College Football Preview: Louisville vs. Pittsburgh

Louisville Cardinals at Pittsburgh Panthers
Date – Saturday, October 30, 2010
Location – Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA
Time – 12:00 pm ET
TV – BIG EAST TV Network. Mike Gleason (play-by-play), John Congemi (color), Eamon McAnaney (sideline)
Radio – 840 AM WHAS. Paul Rogers (play-by-play), Stefan LeFors (analyst), Doug Ormay (sidelines)

The Louisville Cardinals will head to the Keystone State for their first road test of the 2010 BIG EAST season. That test will be administered by none other than the mustachioed Dave Wannstedt and his Pittsburgh Panthers. Pitt is the only unbeaten team left in conference play and a win for the Cards will make all the facetious BCS talk become a reality. Picked to finish last in the preseason polls, the Cards must topple the preseason favorites in order to do just that.

On paper, Charlie Strong’s squad only has two games remaining that it ‘should’ lose — this game and West Virginia. And with West Virginia being at home and three weeks away, a win here and that game just might be for the BIG EAST ‘ship.

Ifs and buts aside though, Louisville must focus on the task at hand: how to march into Pittsburgh and walk away victorious. It definitely isn’t going to be easy as the Cardinals haven’t won a BIG EAST road game in more than three years, losing 10 in a row since its last victory at Cincinnati, 28-24, on Oct. 13, 2007!!!

The Panthers 4-3 overall record is also a bit deceiving. Pittsburgh, despite all of their efforts year-in and year-out to disprove the theory, IS a good football team and are always a threat to be a great football team. Their losses this year came in the opener at Utah, in overtime; to a resurgent Miami Hurricane team; and inexcusably at a terrible Notre Dame team. Nevertheless, those three teams are a combined 16-6 (.727) and Utah has reached 7th in the polls, while Miami sits at #22.

The Panthers have turned it on in BIG EAST play, winning their first two games by an average of 25.5 points and scoring 40+ in back-to-back contests for the first time ever in BIG EAST play. This year’s version of the Panthers, along with an explosive offense, also sports the ninth ranked rush defense in the nation. Cardinal beast Bilal Powell will have his work cut out for him as he looks to continue his dominant season. Pittsburgh yields just 92.43 yards per game, while Powell leads the BIG EAST and ranks fourth nationally with 143.29 rushing yards per game. The Panthers have yet to allow a 100-yd rusher all season, and five of Pitt’s opponents have failed to reach 100 yards rushing as a team, including Rutgers (95), FIU (93), Notre Dame (87), Syracuse (77) and New Hampshire (73).

The Panthers will counter with a pair of elite running backs of their own, Dion Lewis and Ray Graham. Graham ranks seventh in the entire country in all-purpose yards with an average of 170.67 yards per game. Graham additionally is the nation’s 15th-leading rusher, averaging 107.5 yards per game. Dion Lewis, who had 10 100-yd games in 2009, picked up his first such effort of the 2010 campaign last week against Rutgers, scampering for 130 yards. Lewis has moved into Pitt’s top 10 in career rushing yards as just a sophomore (that’s a list that includes Tony Dorsett, LeSean McCoy and Curtis Martin).

Pittsburgh’s passing attack is led by first-year starter Tino Sunseri, who has completed 75% of his passes for 588 yards and seven TDs with just one interception. The Panthers sport a tall receiving corps that will test the Louisville secondary. Junior wideout Jon Baldwin is a big play monster; in three seasons, he has 19 catches of 40 or more yards, and 11 of those catches have gone for touchdowns. Louisvile CB Johnny Patrick has been battling a shoulder injury, but picked his third pass of the year last week against Connecticut and will be tested on Saturday.

Should Pittsburgh contain Powell and the Cardinals’ ground attack, Louisville QB Adam Froman will want to try and throw it where Sophomore free safety Jarred Holley isn’t. Holley leads the BIG EAST and is sixth nationally in interceptions with four already this year. The Panthers also lead the BIG EAST and are ninth nationally in sacks, averaging 3.00 per contest. All 21 of Pitt’s sacks have come from their outstanding defensive line, which allows the Panthers to lay low on the blitz packages and focus on defending the pass.

The Cardinals lead the all-time series 7-6, though they dropped last year’s contest 35-10 and went down 41-7 in their last trip to Heinz Field in 2008.

But the past is the past and the future starts Saturday at noon. Louisville center Mario Benavides sums it up best: “This is a really, really big game for us, it really is. The Big East is wide open, and I have no doubt in my mind we have a shot to win it. I think we’re right in the thick of things. You just never know.”

Louisville has already snapped one 10-game road losing streak this season with a 34-24 win at Arkansas State back on Oct. 2nd, can they snap another on Saturday?

Unfortunately for the Cards, I think Pitt is too strong and too fast, especially at home. Louisville keeps it close again, but everybody knows, almost doesn’t count.

Pittsburgh 27, Louisville 21


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