Game Day: Louisville At Pittsburgh

It's game day in Pittsburgh, where 5-0 Louisville begins its quest for a Big East championship against a Panther team it hasn't beaten since 2007.

LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (5-0, 0-0) AT PITTSBURGH PANTHERS (2-3, 0-2)

Game Time: 11 a.m.

Location: Heinz Field: Pittsburgh, Pa.

Television: ESPNU

Announcers: Tom Heart (play-by-play) and John Congemi (analyst).

Favorite: Louisville by 3

All-Time Series: Pittsburgh leads 8-7

Big East Series: Pittsburgh leads 4-3

Last Meeting: Pittsburgh won 21-14 in Louisville last season

Series At A Glance:

Screen_shot_2012-10-13_at_1

Statistics:

Screen_shot_2012-10-13_at_1

Screen_shot_2012-10-13_at_1

Excitement Level: 9.1

I've got a pretty healthy mix of anxiety and excitement working here.

I actually think this game is far more significant than a lot of people are giving it credit for. We can talk about the extenuating circumstances all we want, but the fact of the matter is that this Cardinal team has not played up to its potential for the past 10 quarters. That the second half against North Carolina didn't serve as a sufficient wake-up call has my nerves in overdrive this morning.

This team has enough experienced guys that it shouldn't need a loss to serve as an "eye opener." This is an opponent you haven't beaten in four years, it's your first time back on the field after a bye week, and it's the first step towards your goal of winning a conference title and playing in the BCS. This should be the best effort we've seen from Charlie Strong's team this season.

Game Attire: Red Louisville Football shirt under long-sleeve shirt (it's chilly) with red and white Cardinal bird hat.

It's going to take some serious will-power to stick with jeans instead of my new grey U of L sweatpants because...well, because they're just fantastic.

Pregame Meal: Probably coffee and an everything bagel (More like EVERYWHERE bagel, right? They're messy...That's...that is the joke...that I was attempting to convey). Viewing party is at CC Headquarters so there will likely be in-game snacking and drinking. On what, I cannot tell you at this moment.

Bold Prediction: Teddy sets a career-high for passing yards in a single game

Which means more than 344.

Titus Teague Playing Alert Level: Vivid Tangerine (yes on special teams, no on defense, status isn't likely to change the rest of the season)

Predicted Star of the Game: Teddy Bridgewater

He's been at his best this season when he's been touted for this distinction.

Notable:

--Saturday's contest against Louisville is Pittsburgh's Homecoming game.

--Pittsburgh has won the last four matchups in the series and has won those four games by a total of 83 points (just under 21 ppg).

--Pitt is looking to avoid its first 0-3 start in Big East play since 2001.

--Louisville is just 1-6 in Big East openers since joining the conference in 2006.

--The Cards are 1-2 in Big East openers played on the road, including last season's 25-16 loss at Cincinnati.

--Louisville is 18-4 under Charlie Strong when it scores 20 or more points.

--Louisville already has 12 rushing touchdowns this season. The Cards had 13 in 13 games last season.

--Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri originally committed to play football at Louisville.

--Over the past three games, Sunseri has completed 73% of his passes for 946 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception. He is the Big East's most efficient passer (11th nationally) with an impressive 164.67 rating on the year.

--Through five games, Louisville is fourth in the nation in time of possession, averaging 34:32 minutes per game.

--John Congemi, the ESPNU in-game analyst on Saturday, played quarterback at Pitt from 1982-86.

--Louisville has won its last 3 games by a total 16 points. It's the first time the Cards have won three straight by a total 16 points or fewer since 1999.

--Dating back to 1980, the Cardinals hold a 131-14 record when scoring 30 or more points in a game.

--Louisville is the first unbeaten foe ranked in the Top 20 to visit Pitt since USF in 2011. Last year, the 14th-ranked Bulls entered Heinz Field with a 4-0 record and were blasted by the Panthers, 44-17.

--U of L has scored first in all five of its games this season.

--Louisville is 5-0 for the first time since 2006 and just the eighth time in program history.

--The Cards have not won at Heinz Field since that '06 season.

--In their two victories, the Panthers have rushed for 241.5 yards per game. In three losses, they've rushed for 98.0 yards per game.

--Pitt freshman RB Rushel Shell rushed just once last week against Syracuse because of back spasms. He is expected to be back in action on Saturday against Louisville. Shell rushed for 157 yards against Virginia Tech earlier this season.

