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Man down: Ejuan Price’s five sacks power Pitt past Louisville

Ejuan Price (5) is a preseason pick to make his second consecutive All-ACC First Team.  Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

Ejuan Price (5) is a preseason pick to make his second consecutive All-ACC First Team. Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

Ejuan Price (5) is a preseason pick to make his second consecutive All-ACC First Team. Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

By Chris Puzia / Assistant Sports Editor

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Big numbers dominated Pitt’s shootout win over Louisville Saturday — 830 yards of total offense, 79 points scored — but despite its small size, one stat stood above the rest: five.

Pitt senior defensive end Ejuan Price registered five sacks, which tied for the most in a single game by a Football Bowl Subdivision player this season, and was the first time a Pitt player had at least four since Bryan Knight against Bowling Green in 2000. For Price, though, he was just taking advantage of Cardinal mistakes.

“It surprised me a couple times because their quarterbacks held onto the ball,” Price said. “There were a couple times where you would think they would throw it away, and it was sort of throwing me for a loop.”

He also led the team with 10 tackles in the 45-34 win, and the whole defensive unit held the Cardinals to -1 total rushing yards. Louisville switched to backup quarterback Lamar Jackson in the first half, but Price said it didn’t matter who ran the ball, Pitt’s defense would prevent the big plays.

“It seemed like they were sitting ducks,” Price said. “[Jackson] is a really good scrambler. He makes people look stupid on film, so I was like, ‘That’s not going to be us. Just make sure he doesn’t scramble.’”

Jackson rushed 11 times for 19 yards, or 1.7 yards per carry. That average was the highest among Louisville’s four ballcarriers Saturday — the other three each averaged negative yardage.

Price had by far his best game as a Panther: His 10 tackles were a career high, as were his six tackles for loss, which was the highest total from a Pitt player since Aaron Donald recorded six against Georgia Tech in 2013. Price, though, said he and his teammates’ success comes from head coach Pat Narduzzi’s passion on the sidelines.

“We get energy from him,” Price said. “He takes chances calling plays no matter what the score is, so we definitely get that energy, that confidence he exudes.”

Narduzzi said the coaching staff wanted to continue calling plays to put Price in a position to hit the backfield because Louisville’s offensive line couldn’t contain him on Saturday.

“Early in that first quarter I was like, ‘They can’t block Ejuan,’” Narduzzi said. “He’s fast. He’s feeling it. So five sacks, that’s a giant man’s game right there. I’m proud of him.”

While Louisville did put up 34 points in the game — the third-highest point total Pitt has allowed all season — part of that total came because Pitt’s defense was on the field often, due to the high number of possessions each team had in the game.

Despite Louisville’s second-half comeback effort, when it outscored the Panthers 10-3, Narduzzi said his team’s play, particularly the defense, gave him confidence that Pitt would not relinquish its early lead.

“We knew we weren’t going to lose the game. We set that tone at the halftime speech,” he said. “They made some plays, but we made more all day.”

Price also said he never lost confidence, and when Louisville made the score a one-possession game late, he wanted his unit to be on the field and seal the win.

“We knew that the defense was going to be on the field for a couple more drives, and we were going to have to stop them,” Price said. “We just had to make a play.”

Most of those plays came from Price himself. Late in the third quarter, Louisville faced third-and-long, and Price again found himself in the backfield. Jackson released the ball out of bounds just before the defense found him, but Price was moments away from bringing the sack total to six. Pitt corner Avonte Maddox said plays like that from Price and the defensive line helped the secondary all game.

“They were making all kinds of sacks,” Maddox said. “That’s what we need, the defensive line to play great, and then we’ll pick it up behind them.”

Price even underestimated himself early on. When he had two first-half sacks, he said he told the team he would get two more in the second half.

“I ended up with three more. So, yeah, I was feeling confident after the first half,” Price said.

Pitt closes out its regular season on Friday against Miami at noon. The Hurricanes rank next to last in the ACC with 88 rushing yards per game, which has Price and the rest of the defensive front ready for their season finale. Narduzzi said the team will take that mindset through for the rest of the season.

“You can’t play scared. You’re playing to win, you’re not playing to not lose,” Narduzzi said. “That’s our kids’ mentality. They came after [Louisville]. That’s what we’re going to do. That’s how we coach.”

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Man down: Ejuan Price’s five sacks power Pitt past Louisville