The Cards travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers in UofL’s Big East opener. The 5-0 Cardinals are ranked 16th in the country and face a Pitt team that is 2-3 on the year, including an 0-2 mark in conference play. However, Pittsburgh has proven to be a tough match-up for the Cards in recent years as Louisville has not beaten the Panthers since the 2007 season. Before we look at the key players to watch, let’s look at some statistics for Pitt.
Points per game – 26.0
Points per game allowed – 21.2
Rushing yards per game – 155.4
Passing yards per game – 303.2
Opponents rushing yards per game – 134.8
Opponents passing yards per game – 185.4
Sacks – 8
Sacks allowed – 13
Third down conversion pct – 44%
Opponents third down conversion pct – 45%
Pittsburgh is led by first year head coach Paul Chryst. Chryst came to Pitt following a successful eight years on the offensive staff at Wisconsin. He helped guide a high powered Badger offense, led by quarterback Russell Wilson, now starting QB for the Seattle Seahawks. Chryst also spent time at Oregon State and West Virginia, as well as a few years in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers as a tight ends coach.
Offensively, the Panthers run a pro-style offense, which is probably a nice change of pace for the Cards who have seen nothing but fast paced no-huddle offenses so far. Pitt will attempt to run the football with their fine running back Ray Graham. Graham has amassed 427 yards on the season, good for a 83.8 yards per game average, as well as 4.7 yards every time he rushes the ball. He has scored 4 touchdowns on the year. Shutting down the Pittsburgh running game will be pivotal to Louisville’s success.
If you do manage to shut down the Pitt running game, which is not an easy task, the ball will be in quarterback Tino Sunseri’s hands. The senior from Pittsburgh, who at one time was a Louisville commitment, has endured approximately 17 offensive coordinator changes during his time there which has hindered his development. For the 2012 season, he is completing 69.1% of his passes and is averaging 292.6 yards per game through the air with 8 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions.
The Panthers have thrown the ball 154 times this season, good for just under 31 times a game.
The leading receiver for Pitt is Mike Shanahan. The 6-5 senior does not hurt you with breakaway speed, he hurts you with his size. He uses his body well and positions himself to make catches. So far, he has hauled in 25 catches for 451 yards and 3 touchdowns. Another receiver to look out for is junior Devin Street. The 6-4 Street has caught 28 passes this year for 403 yards and 2 scores. He’s another big receiver and the Cards will have their hands full with both those guys.
Defensively, the Panthers rank 22nd in total defense and 38th in scoring defense. Those rankings don’t look too bad, but keep in mind here are Pitt’s opponents so far this year: Youngstown State, Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, Gardner Webb, and Syracuse. They gave up 31 points to Youngstown State, 34 to Cincy, and them a combined 41 over their last three. In short, I think, much like Louisville, Pitt’s defense is ranked better than they are actually are.
In any event, the Panthers D is led by senior Jarred Holley. The 5-10, 190-lb safety was named all-Big East in 2011 and was the second leading tackler. This year, he leads Pitt with 32 solo tackles and has an interception. He’s one of those guys who doesn’t do anything spectacular, but he just makes plays.
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