Through two games the Pitt Panthers (4-3, 2-0 Big East) are perfect in Big East play. However, they have yet to face their toughest conference opponent.
On offense, defense and special teams, stats say that Louisville (4-3, 1-1) represents the toughest conference opponent Pitt will face. All you have to do is look at the Big East leaders – individual and team – to get a read on how good Louisville has been so far this season.
The Cardinals are No. 2 in the conference in total offense, coming in first in rushing (211 yards a game) and second in passing (231.14 yards). They also rank high defensively, coming in No. 4 overall in the Big East, largely on the strength of their second-rated pass defense (180.14 yards).
“There’s no question, as a football team from top to bottom, Louisville is the best team that we (will) have played in our conference, without a doubt,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. “All you gotta do is look at the Big East statistics.”
With that said, it’s no mystery why Pitt is treating Saturday’s noon kickoff at Heinz Field as serious as any game thus far.
“It’s the biggest game of the year,” fullback Henry Hynoski said. “This is our title game this week. We have to approach (it that way) every week. We can’t look ahead; we can’t look at who beat who. It’s focus on the present and who we have next.”
What’s next is a team full of impact players.
The Cardinals running game is not only best in the Big East, but No. 21 in the nation. The main reason for such a potent attack has been running back Bilal Powell, who is averaging over 143 yards a game – good enough to make him the nation’s fourth-ranked rusher.
Quarterback Adam Froman has been just as good since winning the starting job in camp against Justin Burke. Froman is fourth in the conference and 35th in the country in passing efficiency with a rating of 141.62.
“They’re balanced,” Wannstedt said. “They’re throwing the ball effectively and running the ball. They’re not a one-dimensional team.
“They’ve got a very good offensive line across the board and two good tight ends,” he added. “They’re running the ball with more consistency. By that, I mean numbers. If you look at the number of times they’re running in the game, their possession time, they are committed to running the football.”
Defensively, Louisville is scary as well. The Cardinals have had a knack for getting to the quarterback, ranking 13th in the nation with an average of 2.86 sacks a game. They’re a top-25 defense against the pass (19th) and in scoring defense (24th) as well.
“They’re very solid in all areas – defensive line, linebacker (and) secondary,” Hynoski said. “They’re not gonna throw anything at us that we haven’t seen yet. They’re just gonna play downhill, hard football. We have to be ready to match their intensity.”
Wannstedt pointed to Louisville’s experience – 13 senior starters – as a reason for success under first-year head coach Charlie Strong.
With just five senior starters on the Panthers’ depth chart, there’s more reason for Pitt to take the Cardinals seriously.
“In our minds we’re 2-0 right now,” Hynoski said, “and we just have to win this week – take it step by step.”
Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog