Safeties Jason Hendricks (25) and Jarred Holley (18) will be key in defending Louisville's offense.
Oct. 7, 2012
Pitt (2-3, 0-2 Big East) vs. #18/16 Louisville (5-0, 0-0 Big East)
Oct. 13, 2012 • 11 a.m., ET • ESPNU
Heinz Field (65,050/Grass) • Pittsburgh, Pa.
Pitt Game Notes Link: Louisville Game
• Pitt hosts undefeated and nationally ranked Louisville at Heinz Field. The Panthers are coming off a frustrating 14-13 loss at Syracuse, while the Cardinals visit Pittsburgh following an open date. Pitt will celebrate Homecoming festivities on Saturday.
• Louisville is the first unbeaten foe ranked in the Top 20 (minimum four games played) to visit Pitt since USF in 2011. Last year, the Bulls entered Heinz Field with a 4-0 record and ranked No. 14. In front of a Thursday night ESPN television audience, the Panthers scored 24 unanswered points to claim a 44-17 win over USF.
• Pitt is riding a four-game winning streak in the Louisville series. Pitt won at Papa John's Stadium last year, 21-14, and rolled in each of the past two contests at Heinz Field (41-7 in 2008 and 20-3 in 2010).
• The Panthers are looking to avoid their first 0-3 start in Big East play since 2001. Louisville, with its non-conference schedule completed, will open 2012 Big East play in Pittsburgh.
• Quarterback Tino Sunseri is making a case for most improved player in the Big East. Over the past three games, the senior 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.
• In its last three games, the Panthers' defense has given up only two touchdowns and two field goals. In the Syracuse loss, the winning points came on a 52-yard Orange fumble return. Pitt has also forced eight turnovers in its last three contests after getting zero in the opening two games of the year.
Pitt-Louisville Series Notes
This is the 16th meeting between Pitt and Louisville in a series that dates back to 1976...Pitt has won four consecutive games against the Cardinals and leads the all-time series, 8-7...the Panthers have a 4-3 edge in Big East games beginning with the 2005 season when Louisville joined the conference...Pitt is 5-4 against the Cardinals in games played in Pittsburgh and has a 3-3 mark on the road...the visiting Panthers triumphed in Louisville last year, 21-14...the teams last met in Pittsburgh in 2010, a 20-3 Pitt victory at Heinz Field...Pitt's 35-10 win over the host Cardinals in 2009 marked the Panthers' first road win in the series since 1983...prior to `09, Pitt had lost three straight road games to Louisville...in 2008, Pitt rolled to a 41-7 victory over Louisville at Heinz Field, snapping a seven-game series losing streak...the inaugural game of the series was played in 1976, Pitt's undefeated national championship season...the Panthers defeated Louisville, 27-6, in Pitt Stadium en route to a 12-0 record.
Pitt-Louisville Series in Brief
Series Began: 1976
Series Overall: Pitt leads 8-7
Big East Series: Pitt leads 4-3
At Pittsburgh: Pitt leads 5-4
At Louisville: Series tied 3-3
Last Meeting: Nov. 12, 2011 (Pitt 21, Louisville 14)
Current Streak: Pitt has won 4
Longest Pitt Series Win Streak: 4 games (1976-83; 2008-11)
Longest UL Series Win Streak: 7 games (1990-2007)
Largest Pitt Margin of Victory: 49 points (63-14, 1982)
Largest UL Margin of Victory: 24 points (48-24, 2006)
Pitt-Louisville Broadcast Information
Television • ESPNU
Tom Hart, play-by-play
John Congemi (former Pitt QB, 1982-86), analyst
Pitt Radio • Sportsradio 93.7 The Fan & the Pitt IMG Sports Network
Bill Hillgrove, play-by-play
Pat Bostick, analyst
Gregg Giannotti, reporter
Internet Audio • Panthers All-Access
SiriusXM Satellite Radio
Sirius Channel 123, XM Channel 191
Pitt Team Notes
Getting an Early Start
Pitt and Louisville will open a full Saturday of college football with an 11 a.m. kickoff at Heinz Field. The Panthers have only had two morning kickoffs in the eastern time zone over the past 33 years.
On Oct. 13, 1979, Pitt kicked off at 10 a.m. against Cincinnati at Pitt Stadium. The unconventional start time was due to a World Series game later that afternoon between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles at Three Rivers Stadium. The Panthers won, 35-0, while Baltimore topped the Bucs, 9-6, for a 3-1 series lead. (The Pirates would win the next three games, including a Game 7 victory in Baltimore, to claim the World Series, while the Panthers, behind freshman quarterback Dan Marino, would go 11-1 and finish No. 6 nationally.)
On Nov. 28, 1991, Pitt and Penn State kicked off at 11:14 a.m. at Pitt Stadium to accommodate a national ABC television audience on Thanksgiving Day. Despite 324 passing yards from the Panthers' Alex Van Pelt, the Nittany Lions won, 32-20.
