Starting off 2-3 with the humility it brings should help this rapidly improving and thoroughly entertaining Pitt team romp through the Big East all the way to the Fiesta Bowl. Remembering how easy it is to lose will motivate the Panthers to concentrate on winning through a wildly inconsistent slate of remaining conference opponents.
The Louisville defense let quarterback Tino Sunseri know early in the game he wasn't going to live by big plays like the past two weeks. So the Pitt offense went to work methodically chipping away at the Louisville defense and finally had them down and out by the fourth quarter.
Some bloggers were complaining that the game was slow and painful to watch. Each team scored field goals in the first quarter and Pitt built a three-point lead at the half, 6-3.
Ray Graham jerked everyone to attention at the 9:26 mark of the third quarter with a 26-yard touchdown run. Pitt only ran for 132 yards the whole game and Graham's big run put the game out of reach for the Cardinals.
Pitt's defense became more effective at tormenting quarterback Adam Froman as the game progressed. When running back Bilal Powell went out with a knee injury from a Jared Holly hit in the third, the Cards were deflated.
At the end of the third quarter Pitt defender Myles Caragein suddenly found the ball in his hands on a fumble engineered by Sheard. Caragein ran as fast as he could—or as fast as a 290-pound defensive tackle can run—for the end zone and almost made it.
As he was pushed out of bounds in the red zone, the third quarter ended. "Sweet Caroline" blared over the loud speakers at Heinz Field. The stadium erupted. The Pitt homecoming crowd was singing along with Neil Diamond, clapping and swaying. Even the Big East Network television cameras had to stay and watch.
There is no more effective way to fire up a crowd than to see a huge defensive end lumbering down the field to score.
At 14:57 to play in the game Deon Lewis scored on a 1-yard run, helping to make the score 20-3.
After calling penalties on Louisville's special teams all afternoon, it was Pitt's turn to be flagged. A good Louisville punt return aided by two long penalties put the Cards on the Pitt 21-yard line. From there they should have punched it in. They could not score a touchdown. Chris Philpott's field goal attempt was hard left and the Cards came up scoreless, deflated and ready to head back to the 'Ville.
Pitt, at 3-0 in the conference and 5-3 overall, is more now than ever the Big East front-runner. Against Louisville, the Panthers played great football although it was not the set-the-scoreboard-on-fire style of Conference USA and the WAC.
It was the Pittsburgh style of football played by the two teams who share the Southside Practice Facility. Their logos stand side by side above the main entrance: Pittsburgh Steelers and Pitt Panthers.
Pitt safety Dom DeCicco had stopped seven plays prior to the Louisville game. He added to that total today. He was all over the field.
Jonathan Baldwin had one beautiful catch ruled out of bounds even though replay cameras showed his right foot clearly in bounds. He participated in fakes in the backfield and did his share to contribute to the win.
Henry Hynoski, Pitt's all-muscle-and-brawn fullback, played his usual ferocious game until he was knocked out in the second quarter. A concussion sidelined him the rest of the way.
Sunseri continued his development as a big-time college quarterback, gaining a first down for Pitt by running. He had 23 yards rushing for the day, or 17 percent of Pitt's total rushing yards.
Coach Dave Wannstedt went for it on fourth down early in the contest and he didn't need to call a timeout first! Lewis responded by making the first down.
It appears to fans Coach Wannstedt is allowing coordinators Frank Cignetti (offense) and Phil Bennett (defense) to make more game-day decisions, a definite plus for Pitt football.
The game plan called for an offense that was aggressive and adaptable. Adaptability was a key to victory today.
Fans might be wondering which was better—watching Pitt shut down Louisville and the nation's second leading rusher or hearing Dave Wannstedt call the Panthers a "young and unique" team in the postgame interview.
A demure and thoroughly likable Tino Sunseri pumped up the fan base in his postgame interview. With a twinkle in his eye and an "awshucks" facial expression, he reminded fans that the team is still young but they are getting better every week. He added, "They have confidence in me now. Leading the team on drives to score points and throwing touchdown passes helps."
The only one missing from the TV postgame interviews was Jabaal Sheard, a defensive tackle from Florida who has become the heart of the Pitt defense. Sheard's pressure created the turnover Caragein almost ran in for a Pitt touchdown.
When asked about that play after the game, Wannstedt laughed and said, "Myles was probably looking for someone to hand the ball to. He's one of the smartest guys on the team."
The 2010 Pitt Panthers are a group of dedicated, smart, young players led by an old coach who is proving there is truth in the expression, "An old dog can learn new tricks."
The prescription for believing in the bright future of this team given out today at Heinz Field couldn't be any more effective had it been written by the Pitt Medical Center.