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Panthers defense stifles Louisville in win

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Pitt moves to 3-0 in the Big East after an impressive defensive performance in a 20-3 win over the visiting Louisville Cardinals.

If Pitt was in the driver's seat for the Big East title before Saturday, then the Panthers easily lapping the rest of conference now.

In yet another dominating conference performance, the Panthers (5-3, 3-0) completely stifled Louisville (4-3, 1-2) in a 20-3 defensive lockdown at Heinz Field Saturday afternoon.

The Panthers' defensive unit held Louisville to just 185 total yards, including just 82 through the air.

Pitt has started 3-0 for just the fourth time since being members of the Big East.

“This was a very good win for our football team,” said head coach Dave Wannstedt. “I said coming into this game that Louisville from an offensive, defensive and special teams standpoint, they were very comparable to numbers we had. I thought this game would stress us more than any other.”

The Panthers' offense, led by tailback Dion Lewis, put up just enough points to hold off Louisville, and look dominating while doing it.

Lewis finished with 66 yards on 18 carries, scoring the last touchdown of the game on a one-yard run.

“Every time you can go out there and play a football game, it's another progression, it's another learning step,” said quarterback Tino Sunseri. “I learned a lot today, as much as I learned last week. I think our team learned a lot about ourselves. If we can just put together drives, play smart and go down there and finish, then that's the biggest thing.”

The sophomore Sunseri finished the day completing 13-of-24 for 123 yards. His gorgeous 22-yard pass to a cutting Mike Shanahan midway through the third quarter, helped set up Pitt's first touchdown, a 21-yard run by Ray Graham that gave the Panthers a 13-3 lead.

“What we've been doing over the past few games is taking what the defense is giving us,” said Sunseri. “A lot of teams are protecting deep against the long ball to [Jonathan Baldwin] or Mike Shanahan and as a result, that's leaving our tight ends and our short pass game options open.”

Pitt, who finished with 15 first downs and went a solid 7-of-16 on third-down conversions, got all of its offense in the first half from the leg of Dan Hutchins, who connected on kicks from 26 yards and a season-long 42-yards. The 42-yarder capped a 12-play, 45-yard drive, and gave Pitt its first lead of the game.

The Panthers finished with a total of 255 yards on 61 plays and a time of possession of 31:34.

DEFENSE

In a game that wasn't defined by big touchdowns and points on the board, the Panthers defense--regardless of how many points were on the board--took the ball completely out of Louisville's hands from start to finish.

With the best rushing attack in the Big East at over 200 yards per game, the Cardinals were held to just 103 yards on the ground, although tailback Bilal Powell had 71 yards on just 11 carries.

“Defensively I thought we played extremely well," said Wannstedt. "They were a very good offensive football team. They were rushing the ball for over 200 yards, and throwing the ball for about 250. We minimized their big plays, and our defensive line got to them.”

Louisville's only score came after a 12-play, 54-yard drive to open the game, on a 35-yard Chris Philpott field goal.

The Panthers' defense has allowed points on the opposition's opening drive in the last five games.

“The first drive is like our kryptonite right now,” said Dom DeCicco, who led the team in tackles for a second week in a row with 11. “It seems like that's the one that we let up every time. Today it was only three points, but we have to get to the point where we can't let them get a lead on the first drive.”

The Cardinals reached the red-zone just one more time through the entire game, a late-third quarter drive that started at the Panthers' 21-yard line after a long kick-off return and aided by a late-hit penalty on Pitt. The end result, however, was a missed field goal as the Pitt defense held Louisville on three straight plays of no gain at the nine-yard line.

“We just kept it going, and holding them to three points was big,” said cornerback Antwuan Reed. “We're a team and we just keep stepping forward as a team. When the game is in our hands, and it's on us to hold them, we strive on that.”

PLAY OF THE DAY

With the ball on the 34-yard line late in the third quarter, Jabaal Sheard sacked and stripped quarterback Doug Beaumont, and defensive tackle Myles Caragein scooped up the loose ball and returned it all the way up to the Louisville 10-yard line for a 56-yard scamper. The play set up Dion Lewis for a one-yard touchdown run, giving the Panthers a 20-3 lead.

“It was great coverage, and I didn't know if I was going to get there,” said Sheard about the play. “I was just able to make a play.

“I was chasing Myles thinking hopefully he makes it,” continued Sheard about the play. “I was so happy for him. That was an exciting play.”

Wannstedt also had thoughts on the play that changed the momentum of the entire game.

“I thought he was going to hand it off to somebody, that was my biggest fear,” said a joking Wannstedt. “He was running out of gas and Jabaal was going to come up and try to take the ball from him. I've seen that before.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I think Jabaal is the best player in the Big East regardless of position. You just watch him and say, wow, he really dominates, and he's getting blocked by two or three guys.  I think he's the best player in this league bar-none.”
- Dom DeCicco on teammate Jabaal Sheard

CONFERENCE STRANGLEHOLD

With West Virginia falling to Connecticut 16-13 Friday night, Pitt is basically in first place in the Big East standings by two games. The only teams with one loss in the conference, and close to the Panthers, are Syracuse and Rutgers. Because Pitt handed both of those squads their only Big East losses, Pitt has holds the tie-breaker over both teams. Pitt has four conference games left on the schedule.

NEXT UP

Pitt is off with a bye week, but will return to action Thursday, Nov. 11 in a conference showdown with Connecticut (4-4, 1-2) in Hartford. The game will kick-off at 7:30 PM and will be nationally televised on ESPN.

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