing his job or is he not doing his job. That's what he cares about. If anything wears on him, it would be that, not how many times he throws the ball.
THE MODERATOR: Dennis, we have thoroughly enjoyed you being with us. We're out of time.
We'll now turn it over to quarterback Kenny Pickett. If you have a question for Kenny Pickett, we'll take your questions in order.
Q. Kenny, I know last week you had to face a tough defensive line with Miami. You had a shuffled offensive line. What did you see from Miami that you can carry over into this week?
KENNY PICKETT: I think it's a very similar defense in terms of talent level. Losing Jimmy pretty much means you have two moves at the offensive line, you had to move Dintino to center and Hargrove jumped in at guard.
There's going to be bumps in the road having two new guys in two new spots on the offensive line. Having this Miami game before the championship game is going to be huge for their development and growth in this short two-week span.
We just got to focus on practice this week, get our communication faster and quicker, then we'll be ready to roll.
Q. You were still in high school when Pitt played Clemson the last time. Do you remember watching the game? Do you remember thinking you would like to play that team someday, and two years later playing them?
KENNY PICKETT: Absolutely. I was in my living room with my parents watching the game. I think I was training at that time, getting ready to come out to Pittsburgh in a couple months. When I first came here, I wanted to get this team back into championships, lead this team back into a championship like they were in the old days. That's something I wanted to get this university back to.
Obviously you look at the other conference, the other side of our conference, Clemson, Florida State, Boston College playing good football now. You know you're going to meet up with some of these teams sooner or later. The goal is to meet them in the championship.
We had them in 2016, I wasn't a part of it. I just got to watch it and see the emotion those guys played with. Now it's in the ACC championship game. Means that much more. I'm just excited and focused on my job and the task at hand.
Q. Now you're quarterbacking a team you watched from your living room two years ago.
KENNY PICKETT: Yeah, absolutely, it's awesome.
Q. How do you feel you've developed as a quarterback over the last year? What is your take on the phrase 'game manager'? Do quarterbacks take that as an insult or are you fine with whatever I got to do to win, that's what I'm going to do?
KENNY PICKETT: I'm going with the second part. My whole mindset is find a way, whatever it takes to win a game. Every quarterback needs to manage a game, first. That's really our main job, is to manage a game. In the check game, the kill game, passing game, change in protection. There's a lot that goes under a quarterback's belt in terms of what he has to do to manage a game.
Every week is different. Syracuse week, they can't stop the run, a Virginia Tech week, they can't stop the run. Smile on my face as we run down the field and score touchdowns. Wake Forest stepped up and stopped the run. We threw it 30 times that game.
It's however the chips fall, however a team is playing us, we'll do whatever it takes to win.
Q. How do you feel different now than maybe a year ago? Are you where you thought you would be in terms of your own personal development as quarterback?
KENNY PICKETT: I would say so, yes. I am a totally different player than I was the week against Miami last year. Really physically and in the majority mentally more prepared than I've ever been at this level. Seeing a lot of different things throughout the season, learning by fire. Some things you can't learn until you go through it physically. You have to see it in action.
I've been through some big-time games, played some top teams. I'm a lot more confident in what I'm seeing, trusting myself, going out there and swinging.
Q. When you were thinking about Pitt, playing for a coach who is a defensive guy, what about Pat Narduzzi and the program he had at the time appealed to you? What did you think in that moment you might be able to bring to this?
KENNY PICKETT: Going through the recruiting process, a lot of people try to sell you some stuff that may not be true. My whole goal going into the recruiting process was to find out who was the most trustworthy, who can I put my faith in to make me the best football player and man I can be for the next four or five years, whatever it turns out to be.
Coach Narduzzi and his staff that was here, I fell in love with the people here, fell in love with the place. Once I came here, I wanted to get back to championships here. I think this is where this university has been and where it needs to be, playing in championships.
Now that we're back there, I'm really proud of it. The job is not done yet. We still have one more game to get, then a bowl game. We're real focused on this week and the task at hand.
Q. Did you get a sense when you were examining the program that was being built, the program might be a quarterback like yourself away from that next step?
KENNY PICKETT: I wouldn't say they're a quarterback away from being there. I would say we were in a growing stage when I came. I think we were finding who we are, finding our identity as a program. Really cemented that identity this season.
We have a great group of seniors. They're really leading the way. I'm just trying to do my part stepping up as the leader of the offense, taking control, doing what I need to do to help us win any game necessary.
THE MODERATOR: Kenny, really appreciate you joining us today. We'll let you go at this time.
We welcome in Pitt runningback Qadree Ollison. We'll go right to questions.
Q. When you're in a huddle with your quarterback, you look into his eyes, what are you seeing?
QADREE OLLISON: When I look at Kenny, I see a guy that's focused. I see someone who's confident, somebody that is ready to lead, somebody that's ready to make a play. I see somebody who is composed and real calm. He never shows any kind of form of frustration, any kind of thing like that. He's always composed, always the same every single time he's in the huddle.
