We have a game this weekend? Oh...
Forgive me as I've nearly given up on this season. But the football team is still playing this weekend on the road at the Pizza Palace in Louisville, Kentucky. If the Panthers can't find a win on the road, hopes for a bowl game are all but gone.
Stop me if you've heard this one before, but the Panthers' game against Cincinnati was a tale of two halves. The first half, despite being without star RB Ray Graham, left Pitt with a three point lead heading into the break. With ten minutes left in the 3rd quarter, Pitt was up 23-13 and driving. Then Tino fumbled, which led to a Cincinnati TD. Then, Tino threw an interception, which led to a Cincinnati field goal. Pitt would then concede another field goal and lose the game.
Against Louisville, which has a just as good if not better defense, Pitt cannot do the same if they hope to reach six wins. Yes, West Virginia is looking very vulnerable after losing to these Cardinals and Syracuse isn't looking any better since beating the Mountaineers, but a bowl game seems much more likely for Pitt with a win over the Cardinals.
The offense played a decent first half, but fell apart in the third quarter and couldn't capitalize on good field position thanks to an equally slumping Cincinnati attack. The Cardinals are 17th in total defense, but a large portion of that comes from Louisville's stout rushing defense, which is only allowing 100 yards/game. Without Ray Graham, the Panthers should become more of a passing team after the struggles in the ground game last week, which is good as the Cardinals rank 60th in pass defense, including giving up 410 yards to Geno Smith last week.
I don't know how well this will work, considering Tino's struggles with deep throws, but Pitt should attempt some deep passes against the Cardinals. Louisville is a young team, especially at cornerback, and while they seem to be turning the corner, after coming off an emotional win on the road, they are prime for a letdown. Combine that with an average pass defense and a Louisville team that only has seven interceptions and Tino could take advantage of the situation.
The big question, as always, is how will the line hold up. They kept Cincinnati's defense to three sacks, which was a good effort. My guess is that the line will perform about the same this week. Louisville is averaging just under three sacks/game and just under eight tackles for loss a game.
The Cardinals offense really clicked last weekend. In a tough road environment, Teddy Bridgewater completed 21 of 27 passes for 246 yards and a TD. After being ranked 109th in red zone offense going into the WVU game, Louisville scored four TDs on four red zone trips.
Pitt needs to keep Bridgewater off balance and not let him establish a rhythm. Despite being a freshman, he's a very talented quarterback, as shown last week. Pitt did a good job keeping Zach Collaros out of rhythm all game, holding him to 214 yards and forcing two interceptions. Louisville's offensive line, while not as porous as Pitt's, has allowed around seven tackles for loss/game and three sacks/game. Pitt's defense, which averages three sacks a game itself, should be able to get into the backfield throughout the game.
This game will go a long way towards determining if Pitt goes bowling. I had my doubts about this game in the preseason and I still do. I think Pitt will keep it close. This is a toss-up in my opinion. Louisville could come out emotionally flat after last week's win. They could also come out with all the confidence in the world while Pitt is still recovering from the close loss last week. Right now, I'm leaning towards Louisville, but the Panthers know what's on the line and will make a game of this.