Road Warriors

With a 4-0 record on the road, including traditionally difficult venues at South Florida and Notre Dame, just call this Pitt football team the Road Warriors.

No. 25 Pittsburgh, which is 6-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big East, is 2-2 at Heinz Field. That's the site for today's game against Louisville (5-3, 1-2) that kicks off at noon and is televised regionally by ESPN.

"I've tried not to make that the focus,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "The focus has been playing as good as we can possibly play and finding a way to win the game. My players and myself included, nothing would make us happier than to win every game at home, for our fans. That's important. That's exciting.

"But I think if we make that a focus for our football team, I don't know if we're mature enough right now to focus on that. All of a sudden, you're thinking about that and not about blocking somebody or being in the right coverage. The focus this week is us making sure we're sound, us giving great effort and finding a way to win the game. We weren't as sharp as I'd like us to be in those losses.

"Things happen in the course of a game,'' Wannstedt added. "The one thing I would say in all of our games, even the couple that we lost, our kids came back at some point in the game and gave us a chance to win. Against Rutgers, it was 31-34 and we're getting the ball back. We had the crowd and the momentum, and we turned the ball over. How do I explain that? I can't. I wish I could.''

One thing is certain for the Panthers, they have strong veteran leadership like fourth-year starter C.J. Davis and fifth-year senior Scott McKillop. And after extended time in the weight room with Buddy Morris, Pitt certainly appears to be stronger in the fourth quarter than its opposition more often than not.

"Any time you play at home, you don't want to lose, no matter whether you're ranked or not,'' McKillop said. "You never want to lose at home. Hopefully, our experience pays off. We got to six wins two years ago, and we were happy. We thought we were going to a bowl game, but we ended up at 6-6.

"And we didn't make it to a bowl game. So, we just can't be happy with being bowl eligible. (But) our ultimate goal is to win the Big East and go to a BCS bowl game. So, we'll just take it one week at a time and focus on Louisville, and we'll take it from there. It's very important for us to get this seventh win.

"(And) we need this win to prove that Pitt can win a game when it's in the national spotlight,'' McKillop added. "It's a big game for us at home and a good team to get a win against here. We haven't played as well as we can at home, but we're looking to turn that around against Louisville.''

Wannstedt believed this matchup couldn't have come at a better time.

"I think the best thing about this game is that it's a conference game,'' Wannstedt said. "We know the importance of getting a conference win. They do some things on offense and defense that are similar to what Notre Dame did. We needed a little bit of a carry-over this week.

"That's different from preparing for a triple-option at Navy to a pro-attack at Rutgers. We'll get some carry-over from a preparation standpoint, and I think when you have a lot of young players out there, that's all good. ... I don't know what more can be said. We're eight games in, and we have four games left.

"We're sitting right there, and I think it's pretty clear to everybody that the whole (Big East) is up for grabs,'' Wannstedt added. "How we play in this last month will obviously be a determining factor. I looked at the schedule, and everybody is playing conference games now, and ... they don't get any easier.''

McKillop echoed those sentiments.

"We're back in Big East play now, and it's been proven in the Conference that any team can beat another team regardless of their record or what the other team is ranked,'' McKillop said. "And we have Louisville this week. I don't believe that I've ever beaten Louisville yet in my career.

"So, that's something I'd like to take care of before I leave here. Our team's playing better, not as well as we can, but we've come a long way. So, we're just trying to improve week by week. We'd like to play at home the way we've played on the road, and we'd like to turn that around because we have a Big East game with Louisville.

"And we need to get back on track in the Big East,'' McKillop added. "The leaders on this team, the seniors and upperclassmen, it's up to us to get going with these four Big East games remaining. And this is a good time to start this week against Louisville, so this is a big game for us.''

And it's an opportunity for the Panthers to secure a winning season for the first time since Wannstedt returned to his alma mater.

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