Pitt needed a win, and there are certainly worse ways to snap out of a slump than a top-15 win over Louisville.
It wasn’t always pretty on a cold, rainy night in Pittsburgh, but with a dedicated Panther Pitt staying throughout the second half, Pitt did enough to pull out a huge win over an unbeaten Cardinals squad — and showed that the season isn’t quite over yet.
Let’s take a look at some of the takeaways from the big win at Acrisure Stadium.
You Can Win With Christian Veilleux
It took a few drives to settle in, but once Christian Veilleux stood in the pocket and delivered a perfect ball to a streaking Bub Means for a 46-yard touchdown late in the first quarter, Pitt outscored Louisville 38-14.
Veilleux, making his first career collegiate start, started off 0-of-5, but he finished the night by going 12-of-21 for 200 yards and two touchdowns — with a potential touchdown pass bouncing off Gavin Bartholomew’s hands at the goal line.
It wasn’t a perfect start for Veilleux, but he showed some serious zip on his passes, he connected on a couple of pretty deep balls and most importantly, he gave Pitt a chance to win.
First career start.
Unbeaten top-15 opponent.
217 total yards. 2 TD. 0 INT.
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) October 15, 2023
“Threw for 200 yards,” Narduzzi said. “That last fourth down touchdown pass was right on the money to Konata. Just made plays when he needed to. And again, our receivers made plays. Our offensive line did a great job. I think we gave up one sack on the day, so they did a good job protecting against that defensive line, and that pressure that they bring every day, just can’t say enough about what the offense did when they were out there and obviously the defense.”
I don’t think there’s any doubt now that Veilleux is going to be the guy now going forward. He has some things to clean up, but if he’s able to clean those up and show some progression over the next six games, Pitt just may have its starting quarterback of the future.
And, I mean, with a chance to close out Louisville, Veilleux lofted a perfect ball to Konata Mumpfield for a touchdown on fourth down. Those sort of plays have eluded Pitt for a year and a half now.
“We were going to go for it regardless,” Narduzzi said. “Field goal didn’t do us any good at that point. We were going for it just to eat the clock up, trust in our defense, and had no thoughts of kicking a field goal and having anything bad happen there, and again, the favorite play was that victory formation at the end.”
Veilleux will have his next chance against a Wake Forest secondary that is ranked toward the bottom of the ACC in pass defense.
Takeaways Will Make a Difference
Pitt entered Saturday night with just one interception and a couple of fumble recoveries. Three turnovers through five games. Three against Louisville.
M.J. Devonshire and A.J. Woods picked off Louisville quarterback Jack Plummer in the third quarter, turning the tide of the game, and Samuel Okunlola stripped Plummer and recovered the football in the first half.
The Devonshire pick-six, coming off a nearly flawless touchdown drive to take the lead in the third quarter, stretched the Pitt lead to 10 points and really felt like a turning point in the win over the Cardinals.
“You know, Devonshire was outstanding,” Narduzzi said. “We had a couple holding or PIs, whatever, back there, but M.J. was outstanding. That pick-six, to do that in front of Tony Dorsett and Darrelle Revis up there, that’s big time.
“I think I told him right before that series, hey, you’re going to take one to the house, and sure enough, he did. It was time — turnovers were timely and really good.”
Confirmed: M.J. Devonshire is the fastest man alive after an interception.
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) October 15, 2023
There’s way too much talent in the secondary to pick off just one pass through five weeks, and it came a head Saturday night. Plummer threw the ball 52 times, and he racked up some yards, but Pitt made him pay.
Plummer targeted Devonshire 14 times, completing just four passes for 34 yards, and Devonshire broke up a couple of passes and returned his pick for a touchdown.
It was a pretty good game for Devonshire. It was a pretty good second half for the Pitt defense as a whole.
In the second half, Louisville’s drive chart looks like this: turnover on downs, punt, interception, interception, missed field goal, turnover on downs, turnover on downs, turnover on downs. 0 points. 227 yards. Two turnovers.
“We’ll take 24 hours and just bring it back together,” Narduzzi said. “Again, shutout in the second half. I told them at halftime, defense, you’re shutting them out in the second half. We did a great job adjusting baits in the game, and we said they’re not scoring in the second half. They don’t score, we win. That’s exactly what happened.
“You’re in the game — I think anytime the offense is making plays, and M.J.’s interception for a touchdown, just being in the game in the fourth quarter and the third quarter and the second half is always critical. We hadn’t really been in that situation. We played well enough in the first half to give us a chance in the second half to be balanced offensively, and guys made plays.”
No Reason Not to Start Sammy O
I don’t see a single reason why Samuel Okunlola shouldn’t be a starting defensive end right now.
“He keeps getting better,” Narduzzi said. “Coach Partridge has been impressed with him in practice the last few weeks. He just keeps getting better. He’s just got to keep getting more reps. Him and Dayon (Hayes) and Nate Temple had a good day, and Sammy O is just going to continue to get more and more.”
Well, he needs more reps. He didn’t start against Louisville, but he did receive a career-high 43 snaps, and he turned it into three pressures, two hurries and a strip sack (and recovery).
Strip sack by Samuel Okunlola 🎥
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) October 14, 2023
Okunlola, who has received overwhelming praise since arriving as an early enrollee in January of 2022, has only received 78 defensive snaps this season (43 in pass rush opportunities), but he’s tied for the team lead in sacks.
This isn’t to say that Nate Temple and Bam Brima shouldn’t have their snaps, but Okunlola’s impact in minimal opportunities is far superior to what the veteran edge rushers have produced.
I know Narduzzi will say that Okunlola is getting better and earning more snaps, but he needs to start. He’s the kind of impact defender Pitt is looking for — even as a second-year freshman.
There are quite a few youngsters across the roster — looking at Kenny Johnson, Sean FitzSimmons, Braylan Lovelace, Kyle Louis and Jordan Bass.
Have to Build Off Big Win
I don’t know if Pitt will be good enough the rest of the way to sneak into a bowl game, but man, the Panthers showed they’re not done just yet.
It was going to take a complete team effort to knock off No. 14 Louisville Saturday night at Acrisure Stadium, and that’s exactly what Pitt did for the first time this season. In Christian Veilleux’s first career start, he didn’t just do enough to not lose the game but played solid football all night long. And the defense completely shut down a powerful Louisville offense in the second half.
When Pitt walked off the field late Saturday night, the Panthers walked off with their highest-ranked win since knocking off No. 2 Miami during the 2017 season — with another Pitt quarterback making his first career start.
“I don’t know where to start,” Narduzzi said. “We talk about team, that was a team win. I told our guys all week we were going to win this football game, period. Our guys were going to just find a way to get it done. Doesn’t matter what it was. Each one of our kids had a little blue vase, as well. They each had a blue vase in their pocket. As a matter of fact, Branson Taylor comes up to me on the field and goes, I had it in my socks.
“We were going to find a way to get it done. I’m just happy as heck for our football team. We needed that in a bad way.”
It was the kind of performance that Narduzzi said says a lot about this team.
“Like I told you, we talk about playing together and staying together,” Narduzzi said. “That’s who our guys are. They’re going to continue to play. Gave us a little fuel for the second half of the season. Just tells you what we have in that locker room.”
Pitt has Wake Forest up next, and a stretch of Notre Dame, Florida State and Duke ahead, but if Pitt showed anything Saturday night, it’s that the Panthers aren’t done fighting.