Big East Games at Heinz Field
The Panthers will play their first home Big East game of the year when they host Louisville. Since Heinz Field's inaugural season in 2001, Pitt is 25-13 (.658) in Big East home games. During that same span, the Panthers are 46-30 (.605) overall in league games.
Holtz has played in all five games, starting two (Virginia Tech and Gardner-Webb) in place of injured senior Hubie Graham.
Render, who has played in five contests, made his first career start in the Sept. 22 Gardner-Webb victory, replacing injured junior defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Pardner had been playing a significant role as a nickel back and reserve cornerback through the first three games but suffered a left ACL injury against Virginia Tech and will be out for the season. He is expected to receive a medical redshirt.
Shell is Pitt's second-leading rusher with 231 yards and a TD on 45 carries (5.1 avg.) in four games played.
Senior quarterback Tino Sunseri is on a roll over the past three games. During that stretch Sunseri has completed 73% of his passes for 946 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception.
Sunseri was named the Big East Offensive Player of the Week for his role in the Panthers' 35-17 win over Virginia Tech on Sept. 15. He completed 68% of his passes (19 of 28) against the Hokies for 283 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
In the Gardner-Webb win on Sept. 22, Sunseri threw for 344 yards on 18-of-24 passing (75%) with three touchdowns and no INTs. It was the second-highest passing yardage of his career, trailing only his 419-yard performance against Connecticut in 2011.
In his most recent game, Sunseri hit on 76% of his throws (25 of 33) against Syracuse for 319 yards.
Tino Sunseri leads the Big East and ranks 11th nationally in pass efficiency with a 164.67 rating. On the year he has completed 105-of-152 passes (69%) for 1,463 yards and eight touchdowns with two interceptions.
Improved TD-to-INT Ratio
As a junior, Tino Sunseri threw 11 interceptions compared to 10 touchdowns. Through five games this year he already has eight TDs and only two INTs.
Seasoned Signal Caller
Tino Sunseri has started 31 consecutive games dating back to the 2010 season opener at Utah. Sunseri's starting streak is the longest by a Pitt quarterback since Tyler Palko made 35 consecutive starts from 2004-06. Palko started every single game for the Panthers during those three seasons.
Alex Van Pelt holds the school record for consecutive games started as well as total starting assignments by a Pitt quarterback. Van Pelt started every game during his four-year career (46 starts from 1989-92). He also is the school's career leader in passing yards (11,267) and total offense (11,148).
Sunseri ranks fourth at Pitt in career passing yards (6,765) and fifth in career total offense (6,902).
Pitt's starting receivers, senior Mike Shanahan and junior Devin Street, rank among the most prolific pass catchers in Pitt history. Shanahan is 10th all-time with 122 career catches. Street recently joined the 100-catch club and has 106 receptions to rank 15th.
Devin Street was a productive target at Syracuse. Street had 130 yards receiving on a career-high 10 catches against the Orange. His previous high was eight catches vs. Cincinnati last year, and he was just shy of his personal best in receiving yards, also achieved last year at Iowa (138 yards).
Street is the first Pitt player to reach 10 catches in a game since former All-Big East receiver Derek Kinder had 11 for 77 yards against Louisville in 2006.
Pitt rolled up 626 yards in total offense (397 passing, 229 rushing) against Gardner-Webb, the Panthers' highest single-game production since 1997 when they had 645 yards (470 passing, 175 rushing) in a double-overtime victory at Rutgers (55-48). The Gardner-Webb contest marked Pitt's highest total offense in a regulation game since 1995 when it compiled a school-record 648 yards (333 passing, 315 rushing) in a 66-30 win over Eastern Michigan.
Historic Two-Game Production
In its back-to-back September victories, Pitt produced a combined 1,163 yards in total offense (626 vs. Gardner-Webb and 537 vs. Virginia Tech). This two-game total set a school record for offensive output in consecutive games. The prior mark was 1,154 set in 1992. That season, Pitt had 558 yards vs. Rutgers followed by a 596-yard game vs. Minnesota.
The Pitt record for three-game offensive production was also set in 1992. The Panthers compiled 1,706 yards in games against Rutgers (558), Minnesota (596) and Maryland (552) during the `92 campaign.
Ray Returning to Form
Senior tailback Ray Graham is returning to healthy form after spending the offseason rehabilitating from right knee (ACL) surgery. Graham has been Pitt's starting tailback in all five games this year and has 419 yards on 89 carries (4.7 avg.) with five total TDs. Against Cincinnati (Sept. 6), he rushed for 103 yards on 19 attempts, his first 100-yard game since getting injured. Graham nearly reached 100 yards in Pitt's victory over Virginia Tech (Sept. 15), netting 94 yards on 24 carries. He also scored three TDs against the Hokies (two rushing and one receiving). In the Sept. 22 Gardner-Webb win, Graham made the most of his eight carries, averaging 11.8 per rush en route to 94 net yards. One of his carries was a 78-yard TD to open the scoring.
In 2011, Ray Graham was on a dazzling rushing pace comparable only to Tony Dorsett in Pitt annals before an injury ended his season in late October. Through his first seven games, Graham was second nationally and first in the Big East in rushing yards per game (134.14 avg.). He was hurt early in the eighth game against Connecticut and finished the `11 campaign with 958 yards and nine TDs on 164 carries (5.8 avg.).
