Pitt football-Louisville preview

The University of Pittsburgh football team (6-5) overall is set to take on Louisville (9-1) today at 3:30 at Heinz Field for its final regular-season game. Pitt looks to end its four game losing streak and send its senior off on a winning note. PantherDigest.com Senior Writer Dale Grdnic peviews the game.

PITTSBURGH -- If University of Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt and his players are to be believed, the Panthers saved the best for last.

Pitt, 6-5 overall and 2-4 in the Big East, faces No. 8 Louisville (9-1, 4-1) today at 3:30 p.m. at Heinz Field in its final regular-season game.

"Louisville is probably as complete a football team as there might be anywhere,'' Wannstedt said. "I think the plays that they make on defense give them an edge from the standpoint of being the best defense we've played so far. And we all know where they're at from an offensive standpoint now that (quarterback Brian) Brohm is back and healthy.

"They've kind of balanced up their attack again from a run-pass standpoint. They're playing with a lot of confidence right now. This will put the challenge to our football team that we need to play well in all three phases. We need to play at a high level in all three phases.''

There are 18 Panthers in their senior seasons with quarterback Tyler Palko, linebackers H.B. Blades, Clint Session and Brian Bennett, tight end Steve Buches, center Joe Villani, safety Sam Bryant, defensive end Vernon Botts and punter Adam Graessle among those playing their last home game.

"I probably won't think about this too much until after it's over,'' Palko said, "but it would be nice for the whole program for us to go out with a win. ... Sure, it'll be nice for the seniors who have put in so much the past few years, but it's a nice kick-start for the program's future.

"We've shown signs of being a pretty good football team, but we just need to have it happen for a whole game. To win this game would be nice, but ... it's going to take a great effort against a real good football team.''

Palko and Pitt's offense will be tested, he said, because the Cardinals bring a lot of heat. They have 37 sacks and an amazing 85 total stops behind the line in 10 games with strong-side junior linebacker Malik Jackson leading the way with seven sacks and 12 tackles for lost yardage.

Senior defensive tackle Amobi Okoye has six sacks and 11 stops for negative yards, and senior right cornerback William Gay has four interceptions.

"There's not a weakness in them,'' Palko said. "That's the best defense that we'll have faced up to this point. They do it all. ... Teams might do some things well, but when you watch Louisville they do it all and do it well.

"They don't have a weak spot on their entire defense, so we have to bring our 'A' game for four quarters and go out and execute. When we do that, we've shown that we can play with anybody.''

That hasn't been the case for the Pitt defense. The unit has been shredded the past three games by West Virginia and Rutgers, like all their opponents, but Connecticut, as well, for goodness sakes. And the Panthers will be sorely tested by an explosive and balanced Cardinals offense.

Louisville is led by junior quarterback Brian Brohm, who has completed 60.4 percent of his passes for 2,060 yards and eight scores despite missing two midseason games with an injury. He has five receivers with double-figure catches, including junior Harry Douglas (three TDs) and sophomore Mario Urrutia (five) with 51 and 41 catches, respectively, for 819 and 707 yards.

What many might not realize is that even though the Cardinals lost Heisman hopeful running back Michael Bush in the first game, they average 190.1 yards rushing per game with a three-headed attack. Senior Kolby Smith has a team-high 658 yards and six scores, while sophomore George Stripling has 354 and five. But when they get in the red zone, senior Anthony Allen takes over. He has 333 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.

Louisville also has a dangerous kickoff returner in freshman wideout JaJuan Spillman with 30.3 yards per runback and a 100-yarder for a score.

"They're more traditional (on offense),'' Wannstedt said, "using two backs or one back. The biggest thing (that has hurt) us is the quarterback scramble. And that's where they're getting most of their run yards, but they're not an option team.

"And Louisville probably has the best offensive line that we've faced all year. They give their quarterback great protection. I think he's been sacked 12 times. He did scramble some against us last year to get the first down but it's not part of their offense.''

In Louisville's lone loss, 28-25 to Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights blitzed Brohm mercilessly and knocked him around pretty good as well. That got him out of his rhythm and forced a change to the game plan.

"If you don't get pressure on him, he's going to pick you apart,'' Wannstedt said. "There's no question about that.''

Notes: Pitt has had excellent special teams play as well with junior Lowell Robinson leading the Big East and running third nationally with 30.55 yards per kickoff return. ... Robinson recently was named among 18 finalists for the inaugural Randy Moss Return Man Award. ... Wannstedt said that Palko and Blades were invited to the Senior Bowl after the season.

Panther More Top Stories