--Teddy Bridgewater has completed 70.3 percent of his passes on third down this season, leading the Big East and ranking ninth in the FBS (minimum 20 attempts). Bridgewater has converted a first down on 54.1 percent of those throws, which is the second-best in FBS. The Pitt defense gives up 6.3 yards per play on third down, worst in the Big East. The Panthers' opponents convert 44.9 percent of their third downs this season, also worst in the Big East.

--Louisville safety Calvin Pryor currently leads the nation in forced fumbles with four.

--Under Charlie Strong, Louisville is 2-0 in games that start before noon. The Cards are 3-1 in games with pre-noon kickoffs since 2003.

--Pitt has played just two pre-noon games over the past 33 years, the most recent of which was a 32-20 loss to Penn State in 1991. The Panthers defeated Cincinnati 35-0 in 1979 in a game that began at 10 a.m. to accomodate a World Series game later that day.

--Pittsburgh is the only team to defeat Louisville by double digits in the Charlie Strong era. The Panthers beat the Cards 20-3 at Heinz Field in 2010.

Quotable:

--"I don't think anyone will be intimidated by the fact that a ranked team is coming in." --Pitt head coach Paul Chryst

--"Now we start the real season, which I call the real season because it's the conference season. Everything from here out counts." --Charlie Strong

--"With a 12-game schedule, I think anything's pretty much must-win. We're in the hole, obviously, 0-2. I mean, this is a key game. Louisville's coming in, it's homecoming weekend, they're Top 25, 5-0. It's going to be a challenge, but I think it's a game we have to go out and win." --Pitt safety Andrew Taglianetti

--"They tend to play up to their competition; they get up for big games." --Mario Benavides

--"When you play Pitt, you learn how smash-mouthed and hard-nosed you are. (You) not only have to match a team's physicality, but you have to overcome it and show that you're a more physical team. It's going to be a tough task because Pitt is hard-nosed and smash mouth. The most physical team is going to win this game." --Jake Smith

--"We were on a roll, and (Pitt) came into our house and beat us. They just outplayed us and did some things we had never seen. We were competing for a Big East championship and, because we lost to those guys, we ended up splitting it three ways." --Teddy Bridgewater

--"I think guys are stepping up. I think a question coming into this season was some of the younger guys replacing guys from last year, and I think they've done a really good job. They're stepping into their roles, and doing what they're supposed to, and I think it's really starting to show." --Paul Chryst

--"We haven't really shown our abilities the last few games, but we know we have that ability. We've got to use all our talent and blow teams out, put up numbers, basically just showcase everybody's ability. We have to prove ourselves, and things will fall into place." --Hakeem Smith

--"It's all about the conference race; that's what's critical right now. We don't want to slip. It's our first conference game and it's on the road, so we need to go play well." --Charlie Strong

--"I was impressed with (Bridgewater) last year, even as a freshman. He's athletic, he gets the ball where it's supposed to be. In the future, I think he could be a guy to look out for nationally. He's one of the better quarterbacks we've played." --Andrew Taglianetti

--"(Sunseri)'s a tough kid; he's a competitive kid. He's been through a lot of ups and downs, and for him it builds a lot of character. He's doing a good job of managing the football team and getting them headed in the right direction. He's definitely made a big improvement from last season." --Clint Hurtt

--"We're definitely aware of how we played last year. We came out a little flat. I think it was pretty obvious to everybody." --Jake Smith

----"Syracuse is a team that likes to press and go, man. I feel like if I'm on a one-on-one matchup, I can win it. Louisville will do the same thing, so hopefully we can get after them. They have great corners, so it's going to be another great challenge." --Pitt WR Devin Street

---"We haven't played very well the last couple of games. It's evident, you guys know and we know. We have to come out and prove we're a lot better team than that because we haven't been playing to our level." --Jake Smith

Card Chronicle Prediction: Louisville 27, Pittsburgh 21

Despite the relatively pedestrian final score, I think this will be the best we've seen Louisville play since that first half against Carolina. There are a lot of factors working against the Cards today, not the least of which being the fact that Pitt just always seems to be a bad matchup for U of L.

An 0-2 Big East team with its back against the wall playing on Homecoming weekend is not going to show up and roll over just because they're facing an undefeated Cardinal squad that was picked to win the conference before the season. Make no mistake about it, this is going to be a fight.

It's not the four quarters of domination we've all been waiting for since the start of the season, but it is a big step forward, and that's all you can hope for from a first conference game.

GO CARDS.

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