Louisville Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Panthers Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Pittsburgh Panthers (3-1 SU, 2-1 ATS) vs. Louisville Cardinals (1-2 SU, 1-1 ATS), 8:00 p.m. EST, Friday, October 2, 2009, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Ky. TV: ESPN2
by Ryno of Predictem.com

Point Spread: Pittsburgh -6.5/Louisville +6.5
Over/Under: 53

When the Pittsburgh Panthers had a 31-17 lead in the third quarter of last Saturday’s game against North Carolina State, the Panthers may have been already looking ahead to their Big East opener against the Louisville Cardinals. Much to their surprise, NC State woke up and scored three consecutive touchdowns for a come-from-behind 38-31 win over the Panthers.

Pitt had the game in the bag. The Panthers hadn’t been trailing all game long, but the Wolfpack’s domination on the ground led to a pair of touchdown passes from NC State quarterback Russell Wilson, followed by the game-winning touchdown run by Toney Baker.

In all, NC State ran the ball 44 times 231 yards, more than five yards per carry. That wore down the Pitt defense, giving Wilson the opportunity to pick apart the defense late in the game. On the other hand, Pitt never really got an offensive rhythm going, despite controlling the first three quarters of the game. Pitt QB Bill Stull threw for two touchdowns, but he was just 12-for-23 passing. Running back Dion Lewis had a decent game and ran for a pair of touchdowns himself, but he totaled just 95 yards on 19 carries. For the most part, Pitt has a very good offense, but with Stull struggling and Lewis not dominating, the Panthers couldn’t piece together any clutch offensive drives late in the game.

The Pitt offense relies upon a solid running attack to dominate early in the game, much like it did for the last couple years with former running back LeSean McCoy, who is now in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles. In Pitt’s largest offensive output thus far, when they scored 54 points against Buffalo, Lewis had 24 carries for 190 yards and two touchdowns. If the running game isn’t working, Stull doesn’t have the talent or the weapons to take over a game against a good opponent.

Pitt had a 3-0 record and a two-touchdown lead against NC State, so it’s a good bet that the Panthers were indeed over-confident and getting ready for Friday’s Big East opener at Louisvile. And they may have been excited for good reasons, as Pitt really has an opportunity to win the Big East this season. Wins over Youngstown State, Buffalo and Navy didn’t exactly qualify Pitt as the Big East favorite by any stretch, but the Pitt offense has been very effective in the first four games. It’s the defense that must improve and the fourth quarter of the NC State loss may be a good thing down the line for Pitt.

Louisville has struggled in its first three games, going 1-2 with its only loss to Indiana State, an FCS team. The Cardinals lost a close one, 31-27 to rival Kentucky, and a 30-14 loss to a very good Utah squad, so Louisville should not be considered a lost cause by any means. They do compete, but they need better play from their QB, Justin Burke.

Burke has completed just 47-of-92 passes in the first three games and he has thrown more interceptions (4) than touchdowns (3). If Burke has to win a game himself, it’s probably not happening.

The only way Louisville could beat a team like Pitt is if the run game is working and the defense keeps the Cardinals in the game. Victor Anderson (43 carries for 225 yards) and Bilal Powell (37 carries for 103 yards) share the ball at the running back position. Anderson has been steady with a 5.2 yards-per-carry average, but Powell is picking up just 2.8 yards per carry. When Louisville nearly beat Kentucky, Anderson ran 19 times for 110 yards and a touchdown.

Louisville’s defense has a very tough time stopping the run. In the losses to Utah and Kentucky, those two teams combined for 393 yards and a greater than five yards-per-carry average. Lewis should have his way with the Louisville and defense. Expect him to put up at least 150 yards on the ground.

The best aspect of Pitt’s defense is its pass rush. In the Panthers’ last two wins, they sacked the opposing quarterback 10 times. In this game, Burke will be seeing a lot of pressure when he drops back to throw, so Burke could do even worse than he has in the two losses.

The only way the Cardinals will have a chance in this game is if Anderson is able to dominate on the ground. Powell has been struggling but has still been getting carries. If Anderson gets the large majority of the carries and gets Louisville an early lead, the home crowd could help Louisville play well for the rest of the game. Pitt gave up 231 rushing yards to NC State, but it’s going to be difficult for Anderson to come close to that total.

When these teams met last season, McCoy ran for just 39 yards but the Panthers still dominated the Cardinals, 41-7. If Lewis has more success than McCoy did, which is extremely likely, Pitt could dominate like it did last year.

Ryno’s Pick: Lewis and the Panthers will have a steady running attack and take an early lead, forcing Louisville to pass more than it wants to. The Panthers will put lots of pressure on the already inaccurate Cardinals QB, which could be trouble for Louisville. A 6.5-point spread is a gift, as Pitt should roll easily. Take Pittsburgh -6.5.