Pitt’s defense has faced several talented offensive players this season, but the Panthers have not faced an offensive unit like Louisville.

The Cardinals, with strong-armed Brian Brohm at quarterback, average nearly 47 points per game – almost 65 in three home games – and were heavy favorites in the Big East Conference from the outset this season.

But they haven’t faced a defense like Pitt’s, either. The Panthers (4-4, 3-1) face Louisville (5-2, 1-2) tonight at 7:30 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Ky.

“There’s no question that defensively we’ve kind of matured or evolved, progressed,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. “I think we’ve gotten better. ... But teams really haven’t moved the ball against us. I think that’s why this week will be a challenge for us because these guys do that. They explode.”

Louisville’s offense is more ball-control oriented, rather than one that uses a vertical passing game – although it’s had its share of big plays – but Brohm has dissected opposing defenses with ease. He has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for 2,102 yards and 14 touchdowns with just three interceptions. Six players have double-digit receptions, and 14 have caught at least one pass.

Joshua Tinch leads with 37 catches, while Montrell Jones and Mario Urrutia have 26 and 25, respectively. Urrutia is the big-play receiver for the Cardinals with a 23.1-yard average per catch and five touchdowns in just six games. Louisville’s running game is not overly strong, but Michael Bush more than holds his own. A bruising, 6-foot-3, 250-pound running back, Bush has 813 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns. And he runs behind a veteran line that averages about 6-5 and 310 pounds.

“They have a great offense – the No. 1 passing offense in the country – and a real good running back,” Pitt defensive end Chris McKillop said. “So, it’s a big challenge for us, but I think we’re up for it. It’s an ESPN game, but we’re not trying to get caught up in the hype. We just want to play our game.

“Brohm was the No. 1 quarterback coming out of high school, and he seems to be living up to that ranking. So, we just have to throw different defenses at him, some different blitzes, and maybe we can get him out of rhythm. It’s not easy to do, but we’re going to give it a shot.”

Defensively, Louisville has allowed nearly four touchdowns per game. But, like Pitt, the Cardinals have not given up too many long drives. In their two losses – 45-14 at South Florida and 46-44 in three overtimes at West Virginia – turnovers and poor special teams play led to their downfall.

Louisville’s best defensive player is 6-foot, 250-pound senior end Elvis Dumervil. He’s having a spectacular season with 47 tackles, including 28 solo, and eight forced fumbles. Dumervil is also closing in on an NCAA single-season sack record with 20.

“They actually have two very good D-ends,” Pitt left tackle Charles Spencer said. “He’s a little shorter than some guys, so if you allow him he’ll get lower leverage and try to bull-rush you. And he’s very quick off the ball. That’s why I have to jump off the ball and get off before him.

“But we can’t just worry about one guy. I believe their whole defense is good, so we can’t sleep on anybody. My focus is going to be Dumervil, so I have to concentrate on him. I have to stop him from getting to the quarterback and try to give Tyler (Palko) time to throw the football.”

Notes: The only Pitt player unlikely to play against Louisville is senior defensive tackle Thomas Smith. His toe injury has improved, but he has not practiced this week. ... Freshman Rashaad Duncan would start in his place.

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