Wide receiver Aundre Wright ran 7 yards for his first college touchdown after having a long scoring run called back by a holding penalty and Pittsburgh turned four of Louisville's five turnovers into scores while routing the Cardinals 41-7 on Saturday.
The Panthers (7-2, 3-1 Big East) assured themselves of their first bowl bid and winning season in coach Dave Wannstedt's four years, using Louisville's numerous mistakes -- including two fumbled punts -- to overcome LeSean McCoy's career-low 39 yards rushing.
"That's awesome," guard C.J. Davis said of Pitt's first bowl trip since 2004. "This is my first one, this is the first one for most of us."
Pitt, still in the running for the Big East title, ended a seven-game losing streak to Louisville (5-4, 1-3) that dated to 1983 and included four losses in Pittsburgh. The Panthers followed up their 36-33, four-overtime win at Notre Dame with a strong game, something they couldn't do while losing to Bowling Green and Rutgers at home after previously moving into the Top 25.
"It really hasn't been too good for us, being a Top 25 team, but, hey, we finally got a good game, a blowout game and everybody's feeling happy," wide receiver Oderick Turner said. "It shows we have more than just a running game."
McCoy ran 11 yards for a touchdown on a direct snap in the fourth quarter to make it 27-7, but was in negative yardage at one point in the second half after gaining at least 142 yards in each of his previous five games. The sophomore's career low had been 55 yards against South Florida last season.
"You could tell their mindset, they came in thinking, 'We're not going to let LeSean do anything.' And they did that," McCoy said. "We kind of figured they'd do that that, but we had so many things to try to get around that, with all the reverses and everything."
Defensively, the Panthers didn't resemble the team that was beaten 54-34 by Rutgers in its last home game and had allowed 86 points in its last two, creating three touchdowns with fumbles and intercepting two passes, one for a touchdown.
"When you turn the ball over on special teams like that, it can be very difficult to recover from," Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe said.
Bill Stull returned after sitting out the Notre Dame game to throw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Turner for a 17-0 lead late in the second quarter. Stull was 15-of-27 for 216 yards and no interceptions.
Louisville never got any offense going until Hunter Cantwell threw a 30-yard scoring pass to Troy Pascley with Pitt up 20-0. Cantwell was benched in the first half after going 3-of-10 for 35 yards, but returned in the second half.
"It's never much fun to be taken out," Cantwell said.
Matt Simms, a redshirt freshman and the son of former Giants quarterback Phil Simms, replaced Cantwell to go 4-of-10 for 39 yards and an interception. His father, in town to broadcast the Colts-Steelers game on Sunday, watched from a private box.
"We're 5-4 and two weeks ago everybody loved us. Now, nobody loves us," said Kragthorpe, whose team has lost to Syracuse and Pitt since upsetting then-No. 14 South Florida. "That's the nature of this business and the nature of football."
Louisville's mistakes came early and often.
Bobby Buchanan muffed Dave Brytus' punt after Pitt's first possession, with Jovani Chappel recovering to set up Conor Lee's 30-yard field goal.
The next time Pitt had the ball, Wright -- a freshman -- took a reverse handoff and ran down Pitt's sideline for an apparent 76-yard touchdown run, but the score was nullified by a holding penalty on Cedric McGee, causing a disbelieving Wannstedt to run 10 yards onto the field to protest.
Stull came back on the next play to hit freshman Jonathan Baldwin on a 36-yard completion to the Cardinals' 30. Five plays later, Pitt went back to Wright again on another wide receiver run for the touchdown that made it 10-0.
"We tried everything," Wannstedt said. "We dialed it up offensively and ... it was neat to get Aundre involved."
Doug Beaumont's fumbled punt midway through the second quarter again gave Pitt excellent field position at its own 46, with Stull ending that drive with his TD pass to Turner. The Panthers turned it into a rout in the fourth quarter as Ricky Gary scored on a 3-yard fumble recovery and Scott McKillop returned a Cantwell-thrown interception 18 yards to score.