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October 31, 2010

Pitt defense steals the show on Homecoming

Pitt didn't get a 40-point scoring outburst from its offense against Louisville at Heinz Field on Saturday. The Panthers didn't have a 300-yard passer or a 100-yard rusher. And they didn't have any skill players put in breakout performances.

But with the way the Pitt defense played against the Cardinals, the Panthers didn't need much more than two field goals from Dan Hutchins, as Pitt (5-3, 3-0) shut down Louisville for a 20-3 Homecoming victory.

"Defensively, I thought we played extremely well," head coach Dave Wannstedt said after the game. "They are a very good offensive football team. They have been rushing for 200 yards and passing for 250."

To wit, Louisville entered Saturday's game averaging 211 yards per game (21st in the nation, 1st in the Big East) and passing for more than 230 yards per game. And the opening drive on Saturday gave some indication that it might be a long day for the Pitt defense, as Louisville drove 54 yards in 12 plays and took 6:13 off the clock.

But the Panthers stood up with the Cardinals at the 18, and Louisville had to settle for a field goal. After that drive, the Cardinals had seven possessions - not counting a possession at the end of each half - and the results were four punts, a fumble, an interception, and a missed field goal.

Pitt's defense held Louisville's offense to just 185 yards of total offense and three points, well below the Cardinals' season averages of 442 yards and 30 points.

"Everybody was stepping up and making plays," senior defensive end Jabaal Sheard said after the game. "We had great coverage, we were stopping the run game, and we had a great game on defense."

Sheard was among a number of Pitt defenders who made big plays on Saturday. He finished with four tackles, two sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles, one of which was scooped and returned 56 yards by defensive tackle Myles Caragein.

Pitt running back Dion Lewis ran into the end zone three plays later to put the Panthers ahead 20-3.

"Plays like that are the ones we need to accomplish more," Caragein said. "The difference between a good and great defense is turnovers, and that was part of it today."

Senior safety Dom DeCicco also recorded an interception in the win, the team's eighth pick and DeCicco's third this season. He also had a game-high 11 tackles.

"I think our defense is really clicking right now," DeCicco said. "We're playing pretty good; now we just have to keep it up the rest of the way."

The clicking of the defense will be key for Pitt down the stretch. In the two games prior to Saturday's contest, Pitt's offense put up a total of 86 points, quarterback Tino Sunseri threw for 588 yards and seven touchdowns, Lewis rushed for 208 yards and two touchdowns - including his first 100-yard game of the season - and wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin caught six passes for 200 yards.

On Saturday, Sunseri threw for 123 yards, Lewis rushed for 65, and Baldwin caught three passes for 24 yards. The Pitt offense as a whole gained 255 yards.

That left the onus on the defense.

"When we go into every week, our goal is to not let them score at all; that was our approach this week, as with any other week," Caragein said. "It's nice when the offense scores 40 points, since it takes a little bit off us. But we're not really concerned about the offense. If we can hold [the opponent] to zero points, our chance of winning is great."

Pitt is off this week. The Panthers will begin the final four-game stretch of the regular season on Thursday, November 11th in Connecticut.






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