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Troy Apke | Sr. | Safety
Q. What do you remember about the game last year, kind of walking out of Heinz Field? What kind of stuck with you about that game?
TA: I think it left kind of a bitter taste in everyone's mouth, but you know, last year is last year, so we're just focused on what's going to happen this year, and we're just focused on ourselves right now.
Q. What does good defense mean to you in an era where people are scoring points in bunches?
TA: I think the biggest thing for our defense is kind of just playing with energy and kind of playing with emotion, and as long as we do that, I think we're going to be fine.
Q. What kind of interaction do you have with your dad (a Pitt alum) in the week leading up to a Pitt game, and what was it like last year after the game for you?
TA: You know, it's the same every week with me and my dad. He supports me with everything I do. He just supports me, and I'm at Penn State, and he's a Penn State fan.
Q. How was Saturday different for you versus last year when you came in for a couple series and were the backup? How is the rhythm of the game different as it goes along?
TA: I started my first game as a sophomore, so it really wasn't anything new. I've played a lot of snaps here. I was just excited to get back out there.
Q. With your family's history with Pitt, when you were growing up, would you watch games frequently, and what was the connection there for you as a kid growing up?
TA: I guess really the only connection I had was just my parents went there. It wasn't really anything different to me. They supported me whatever I wanted to do.
Q. What do you see when you look at Max Browne, their quarterback? What stands out to you about him?
TA: Yeah, he's a good quarterback. I studied him last year at USC. You know, I've got to watch more film on him and everything, but I think he's a good player.
Q. Curious if you can take us back to the beginning of the game last year, the game set a record for attendance in Pittsburgh, pro or college, the excitement level. Do you feel you guys weren't able to match theirs at the beginning of the game, or did they just catch you with some other things that you weren't expecting?
TA: No, I don't think it was that. I just think we've got to focus on playing with emotion and energy this year, and I think we're going to be fine.
Q. What did you think of Amani Oruwariye's interception last Saturday, and when you guys go over that as a team, what is the reaction in the room when you see a play like that?
TA: Yeah, it was great. He's one of my best friends up here, and I'm excited to see him succeed on the field.
Q. From your experience with Oruwariye, is he capable of something like that regularly? What has he brought in camp that you've seen?
TA: Yeah, Amani is mature. He's played a lot of football, and he is capable. He has a lot of ability to do things like that.
Trace McSorley | Jr. | Quarterback
Q. When you look back on your high school career at Briar Woods, what comes to mind, and how did that experience, including the three state titles, help prepare you for playing in college?
TM: I think if I look back, kind of what jumps to me is where we started my freshman year and where they finished, the process that it took to get to where we were. Before that we came in as a team and got like four wins or something like that the year before, and then we were kind of able to turn the corner my freshman year, a lot of older, senior leadership was really good, and continued the progression, continued to build on it and build on it to the point where we went undefeated my junior year, and we were able to have good success in my senior year until the state championship game.
But I think really if there's one thing that I took away from that was how like a strong core of leaders on the team can really change the perspective of everyone else on the team. How guys came in and approached each day when we kind of turned the corner, it wasn't that we were going into games like kind of hoping to be competitive, we were going in expecting to win in high school, and that was something that really sat with me. I learned from the older guys my freshman year and continued to carry that throughout my time in high school, and I've tried to bring a little bit of that here.
Q. We talk a lot about the Minnesota game and the Ohio State game last season, but the second half of the Pitt game last year, even though you lost, you kind of get an idea of what this team can do and what the offense can do. Is that a moment people overlook, even though you lost the game, the second half, where does that sit in the confidence you guys were able to build over the year?
TM: I think early on that was kind of a little confidence booster for us, being able to have that success and get it going. Obviously it wasn't one of the big moments because yeah, we weren't able to finish it out and come away with the win, but I think if you were to look back on it and think about how we were able to have some success in that second half and claw and fight back and give ourselves a chance, I think that's something that you can look back and say, yeah, that gave us a little bit of confidence moving on through the year.
Q. How have you seen DeAndre Thompkins mature as a receiver from the time you got here to now?
TM: DeAndre is doing a tremendous job really embracing his role as a receiver because he came in more of a slot-receiver type guy, and now he's playing mostly on the outside, but he's still been able to rotate in in practice and learn all the other spots and really take that role as being a really versatile guy in that receiver room, play all the different positions, whether it's an X or a Z or an H position, being able to move him around and knowing all the routes. Then it's kind of him being an older guy now in the room, how he's had to take some young guys under his wing. He's done really well with Mac Hippenhammer, the [true freshman]. After practice the two of them are always staying out catching extra balls and Mac is always asking him questions. DeAndre has done a tremendous job this year with Mac coming in and really kind of being a mentor for him, helping him learn the offense and helping him learn the position of being a receiver here.
Q. When you look back at last year's game at Heinz Field, what do you remember leaving the field there?
TM: Something that kind of stands out is you can't start slow in games. Obviously that slow start really crushed us, and we kind of still had to fight that bug last year a lot of times, and we were fortunate enough towards the end of the year to be able to come out and come back and win some of those games, but that was kind of the first game where we started off slow and then had to crawl back and fell short. I think that's something that sticks out is if you can get a fast start, come out, be productive, get points on the board as an offense, force three-and-outs and turnovers and chaos on the defensive side of the ball, then you'll be much better off throughout the rest of the game and give yourself a much better chance.
I think really that fast start and not getting behind early is one of the things we can take away.
