Opponent: Pitt Panthers
Head Coach: Paul Chryst (1st year)
Record: 2-3 (0-2)
Game Location: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Last 4 Meetings: Cards 0-4
Spread: Louisville -2.5
TV / Radio: ESPNU, 84 WHAS
Announcers: Tom Hart & John Congemi, Paul Rogers & Joe Tronzo
The Louisville Cardinals look to go 6-0 Saturday morning as they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the 2-3 Panthers. Pitt has won the last 4 meetings between the two teams, including a 21-14 victory last year in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Pitt also leads the overall series 8-7 and are looking for their first conference win after dropping games at Cincinnati and Syracuse. Paul Chryst, in his first season with the Panthers, is the third head coach in the last three years for Pitt, which has resulted in an incredibly unbalanced and unpredictable start. The Panthers started the year looking horrific after dropping their opener to lowly FCS Youngstown State at home, 31-17, and then got hammered by the aforementioned Cincinnati Bearcats, 34-10. Strangely, they followed that up by beating a then-ranked Virginia Tech team 35-17, and the following week they looked sharp as well, crushing Gardner Webb, 55-10. Right when it appeared that Chryst had found his offense, the Panthers sputtered to a 33-14 loss at Syracuse last Friday night in which the team rushed for only 27 yards. At this point it’s safe to say their fans, media and coaching staff have no idea which team is going to show up on a weekly basis. So with their bowl lives on the line and their back squarely against the wall, which Pitt team will Louisville see tomorrow?
Pitt Defense vs Louisville Offense
The Louisville offense looked pretty sharp over the first few weeks and sophomore QB Teddy Bridgewater was in all the major Heisman Trophy conversations. However, after playing in back-to-back near-monsoons on the road at FIU and Southern Miss, the offense struggled to find balance and only scored a combined 49 points in those two games. With sunny skies and a high in the mid 60’s forecasted for tomorrow, expect more balance in the offensive play-calling and a much bigger dose of Bridgewater. The Pitt defense ranks 22nd nationally this week in total defense, yielding 320.20 yards per game. That average ranks third in the Big East. The Panthers are 24th nationally and second in the Big East in pass defense, giving up an average of 185.40 yards per game. While they’ve given up points through special teams or via interceptions, their defense has technically only allowed two touchdowns and two field goals in their last three games. After failing to gain a turnover in their first two games, the Pitt defense has come to life and forced eight (five INT’s and three fumble recoveries) in their last 3 games. Safety Jason Hendricks is especially dangerous in the Pitt secondary as he’s already recorded three INT’s by himself. Another weak spot for the Pitt D at the beginning of the year was their rush defense. They allowed an astounding average of 231.5 yards on the ground in the losses to Youngstown State and Cincinnati, but have since gotten much better production from their front four. In the last three games, the Pitt defense has 8 sacks, 9 tackles-for-loss and have allowed just 70.3 yards rushing. The Panthers typically will rely on press coverage from their corners and generally stick with a two-safety package. This should allow some opportunities for Bridgewater to dink and dunk in the slot to his litany of receivers. By doing that, it should keep their linebackers off balance and ultimately help expose holes for the running game or provide the occasional shot downfield to DeVante Parker or Andrell Smith. Louisville averages 169.2 yards per game on the ground and the duo of Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright have been terrific. Expect the ground game to once again lead the way for the Cards in an attempt to open up play-action opportunities downfield.
Pitt Offense vs Louisville Defense
For the first time this season, the Louisville defense will see a pro-style offense. No spread offense, no quick-hitters and very little no-huddle situations. The Panthers are led by seasoned senior QB Tino Sunseri, who despite some criticism, is having a pretty strong year thus far. Sunseri ranks fourth at Pitt in career passing yards (6,765) and fifth in career total offense (6,902). For the season he’s 105-152 (69.1%) for 1,463 yards and has eight touchdowns to only two interceptions. The Pitt offense, though inconsistent at times, has an arsenal of weapons. Their all-world running back Ray Graham is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered last year, but in limited time he’s still showing flashes of what made him great to begin with. He still has 419 yards on 89 carries and 5 touchdowns. Graham will split carries with true freshman Rushell Shell, who was a key offensive catalyst in Pitt’s 35-17 win over Virginia Tech by rushing for 157 yards on 23 attempts – an impressive 6.8-yard average. Conversely, the Panthers have two receivers that stand 6-4 on the outside in junior Devin Street and senior Mike Shanahan. Both are imposing, physical receivers that could cause problems for Louisville’s diminutive (by comparison) corners, Andrew Johnson (5-10), Terell Floyd (5-10), Adrian Bushell (5-11) and Titus Teague (5-11). Look for the Panthers, who like to go I-formation on first and second down, to use frequent play-action in third down situations. Louisville might try to counter with a lot of nickel package formations in which safeties Gerod Holliman or Jermaine Reve will enter into the game to give the Cards more secondary help. For Louisville, this will also present a huge opportunity for the defensive line. It’s no secret that the group has struggled this year, particularly up the middle in which they’ve gotten little-to-no push. The results have partly been dictated by the quick-hitting spread, no-huddle offenses that they’ve faced, but the total lack of production can’t be completely blamed on the other team’s formations, etc. Now that they’ll be playing that pro-style, drop-back offense, there’s no excuses for not getting some pressure and recording some much-needed sacks and tackles-for-loss. Look for true freshman DT DeAngelo Brown to get more playing time and build off his impressive performance against Southern Miss. Louisville currently ranks 28th overall in scoring defense, allowing just 18.8 ppg.
A lot of national pundits have made a big deal about the fact that Pittsburgh absolutely HAS to have this win. And that’s certainly true. Their backs are against the wall and if they have any chance of salvaging this season and reaching a Bowl, they’ll need to pull this one out. However, Louisville has its collective sights aimed much higher. The Cards have a chance to win the league and return to a BCS game for the first time since 2006. If they truly want to be considered a legitimate player on the national scene, this is a win you have to go out and get. Good teams don’t drop road games to 2-3 teams. Louisville should have the superior coaching staff, superior QB and superior defense. Unless their youth takes over and they come out flat and unprepared, there’s not a lot of ways I can foresee Pitt winning this game. Losing four in a row should be plenty motivation enough for Charlie Strong’s team to come out and make a statement on national television.
Brent Lepping: This team has too much on the line and they have the superior talent. The fact that the game is on national TV and that they need to make a statement in order to be in the same conversation as the big boys, I can’t see them blowing this opportunity. Cards win, 28-20
Ethan Moore: The offense clicks and the Cards get Pitt to bite on a lot of play-action as Bridgewater comes up big. I expect Pitt to move the ball in between the 20’s, but it won’t result in enough touchdowns in the end. Cards win, 34-27
Nick Burch: High of 63 with humidity, being early in the a.m. the field could be a bit wet, but nothing to fret about. Better overall conditions open up the passing game and a week of rest and mental rehab carry the Cards, 27-17.
Charlie Roth: The defense steps it up against a bigger name opponent, finds a way to contain Ray Graham and Louisville pulls off the win, 24-10.