This weekend, Pitt takes on Louisville in the team's continued quest for a Big East championship. For the third straight time, Pitt will play in the Big East Game of the Week.
Like Syracuse was, Louisville is much improved and under the direction of Charlie Strong, will be looking to pull off an upset at Heinz Field. Both teams are 4-3 and Louisville likely needs to win this game in order to keep its hopes of winning the conference alive.
It's clear that Strong has Louisville moving in the right direction. And Pitt's coach, Dave Wannstedt, has made no secret of where he thinks Louisville ranks in terms of teams Pitt has played this season:
"There's no question, as a football team from top to bottom, Louisville is the best team that we've played in our conference. Without a doubt."
Of course if Pitt were playing Syracuse fresh off their win at WVU, I'm sure he'd say otherwise. But that's his job and I'd rather he try to keep the kids motivated.
The Cardinals are led by senior RB Bilal Powell, (who is Brian Bennett's conference Player of the Year and Most Improved Player so far) who already has 1,000 yards on the season. But Victor Anderson can't be forgotten about. He averages more than five yards per carry and is a former 1,000 yard rusher himself. Anderson, however, has been used sporadically while Powell has run the show this season.
Despite Pitt's ability to stop the run, Strong says Louisville is still going straight at Pitt's defense on the ground:
"You look at [Pitt] against the run. They are No. 1 in the conference and No. 9 in the country in stopping the run.
Only two teams have rushed for over 100 yards against them — Miami and Utah, both games which they lost," Strong said. "We have a good running back and a good running game. We feel like we can go run the football and it is going to be a tremendous battle for us."
It also seems like every week Pitt is playing QBs that don't make a lot of mistakes and that appears to be the case once again. Senior Adam Froman has four interceptions on the season, but none in the past three games. Over the past four, he's thrown nine touchdown passes to only one interception.
But again, like most Big East teams, the competition hasn't been the best. The Cardinals apparently didn't think playing Kentucky was enough and decided to double up, taking on Eastern Kentucky as well. They also played Memphis and Arkansas State. Louisville's best win came last week, shutting out UCONN at home and are a tough team to gauge at this point. They've clearly looked better than last year's 4-8 team, but since they've been unable to beat Cincinnati, Oregon State, or even Kentucky, I don't know how good they really are.
The team is pretty balanced,ranking 24th in total offense and 26th in total defense in the nation. This is actually the type of team that could give Pitt trouble. Theyrun the ball well, and with Powell have one of the country's best rushing attacks. They also don't have a great passing game and that's what makes the fact that they're a top 25 offense so impressive. They're 29thin turnover margin and don't make a ton of mistakes. And they play pretty good defense. Those things add up to ball control and if they can slow Pitt's offense down enough and move the chains with Powell, Pitt could be in for some trouble.
Dave Wannstedt also mentioned Louisville's balanced offensive attack earlier this week:
"They have giant receivers. Rutgers had good size, but these guys have a group of receivers that is experienced and have really good size. They’ve been scoring points running the ball. They’re balanced. They’re throwing the ball and running the ball effectively. They’re not a one-dimensional team."
On Pitt's side, Dion Lewis is looking like he's finally 'back.' Unsurprisingly, he never doubted himself.If Lewis gets off to a hot start, this could be the point where coach Dave Wannstedt starts to lean more on him. Ray Graham will, and should, still get some carries, but I think Wannstedt sticking with Lewis even when Graham was clearly outplaying him shows that Lewis is his guy. If Lewis really gets it going early, I wouldn't be surprised to see a 75/25 split between the two backs.
As Paul Zeise of the PG mentioned earlier this week, Pitt is really starting to hit its stride offensively - especially Lewis and Jon Baldwin.Those two guys are going to be tough to contain...not to mention guys like Graham, Mike Shanahan, and even the suddenly-emerging Devin Street.
How do I see it? Obviously Louisville is better than last year, but I don't see an upset here. Pitt is at home and since the Big East play has started, has taken their game to a whole different level. Maybe it's because their non-conference schedule was much better. Or maybe it's because Pitt has finally started to hit its stride. Whatever it is, Pitt looks like it will be tough to beat in conference.
The other thing is that Pitt appears to be taking this game seriously:
"It’s the Big East game of the year," fullback Henry Hynoski said. "This is the Big East title game this week. We can’t look ahead or who beat who. We can only look to the present and not ahead or not at all in the past. We’re 2-0 right now, and we have to win this week to take it step by step.
"We don’t even mention that we’re on top right now as far as our team is concerned. We’re just focused in and dialed in on this week’s game, and that’s what will get us to where we want to be. If we look ahead, that’s when things can potentially go wrong. So, we’ve just got to take it step by step."
One can never tell if that's actually true or not, but if it is, Pitt's best should be able to beat Louisville's best.
It's not that I don't respect what Louisville is doing so far this year. It's just way too difficult to predict them to win a road game against one of the conference's best teams by looking at their track record so far.
Pitt 34 - Louisville 20