Pittsburgh's Jabaal Sheard-led defense forced a fumble that led to a touchdown and never allowed Louisville's ineffective offense to generate any momentum during a 20-3 victory Saturday that kept the Panthers unbeaten in the Big East.
Ray Graham and Dion Lewis ran for scores in the second half as Pittsburgh (5-3, 3-0) scored the game's only two touchdowns after settling for a 6-3 halftime lead on two Dan Hutchins field goal.
Louisville (4-4, 1-2) never mounted a scoring drive after Chris Philpott kicked a 35-yard field goal on the game's opening series.
The Cardinals, held to 185 yards on 55 plays, also were hampered by Bilal Powell's right knee injury that sidelined the nation's No. 4 rusher for all but two plays of the second half.
Powell, who came in averaging 143.3 yards, had 11 carries for 64 yards but didn't carry the ball again after absorbing a hit on his knee during a 9-yard run early in the third quarter.
Powell did not look to be seriously injured — he walked off the field without assistance — but did not return to the game.
Louisville quarterback Adam Froman, sacked three times while being constantly harassed, was 13 of 22 for 82 yards. His replacement, Justin Burke, was intercepted on his only attempt of the game.
Sheard, despite being double-teamed at times, forced two fumbles, two sacks and three tackles for losses while frustrating a Cardinals offense that has scored one touchdown in 10 quarters.
Pittsburgh, now the undisputed favorite to win the Big East and advance to a BCS bowl, did little offensively in the first half against a Cardinals defense that had shut out two of its last three opponents. Much like their 41-21 victory the week before against Rutgers, the Panthers were more effective during the second half despite being held to 255 yards overall.
Pitt's defense had much to do with that.
Graham scored from the 21 to finish a 71-yard drive that started the second half and was Pitt's best of the game. Tino Sunseri (13 of 24, 123 yards) completed a 14-yard pass to Mike Cruz on third-and-6 from the Louisville 41 and scrambled 13 yards for a first down on a third-and-9 play.
Louisville then drove from its 4 to Pitt's 34 during the series in which Powell was injured, but Sheard punched the ball away from Froman as the quarterback lined up in a shotgun formation on third-and-7. Myles Caragein, a 290-pound nose tackle, picked up the ball and rambled for 56 yards down the Louisville sideline before being pulled down at the 5 on Pitt's longest fumble recovery in nine years.
Lewis needed three carries from the 5 before scoring on a 1-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter. Lewis, coming off a 130-yard game against Rutgers, had 18 carries for 65 yards. Graham ran for 40 yards on nine carries.
Sheard also forced a fumble on Louisville's final play before halftime.
The Cardinals were so ineffective offensively that, despite trailing 20-3 early in the fourth quarter, they chose to attempt a 30-yard field goal by Philpott rather than gamble on a fourth down from the 13. Compounding Louisville's frustration, Philpott was wide right with the kick.