The goal for Louisville now is quite simple. Beat Pittsburgh today. Beat Connecticut next Saturday. Then root for West Virginia to dispatch Rutgers. If all three things happen, Louisville will play in a BCS bowl game this January.
"I guess you could say we've been given a second chance with Cincinnati's upset over Rutgers and it gets you excited and the blood flowing," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "We're right where we want to be as far as making the next step and getting to a BCS bowl game. That's been our goal. Now we've got to finish it. We can see it out there and now we've got to go take it. We just have to concentrate on winning this game."
Pittsburgh, a team with talented stars like quarterback Tyler Palko, linebacker H.B. Blades, and cornerback Darrell Revis, has struggled since starting the season 6-1. They've lost their last four, giving up 91 points the past two games against Connecticut and West Virginia.
"It's a great feeling to be able to control your own destiny in a conference like this," said sophomore center Eric Wood. "I guess we don't control it completely. West Virginia has to beat Rutgers in order for us to get a BCS bid. It feels good, but we've still got to win our last two games."
Wood and the Cardinals like their position. If Louisville can apply pressure to Palko today – Louisville leads the Big East in sacks, while Pitt has allowed 17 sacks in losses to Rutgers, South Florida, and West Virginia – the Cardinals could come away with a big road win that would clearly put themselves in the driver's seat for the Big East title heading into the season's final weekend.
"I think it's a great position to be in and we wouldn't want it any other way right now than to have to win out for the league title," Wood said.
The Panters are certainly a dangerous opponent, in spite of their current four game losing streak. They have one of the top offenses in the nation, averaging 32 points per game. Tyler Palko is third in the nation in passing efficiency and 24th in total offense, and had thrown for 2,564 yards and 24 touchdowns.
"He's a very good quarterback," Petrino said. "He can be extremely hot at times and at times he's turned the ball over. It will be up to us to put enough pressure on him so that we force him to turn it over."
Petrino's plan is to confuse Palko – and a suspect Pittsburgh offensive line – with constant pressure to throw off the timing of the Panther's aerial assault.
"We've got to try to disrupt them, re-route them," Petrino said. "We've got to play a little tighter coverage and disrupt some of their timing. You've got to hit him and pressure him. If we let him get in a rhythm we're going to be in trouble."
Louisville should also get a boost from a secondary that will be at full strength with the return of sophomore cornerback Rod Council. "This is probably the first time all year we've been completely healthy in the secondary," Petrino said.
Blades, who has 132 tackles this season, leads a tough Pittsburgh defense that will try to shut down Louisville's ground attack – something they haven't been very successful doing this season. "They've got a really active defensive line," Petrino said. "I think Blades is one of the top linebackers in the league, and Revis is as good a corner as there is in the league."
Getting the running game cranking early will be important for the Louisville offense.
"We try to establish the run every game," Wood said. "They might not have been stopping the run all year, but they gave us fits last year. They've got their All-American H.B. Blades at middle linebacker and their front four is solid."
While Pitt is coming off a lopsided loss to West Virginia, Louisville showed resiliency bouncing back from their tough loss at Rutgers with a business-like 31-8 victory over South Florida last weekend. Now, Petrino hopes his team can come up with one more tough road win this season.
"I was very impressed with our player's ability to put the hard loss behind them," Petrino said. "Now, we've got to get ready to go to Pittsburgh and get a win on the road against a team that has lost four in a row, but is capable of beating anybody. It's certainly going to be a tough game."