Erratic Pitt faces undefeated Louisville
Pitt fans get in the mood for homecoming football as the Panthers prepare to take on Louisville at Heinz Field this morning.
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There are plenty of reasons Pitt's emotions should run high this weekend. The Panthers game against Louisville will be nationally televised, it's homecoming weekend and the No. 18 Cardinals are coming into Heinz Field undefeated.
Despite that, if Pitt upsets its second ranked team this season Saturday, it won't be because the Panthers (2-3, 0-2 Big East) are riding a tidal wave of energy from the opening kickoff.
According to Pitt coach Paul Chryst, the key is approaching each game the same way, whether it's against a Top-20 opponent or the lowliest team in Division I.
"Each game provides a little different lesson," Chryst said. "There are lessons to be learned in that by everyone."
- Matchup: Louisville (5-0, 0-0 Big East) at Pitt (2-3, 0-2 Big East), 11 a.m. today, Heinz Field. Louisville is favored by 3.
- TV, Radio: ESPNU, KDKA-FM (93.7).
- Pitt: Coming off a 14-13 loss at Syracuse. ... The last time Pitt faced an undefeated Big East team at Heinz Field, the Panthers beat then-No. 14 South Florida, 44-17, little more than a year ago. ... Tino Sunseri has thrown for more than 300 yards in both of his past two games and leads the Big East with a 164.7 passer rating. ... The Panthers are 1-1 in games starting before noon. ... Pitt is 8-7 against Louisville and has won the past four games.
- Louisville: Coming off an open week, but beat Southern MIssissippi, 21-17, the week before. ... The Cardinals started last season 2-4, but have won 10 of 11 games since. ... QB Teddy Bridgewater is second in the Big East with a 157.4 passer rating.
- Hidden stat: In the past three games, Pitt's defense has allowed two touchdowns, two field goals. The other points came via turnovers or special teams.
Last month, Pitt decisively upset then-No. 13 Virginia Tech at Heinz Field. While there are certainly takeaways from such a win, this week wasn't about recreating everything that led up to that stunning victory.
"I think you draw on it only in that you draw on all your past experiences," Chryst said. "We need to keep growing. If all we do is keep going back further than one week, then we're not growing."
For Pitt, going back one week means looking at a 14-13 loss at Syracuse, a game in which the Panthers had plenty of chances to win or swing momentum, but mostly came up empty.
Pitt players and coaches cited self-inflicted mistakes after the game and in the days following. The Panthers committed six penalties and allowed five sacks, several in crucial situations.
Safety Andrew Taglianetti admitted that the Syracuse loss stung a bit more than Pitt's other two this season, just because it appeared to be there for Pitt's taking.
"You kind of have to put it out of your system quickly," Taglianetti said. "We just watched the film, saw what mistakes we made and kind of just turned the page.
"Even after a win, that's what you do. You try not to dwell."
Not that Pitt had much time to stew over the loss. Fast-forward one week, and the Panthers are set to face a Cardinals team that looks like the odds-on favorite to represent the Big East in the BCS this season.
Under third-year coach Charlie Strong, Louisville (5-0, 0-0 Big East) is undefeated, but has looked vulnerable at times this season. The Cardinals nearly blew a 36-7 halftime lead against North Carolina and managed only single-digit road victories against Florida International and Southern Mississippi in their past two games.
The Panthers own a four-game winning streak against the Cardinals and have won the past two meetings at Heinz Field by a combined score of 61-10.
Behind dynamic quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, these Cardinals are looking to break that trend. The offense can put up points, and Strong has turned Louisville's defense into one of the best in the country, ranking in the top 30 in both scoring and total defense.
"They line up in their base front," center Ryan Turnley said. "They think they're good enough, their players are fast enough to take away your strengths."
Pitt, meanwhile, will hope to re-establish a running game that fell dormant against the Orange. Quarterback Tino Sunseri threw for more than 300 yards, but the offense wasn't firing on all cylinders the way it did against Virginia Tech and Gardner-Webb.
"As an offense, if you want to be complete, you have to be able to pick up one aspect or the other," Sunseri said. "If you're not able to run the football, you have to be able to throw it. If you're not able to throw, you have to be able to run it efficiently. If both are really clicking, that's when you see an offense really able to move the ball and put up points."
While a win today would mark another turning point in Pitt's up-and-down season, history indicates that a loss wouldn't necessarily doom the Panthers' season. The previous time they started Big East play 0-3 was 2001, when they finished 7-5 and won the Tangerine Bowl. Still, that's not a road these Panthers want to travel.
"With a 12-game schedule, I think anything's pretty much must-win. We're in the hole, obviously, 0-2," Taglianetti said. "I mean, this is a key game. Louisville's coming in, it's homecoming weekend, they're Top 25, 5-0. It's going to be a challenge, but I think it's a game we have to go out and win."
First Published October 13, 2012 12:00 am