Panthers fall to Louisville 24-10, snapping road winning streak


AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

Pittsburgh running back Israel Abanikanda (2) attempts to get away from the grasp of Louisville defensive lineman YaYa Diaby, front right, during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Louisville, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022.

By Frankie Richetti, Senior Staff Writer

Before Saturday’s game, Pitt had the second-longest active road winning streak in college football, winning seven straight — trailing only Georgia’s nine consecutive wins. That streak is no more. 

Poor quarterback play compounded with turnovers and a lack of execution doomed the Panthers. Pitt junior running back Izzy Abanikanda rushed for 129 yards and a touchdown, but it wasn’t enough, as their one-dimensional offense finally caught up to them. Pitt controlled its own destiny in the ACC Coastal Division coming into the game. But the road back to Charlotte got a whole lot tougher with their second ACC loss.

In the Panthers first trip to Louisville since 2011, Pitt fell to the Cardinals 24-10. 

Pitt’s defense took the field first and the trend of picking up penalties carried over from previous games. Junior safety Brandon Hill picked up a personal foul for a late hit on the second play of the night, putting the Cardinals in Pitt territory. Hill redeemed himself just a few plays later, breaking up a deep pass on third down, forcing a punt. 

Pitt’s first drive threatened, but the Panthers couldn’t capitalize after senior quarterback Kedon Slovis’ pass threw an interception after driving inside of the Cardinals’ 30 yard line.

After forcing another three-and-out, Pitt capitalized. Pitt junior running back Izzy Abanikanda got the Panthers on the scoreboard first, rushing from 12 yards out for a score. He did so in unorthodox fashion, with the play coming out of wildcat formation.

Louisville didn’t take long to answer back though. Senior quarterback Malik Cunningham — playing in his first game back from injury — found junior wide receiver Marshon Ford on a 25-yard touchdown pass to even the score. The drive went 75 yards on just eight plays.

After trading three-and-outs, Pitt returned to the wildcat and quickly got deep into Louisville territory. Sophomore running back Rodney Hammond appeared in his first game since returning from an injury and quickly picked up a rush for 29 yards. The Panthers continued to ride the wildcat into the red zone. But the magic eventually ran out, with Hammond fumbling the ball deep in Louisville territory.

Costly turnovers inside of Louisville territory kept the game knotted at seven. The Panthers certainly had its chances to take the lead, but the untimely mistakes held them back.

Before the Panthers could blink, Cunningham took the first play of the drive for 30 yards. Cunningham exited the game just a few plays later after a hit to the head. Louisville junior quarterback Brock Domann took over for Cunningham, but it wasn’t for long.

Cunningham returned to the game on a pivotal fourth down later on the drive but the Panthers defense held strong, giving the ball back to their offense. The Panther defense surrendered zero points off of turnovers in the first half, picking up the offense’s slack.

It seemed Louisville forced a Pitt three-and-out but a roughing the passer penalty extended the Panthers’ drive. It was all for naught though, as Slovis threw another interception inside Louisville territory. 

Pitt entered the half with more than 200 yards of offense but just seven points to show for it. Louisville committed zero turnovers in the first half. Not only were the Panthers losing the turnover battle, but they also committed four penalties opposed to just one penalty for the Cardinals. 

While fans on Twitter debated a quarterback change, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi decided to stick with Slovis instead of pulling him. 

After a three-and-out, Domann made another appearance at quarterback in place of Cunningham. Louisville was driving, but senior linebacker SirVocea Dennis took down Domann to halt the drive and force a punt. 

Cunningham returned to action and threw an interception upon arrival. Pitt senior cornerback AJ Woods picked off Cunningham and returned it 27 yards to give the Panthers favorable field position. Pitt slogged their way into the red zone, and finally turned it into points. Sophomore kicker Ben Sauls hit a 37-yard field goal, giving Pitt a 10-7 lead. 

Pitt’s offense became predictable in the second half due to Slovis’ struggles. Louisville sold out to stop the run and forced the struggling signal caller to beat them through the air — Slovis didn’t make the Cardinals pay. 

Louisville running back Trevion Cooley ran for a 26 yard gain to jumpstart the Cardinals’ ensuing drive. Then, the Cardinals used some trickeration of their own. Cunningham acted as a receiver and received a pass from senior wide receiver Braden Smith, going for 33 yards to put the Cardinals in position to take their first lead of the night. 

They did just that. Cunningham found senior tight end Josh Lifson in the end zone to give Louisville a 14-10 lead. 

Abanikanda finally found some running room on the Panthers following drive, rushing for 36 yards to put Pitt in Louisville territory. Louisville once again made Pitt uncomfortable and forced them to throw the ball on fourth down but they failed to convert, giving the ball back to the Cardinals with just 7:31 remaining. 

The Cardinals delivered a back-breaking blow to the Panthers, with Domann — who took over for Cunningham due to injury for a third time — connecting with junior wideout Tyler Hudson on a 28-yard strike. 

Cunningham returned as the Cardinals hoped to put the game away but the Panthers defense held Louisville to a field goal. Junior kicker James Turner added on to the lead, connecting from 48 yards out, putting Louisville ahead 17-10.

Pitt needed to find some momentum in the passing game in order to come back with just over four minutes remaining on the clock. It was now or never. Slovis connected with junior wide receiver Gavin Thomson — who made his second catch of the season — to give Pitt a jolt.

But the little momentum Pitt found quickly dissipated.

The Cardinals strip sacked Slovis and returned the fumble 59 yards for a touchdown, putting the game away. 

Pitt looks to bounce back next week as the Panthers take the road to take on the UNC Tar Heels. The game will air on ACC Network and kickoff at 8 p.m.