Pittsburgh improved to 7-2 overall, 3-1 in the Big East, and is on track to win the Conference if it closes out the season with wins at Cincinnati, at home to West Virginia and at Connecticut. It won't be easy, but it's possible.
"I'm happy for our football team, particularly the seniors, with seven wins (to) put us into position for a bowl game for sure,'' Wannstedt said. "Then, we get the bye week. We'll regroup and hopefully finish the season strong. So, this was a great win for our program, great win for our kids, and now we move on to Cincinnati.''
While Wannstedt praised his players, Pitt fifth-year senior middle linebacker Scott McKillop turned things around for his head coach.
"It's a big win for our football team, but it's a really big win for Coach Wannstedt,'' McKillop said. "It's his first winning season here, and I'm very happy for him.''
Wannstedt has preached winning the turnover battle all season, but the Panthers have won for the most part in spite of that. Against Louisville, Pitt forced four fumbles, recovered three, and had two interceptions.
One came during the Cardinals' second possession, a muffed punt, but was forced to get a 30-yard Conor Lee field goal. Lee added a 19-yarder in the third quarter and is 18-for-20 this season. And he's not a Groza Award finalist as the nation's top place-kicker.
The Panthers scored on their third possession as well, a seven-yard run on a reverse by Aundre Wright when tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling took a direct snap in the Wildcat and handed off to Wright at the 7. Wright actually scored on the same play to open the drive, but his 76-yard run was held to 20 on a holding penalty.
Pitt got much of the yardage back on a 36-yard connection from quarterback Bill Stull to freshman wideout Jonathan Baldwin. Stull also hit tight end John Pelusi with a screen for 15 yards.
"They know that I'm pretty fast, so they give me a chance to go long and go up for the ball,'' Baldwin said.
That 10-0 advantage held up until late in the third quarter. Pitt's defense held on a third-and-out, and Stull went to work. While tailback LeSean McCoy was being held to negative yardage early (and finished with 39 yards on 17 carries), the Pitt passing game picked up the pace.
Stull hooked up with wideout Derek Kinder for 9, tight end Dorin Dickerson for 11 and eventually wideout Oderick Turner for a 26-yard touchdown to secure a 17-0 halftime lead.
"It was big for me,'' Turner said. "I have had some problems this year with some drops, and Baldwin has picked up the slack. So, it was nice to get back into it this week and get that touchdown.''
Pitt pretty much sealed the win to open the second half with a 16-play drive that lasted 8:35. Sure, it ended with Lee's chip-shot field goal, but Wannstedt went for it twice on fourth down to keep the sticks moving. And that's something he never would have done earlier this season.
"I think, what's changed, early in the year you're still trying to figure out your team and finding out who can do what,'' Wannstedt said. "Matt Cavanaugh and I talked about it before we came out here, and we discussed what to do when we had a situation on fourth down.''
Louisville actually scored to make it 20-7 with 4:42 remaining in the third quarter, as quarterback Hunter Cantwell hit Troy Pascley from 30 yards out. The play was wide open down the middle.
"We're not as clean as we need to be there,'' Wannstedt said. "We won the game, but ... that's not as clean as we want. And we'll work on that. Trust me.''
Stull and McCoy got the points back early in the fourth quarter, as the quarterback hit Baldwin for a 44-yard connection to the 11. And McCoy took the Wildcat snap and ran in from there.
Cornerback Ricky Gary scooped up a botched lateral pass and ran in from the 3 to make it 34-7, and McKillop ended the scoring with a pick-six from 18 yards out with his first interception this season.
Notes: Pitt has a bye this week and visits Cincinnati Nov. 22 at a time to be determined. ... The attendance was 44,055.
Pitt 41, Louisville 7
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