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Pittsburgh beats Louisville 21-14

November 13, 2011
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Pittsburgh's high powered offense has hardly been a question this year. To win in their upcoming rivalry game, the Panthers need more defensive performances like this.

Tino Sunseri threw for one touchdown and ran for another to lead Pittsburgh to its first road win under new coach Todd Graham, 21-14, over Louisville on Saturday, ending the Cardinals' three-game winning streak.

"That win helps us, keeps us alive for our goal of being conference champions," Graham said. "Obviously (it) gets us going into the biggest game of the year - the one that means more than any game on our schedule - and that's the Backyard Brawl with West Virginia."

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Pittsburgh's next road game is against the Mountaineers, and the slumping Panthers (5-5, 3-2) needed a boost after losses in three of its previous four games. They ran over Louisville's stout defense, starting with a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive capped by freshman Isaac Bennett's 1-yard TD run.

Sunseri found Mike Shanahan for a 17-yard score on Pittsburgh's first drive of the second half and ran in for a 5-yard touchdown with 1:53 left as the Panthers continued their success against Louisville (5-5, 3-2) with their fourth straight win in the series with a penalty-free performance.

"That was the first thing I told the players when we came in," Graham said. "That's how you measure your discipline as a football team and I think that was huge for us."

Victor Anderson scored from 3 yards out late in the third for Louisville, but the Cardinals didn't reach the end zone again until Teddy Bridgewater's 25-yard TD pass with 12 seconds left.

Trailing 14-0, the Cardinals sacked Sunseri on consecutive plays in the third quarter before Matt Yoklic shanked a 7-yard punt in the face of winds gusting up to 30 mph to give Louisville the ball on the Panthers 11.

The Cardinals scored two plays later on Anderson's 3-yard run, but Louisville lost its best chance to rally with 4:37 left in the fourth when Eli Rogers muffed his second punt of the game and Pittsburgh's Drew Carswell recovered.

Sunseri followed with his TD run and Bridgewater answered with his TD toss to Scott Radcliff to make it 21-14. Louisville recovered the onside kick, but Bridgewater never got the ball downfield on the final play of the game.

Graham took over the Panthers from Tulsa after a turbulent offseason in Pittsburgh that started when Dave Wannstedt resigned under pressure and Mike Haywood was fired after being arrested on a domestic violence charge.

After losing road games at Iowa and Rutgers, the Panthers finally broke through and also won for the first time when scoring less than 35 points.

"We have been getting better every week on defense," defensive end Aaron McDonald said. "We just keep getting better and better."

Shanahan's heads up effort helped give Pittsburgh a 14-0 lead early in the third quarter after he broke up a would-be interception by Andrew Johnson. On the next play, Sunseri, who finished 16 of 22 for 196 yards, found Shanahan over the middle and scored from 17 yards out.

""Everybody was going nuts because everyone thought it was (offense) pass interference," Sunseri said. "But (our) guys, they were able to concentrate on the next play."

Bennett's 1-yard TD run put Pittsburgh on the board first after he'd originally been scheduled to redshirt this season. He was forced into action last week in the aftermath of the season-ending knee injury to starting running back Ray Graham and finished with 69 yards on 13 carries.

""Isaac Bennett is going to be really special," Graham said.

Zach Brown added 86 yards on 15 carries.

Louisville beat then-No. 24 West Virginia 38-35 last week for coach Charlie Strong's first win over a ranked team in his short tenure.

That put the Cardinals in position to challenge for a Big East title, but those hopes are dwindling after allowing 200 yards rushing, their worst effort against the run since a 23-16 loss to Kentucky on Sept. 4, 2010 that was Strong's first game as coach.

"Today is a great example of no focus, no preparation," Strong said. "We can't handle winning. Offensively, we couldn't get in a rhythm. We have a long ways to go, a lot to work on."

Bridgewater went 18 of 26 for 165 yards passing and ran for 54 more, but made threw a pass picked off by linebacker Carl Fleming, who dropped into coverage. Louisville, who donned their Stars and Stripes helmets for the first time this season, wouldn't get close to scoring again until Yoklic's shank late in the third quarter.

"It was very frustrating. We took a step back," Bridgewater said. "We just didn't play good football on the offensive side of the ball."