PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jeff Brohm prepared Louisville to be successful. It’s taken all of six games to get there.
Now comes perhaps the far trickier part for the 14th-ranked Cardinals (6-0, 3-0 ACC): figuring out how to handle it.
Fresh off a cathartic and impressive upset of Notre Dame, Louisville visits struggling Pittsburgh (1-4, 0-2) on Saturday hoping to avoid the kind of letdowns that the teams Brohm coached at Purdue experienced.
“We had three top-five wins at Purdue in six years, and every time we won, the next week we lost,” Brohm said. “So I understand how this game works. Hopefully, our players do.”
They might. Louisville’s best start since 2012 has been highlighted by grit. The Cardinals have been forced to come from behind in the second half three times already in wins against the Irish, Georgia Tech and N.C. State, tangible proof there is a belief up and down the roster of what is possible even when things get tight.
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“We got some good leadership,” Brohm said. “We played in some games that have gone down to the wire and I think we’ve hung in there, so we have to expect that, you know, this week is going to be the same deal and we have to be ready to play for 60 minutes.”
That’s something the Panthers (1-4, 0-2) have yet to do this season. Pitt has lost four straight since a victory against overmatched Wofford in the opener, leading head coach Pat Narduzzi to bench senior quarterback Phil Jurkovec in favor of Christian Veilleux.
The Panthers are searching for a spark after a difficult September in which points, yards and momentum were all in short supply. Pitt ranks at or near the bottom of the ACC in scoring and total offense during the bumpiest start of Narduzzi’s nine seasons on the job.
Narduzzi has made it a point to not lay all of the blame on Jurkovec, a Pittsburgh native who had previous stops at Notre Dame and Boston College before joining the Panthers.
“Obviously nobody in our program is happy with where we are right now,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve set an expectation and a bar up here the last few years, and we’re not reaching it. Again, it goes to everybody that sits in this room on a normal day here to get it done. Coaches coach, and players play. So nobody’s happy.”
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Pitt can reset its season if it can beat a ranked team for the eighth straight season under Narduzzi. It won’t be easy against the Cardinals, who are eyeing a serious run at the ACC title.
“We’re just taking it week by week,” said defensive end Ashton Gillotte. “We’ve got the 24-hour rule, (to) celebrate the win and then move on, get ready for the next opponent and that’s it.”
Louisville running back Jawhar Jordan thinks he’s one of the nation’s best rushers, a declaration that’s hard to dispute after he added two explosive scoring runs of 45 and 21 yards on the way to a season-high 143 on a career-best 21 carries against Notre Dame. He’s rushed for two of his three scoring plays of 70-plus yards to tie for ninth nationally with 653 yards, and trying to be involved in every offensive aspect.
“All around, I feel like I’ve improved my game, blocking-wise, catching the ball out there,” said Jordan, who leads the ACC with eight TDs. “I just like to do everything in my game, so that’s what we’re doing.”
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Veilleux may be making his first collegiate start on Saturday, but the Penn State transfer is familiar to Brohm, who recruited Veilleux while at Purdue.
“I’m sure he’s dying to get his shot to prove himself,” Brohm said. “This was a four-star quarterback who was talented and I’m sure they’re going to rally around him.”
Veilleux has completed 47% of his passes in spot duty, most notably in the second half of a loss to North Carolina after Jurkovec exited with an injury. He defended offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, putting the onus on the players to turn things around.
“Our plan is good. Our plays are good. Coaching is good,” he said. “We’ve just got to execute. At the end of the day, if you’re not executing, no matter what team you play for, you’re not going to win football games.”
Louisville forced five turnovers against Notre Dame, its highest total since recording eight last season against Wake Forest. That gives the Cardinals eight takeaways the past two games and a plus-6 margin that’s tied for 11th in FBS.
AP Sports Writer Gary Graves in Louisville, Kentucky contributed to this report.