After the 16th-ranked Cardinals enjoyed their first bye week of the season last week, it was back to business as usual this week with the BIG EAST Conference opener at Pittsburgh on the slate. When Louisville and Pitt kickoff on Saturday at 11 a.m., ET at Heinz Field (ESPNU), the Cardinals’ offense will face a strong challenge from a stingy Panthers’ defense. Pittsburgh, which has allowed only two offensive touchdowns and two field goals in the last three games, is ranked 22nd nationally (third in the BIG EAST) in total defense allowing 320 yards per game and 24th in the nation (second in the BIG EAST) in pass defense yielding 185 yards per game. They play with an attacking style that should have a familiar look to the Cardinals.
“Their defense is similar to ours,” said Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater following Tuesday’s practice session. “Our defense has been doing a great job of giving us a look and preparing us for Pittsburgh. They’re physical and they’re fast. They’ve found their identity. They line up and just come after you.”
With a talented and fast defense ready to attack on Saturday, the Louisville offense used the bye week to focus on the basics of the game. That emphasis has continued this week as they turned their focus on preparing for the Panthers, who have won four straight against U of L. Having played five games, the Cardinals understand that for them to succeed offensively, it will start with how they perform as a unit rather than depending on any element of surprise.
“We’re still working on fundamentals and executing,” said running back Senorise Perry, who leads the Cardinals with 458 yards rushing (91.6 per game) and five touchdowns. “We know teams have a lot of film on us, so we have to go in there and execute like we can and like we did in the first half against North Carolina. We have to work on finishing. We have to finish in every aspect of the game — special teams, defense and offense.”
Entering week seven of the season, the Cardinals have enjoyed some success offensively while earning their 5-0 record, but the most recent results have been less pleasing. After scoring 36 points in the first half of the Sept. 15 win over North Carolina, Louisville has managed just 52 total points in the 10 quarters since. That has not gone unnoticed by the U of L players, who maintain high expectations for the Cardinals’ offense.
“We feel like we still haven’t played our best game yet,” said Louisville wide receiver Eli Rogers. “We come out every week to practice and improve. We believe we have a perfect game in us.”
The team will carry those expectations into Saturday’s game when Louisville becomes the last BIG EAST squad to play its conference opener this season. As the league’s highest ranked team, the Cardinals have maintained a high profile throughout the season. However, having not played a BIG EAST opponent, there remains a high level of intrigue and interest in how Louisville will manage expectations in conference play.
“It’s very important because it sends a message to the rest of the conference,” said Bridgewater when asked about the emphasis on winning the league opener at Pittsburgh. “This is the start of our real season. Even though we’re 5-0, we’re 0-0 in the conference, so this week our goal is to be 1-0.”