Louisville's Defense Ripe for Continued Abanikanda Success

Photo Credit: Keith Srakocic/Associated Press


This week, the Pitt Panthers travel to Louisville to take on the Cardinals in each team's 7th game of the regular season.

It's been an up and down year for the Louisville Cardinals.  Literally.  They have followed every win with a loss and vice versa.  They feasted on future Big 12 teams UCF and South Florida, while also picking up a win against the Virginia Cavaliers, the clear worst team in the ACC.  

However, within those wins they took losses all to ACC Atlantic foes. They loss to Syracuse to open the season and then took losses to Florida State and Boston College intermixed with their wins.  They are coming off that win against Virginia two weeks ago, but similar to Pitt, are also coming off a bye week last week.  

Despite the ups and downs, one constant has plagued Louisville.  Their run defense is not good.  In their losses to Florida State and Syracuse, they gave up over 200 yards rushing and weren't much better in their loss to Boston College, giving up 144.  However, 15 yards were lost on sacks of the BC quarterback, Phil Jurkovec.  It's still a wonder to me why college stats tally sacks as loss of rushing yards while the NFL does not.

However, even in their win against UCF, they got trounced in the ground game.  They gave up 208 rushing yards to the Knights.  The only teams they were really able to shut down were South Florida and Virginia.  However, they did give up a 37-yard rush to South Florida's K'Wan Powell and Virginia didn't even attempt to run.  The Cavaliers entire offense goes through quarterback Brennan Armstrong.  They attempted just 11 rushes against the Cardinals with guys other than Armstrong.

If we were still discussing last season's prolific pass offense with Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison, we'd wonder why I was talking so much about Louisville's run defense, or lack thereof.  Well this season is a totally different offense for the Pitt Panthers.  Unfortunately, Kedon Slovis and Konata Mumpfield have not filled the very big holes left behind by Pickett and Addison.  Fortunately, Israel Abanikanda has filled in for anyone who has left the Pitt offense in the last decade.

Izzy currently leads the nation in all-purpose yards per contest, and even with the bye week ranks 6th in the nation in total rushing yards and is tied for 2nd in rushing touchdowns.  He has totaled 830 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns in just six games.  He also has totaled 228 return yards this season on special teams.  Quite simply, he's a machine.  

After a disappointing loss to Georgia Tech, Abanikanda single-handedly willed the Panthers to victory against Virginia Tech.  He ran for 320 yards and six touchdowns on 36 carries.  *Record Scratch*

What?

320 rushing yards and six touchdowns in a single game against a conference opponent.  It's unbelievable.  Truly unbelievable.  

Were it not for Abanikanda, it's not a stretch to say that Pitt suffers back-to-back embarrassing losses.  This in large part is due to Pitt's pass offense disappearing this season.  While depending on the run has been beneficial for the Panthers, it's still concerning that transfer QB, Kedon Slovis has been non-existent for most of this season.  

Additionally, Pitt's defense took a huge step back last week.  They gave up over 400 total yards to the Hokies.  That won't get it done as the Panthers make their way deeper into the ACC schedule.  Especially going up against Lousiville's Malik Cunningham this weekend.

I expect a huge game out of Abanikanda on Saturday and it appears that it will be needed.  Pitt should run the ball until it stops working, and Louisville's defense doesn't appear to have the ability to stop it from working.  I'm not thrilled with new Offensive Coordinator, Frank Cignetti, and his conservative play calling so far, but why stop giving Izzy the ball?  This weekend will just add to the resume that Abanikanda is building, and should lead to another Pitt victory.

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