Louisville's focus on Pittsburgh

Louisville needed a win over Connecticut to keep pace in the Big East standings and delivered a shutout. Now, the Cardinals are focused on a major road challenge at Pittsburgh, which sits atop the Big East standings as the only 2-0 team in the league.

Louisville needed a win over Connecticut to keep pace in the Big East standings and delivered a dominating performance, shutting out the Huskies last weekend 26-0 at PJCS.

The Cardinals held the Huskies to a season-low 195 yards total offense, while limiting running back Jordan Todman, who entered the contest third nationally in rushing, to just 90 yards on 18 carries.

Now, Louisville is preparing for a big road trip to Pittsburgh, who sits atop the Big East standings with a 2-0 record. The Cardinals, one of five teams tied in the Big East standings at 1-1 this week, hasn't won a Big East road game since upsetting Cincinnati three years ago.

Though Pittsburgh started the season slowly, the Panthers have regrouped since Big East play started, beating Syracuse and Rutgers handily the past two weeks.

"This week is going to be a tremendous challenge for us," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. "It is a road game and we have lost 10 straight Big East games on the road. We need to go play well."

Louisville faces a sizable challenge on the road against Pittsburgh.
Though his team has improved every week this season, pitching shut outs defensively two of the past three weeks against Memphis and Connecticut, Strong's focused on the difficult task at hand – facing a talented and improved Pittsburgh team at Heinz Field.

"Pittsburgh is a good blue-collar team, a very tough team," Strong said. "When you look at them on offense, the issue is going to be covering their wide receivers. They have two 6-foot-5 wide receivers in (Jon) Baldwin and (Mike) Shanahan, guys who can get up and get the ball."

Baldwin, who killed the Cardinals last season, made five catches for 139 yards last week against Rutgers. He has 522 yards and four touchdowns this season and averages 17.4 yards per reception. But Baldwin isn't Louisville's only problem.

Dion Lewis and Ray Graham provide a strong one-two punch on the ground for Pittsburgh's offense. Though Graham leads the Panthers in rushing this season with 645 yards and six touchdowns, Lewis rushed 17 times for 130 yards in the win over Rutgers.

"Graham is more of a quick guy, where Lewis is a downhill runner," Strong said. "Their offensive line is very big and physical, and they like to run the football."

One of the key's for Louisville's defense vs. Pittsburgh will be getting off the field on third down. When the Cardinals get off the field on third down, like they did against Eastern Kentucky, Memphis and Uconn, good things usually happen. However, Cincinnati converted 6 of 9 third down in their 35-27 win over Louisville two weeks ago and did it with a balanced approached.

Pittsburgh, like UC, could hurt Louisville's defense on the ground or through the air. Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri has made big strides in his first year as a starter and passed for 307 yards and three touchdowns against Rutgers last week. For the season, Sunseri has completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,549 yards and 12 touchdowns with only four interceptions.

"They have two wins in the league and they have played very well," Strong said. "They have good balance on their offense right now with running and throwing the football."

Louisville's offense, which ranks first in the league in rushing and second in passing yards per game and total offense, will receive a big test for a good Pittsburgh defense.

Pittsburgh has been strong up front this season, ranking ninth nationally against run. The Panthers also rank 24th nationally in total defense, though they have struggled against the pass, surrendering 222.86 yards per game.

"Defensively, they are very athletic," Strong said. "They have two top pass rushers on their defensive line. Then, you look at them 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. Their secondary has a 6-foot-4 safety who can get downhill. They load the run front and make you throw the ball against them."

Louisville likely will try to use a balanced approach on offense to keep Pittsburgh's defense off-balance. Bilal Powell has rushed for more than 1,000 yards through the first seven games, while Adam Froman has completed 60 percent of his passes for over 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns. Seven different receivers have caught at least 10 passes.

"It is going to be a good challenge for us," 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."

The road hasn't been kind to Louisville in the Big East the past few years. The Cardinals have dropped 10 straight Big East road games, including a blowout 41-7 defeat two years ago at Heinz Field.

"We are going to see exactly where we are as a football team and what we are made of," said Strong. "It is going to be a tremendous environment because we are on the road. Any time you are on the road, you need to pack your defense, your togetherness and your quickness. We want to get this program to where it needs to get to and we have to go play well on the road."

Strong will focus his team's attention this week in practice on a few key details – eliminating big plays on defense, scoring touchdowns in the red zone - something they struggled to do against UConn – and making plays on special teams.

"What I try to talk about to our team is playing at a championship level for 60 minutes," Strong said. "We know we are going into a tough environment and we have to take care of our business. We cannot go in there and give up the big play. We have to go in on offense, move the football and then score points. We have to go down and cover on kicking plays and hit the field goals. It is more about making sure we are locked in and ready to go play."

Kickoff is scheduled for noon Saturday on the Big East TV Network.

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