Unpredictable Louisville, Pitt seek consistency

Maybe Pitt will see the Louisville team that held Connecticut to

195 yards of offense. Or maybe the Panthers will get the Cardinals

that gave up five touchdown passes to Cincinnati.

Perhaps during Saturday’s Big East game, Louisville will see the

Pitt team that couldn’t throw against Utah or couldn’t pull away

from Florida International until well into the second half. Or

maybe the Cardinals will get the Panthers who scored 45 points

against Syracuse and 41 against Rutgers the last two weeks.

As Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said, the Cardinals (4-3, 1-1 in

Big East) and Panthers (4-3, 2-0) are teams that are very similar,

right down to their matching overall records and inconsistent play.

Many of their statistics are close to identical.

Pitt has last season’s Big East rushing champion, Dion Lewis;

Louisville has this season’s leader, Bilal Powell, who already has

1,003 yards rushing for a team that has matched its victory total

from last season.

Their head-to-head results follow a pattern, too; Louisville

beat Pitt by 22 points in 2005 and 24 in 2006; Pitt came back to

win by 34 points in 2008 and 25 points last season.

Not surprisingly, it’s difficult to predict what kind of game

either team will play on a given Saturday. Especially this

Saturday.

Pitt lost three of its five non-conference games, only to score

40-plus points in consecutive Big East games for the first time. In

its first season under coach Charlie Strong, Louisville beat

Memphis 56-0 and Connecticut 26-0 to start and finish a three-game

homestand, but lost the middle game to Cincinnati 35-27.

The Panthers have had more consistency lately, and they’ll

remain the only team that’s unbeaten in conference play if they

win. No Big East team is nationally ranked.

”A lot of people are saying the Big East isn’t as strong this

year,” Pitt fullback Henry Hynoski said. ”We have a bunch of

teams that are equal in talent, so you have to come out and play

hard every week. That’s why this week against Louisville is like a

title game for us.”

Except not many teams play for titles that have lost 10

consecutive conference road games, like Louisville has. One way for

a team to gain confidence away from home is to run the ball, and

the Cardinals will try to do that with Powell. He has had four

consecutive 100-yard games, two for more than 200 yards.

”I didn’t realize how good he was until we watched him on

film,” Pitt safety Dom DeCicco said. ”He’s the real deal. He’s

the best running back and the best player we’ve played to this

point.”

Powell will be a challenge for Pitt’s rushing defense, which

ranks in the top 10 nationally. The Panthers have allowed only two

teams to rush for 100 yards, and no opposing back has gained more

than 87 yards.

”We have a goal every week of what we want to rush for,” said

Louisville lineman Josh Byrom, who is from Pittsburgh. ”It gives

us motivation hearing Bilal saying, ‘We are going to get that.’ We

like the mentality that we are physical and we are going in there

and running the football.”

Pitt is getting yardage from two running backs – Lewis, who ran

for 130 yards against Rutgers in his first 100-yard game this

season and Ray Graham, who leads the Panthers with 645 yards in six

games. Wannstedt tends to go with whichever back runs better at the

start; last week against Rutgers, it was Lewis.

”I’ve been getting better every week, and I got into that

rhythm early,” Lewis said. ”If you have success early, you can

feel more comfortable.”

Lewis began looking like the 1,799-yard rusher of last season

about the time quarterback Tino Sunseri stopped looking like the

inexperienced and often confused quarterback he was early in the

season. Now that Sunseri is settling in, the sophomore has seven

touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last two games.

”For a young quarterback, you couldn’t ask for anything more,”

Wannstedt said. ”I think that everybody just evaluates the

quarterback position by how many passes you complete, and there’s

so much more to it. He’s getting the call, managing the huddle and

getting us in and out of plays … all the little things that go

unnoticed.”