Graham had 939 rushing yards through the first seven games of 2011. His total trailed only Dorsett, who had 1,072 yards through the first seven games of his 1976 Heisman Trophy season. The other best seven-game starts in Pitt history include (in descending order) Dorsett as a freshman in 1973 (928 yards), Craig "Ironhead" Heyward during his Heisman finalist season in 1987 (920), Dion Lewis in 2009 (918), Dorsett as a junior in 1975 (851) and LeSean McCoy in 2008 (835).
A Winning Shell Game
Freshman tailback Rushel Shell was a key offensive catalyst in Pitt's 35-17 win over Virginia Tech by rushing for 157 yards on 23 attempts, an impressive 6.8-yard average. Shell became the first Pitt freshman to rush for 100 yards in a game since Dion Lewis had 159 against North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 26, 2009. (Pitt defeated the Tar Heels, 19-17.)
Lewis had 10 100-yard games as a true freshman in 2009 en route to 1,799 yards, the second-highest single-season rushing total in school history. Lewis' total trails only Tony Dorsett, who had 2,150 rushing yards during his 1976 Heisman Trophy season.
By comparison, Dorsett also had 10 100-yard games as a freshman in 1973 (finishing with 1,686 yards in 12 games), while LeSean McCoy had seven 100-yard games as a frosh in 2007 (totaling 1,328).
Pitt's offensive line play has elevated considerably since the 2011 season. One factor in that improvement is consistency of personnel up front. The Panthers have fielded the same starting five for each game this season: junior Cory King at left tackle, senior Chris Jacobson at left guard, senior Ryan Turnley at center, junior Ryan Schlieper at right guard and sophomore Matt Rotheram at right tackle. Last year, due to a myriad of injuries, Pitt was forced to shuffle eight different starting offensive line combinations in 13 games.
Notable National Rankings
Pitt is ranked 22nd nationally this week in total defense, yielding 320.20 yards per game. That average ranks third in the Big East.
The Panthers are 24th nationally and second in the Big East in pass defense, giving up an average of 185.40 yards per game.
Stingy Scoring "D"
The Panthers have given up just two offensive touchdowns and two field goals in their last three games. In its 35-17 win over Virginia Tech, the Hokies managed only one offensive TD, an 85-yard catch-and-run that was aided by a missed tackle. Virginia Tech's other scores came off a 94-yard punt return and a 32-yard field goal.
In the Panthers' 55-10 win over Gardner-Webb, Pitt yielded only a 41-yard field goal on defense. GWU's other score came off a 65-yard fumble return.
Pitt lost at Syracuse, 14-13, with the winning points ultimately coming on a 52-yard fumble return by the Orange.
After failing to gain a turnover in the season's opening two games, the Pitt defense has forced a combined eight (five INTs and three fumble recoveries) in the subsequent three contests.
In its 35-17 win over No. 13 Virginia Tech, Pitt forced four turnovers, including three interceptions of highly regarded Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas. Junior free safety Jason Hendricks had two picks while senior strong safety Jarred Holley had the other.
Additionally, sophomore linebacker Eric Williams had Pitt's first fumble recovery of the season. Williams recovered a fumble (forced by redshirt freshman defensive end Devin Cook) at the Virginia Tech 10 in the second quarter. Ray Graham rushed for a five-yard TD two plays later to give Pitt a 21-0 lead.
The Panthers forced three more turnovers in their 55-10 win over Gardner-Webb. Hendricks had his third interception of the year, while senior defensive end Shayne Hale and senior linebacker Joe Trebitz both had fumble recoveries.
Pitt's lone forced turnover at Syracuse was an interception in the end zone by junior cornerback K'Waun Williams that halted a drive that reached the Panthers' nine-yard line.
A Rush to Improve
Pitt's rushing defense has improved significantly over the past three contests. The Panthers yielded an average of 231.5 rush yards in their losses to Youngstown State (204) and Cincinnati (259). That average dropped to 70.3 yards in Pitt's victories over Virginia Tech and Gardner-Webb, and the narrow loss to Syracuse.
Pitt limited the Hokies' traditionally strong rushing attack to only 59 yards on 26 carries, an average of 2.3 yards per attempt. The Hokies only had two runs over nine yards for the game. Quarterback Logan Thomas had Virginia Tech's longest rush, an 11-yard carry in the second quarter. Gardner-Webb mustered only 32 rushing yards on 29 carries (1.1 avg.). Syracuse toughed out 120 yards on 33 carries (3.6 avg.) against the Panthers.
It's Not Easy Being Green
Some of Pitt's early season defensive struggles could be traced to inexperience. Through the opening four games, a total of 13 players made their first career start for the Pitt defense.
In the opener against Youngstown State, eight players made their first start on the defensive side of the ball for the Panthers: sophomore defensive end Bryan Murphy, junior defensive end Jack Lippert, sophomore defensive tackle --30--
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