Pitt started off slow and scored only six points at the half. Before the game, that's a scenario Louisville would have gladly taken, I'm sure.
Only problem was, they couldn't move the ball, either.
It was a slow first half - clean, but not real exciting, with fairly long sustained drives, but no touchdowns to show for it. I really hate to use the term 'boring football' because even when games are slow, there's still so much happening in between the tackles, etc. But if the term is acceptable to use, then this might be the place for it. The two teams traded field goals to start the game and Pitt added a second field goal in the second quarter.
It's not as if Pitt wasn't doing anything with its possessions - they were just really long and the team didn't punt in the first half. The Panthers only had three possessions in the first half and they came away with two field goals and one missed one. That's the kind of football you get when turnovers and mistakes aren't made.
I heard Dave Wannstedt on the pre-game show driving in and he said the winner would be the team that ran the ball the best. Pitt ran for about 30 more yards, but Pitt's defense was what won this game. Every unit has its leader - and today that guy was Jabaal Sheard who had two sacks and two forced fumbles. After the game, Sheard was all the rave:
Dave Wannstedt: "Jabaal Sheard is having a phenomenal year. You have to really appreciate what he is going through to get to the passer. He just keeps coming and coming. He's rushing the passer as good as any defensive end in the country. He is focused every week and working extremely hard."
Myles Caragein: "I thought the fumble return play really changed the momentum for us. It got us all fired up on defense."
"They had a real nice drive and were picking up some third downs. Jabaal made a nice move, I saw the ball and picked it up, and as a result, I thought it turned the momentum of the game in our favor. Our defense put our team in position to score and go up."
Dom DeCicco: "I think Jabaal is the best player in the Big East regardless of position. If you watch him, he dominates out there on the field despite going up against two or three guys. Without him, our defense would be a lot different."
Sheard's become the leader of this defense. Whatever you think of his off-field incident earlier this Summer, it's hard to argue that the team wouldn't be a lot different if he wasn't on it.
Louisville took a hit when its star Bilal Powell went out with about nine minutes left in the third quarter with an injury.
Some might argue that the game would have had a different income with Powell in the game, but I doubt it. The Cardinals still moved the ball down the field, but QB Adam Froman took a bit hit from Jabaal Sheard, which caused him to fumble. Myles Caragein picked up the ball and rumbled all the way down to the five. Pitt took it in for a touchdown and went up 20-3 and that was the end of the game. Even while he helped the team move the ball in the first half, this game was a perfect example of the old adage that you can't win with only one player. He helped Louisville move the ball, but not well enough to score any points.
Even outside of Sheard's big play, the defense stepped up at other times, too:
- Louisville had a third and short in the red zone on the first drive of the game. Pitt's defense held and Louisville was forced to kick a field goal.
- With under a minute left in the 2nd quarter, Louisville was aggressive and tried to get the ball down the field. Jabaal Sheard sacked Froman and forced the first of his two fumbles. Instead of trying to move downfield and get a game-tying field goal, Louisville was forced to run out the clock and head into the locker room.
- After Pitt went ahead 20-3, Louisville actually went down the field and again got into the red zone. Pitt held Louisville on third down and the team was forced to attempt a chip shot field goal.
For Louisville, the story may have been missed opportunities in the red zone:
"If you look at the last two games, we only have one touchdown," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. "Previously, we’ve scored many. When we get into the red zone, we have to score touchdowns. We can’t settle."
That's true, but Louisville fans can't point just to the red zone issues they had today and say they 'shoulda, woulda, coulda' won. The Cardinals were in the red zone twice, converting one of two field goals. Pitt reached the red zone three times in the first half, kicking 2-3 field goals. The point is that both teams had issues inside the 20, but Pitt found a way to make plays and overcome those.
Wannstedt may have thought the running backs would be the key, but really it was the defense that won this game for Pitt.
The best part about this team is that some games the offense does it and other times, it's the defense. Both units have won games for this team and when you put together both sides of the ball, Pitt probably has the best team in the conference.
There's lots of good that came out of this game. The only negative was FB Henry Hynoski going down with a concussion. But even backup Chris Mike played well, catching a few passes.
Pitt now gets a bye week before it travels to UCONN. UCONN did Pitt a huge favor by beating West Virginia on Friday night. If the Panthers were thinking of looking past the Huskies, any thought of that should be out the window. A Thursday night game at UCONN now looks a bit tougher.
But for now, all is right in the world.