Spread: Louisville -2.5, O/U 55 (Bovada)
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
TV / Radio: ACC Network / 93.9 The Ville
Pitt’s defense led the charge for the Panthers, tallying 12 tackles for loss, seven sacks, and forced three interceptions from Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham. They also held the Cardinals to 223 total yards, as Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett completed 23-of-38 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns, leading to a 23-20 win for Pitt.
Pitt leads the all-time series 10-8, and has won six of the last seven games in the series dating back to 2008.
Entering the Game: Pitt
After their win over Louisville, Pitt lost four straight games, and finished 2020 with a 6-5 record. However, the Panthers rebounded in convincing fashion last season, winning their first ever ACC title and finishing with an 11-2 record. This marked their first outright conference title since 2004.
Entering Saturday’s game, Pitt is 4-2 on their 2022 campaign, their losses coming by one possession against Tennessee and Georgia Tech.
Pitt Offense: What to Watch
Last season, Pitt’s offense led the ACC in scoring offense, and finished second in total offense behind a juggernaut passing game led by Heisman finalist quarterback Kenny Pickett and wide receiver Jordan Addison. All those elements are now gone; Pickett was drafted to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Addison transferred in the offseason to USC, and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple left for Nebraska.
Head coach Pat Narduzzi made very sharp comments about not running the ball enough last season (despite finishing ninth in the ACC in rushing attempts per game at 37.5, an average number, but I digress), so he hired Frank Cignetti Jr. to replace Whipple at offensive coordinator. He also got two huge gets in the transfer portal with USC quarterback Kedon Slovis and Akron receiver Konata Mumpfield to replace Pickett and Addison.
And yet, it is running back Israel Abanikanda who has carried the load for this offense literally and figuratively for Pitt. But the argument could be made it’s not a byproduct of Narduzzi wanting to run the ball more, Abanikanda has simply broken out as one of the best RBs in college football. He’s a twitchy runner with good breakaway speed and a versatile skill set. Abanikanda is coming off a historic performance against Virginia Tech last week, tying a school record with six rushing touchdowns and breaking Tony Dorsett’s single-game yards record with 320 on the ground (and the seventh player in ACC football history to rush for over 300 yards). He’s the focal point of the offense, and thus going to be the focal point of Louisville’s game plan on defense. Rodney Hammond, Jr. could make a return to action on Saturday as well, that should bolster the Pitt rushing attack as he can take pressure off Abanikanda to carry the load (okay, I’m done with the run puns).
As for Slovis, he hasn’t quite lived to his play in Los Angeles. Slovis is completing 61.5% of his passes for 233 passing yards per game, and has five touchdowns to three interceptions in five games played. He has, however, finished three games with under 60% completion. Because of how well Abanikanda has played at RB, it hasn’t necessarily handicapped the offense, but better play from Slovis could help Pitt realize the potential people saw in the team from the preseason.
He does have a pair of talented receivers in Jared Wayne (17 YPC, 390 receiving yards, TD) and Konata Mumpfield (24 rec., 257 yards, TD), both guys that can stretch the field and challenge Louisville vertically. I think one of these guys could get a big play downfield at some point against Louisville. Tight end Gavin Bartholomew could present some matchup problems for Louisville, and could be a reliable play action target if the Cardinals key too much onto the running game.
Players to Watch: RB Israel Abanikanda (129 rush, 830 yards, 12 TDs); WR Konata Mumpfield (24 rec., 257 yards, TD); TE Gavin Bartholomew (14 rec., 229 yards, two TDs)
Pitt Defense: What to Watch
Keys to the Game
- Louisville has to force lengthy third downs
- Louisville has to avoid losing the battle up front
In both games between Louisville and Pitt in the ACC, Pitt’s defensive line has largely dictated the game in their wins over the Cardinals. They logged seven sacks and ten TFLs in 2015, and also logged seven sacks and 12 TFLs in 2020.
I’m sticking with that trend now, and as Scott Satterfield eloquently put it in Tuesday’s press conference, don’t do what they did last time. Louisville should have a better offensive lin