Pittsburgh-Louisville Game Preview

The 24th ranked Louisville Cardinals 5-2 (1-2)) host the Pittsburgh Panthers 4-4 (3-1) in a nationally televised (ESPN) game on Thursday night (7:30 p.m.) at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The match-up is critical for the post season hopes of both teams.

With two conference losses Louisville will be looking to lock down a Gator Bowl bid as the Big East runner-up. The odds are in their favor. The Cardinals have three straight conference home games (Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Syracuse), then close the regular season with a visit to Storrs, Connecticut for a match up with the Huskies.

Though their chances are slim, at best, Pitt is still alive in the race for the conference crown and needs two wins in their three remaining games to keep any hopes of bowl eligibility alive. The Cardinals have won the past four meetings including the last game played between the schools, 33-29 in 1994. The all-time series is tied, 4-4.

(Vegas Line): Louisville -20.5

 

Team Statistics

Pitt / Louisville

Offense: 26.3 PPG / 46.7 PPG

Defense: 19.5 PPG / 26.9 PPG

Off Rush: 128.1 YPG / 190.6 YPG

Off Pass: 223.4 YPG / 309.3 YPG

Off Total: 351.5 YPG / 499.9 YPG

Def Rush: 152.9 YPG / 127.6 YPG

Def Pass: 154.6 YPG / 216.3 YPG

Def Total: 307.5 YPG / 343.9 YPG

T/O Margin: -3 / +8

 

 

Hidden Stats to Watch

The Panthers have given up a league high of 25 quarterback sacks and our second to last in the conference surrendering an average of 152.9 yards per game on the ground. Pitts' secondary is ranked fifth in the nation. The Panthers have scored more than 30 points in each of the last three games.

Louisville entered the 2005 season as a consensus top ten pick. Cardinal defensive end, Elvis Dumervil, leads the nation with 19 sacks. He is just five sacks shy of Terrell Suggs' NCAA-record 24 sacks in 2002. Thus far in 2005, opposing teams haven't been able to hold the Cardinals less than 60 points at Papa John's Stadium. Michael Bush averages a conference best 142.7 all-purpose yards per game. Bush has scored at least three touchdowns in each of the last four games. 

Last Week

Both teams had a bye week heading into this conference showdown.

Quarterback

Tyler Palko ranks second in the Big East averaging 221.2 yards per game. For the season Palko has completed 140 of 247 passes (56.7%) for 1770 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Brian Brohm is the nations' leader in pass efficiency (169.8). On the year the sophomore quarterback has completed 150 of 216 passes for 2102 yards with 14 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

Analysis: Two of the Big East's top two quarterbacks square off for the first time. Brohm runs coach Petrinos' power offense to near perfection. Tyler Palko has struggled to gain the full concept of Matt Cavanaughs' offensive system. Palko has to remain patient and be cognizant of the pass rush. Keeping the Panthers out of long yardage situations will be a key for the Panthers.

Edge: Louisville

Running Back

The Pitt stable of running backs is finally healthy. However, head coach Dave Wannstedt won't name his starting tailback until game time. Though Ray Kirkley and Rashad Jennings will see action, expect speedster Larod Stephens-Howling to get the start. Stephens-Howling has carried the ball 67 times for 350 yards with a 5.2 yards per carry average.

Michael Bush is the Big East leading rusher and scorer. Bush, an incredible talent, is also considered one of the top backs in the country. During the season Bush has rushed for 813 yards on 148 carries, an average of 5.5 yards per carry with 18 rushing touchdowns.

Analysis:  Louisville is a power running team. They successfully use the run to set up the pass. The Pitt front will have a hard time getting penetration against one of the nation's premiere offensive lines. Should the Panthers decide to use eight men in the box to try and contain Michael Bush, Brian Brohm could have a big game. Pitt uses a running back by committee approach. Three backs in particular, Ray Kirkley, Rashad Jennings and LaRod Stephens-Howling, have experienced minor injuries at some point during the season which has prevented the Panthers from finding their feature back. The Pitt offensive line is suspect. Several true freshmen have had significant playing time, including starting guard C.J. Davis. Expect the Panthers to counter the Cardinal speed with counter/misdirection and draw plays.  

Edge: Louisville

Wide Receiver

Greg Lee ranks second in Big East play with a 20.9 YPR and 88.8 receiving yards per game. Lee is tied for the lead with five touchdowns. Derek Kinder has come on strong. He has 28 receptions for 288 yards, a 10.3 YPC and two touchdowns. Pittsburgh tight ends have combined for 40 catches for 477 yards and three touchdowns.

Joshua Tinch leads the Big East with 37 receptions. Tinch has amassed 423 receiving yards, a 11.4 YPC average with two touchdowns. Montrell Jones has 26 catches for 370 yards, a 14.2 average and three touchdowns. Mario Urrutia, leading the Big East in three receiving categories (96.2 YPG, 23.1 YPR and five touchdowns), is out for the game. 

Analysis: Three of the five most prolific receivers in the Big East will be on the field Thursday night. Pitt's lock down corners, Josh Lay and Darrelle Revis can cover Louisvilles' talented tandem of Joshua Tinch and Montrell Jones. Can the Cardinal secondary contain Greg Lee, Derek Kinder and the three headed monster the Panthers have at tight end? The injury to Urrutia and Pitt's use of the tight end in the passing game gives Pitt a slight edge.

Edge: Pitt

Defense

Over the past four games Pitt has been creating some turnovers. During this time, linebacker J.J. Horne has two interceptions and a fumble recovery. H.B. Blades leads the Big East, and is amongst the leaders nationally, in tackles per game, averaging 11 tackles per contest. The secondary stacks up against the nations elite. Darrelle Revis is second in the conference with four interceptions and is considered the top cover corners in the country. The defensive line has made huge strides but will be without starting defensive tackle Thomas Smith. Freshman Rashaad Duncan will get his first start.

Louisville's defense is extremely quick. The defenders are relentless in their pursuit of the football. Elvis Dumervil, the outside speed rusher, gets most of the hype. He could challenge the all-time quarterback sack record against a slow; average at best, Panther line. Dumervil isn't the only big time defensive lineman on the Cardinal roster. Pitt had better not forget about the very active Montavious Stanley plugs the middle as good as anybody in the country. At middle linebacker JUCO transfer Nate Harris is proving to be a fine football player. The secondary, when pressed, has been inconsistent.  

Analysis: The defensive line of Louisville is probably the best Pitt will see all year and has a decided edge over their counterparts. Pitt has the better secondary and gets the nod at linebackers.   

Edge: Even

Special Teams

Josh Cummings missed two games due to injury, but seems fully recovered. For the season he has made 11 of 15 field goal attempts (73.3%) with a long of 49 yards. Adam Graessle ranks third in the conference with a 43.1 average per punt. Return men, Darrelle Revis and LaRod Stephens-Howling are threats to go the distance every time they touch the football.

Art Carmody had his NCAA record of consecutive PAT's (97) snapped earlier this season. Over his first two years at Louisville he's connected on 18 of 23 (77.1%) field goal attempts, including six of eight this season. Todd Flannery ranks last in the conference in punting average (38.6). Harry Douglas and Montrell Jones are consistent returners for the Cardinals.

Analysis: Both place kickers have NFL legs. Adam Graessle is one of the top punters in the country. Pitt also has more weapons in their return game.

Edge: Pitt

Prediction: Louisville 43, Pitt 31

 


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