Q. What stands out to you when you see this Pitt defense, particularly their secondary?
TM: They've got a lot of guys in that secondary. They've got a returning corner, and the stages are coming in, a couple guys are coming in for guys that didn't play last year. They did a really good job, they're aggressive, they fly to the ball, really bent on trying to stop the run game and getting guys to the box. It's something that we're going to have to account for those guys in some way, understand that they're aggressive, and that aggression will kind of probably be in flight a little bit.
Q. Where have you seen the greatest improvement in the offensive line over the past couple of years, and where do you think there is still room for greater improvement there?
TM: Probably the biggest area you can see is just in their confidence as a unit, where they're kind of going into games, they're confident where they're setting their blocks and really confident in themselves that this run play is going to work or we're going to be able to pass protect as long as we need to, to let our receivers get open downfield. So I think just their confidence and it's been able to help them build and increase their abilities and stuff.
You know, there's going to be room for improvement all over the field. Obviously if you talk to guys like [Andrew] Nelson or Brendan Mahon or Connor [McGovern], they can give you more specifics about where the offensive line needs to improve, but really it's just from my perspective as a team it's what do we need to do to improve from week one to week two.
Q. To follow up on the idea of starting faster, against Akron you ran a lot early to start the game, specifically on the draw play. Does that help you establish a rhythm earlier if you can take that, if that's open for you?
TM: Not necessarily that being a certain thing that I'm looking to do as a player. I think really just taking what the defense gave us early and not trying to force things early on. If a play call is not there, it's making it positive and getting positive yards. I think that's the best way that you can get the whole team into a flow, you get the ball moving five, six yards, kind of starting the game off on a good note, getting that first, first down, then you can use your tempo to your advantage and keep rolling. It's not necessarily one certain thing, it's really taking what the defense is giving you, not forcing things down the field and continuing to move the ball and get first downs.
Q. Against Akron, were there any receivers that jumped out to you and surprised you compared to where they were performing during camp?
TM: No, not really. Our guys all came out and performed really well, and that's something we expected to see them do.
Q. You told us after the Michigan game last year, starting those Monday film sessions, who is attending those, assuming you're still running them, and how much when you look at Pitt are they very familiar to you as opposed to something you need to start from scratch in terms of preparation?
TM: So yeah, we continue to do those film sessions. Offense and defense kind of do them differently. Defensive backs, linebackers, they kind of get together, they run it their own way. For us in the offensive room, DaeSean [Hamilton] and DeAndre [Thompkins], Juwan [Johnson], all those guys, they get as many receivers together as they can. They watch film, cover specific stuff on their own, and then we'll do kind of with the offensive line, quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, pretty much everybody else on the offense, we'll get in, kind of be watching pressures, fronts, coverages, kind of everything at the same time. By doing that as a group, you're able to talk about things. If you have two sets of eyes on the screen, you're not going to be able to see as much as if you have 20 or 30. The more guys you can have in there, guys are able to see different things and point things out in the room together.
Q. What part of the day on Mondays do you typically go through that?
TM: Usually once guys are done with class. Let guys get up, do treatment, do whatever they need to do during the day, get an extra workout in, go to class, and then usually sometime in the afternoon when everyone is done.
Q. When you watch Pitt on film, how much of it feels familiar versus you need to start from scratch with your preparation?
TM: I mean, there's some things you can look back at with what they did last year and be able to kind of gauge from how they tried to attack us last year, kind of through the years. That defense they do what they do. They don't necessarily change up too much. Obviously we've got to be able to expect a pressure or something different that's going to try and throw us off. You've got to expect that every week, so be ready to adjust to the different looks that you get in the game. But we'll be able to look back. We've got a full season of film on them, plus one game from this year to be able to see all the different things that they've done to try and attack offenses throughout the years.
Q. What was that atmosphere like compared to other places you've been?
TM: Yeah, it was definitely a really good atmosphere and a tough atmosphere to play in, being in Pittsburgh in an away situation, especially for us as a team last year. That was our first experience just as an entire team being away. So that was something that we had to come in and handle early on.
It was a great atmosphere. It's something that kind of we were able to all learn about and learn from and try and take from that.
Q. Coach Franklin always talks about family and the importance of family, and he mentioned that yours especially have kind of bought into that role, and I know your parents are really active and you have all the family members here, but talk about your family and their involvement with the team and the other parents.
TM: Yeah, the families that we have around our program are great. They give us so much support. I know just from my mom's perspective that she's talking every week with moms and other guys throughout the team, just about something special that they could do this week. Obviously my mom does like the treats for the offensive line. So it's really just become the more they've been able to grow into it, and that's something that kind of my parents were really involved with in high school with what they did with kind of the parents' association there, and my mom wanted to continue doing that, so she got as involved as she can be working with parents, trying to do just little things for guys here, just different ways that they can support the team, and that's continued to grow. That family atmosphere, that's being created by the parents of the guys on the team, it gets spread throughout the rest of the team. A lot of us, we talk with our parents on a daily basis, and we hear some things that the parents are doing, and that just kind of brings everyone else closer together.
Q. Considering you're close to these offensive linemen, do you have any input for what your mom makes for them? Do they have any requests?
TM: Not really. There's been some times where they'll request and say can we get these cupcakes that we got last year, something like that. I usually leave it up to her. She's got her method for how that all works, and it seemed to work pretty well, so I just let her do that.
Q. Who are some quarterbacks you enjoyed watching when you were growing up?
TM: You know, growing up, I enjoyed watching Michael Vick as a kid. I mean, Drew Brees was someone that I really liked going through middle school and high school. And then just kind of as I've been going through, just watching really anyone I can, obviously the Tom Bradys, Peyton Manning, but probably the two that stuck out especially as a kid probably were Michael Vick and Drew Brees.