Pitt At Louisville Preview

The Pitt football team is winless in its past three games at Louisville with the last victory there occurring in 1983.

But Pittsburgh (3-1) has several things in its favor when it faces the Cardinals (1-2) in the Big East Conference opener tonight at 8 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Ky.

First, since there was a quick turnaround, Pitt has a chance to put its loss at North Carolina State in the past much earlier than usual. Second, as the Big East opening game, the Panthers also must refocus quickly. Third, Louisville is reeling a bit itself with losses at rival Kentucky and Utah after an opening win.

And finally, the Cardinals' struggling offensive line, with a couple young first-year starters, could be just the right tonic for Pitt's beleaguered defense.

"Coach Wannstedt always says it's not how a loss can affect our season, but how we respond to it will affect the rest of our season,'' Pitt senior right offensive guard John Malecki said. "This team has a lot of character on it, and we're definitely going to bounce back this week.

"N.C. State was a tough loss, but coming into Conference play this week at Louisville is very important to us. Big East games are more important now, and that's how we're approaching it this week. All our goals are still there for us, winning the Big East and going to a BCS bowl, but we can't lose again.''

Of course, Louisville will attempt to have something to say about that, but it won't be easy if the Cardinals can't move the ball against Pitt. And the Panthers have been excellent against the run, giving up just 112.5 yards per game and 2.9 on each attempt this season.

Sophomore Victor Anderson and junior Bilal Powell are the top rushers with 225 and 123 yards, respectively. But Anderson is dangerous with 5.2 yards per carry and three touchdowns. Redshirt freshman center Mario Benavides leads a Louisville O-line that averages about 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds.

"I think their offensive line is going to be the most physical, by far, that we have faced this year,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "They will run the ball. They've got big-play guys. They've got a junior college All-American at tight end. They've got three receivers. They bring in No. 3 (Trent Guy).

"He comes in and is their big-play guy. He had a 66-yard pass play. (And leads the Big East in kickoff returns). He can break it and take it the distance. So they have a nice complement of power and speed. I definitely think they've gotten better from Week 1 to where they're at right now.''

Justin Burke, a 6-3, 229-pound junior, is Louisville's quarterback. He's been erratic with a 51.1-percent completion rate, three touchdowns and four interceptions. He also has been sacked six times.

Scott Long, a 6-3, 214-pound senior, is the leading receiver with 15 catches for 218 yards (14.5), while junior Doug Beaumont has 12 catches for 189 yards (15.8). But neither has a touchdown. The No. 3 pass-catcher, 6-4, 253-pound junior Cameron Graham, has nine catches for 96 yards and two scores. Guy has the other TD catch among his three receptions.

"They have a big O-line, and they like to pound the rock,'' Pitt fifth-year senior defensive tackle Gus Mustakas said. "But I'm sure that after they look at the tape, they'll want to throw it, too. So, we'll have to be ready for both.

"This is an opportunity for us to get the N.C. State performance off our defense and come back with a big game this week. ... We're ready to turn this thing back around against Louisville. It's a big game for us in that regard and also because it's a Conference game. We'll be ready for them.''

Along with leading the Big East with a kickoff return average at 33.8 yards, Guy has a 31-yard punt return with an average at 11.7 yards on three runbacks.

Defensively, senior middle linebacker Jon Dempsey and senior weak-side linebacker Chris Campa are the top tacklers with 34 and 21 stops, respectively. Dempsey has a leading 2.5 sacks, while sophomore defensive end William Savoy has two. Junior cornerback Johnny Patrick has two interceptions.

Louisville allows 133.7 yards rushing per game (worst in the Big East) and 154 passing yards (second).

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