Second-quarter explosion leads Pitt past Louisville
Coach Pat Narduzzi had some regrets — if only a few — after Pitt's 45-34 victory Saturday against Louisville.
But none hurt him as much as this one: He can't have a rematch with ACC Coastal Division champion North Carolina.
“We can't think about what we didn't do,” Narduzzi said. “We didn't take care of our business, and North Carolina has a good football team. I guess they deserve to be where they are. Sure wish we could have a rematch.”
Pitt's goal of winning an ACC championship disappeared at the start of its game when North Carolina defeated Virginia Tech in overtime to clinch the division title. The Tar Heels will play Clemson on Dec. 5 for the ACC championship.
Narduzzi said his team didn't know about the North Carolina victory until after the game.
“I kind of mentioned it to them,” he said.
From the outset, however, Pitt was focused on its own business.
The Panthers (8-3, 6-1) cruised to a 42-17 lead that seemed to be an indicator of a dominant victory. But Louisville (6-5, 5-3) trimmed the lead to eight points at the start of the fourth quarter, largely because Pitt's pass defense allowed 355 yards and three touchdown passes.
Before a crowd of 42,119 at Heinz Field, Pitt won despite scoring only a field goal after halftime.
“Just another step forward,” Narduzzi said, not wanting to appear excessively pleased with his team's second consecutive victory. “I don't think they had a whole lot of fun at the end of the game, even singing the fight song (to fans in one corner of Heinz Field).
“Which is good. The bar is up there,” he said, raising his hand over his head. “Looking for better than what we got.
“We'll take it any way we can get it.”
Pitt was at its best in the second quarter, when it scored 35 points on five touchdowns. Its 42-point total before halftime was the most since scoring 42 at Rutgers in 2003.
Quarterback Nathan Peterman threw a career-high four touchdown passes in a little more than nine minutes — one an impressive pitch to wide receiver Tyler Boyd, who was double-teamed in the end zone. Cornerback Avonte Maddox also returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown.
Yet Louisville fought back and appeared able to make a game of it in the second half.
Narduzzi said he wasn't worried, and his halftime speech to his team reflected that.
“I told them, ‘I'm not worrying about winning this game,' ” he said. “It's just about how many points we are going to win by.
“That's kind of the attitude. We knew we weren't going to lose the game.
“Louisville must have made some plays, but we made more of them today.”
The plays came from Peterman and Boyd and three other sources:
• Dontez Ford (a touchdown reception for the second consecutive week).
• Fullback George Aston, a former walk-on who caught two 4-yard flips for touchdowns.
• Running back Qadree Ollison, who ran for 152 yards and a touchdown and became the fifth Pitt freshman at hit 1,000 yards (1,011).
“I thought we were clicking really well,” said Peterman, who completed 22 of 34 passes for 232 yards. He threw no interceptions for seventh time in nine starts.
He said the Louisville comeback didn't cause panic on the sideline, but it pointed out some problems.
“It's always about the next play,” he said. “There are some errors mentally and throughout the second half to correct.”
Then there was the epic game by senior defensive end Ejuan Price, who recorded five sacks, the most by an FBS player this season (at least before the games Saturday night).
“Early in the first quarter, I said they can't block Ejuan,” Narduzzi said, “Staying low, coming around the corner, speed rush. That's a giant man's game.”
Mix all the ingredients, and you get the most Pitt regular-season victories (eight) since 2009 and its best all-time conference record (6-1).
Narduzzi expects better, but he was pleased Pitt kept attacking, even during Louisville's rally.
“You can't play scared,” he said “You're playing to win, not playing not to lose.”