Cardinals see Pitt game as must win already

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Louisville has played only three game this season, but as far as Greg Tomczyk is concerned, the Cardinals are at a critical junction.

"I think every game from here on out is a must win," the junior offensive tackle said. "I don't think we're looking at any game as one we can lose. We've made our mistakes, and we cannot afford any more."

That may seem like a high level of urgency for this time of year. Then again, Louisville (1-2) is tired of losing.

The Cardinals are 0-7 in their last seven game against FBS opponents dating back to last season. The only victory in that time came against FCS member Indiana State in this year's opener. The Sycamores led Louisville after one quarter but have been outscored 100-0 in three losses to FCS teams since.

Despite all that, Tomczyk and his teammates still feel like they can be a factor in the Big East race, which officially opens for the Cardinals on Friday night at home against Pittsburgh (3-1).

"We do feel as though we have a very good team and we can compete in the Big East," he said. "If we had cut down on the turnovers and mistakes this year, we would have won a couple of those games. We have as good a shot as anybody else, there's no doubt in my mind."

This team hasn't been as bad as its record suggests. Louisville twice led in the fourth quarter on the road against Kentucky before falling 31-27. Last week at Utah, the Cardinals fell behind 20-0 early after having a field goal blocked on their first drive and Trent Guy's fumble on a first-quarter kick return. They battled back to make it 23-14 in the fourth quarter but could get no closer.

So at least they've been competitive, which is more than you could say for them at the end of last year during blowout losses to Pitt (41-7) and Rutgers (63-14). You could call it progress, but progress without victories isn't going to satisfy a fan base that seems to have made up its mind about Steve Kragthorpe.

That's why Friday's game against the Panthers -- designated by the school as a "Black Out" -- is so pivotal, so soon. After this game, Louisville will welcome a good Southern Miss team to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium before going on the road to UConn and Cincinnati.

"We're definitely in a position where we need to win this football game," Kragthorpe said. "It's a big game for us, on national TV. We want to chase the cup, and in order to chase the cup, we've got to be winning football games in the Big East. To start out 1-0 would be a big feather in our cap."

To do so, the Cardinals need to avoid turnovers (they had three at Utah), run the ball effectively (star tailback Victor Anderson had just 22 yards and only 10 touches last week) and find ways to punch the ball into the end zone. Louisville is last in the Big East in both scoring and red zone efficiency.

"We have to put more points on the board," Kragthorpe said. "That's the bottom line."

One thing's for sure: complacency shouldn't be an issue. It's already crunch time in Louisville.

"I promise you on Friday we're going to come out blazing," Tomczyk said.