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Pitt Football: Panthers Still Alive After Win Against Louisville

Pitt's defense shut down Louisville on Saturday (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Pitt's defense shut down Louisville on Saturday (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Well, 'still alive' is a relative term, right?

Fact is that Pitt is still alive for a bowl game and that's all we can ask for at this point. And believe it or not, the team is still even alive for the Big East championship (thanks in large part to West Virginia's big win over Cincinnati Saturday). Contrary to popular belief, Pitt may not need Cincinnati to lose two more times in order to fix the tiebreaker issue. If more than two teams end up with only two losses (and that's a possibility), then it goes to a head-to-head against the tied teams - as it did in 2005 when Pitt went to the BCS.

The Big East is really a mess this season. With games against Rutgers, Syracuse, and UConn, the Bearcats might look like the favorites, but two of those games are on the road and nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

So now that that's out of the way, how about the game against Louisville?

Pitt did just enough to win. Despite refusing to put the game away until late, the Panthers found a way to get it done. After the seven-yard punt by Matt Yoklic, I felt pretty good about Pitt's chances to lose that game. Louisville had no offense all day long, but Pitt was starting to pull their ugly twin routine.

Like Pitt, Tino Sunseri did just enough. He completed 16-22 passes for 196 yards and had a touchdown pass with no interceptions. In case you hadn't noticed, Sunseri has quietly played pretty well since being given that vote of confidence. In the three games since homecoming against Utah, he's completed 68% of his passes, thrown for more than 800 yards, and has four touchdowns to only one interception.

Speaking of quarterbacks ... no, I didn't have any idea what Todd Graham was doing by throwing Mark Myers into the game for one play, either.

Lots of people don't want to hear this, but I expect Tino to again be the starter next year even with Chad Voytik coming in - and here's why.

By that point he'll have had two full years of experience running the offense and three years in the system. But more than that, Todd Graham will be under a lot of pressure - especially if the team doesn't reach a bowl this season. I think Graham gets three years to do something ... anything. Say Pitt goes 6-6 this season - another 6-7 win season next year could mean that 2013 is do or die for Graham. Can he really afford to throw Voytik to the wolves as at true freshman? I doubt it.

As long as Tino continues to look serviceable, I think he's the guy.

Okay, back to the game. The story was clearly the defense and the 14 points they gave up was a bit of a mirage, obviously. There was the shanked punt that gave the Cardinals the ball around Pitt's 10-yard line and the other one that came with only a few seconds left in the game. Pitt essentially pitched a shutout and looked good doing it.

As I wrote in the SB Nation Pittsburgh recap, the key was holding Louisville to only 3-11 on third down conversions. Pitt got off the field defensively and never really gave Louisville much of a chance to do anything on offense. Here's the thing, too. Pitt has done a really good job against mobile quarterbacks. B.J. Daniels had a very mediocre game against them, the unit gave Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater fits, and Zach Collaros, who gets out and runs a bit, was harassed into two picks.

Pitt's offense, meanwhile, had a few guys that broke through for big games. Devin Street had another 100-yard game and when he gets into the open field, he's dangerous. And how fortunate was Pitt to get the Zach Brown transfer? Brown looked really good finishing with about 85 yards and his presence kept Pitt from having to burn two redshirts instead of one.

Issac Bennett, the running back who did burn his redshirt with the Ray Graham injury, is looking really good, by the way. He had 13 rushes for 69 yards (averaging more than five yards per carry) and a touchdown. Brown is a senior and will be done after this year, but the running back position will be in good hands. The key is Graham, but even if he doesn't come back, with Rushel Shell and Bennett, the backfield won't be a complete mess. If he does come back, that's obviously a position of strength and Bennett might even be able to redshirt with a trio of Graham, Shell, and maybe someone like Corey Davis as a third back.

Pitt gets some extra time off to prepare for West Virginia and the Backyard Brawl since it's the Friday after Thanksgiving. It's a good thing ... they'll need it.