Louisville falls to Pittsburgh 21-14
Louisville coach Charlie Strong says he saw this type of performance coming after his players listened too much to the praise following a three-game winning streak and came to practice unprepared.
''This team cannot handle people patting them on the back,'' said Strong, who restarted practice on both Tuesday and Wednesday in an effort to send a message to his players.
It didn't work. The Cardinals lost 21-14 against Pittsburgh on Saturday after falling behind 14-0 and never gave themselves a chance to rally after Eli Rogers muffed a punt with 4:37 left in the fourth quarter.
Louisville (5-5, 3-2 Big East) cut the lead to 21-14 on freshman Teddy Bridgewater's 25-yard TD pass with 12 seconds left and recovered an onside kick, but he never got a deep pass off on the game's final play.
''We just didn't play smart today. We didn't execute,'' Strong said. ''Our focus wasn't there.''
Louisville beat then-No. 24 West Virginia 38-35 last week for Strong's first win over a ranked team in his short tenure.
That put the Cardinals in position to challenge for a Big East title, but those hopes are dwindling after allowing 200 yards rushing, their worst effort against the run since a 23-16 loss to Kentucky on Sept. 4, 2010 that was Strong's first game as Louisville's coach.
Bridgewater went 18 of 26 for 165 yards passing and ran for 54 more, but made threw a pass picked off by linebacker Carl Fleming, who dropped into coverage. Louisville, who donned their Stars and Stripes helmets for the first time this season, wouldn't get close to scoring again until Pittsburgh's Matt Yoklic shanked a 7-yard punt late in the third quarter.
The Cardinals scored two plays later on Victor Anderson's 3-yard run, but Rogers muffed his second punt of the game and Pittsburgh's Drew Carswell recovered. Strong said he'll review Rogers' performance before deciding whether to continue using the freshman wide receiver in the role.
Louisville defensive tackle William Savoy said he had a bad feeling most of the week.
''We've lost before, but this one definitely is the worst loss. We win three straight and we think we have maturity, and then we go and lose,'' Savoy said. ''I wasn't scared of Pittsburgh, but I was scared of this game.''
Tino Sunseri threw for one touchdown and ran for another to lead Pittsburgh (5-5, 3-2) to its first road win under new coach Todd Graham as the Panthers won for the fourth straight time in the series.
Sunseri found Mike Shanahan for a 17-yard score on Pittsburgh's first drive of the second half and ran in for a 5-yard touchdown with 1:53 left. Freshman Isaac Bennett opened scoring with a 1-yard TD run on the Panthers' first drive.
Graham took over the Panthers from Tulsa after a turbulent offseason in Pittsburgh that started when Dave Wannstedt resigned under pressure and Mike Haywood was fired after being arrested on a domestic violence charge.
After losing road games at Iowa and Rutgers, the Panthers finally broke through and also won for the first time when scoring less than 35 points.
Shanahan's heads up effort helped give Pittsburgh a 14-0 lead early in the third quarter when he broke up a would-be interception by Andrew Johnson. On the next play, Sunseri, who finished 16 of 22 for 196 yards, hit Shanahan for a 17-yard score.
Later in the third quarter, the Cardinals sacked Sunseri on consecutive plays in the third quarter before Matt Yoklic shanked a 7-yard punt in the face of winds gusting up to 30 mph to give Louisville the ball on the Panthers 11.
Anderson scored two plays later, but the Cardinals wouldn't get back into the end zone until it was too late.
''It was very frustrating. We took a step back,'' Bridgewater said. ''Like coach said, we didn't have a good week of practice. Coach told us we had fake energy. We just didn't play good football on the offensive side of the ball.''