For Pitt To Win
1. Stop Bilal Powell
Hearing the talk this week around the South Side about Louisville's leading rusher, it's reminiscent of how Pitt viewed 2008 Big East leading rusher Donald Brown of UConn. There's a lot of respect, and there's an awareness that Powell is a great downhill runner but with some shiftiness. Like Brown, Powell has a stiff arm that can knock almost any defender aside.
2. Finish Tackles
One of the things that hurt Pitt early in stopping the Rutgers running game--especially on the Scarlet Knights' opening drive--was missed tackles. Pitt will need to make tackles on Powell, and not give him a second chance. If they can't wrap him up, it will be a long day.
3. Get Off To A Fast Start
Though they've come up with a pair of big wins in its first two conference wins, Pitt will need to take Louisville out of the equation early. The Cardinals are coming in to Heinz Field with nothing to lose, surpassing everyone's preseason expectations for them, as they're off to a 4-3 start. Pitt, the only undefeated team in Big East play so far, has a lot more at stake.
It hasn't been a matter of Pitt getting outplayed by either Syracuse or Rutgers, it's been a matter of getting over the hump earlier. At Syracuse, the Orange quickly answered with a touchdown, and had some early success in the passing game. By the end of the first half, thanks to some pressure from the defensive line, quarterback Ryan Nassib. Last week, it was a blocked punt that tied the game at halftime, a turnover on Pitt's first drive, and a sluggish start on defense that gave Rutgers some early momentum.
In both cases, when Pitt pulled away from both of its first two Big East opponents, there was no catching up. Now, the Panthers need to do it for four full quarters, as their opponents get tougher each week, starting with Louisville.
3. Keep The Offense Balanced
It's a classic chicken-egg argument. Does the running game make Tino Sunseri more effective, or does Sunseri make the run game more effective? Pitt has scored over 40 points in back-to-back Big East games for the first time since joining the conference. Last week's balanced attack which resulted in its first 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher and 100-yard receiver in the same game in nearly a decade. Whether Pitt decides to use the run to set up the pass, or the pass to set up the run, as long as they keep it balanced, they can beat anyone on their schedule.
4. Cut Down The Penalties
Pitt is averaging just under eight penalties a game, and committed just four penalties against Rutgers, including just one pre-snap penalty (false start on Mike Cruz in the first half). In three games (Utah, Florida International, Syracuse), Pitt has reached double-figures in penalties. Only twice (Notre Dame, Rutgers), did the Panthers commit fewer than seven penalties in a game.
Just as getting off to a fast start is reliant on Pitt, and not letting the opponent control any kind of tempo, the same goes for Pitt cutting down the penalties. It's a matter of Pitt not beating themselves.
Interestingly, among all teams in the Big East, Pitt is tied with Louisville and Syracuse with 55 penalties on the season. Only Rutgers has committed more penalties (58) this season. Nationally, these four teams give a bad impression of Big East football in this department. Pitt, Louisville and Syracuse are tied for 102nd nationally in total penalties committed this season. Rutgers ranks at 110. Only nine teams in the country have committed more penalties than the Scarlet Knights.
For Louisville To Win
1. Take The Crowd Out Early
It kind of goes hand-in-hand with Pitt's keys to winning. It's Pitt's Homecoming game, which is big for any home team. Establishing Powell early, getting a long drive to start the game, and getting the first score will help.
2. Getting Pitt Down, Keeping Pitt Down
While Pitt needs to get off to a fast start--something they haven't done yet this year--if Louisville can get off to a fast start, and keep the momentum from the fast start--something Pitt's first two Big East opponents haven't done, that will be big for them.
3. Getting A Balanced Attack
Just as Pitt's offense has had success in recent weeks executing a more balanced attack on offense, Louisville will need to do the same. Pitt is coming in to this game with a lot of respect, and some anticipation for the challenge of stopping the Big East's leading rusher in Powell. Though they're aware of Adam Froman, but if Louisville comes out with a heavy dose of throwing the football, it might catch them off guard.
1. Pitt's run defense leads the conference in run defense (92.4 yards a game) and ranks ninth nationally. Louisville's run game averages 211 yards a game, leads the Big East, and ranks 21st nationally. It's a Clash Of The Titans in that regard, and whichever team plays to their respective strength the most, will come out on top.
2. Louisville's Punt Return vs. Pitt's Dan Hutchins. Louisville leads the conference with an average of 15.9 yards a punt return, while Hutchins' net punting average is fourth in the country (46.81 yards). Buddy Jackson has become a force on punt coverage. Though he's made great strides this season--both on special teams and at corner--this is a chance for him to really showcase what he can do.
3. Louisville's offensive line against Pitt's defensive line. Four of the five Cardinal starters are seniors, making it a veteran group. Pitt's defensive line leads the Big East with three sacks a game, and is coming off an impressive seven-sack performance. The Cardinals are second in the Big East in sacks allowed, in addition to their success in opening the way for the run game.