The number one team in the Big East begins its march to the conference championship this Saturday. The 16th ranked University of Louisville Cardinals travel to Heinz Field to go heads up with the Pitt Panthers at 11am, their earliest kick-off time of the season.
UofL’s third road game in a row will be their toughest, going against a team that has beaten them the last four times they played. Then mix in the fact that Louisville hasn’t won a conference opener since 2006, their Orange Bowl year. And Pittsburgh did upset a fairly good Virginia Tech team. Better news for Louisville, though, is that the Panthers have been a very up and down squad, standing at 0-2 in conference play thus far.
The Cardinals are not without their problems going into the game. The team struggled in the other two road games at Florida International and at Southern Miss. Poor field conditions, particularly in Hattiesburg, played a role but a sluggish offense and a porous defense didn’t help the Cardinal cause.
Pitt QB Tino Sunseri threw for over 300 yards in last weekend’s loss to Syracuse and has been efficient this year, but he takes a lot of sacks: 61 of them last season and 13 so far this season. If the Louisville d-line can control the line of scrimmage they can make it a long day for Sunseri.
The Panthers also have a Louisville-style thunder and lightning backfield with Ray Graham and Rushel Shell. Between them, they’ve run for 650 yards and 5 touchdowns. With that kind of quarterback play and rushing attack, the Cardinal secondary will have to play honest and will also have to finally reach their preseason potential in order to keep Pitt off the board.
On offense, Louisville will have to be the dominating offensive line they opened the season as. It’s going to be incumbent on them to give Teddy Bridgewater a chance to get his mojo back. He played nervous at FIU in front of his hometown crowd and the Southern Miss monsoon game didn’t allow for his talents to come through. If Bridgewater can go deep to Andrell Smith and DeVante Parker few times while hitting Nate Nord underneath, he will return to Heisman candidate form.
Cardinal running threats Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright both have a chance to run to daylight as they have all season. With the Panther defense worrying about the Bridgewater long ball threat, they could go a long way to neutralizing the defense and keeping them off balance.
Louisville has a chance, with great weather conditions, to show off that number 16 ranking so look for the entire team to step up and leave Heinz Field with a 35-10 win.
Photo: Louisville.com/Tim Girton