Here are some post-game notes and analysis from Pitt’s 35-10 victory over Louisville on Friday night at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
· Shortly after the game, assistant head coach/defensive line coach Greg Gattuso walked out from the bowels of the stadium, where the Pitt players were yelling and celebrating so loud you could hear it through the doors and cement walls of their locker room. Gattuso, who certainly took personally his unit’s lack of dominance in the early part of the season, was greeted with job-well-done from many of those waiting outside. The overwhelming performance by a surprisingly beleaguered defensive line is the subject of the follow story in the Sunday paper.
· The most encouraging part of the victory is that the Panthers played a poor first half, but kept their heads after the break, didn’t let last week’s collapse at N.C. State dent their confidence and routed Louisville in the second half in front of national television audience and a sold-out stadium. Pitt trailed, 10-7, at halftime, yet could have scored an additional 17 points – a drive stalled on fourth down at the Cardinal 27; Ray Graham fumbled at the Louisville 8 and a 41-yard touchdown pass to Oderick Turner was overturned by an illegal shift.
· Granted, Louisville was just as bad in the first half, netting three of their five personal foul penalties. They went three and out in three of their first four possessions – the other possession was an eight-play, 73-yard touchdown drive set up when Aaron Berry bit on a quick screen that turned into a 38-yard option pass to a wide-open receiver. They were going with a quarterback making his first Football Championship Series start. But Adam Froman knows how to play the position. He threw for 3,888 yards and 40 touchdowns last year at Santa Rosa Junior College and was named the top player in California, a state loaded with juco football talent.
· It’s hard to believe that only three years ago, on the original Black-out Night at Papa John’s Stadium, Louisville outgunned West Virginia, 44-34, in a huge nationally televised matchup of two top 5-ranked teams. Now, the Cardinals have dropped eight straight games to Division I-A teams (FCS) and lost to Pitt – a team they dominated for years – by a combined score of 76-17 over the past two years. Either Bobby Petrino was that good or Steve Kragthorpe’s days are numbered.
· Looks like Youngstown State coach Jon Heacock knew exactly what he was talking about. Before the YSU-Pitt opener, Heacock said Bill Stull should have a productive senior season, because, based from previous experience, any time seniors fight through adversity (injury, QB controversy, etc.), they set themselves up to have a strong final year. “He’s a guy that has withstood the test. And when guys do that, I think they can be awfully good,” Heacock said. Stull has thrown 11 touchdowns and been intercepted once and will rank among the top 15 NCAA quarterbacks in passing efficiency when the updated stats come out this weekend.
· Pitt won by 25 points, but when the Panthers needed to kneel on the ball in the final seconds, Stull, not redshirt freshman Tino Sunseri, did the duties. Two games after it was so critical to get Sunseri important snaps against Navy, he didn’t play one snap of a blowout victory. This is Stull’s team. Barring a Stull injury, Sunseri’s time will come next year.
· Let’s hope that Cam Saddler’s right ankle injury isn’t too serious. He rehabbed from a torn ACL during training camp last year and was among the top kickoff returners in the Big East. Saddler returned Louisville’s first punt of the game – a duty that Aaron Smith had handled all year – but took a wicked hit at the end of a 42-yard kickoff return and spent the rest of the game on the sideline.
· Another first-half ankle injury, to Elijah Fields, sidelined the redshirt junior, who had played very well since taking over for injured Andrew Taglianetti (ACL) as the team’s starting free safety three weeks ago. Redshirt freshman Jarred Holley replaced Fields and finished with four tackles in a promising effort. Regardless of how long Fields is out (early indications are that it’s not too serious), it was a prescient move by the Panther coaches to move Holley from cornerback to safety during training camp.
· Redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Max Gruder, who looked lost for much of the early season, was outstanding. He had 7.5 tackles, including a third-and-2 play in the first quarter when he blew up Louisville’s 6-foot-2, 305-pound left guard Abdul Kuyateh and stuffed Victor Anderson for a 1-yard gain, forcing a punt. That play could be a seminal moment for Gruder’s season.
· Speaking of the linebackers, Adam Gunn’s return to the lineup meant so much in terms of leadership and experience. The redshirt sophomores flanking him, Gruder and Greg Williams, flourished with his presence. Freshman Dan Mason (who didn’t have a tackle Friday night) will be a great player, but, for right now, the defense is better with Gunn out there for a lot of intangible reasons.
· Not sure what Pitt defensive lineman Mick Williams was saying on the field, but he clearly was getting into the heads of the Louisville players. Twice, he drew personal foul penalties from the Cardinal players for unprovoked shoves far away from the play.
· On a side note, N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson’s streak without an interception was ended at 379, his 16th pass against Wake Forest on Saturday. He was picked off a second time later in the game.