Q. When some of your offensive teammates are looking in your eyes, what are you trying to project, hoping they see?
QADREE OLLISON: I hope when guys look in my eyes, they see somebody that's ready to go for them, got their back, for all four quarters. See somebody that's going to fight for them, that's going to really just leave it all out there for them. I hope that's what they see when they see me, when they look into my eyes. Somebody that's going to fight all four quarters, however many quarters it takes until the clock is all zeroes.
Q. When you have taken a look at the last two weeks put together, where the running game wasn't quite what it had been, what are things you've seen you feel you can get adjusted or corrected for this week against Clemson?
QADREE OLLISON: I think we just got to do a good job executing, blocking them, no matter what they come out in. As a runningback, pointing the finger, I got to make more plays. We have to make more plays in the running game. Every play isn't going to be blocked perfectly. Having to make guys miss, maybe run over a guy for the tough yards.
Really just getting back to us, getting back to who we are, and executing, blocking, running our tracks. Really doing the little things right. We haven't done that the last two weeks, and it's shown. Just getting back to us, what we do I think is key in establishing that running game again.
Q. Is it tempting when things aren't going that well that you try to do more than you should, maybe take a play outside?
QADREE OLLISON: Not for me personally. I'm at the point where I'm a senior, I'm an older guy, so I understand every run isn't going to go for 50 yards. It's those tough four-yard runs, five-yard runs that turn into 15-yard runs, 30-yard runs, so on and so forth. Really being patient, trusting your reads, not trying to look for too much.
Something we say, don't look for too much, just take what the defense gives you and just take what's there. Never try to do too much because when you try to look for too much, you try to do too much, you end up missing something and not being good, then you'll be kicking yourself watching the film the next day.
Q. This is a team that all season has prided itself on being able to run the ball in pretty much any situation. How much are you and that whole unit looking forward to the challenge of playing a defensively that might have four NFL draft picks on it?
QADREE OLLISON: I think it's a great opportunity. It's a great opportunity for our offensive line. It's a great opportunity for our tight ends to go out there and really show the world, show the country that we're good up front, as well. They have a great defensive line, as everyone knows. But I think it's a tremendous opportunity for us to go out there and put on display what we have, as well, accepting that challenge of playing against such a good front.
I think we have a great offensive line, as well, just as great as their defensive line is.
Q. You've had a career year this season. What has it meant to you to have this performance as a senior and to be such an integral part of your team playing in the championship game?
QADREE OLLISON: Earlier in the year, or any year, if you want to go compete for a championship, if you want to go far, if you want to win some games, your seniors have to play their best football. I believe our seniors have this year on both sides of the ball, offense and defense. If your seniors are playing their best football they've ever played, you have a really good chance to get in these type of championship games.
I believe that our seniors have done that this year. So it means a lot being my last year playing here at Pitt, playing the best football that I think I've played since I got here. Also, with the other guys on offense and defense playing their best football, as well.
Q. Has it been extra special wearing No. 30 in honor of your brother?
QADREE OLLISON: Definitely. This season has been definitely extra special, definitely a season that I will remember forever, a season I will cherish forever. Like you said, wearing that number makes it even that much better, makes it that much more special.
Q. Coach Narduzzi mentioned yesterday usually the biggest step a team can take is from game one to game two. This will be the second game without Jimmy. Bryce and Connor, do you think they're up to the task, making improvements from the Miami game, ready this week for Clemson?
QADREE OLLISON: Definitely. We talked about it yesterday. You never want to lose, you never want to play poorly. We have another opportunity to play this week, and that's the most important thing, is we get an opportunity to go out there and play this week for something we've been working for for a really long time. Four years since Coach Narduzzi got here. We're finally there.
I believe those two guys you mentioned, Connor and Bryce, both will make their biggest improvements. From game one to game two, Connor, being his second start at center, Bryce's second start at guard, I believe those guys are going to go out there and play 10 times, 20 times better than they did on Saturday.
Q. Coach Narduzzi alluded after the game Saturday, maybe some guys came up to him and said some people were thinking ahead to this game. Was it difficult to prepare for Miami when you knew what was coming on? Were there some guys that maybe did that?
QADREE OLLISON: I think flat out that Miami, they're a great team. They have I think four losses on the year to really good football teams. People kind of underestimate - I'm not saying us - people around the country, on TV, underestimate how good of a team they still are. They still have a top five defense in the country. They still have play-makers all over the field.
I think they played a really good game on Saturday. I believe they came out with I guess more fire than we did. They just beat us on Saturday, flat out, no excuses, no guys looking ahead, nobody underestimating them. They came out and performed well. I think they played one of their best games.
THE MODERATOR: Qadree, we're all out of time. We really appreciate you joining us this morning.
QADREE OLLISON: No problem.