Visiting Pittsburgh clipped the Cardinals 21-14 in their home finale at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
UofL (5-5 overall, 3-2 in the Big East) trailed almost the whole game, but still had a chance to tie it, or even win it, after scoring a touchdown with 12 seconds left then recovering an onside kick. However the Cards couldn't come up with any magic on their last, and only, play from scrimmage before time ran out.
"Today is a great example of no focus, a great example of poor execution, a great example of poor preparation," UofL coach Charlie Strong said. "You look at this football team, we're nowhere near where we should be. For some reason we some times think we have all the answers, we go win three games, then we come out here and don't play well. That just stems from the way we've practiced and the way we've prepared all week.
"In the pre-game today I saw this coming – complacency. A lot of times they hear so much, get a big pat on the back after the West Virginia win."
The loss ended a three-game win streak for Louisville, delayed its bowl-game eligibility and was a big blow to its conference championship hopes. West Virginia's 24-21 victory at Cincinnati on Saturday created a log-jam for second-place in the Big East as the Mountaineers, Cardinals, Panthers (5-5, 3-2) and Rutgers are all now one-game back of the Bearcats (3-1).
"They had everything going for them, you'd think they'd come out here and play," Strong said. "As coaches we just have to do a better job. We saw that in practice and now we're coming into this game and in warm-ups guys are dropping balls and going through the motions so I get them off the field. We were hoping that we would get their attention and they would come back and play. We had to get focused."
Louisville's lack of focus against Pitt was reminiscent of its 17-13 loss to Marshall on Oct. 1, which followed the Cards' victory over Kentucky, earlier this season.
"This football team cannot handle winning and today was a great example of that," said Strong, whose team is now 6-7 at home under his direction. Pitt rolled up nearly 400 yards of offense (396) with 200 coming on the ground against a UofL defense that came in ranked 17th nationally in total defense and 13th in rushing defense. Louisville's defense did its job most of the game, but its offense didn't do enough. The lack of offense (UofL finished with 280 yards), or at least big plays, was too hard for the Cards to overcome.
"If you look at it defensively, we allowed them to take the ball on the first drive, execute, go down and score," Strong said. "Offensively we were never really able to get into a rhythm today at all. And in the special teams, we get a stop in the fourth quarter and get the ball, fumble and they were able to get the ball back and go in and score. We have a long way to go, still a lot of work to do."
Pitt took the opening kickoff and went 80 yards in 12 plays. Freshman running Isaac Bennett's 1-yard TD run capped the drive and gave the Panthers a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Louisville moved the ball well on its initial possession, driving inside the Pitt 35. However on second-and-7 from the Pitt 32 UofL quarterback Teddy Bridgewater ‘s sideline pass was picked off by linebacker Carl Fleming.
The rest of the first half was a defensive standoff and scoring standstill.
The Cards had just 56 yards less of offense than the Panthers at halftime (193 to 137), but Louisville was plagued by penalties (four for 46 yards) in the first half.
"The plays were there, we just didn't make the plays," Strong said. "We just didn't execute. We're just lackadaisical. Guys aren't running routes right. We weren't running the ball, we weren't blocking. We get two chop block (penalties). We've never had chop blocks the whole season."
After stopping the Cards, Pitt needed only four plays to score on its first possession of the second half.
Tino Sunseri's perfect play-action fake keyed a 59-yard completion between he and Devin Street. Three plays later Sunseri threw a 17-yard TD pass to Mike Shanahan. That came just after UofL freshman cornerback Andrew Johnson nearly picked off Mark Myers' pass into the end zone with a Pitt player draped over his back.
The Panthers stopped UofL again before the Cards' defense – helped by back-to-back sacks of Sunseri – pinned Pitt deep in its own territory. That set up Matt Yoklic's pitiful 7-yard punt that gave the Cards the ball at the Panthers' 11.
Senior running back Vic Anderson rushed up the middle for 8 yards on first down, then took it the final 3 on his next rush to make it 14-7.
Louisville had a chance to even the score a few times, but it couldn't capitalize, even after a Panthers' fumble early in the fourth quarter. Louisville looked like it would have another opportunity to tie it with about 5 minutes to play, but a Panthers' punt bounced out of Eli Rogers' arms and into those of Pitt's Drew Carswell.
The Panthers turned the muff punt into points. Five plays later Sunseri scored on a 4-yard quarterback draw with 1:53 remaining in the game. The Cards quickly drove downfield against Pitt's prevent defense and pulled within a TD on Bridgewater's 25-yard touchdown toss to Scott Radcliff with 12 seconds left.
UofL recovered the ensuing onside kick with 9 seconds remaining. The Cards, though, lost 13 yards on their only play – a short Bridgewater pass to Dominique Brown, who then tried to pitch it back to Bridgewater but tossed it out of bounds instead.
"You could just tell by the way we practiced (this week)," Strong said. "I said no cheating or we start practicing all over again and on Wednesday we started over again. It just comes from the football team not being very mature. We just can't handle winning."
Louisville plays at Connecticut next Saturday before closing out its regular season Nov. 25 at South Florida.
"We've got some games still out there, we still have to get better, that's the only way this football team can do anything," Strong said. "We're not very good right now, we have to get better."