Football: Panthers look to stay atop Big East, defeat Louisville

By Dustin Gabler

The Pitt football team will look to remain the only undefeated team in Big East play this week… The Pitt football team will look to remain the only undefeated team in Big East play this week when it faces the Louisville Cardinals at Heinz Field.

The Panthers are coming off big wins over Syracuse and Rutgers to top the conference at 2-0. Louisville is also riding high after knocking off the Connecticut Huskies, a team picked by some to be a dark horse for the league’s title.

The Cardinals, much like the Panthers’ first Big East opponent Syracuse, are much improved from residing near the bottom of the conference in 2009. New head coach Charlie Strong has the team playing competitive football — their biggest loss was by eight points to Cincinnati, in a game in which the Cardinals played very well.

Louisville is led by late-blooming star running back, Bilal Powell. Powell leads the Big East in total yards, with 1,003, and total touchdowns, with 10, after never topping 400 yards rushing before this season.

“It says a lot about our offensive line because they are blocking really well,” Strong said. “I have always said they are the glue of our football team.”

“They have a very good offensive line across the board and two good tight ends,” Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt said. “Their running backs are running the ball with more consistency. By that, I mean numbers. If you look at the number of times they’re running the game and their possession time, they’re committed to running the football. They have good schemes.”

Pitt’s defense has begun to emerge over the past two games and will likely look at this game — and Louisville’s rushing attack — as a challenge. Louisville’s running game against the Panthers’ run defense will be the main battlefield in this Saturday’s contest.

“You look at [Pitt] against the run. They are No. 1 in the conference and No. 9 in the country in stopping the run.

Only two teams have rushed for over 100 yards against them — Miami and Utah, both games which they lost,” Strong said. “We have a good running back and a good running game. We feel like we can go run the football and it

is going to be a tremendous battle for us.”

Pitt defensive teammates Brandon Lindsey and Jabaal Sheard sit atop the league’s sack leaderboard at one and two respectively. To add to that talented combination, last year’s Big East co-Defensive Player of the Year, Greg Romeus, has been cleared by his doctor to play.

“With Greg Romeus being out, it’s been a challenge for us defensively,” Wannstedt said. “Jabaal Sheard continues to make plays at a high level. He’s been double-teamed, triple-teamed. He just continues to make plays and play at that high level. His counterpart, Brandon Lindsey, has stepped up, obviously.”

The Panthers offense is also welcoming back a much needed player. Lucas Nix has begun to practice this week. He is expected to make a full recovery after suffering from an undisclosed injury and will be on the field Saturday.

Also for the offense, quarterback Tino Sunseri has shown more and more improvement as the season progresses.

Pitt will once again rely on the young quarterback to get them through a big game. As his confidence continues to grow, so does the team’s offense.

“For a young quarterback, you couldn’t really ask for anything more. I think that everybody just evaluates the quarterback position by how many passes you complete, and there’s so much more to it,” Wannstedt said.

The Panthers are re-emerging as the Big East favorite, meaning Saturday’s matchup will be a difficult first road test for Louisville..

“We are going to see exactly where we are as a football team and what we are made of. It is going to be a tremendous environment because we are on the road,” Strong said. “Any time you are on the road, you need to pack your defense, your togetherness and your quickness. You have to go compete, and we have to go compete.”