Pittsburgh hoping for strong finish vs. surging Louisville
PITTSBURGH (AP) Pittsburgh has figured the whole ''winning on the road'' thing out. The whole ''winning at home'' thing remains a work in progress.
If the Panthers (7-3, 5-1 ACC) can get the formula that's worked so well away from Heinz Field right on Saturday against surging Louisville (6-4, 5-2), Pat Narduzzi's promising first season on the job will move closer to something far more special.
''Seven wins is awesome,'' said Pitt linebacker Mike Caprara.
And also, the Panthers insist, not nearly enough. Pitt is already assured its best regular season since 2010. Victories at home against the Cardinals and reeling Miami would put the kind of crooked number in the win column that's been hard to come by over the last 30 years.
Not that the Panthers are getting ahead of themselves, which is probably wise considering the way the Cardinals are playing. Louisville has recovered from an 0-3 start to win six of its last seven, the lone loss a blowout at Florida State a month ago.
''I'm just real happy with the way our guys kept a good attitude, persevered, practiced extremely hard,'' coach Bobby Petrino said. ''We stuck to our beliefs and didn't change how we believe you should practice and how you should prepare for a game.''
The Cardinals have steadied themselves despite instability and inconsistent play at quarterback. Kyle Bolin will get another turn at the controls this weekend after wresting the starting job away from freshman Lamar Jackson, though Petrino will continue to look for opportunities for Jackson in situations where his mobility will be an asset.
Louisville isn't quite the offensive powerhouse of previous iterations under Petrino. The Cardinals have found a way behind the ACC's second-ranked run defense and a secondary that has come up with 15 interceptions. Last week's 38-31 win over Virginia assured Louisville of a bowl berth. Knocking off the Panthers with rival Kentucky looming in the finale would improve the Cardinals' spot in the bowl pecking order.
Just don't expect Louisville to look beyond the rapidly improving Panthers. Pitt hasn't overwhelmed opponents so much as outlasting them, putting together perhaps its best performance of the season in a 31-13 triumph at Duke last week. The win pushed the Panthers to 5-1 on the road. Compare that to a mere 2-2 mark at Heinz Field, the losses coming to No. 12 North Carolina and No. 4 Notre Dame.
''We're not worried about road games anymore,'' Narduzzi said. ''We're worried about home games, and we have to win at Heinz Field here. I feel like we haven't done it in a month-and-a-half.''
Things to look for as the former Big East schools meet for the first time in the ACC:
Pitt's passing game received a boost last week when wide receivers Dontez Ford and Zach Challingsworth caught touchdown passes, making the Blue Devils pay for focusing on star Tyler Boyd, a performance Ford hopes to build on heading into the season's final stages.
''I feel like it opens it up (the offense) in a bunch of different aspects,'' Ford said. ''We're able to run the ball better when we're spreading it around to other receivers.''
Louisville junior running back Brandon Radcliff has 263 yards in his last two games, including a career-high 146 yards and two scores against the Cavaliers.
''We are getting better on the offensive front,'' Petrino said. ''We've done a better job getting him the ball at the mesh points that you need so you can see the blocks and hit the holes.''
Pitt junior quarterback Nathan Peterman has just one interception over his last seven games, one of the major reasons he's seized the starting role from Chad Voytik. Peterman's confidence in his receivers is also soaring. He tossed three touchdowns versus Duke, none of them to Boyd.
Louisville defensive end Devonte Fields is rounding into form. The former TCU transfer was the ACC's defensive lineman of the week after collecting 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack in the win over Virginia.
''It took him a while to get in shape,'' Petrino said. ''That's one of the things that you really understand that the winter conditioning, spring football, all summer conditioning really is different when you're in a organized group than when you're saying, `Yeah, I'm working out, coach. I'm working out.'''
Freelance writer Josh Abner in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org