Football: Defense shines as Panthers defeat Louisville

By Greg Trietley

Pitt’s offense was the story in the last two games against Rutgers and Syracuse, as the… Pitt’s offense was the story in the last two games against Rutgers and Syracuse, as the Panthers scored 40 points in consecutive Big East contests for the first time in their history. Saturday afternoon against Louisville, though, was the defense’s time to shine.

Myles Caragein’s 56-yard fumble return set up a Dion Lewis score, Dom DeCicco added an interception late in the game and the Panthers held the Cardinals to 185 yards offense to stay undefeated in the Big East with a 20-3 victory.

With Louisville down, 13-3, and driving late in the third quarter, Jabaal Sheard sacked quarterback Adam Froman and forced a fumble. Caragein scooped up the ball, and the 6-foot-2, 290-pound lineman—a former high school fullback—ran it down to the Louisville 5-yard line.

“I was a little gassed at the end,” Caragein said. “It definitely brought me back to my high school days. I was just happy to put my team in position to score a touchdown.”

Dion Lewis carried it in from the 1-yard line three plays later. Pitt opened up a 20-3 lead and never looked back.

Sheard also had another sack Saturday, bumping his total on the year to nine in eight games.

“Sheard is having a phenomenal year,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. “He’s rushing the passer as good as any defensive end in the country.”

Pitt made the Cardinals offense look anemic Saturday afternoon. Adam Froman finished with 82 yards passing and never completed a pass longer than 18 yards.

“If you look at the last two games, we only have one touchdown,” Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. “Previously, we’ve scored many. When we get into the red zone, we have to score touchdowns. We can’t settle.”

Yet the Panthers didn’t do much better offensively in the first half. Pitt finished with just 235 yards of total offense—and only 123 yards passing from Tino Sunseri. Neither team found the end zone before halftime.

“We played well enough on defense to win,” Strong said. “You always talk about packing your defense on the road and we did.”

Pitt led, 6-3, at the half, as drives on both sides stalled in the red zone.

“[In the first half], there were so many points left on the field,” Sunseri said. “It’s a little bit disappointing when you don’t convert and the field goal kicker comes out onto the field.”

In the second half, though, Pitt finally broke the game open on a 21-yard Ray Graham rushing touchdown five minutes into the third quarter, giving the Panthers a double-digit lead.

Graham finished with 40 yards on nine carries, while Lewis had 65 on 18.

Lewis’ 1-yard touchdown run after Caragein’s timely fumble return capped 20 unanswered points for the Panthers. Louisville only had 74 yards of offense in the second half.

“They have been rushing for 200 yards and passing for 250,” Wannstedt said. “We minimized the big plays.”

Caragein’s recovery was one of two Louisville turnovers on the day, as Dom DeCicco picked off backup quarterback Justin Burke’s only passing attempt with 3:30 to go in the game. Pitt, on the other hand, never turned the ball over.

The matchup of Big East-leading rusher Bilal Powell against the Panthers run defense never materialized, as Powell left the game with a leg injury early in the third quarter and did not return. Powell had 71 yards on 11 carries before Jarred Holley’s helmet collided with his knee on a tackle.

On Pitt’s side, Henry Hynoski left the game with what Wannstedt called a mild concussion.

“The bye week is coming at a good time,” Wannstedt said.

With the win and Cincinnati and West Virginia losses, Pitt now has a sizable lead in the conference. Undefeated at 3-0, the Panthers don’t play again until Thursday, Nov. 11 at Connecticut.