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Pitt and Louisville to square off on Saturday

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After a 2-0 start, the Pitt football team will be facing its biggest test of the young season so far in the Louisville Cardinals. The Cardinals (1-1) themselves are coming off of a test they weren’t quite ready for as they fell to Miami at home, 47-34 this weekend.

I don’t know how many of you caught that game but it reminded me of watching some Pitt teams of old sort of stumble their way around against Miami defensively. When on offense, the Hurricanes made Louisville almost look stuck in the mud at times — even with, admittedly, plenty of talent.

That, of course, is not to suggest I’m not concerned about the Cardinals. Louisville is quite clearly a team that can beat Pitt.

For one thing, the Cardinals score points. They may have lost to Miami but still scored 34 of them. And in their opener, they scored 35. Pitt’s defense is probably the best they’ve seen to date but I’m still not expecting the Panthers to completely dominate them by any means.

Part of what makes Louisville so difficult to defend is they beat you on the ground or in the air. Quarterback Malik Cunningham already boasts a pair of 300-games and has six touchdowns to only two interceptions. The ground attack is no slouch, either. The Cardinals have averaged 176 yards per game there and, in all, have averaged just over 100 more total yards per game than the Panthers have. Pitt’s defense will have to be ready and, even if they are, I suspect Louisville will still find the scoreboard. Syracuse’s offense is abysmal and even they managed ten points against Pitt (even if three of those came on a ridiculously short field). I fully expect the Cardinals to score some points here.

That means the Panthers themselves will have to score some and that’s where there’s a bit of good news. While the Cardinals’ offense has been good they’ve been less great defensively, allowing all of those points to Miami last weekend.

Some fans may be inclined to point to the 21 ponts Western Kentucky scored, too. But that was sort of an aberration. The Hilltoppers’ first touchdown came after a fumbled punt snap on special teams where Western Kentucky recovered on Louisville’s 1-yard line. Then Louisville had a punt blocked later where Western Kentucky recovered on Louisville’s 4-yard line. Western Kentucky’s third and final touchdown came on a short field as well, as they fielded a short punt with a fair catch inside of Louisville’s 40 towards the end of the game with things mostly decided. The Cardinals’ defense in that game was pretty good — it’s the special teams that were a disaster. It’s a game where I could see Pitt applying some extra pressure and really emphasizing blocking a punt or something.

I’d like to tell you that I know what to expect but I really don’t. Either team could win and it wouldn’t be a surprise. This is really just one of those games that will help us sort of benchmark teams in the ACC. We know now, for example, that Miami’s a better team than Louisville. Now, we get to see how Pitt stacks up to them.

I don’t know. Conventional wisdom tells us that Pitt’s offense should be able to score points more easily against Louisville’s defense than Louisville’s offense will against Pitt’s defense. That seems like it should add up to a Pitt win. Then again, the Panthers’ offense hit some snags last week against Syracuse and, just as importantly, that included special teams when they failed to convert all three of their field goal attempts. You really hope that turns around in this game since it could be a close and come down to a kick. Kicker Alex Kessman hasn’t been needed yet this year — that could change in this one.

Big, fat toss-up here, in my book. A 10-point Pitt win or a 10-point Louisville win wouldn’t surprise me. It’s possible that either could be that much better than the other. And the Cardinals will also have plenty of motivation after that big loss to Miami. But I’ve just got no great sense on what to expect here.

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