Louisville was expected to compete for the Big East championship. It was viewed as one of two conference teams, along with West Virginia, with a legitimate shot to go undefeated and make a run at the national championship.
But the transition under first-year coach Steve Kragthorpe has been rough. The defending Big East champions are 4-4 (1-2 in conference) and one of the most disappointing teams in the country.
- Game: Pitt (3-4) vs. Louisville (4-4), noon.
- When: Saturday
- Where: Papa John's Stadium, Louisville, Ky.
- TV: ESPN.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, however, is not fooled by Louisville's record or the fact that the Cardinals have lost four of their past six games heading into Saturday's matchup at Papa John's Stadium. After watching film of Louisville's offense, he said quarterback Brian Brohm is so good at picking apart defenses that it's almost scary.
"I am a big Brian Brohm fan," Wannstedt said yesterday at his weekly news conference. "I thought if he'd have come out last year, he might have been the best quarterback in the NFL draft. Though they've been inconsistent as a team, it hasn't been because of him."
The Panthers (3-4, 1-1) are flying high after a big win Saturday against Cincinnati, but Wannstedt said his team needs to stay grounded and to prepare for one of the toughest opponents of the season.
"I'm sure this is a big game for them as it is for us and we expect their best effort. That is the mind-set we will have as we prepare and we'll take it down there."
As a team, Louisville is averaging 38.6 points and 529.8 yards of total offense per game. Brohm has completed 230 of 338 passes (68 percent) for 2,993 yards, 24 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.
The Cardinals aren't one-dimensional either; they average 153.2 yards rushing per game and have scored 14 rushing touchdowns.
That balance is what makes Brohm even more dangerous, Wannstedt said.
"If you go down there and try to blitz this guy he'll kill you, he'll tear you up. But you have to be willing to pressure him enough so that he understands he can't just stand in there and do whatever he wants," Wannstedt said.
"All you have to do is put the tape on him, and the last two years, we could not even slow him down. The games were close for a little while, but in the end we just could not hold up physically. We just couldn't hold up on the scoreboard.
"And they are balanced. They hurt us with the run as much as with the pass in the past. Some people may not know how well they run it, but if you look back on our two games -- down there they rushed for 200-plus yards against us and that's what killed us."
But with the Panthers coming off an impressive, 24-17 victory against then-No. 23 Cincinnati, touting Louisville's offense might be a tougher sell for Wannstedt. For that, the Pitt coach is counting on his veteran players to help guide a team relying heavily on young talent at key positions.
"We have enough veteran guys, and it is also my job to help them understand that the Cincinnati game is a long time over," Wannstedt said. "I also think we have good seniors and they have already turned the page and are looking ahead."
And if anyone needs any extra incentive, Wannstedt can bring up the past two games against the Cardinals -- a 48-24 setback last season at Heinz Field and a 42-20 loss in 2005. Almost every player on the roster has felt the sting of at least one of those two blowouts.
Paul Zeise can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1720.