PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — Center and co-captain Ryan Turnley would have liked to pave the way for more productivity in Saturday’s 31-17 loss to Youngstown State at Heinz Field, but he still likes the chemistry of Pitt’s offensive line after their first regular-season test.

Nevertheless, as he told the media after practice on the South Side earlier this week, he and his Panther teammates will line up against a very capable collection of Bearcats when Pitt opens Big East play in Cincinnati Thursday night.

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“Their defensive ends are back, and they’ve got two strong players in the middle of their defensive front. They’re [young], but they got reps against us last year…and their nose tackle, whom I’m going against, is pretty good,” Turnley said. “We’ve got a big challenge ahead of us.”

Turnley referred to seniors Dan Giordano and Walter Stewart, both of whom return at defensive end for Cincinnati in 2012, and his counterpart, junior nose tackle Jordan Stepp, as well as Camaron Beard, who is expected see a lot of snaps on the interior as a sophomore.

UC returns seven starters in all on defense. Led by reigning Big East Coach of the Year Butch Jones, it ranked No. 6 among all Division I schools in rushing yardage allowed per game (95.0) in 2011.

Senior tailback Ray Graham missed last year’s meeting at Heinz Field after tearing his ACL against Connecticut Oct. 26, but he returned last Saturday and ran for a team-high 72 yards on 14 rushes. Meanwhile, the offensive line, which struggled to keep Sunseri upright last season, did not allow a sack.

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“Going into the Youngstown State game, guys weren’t taking it easy, or anything like that,” Turnley added, “but against Cincinnati, we have to prove ourselves. Right now we haven’t done anything.”

Turnley also addressed, among other things, what he believes happened on the failed 4th-and-1 run by Isaac Bennett late in Saturday’s game that cost Pitt a valuable possession deep in YSU territory.

Check out the rest of what he had to say:

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Kickoff between Pitt and the Bearcats at UC’s Nippert Stadium is set for 8:00 P.M. Thursday on your flagship home of the Panthers, SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan.