After two less-than-impressive weeks on the road, the Louisville football Cardinals return home to face Wake Forest at 3:30 today. Here are the keys to the game and what to watch for as the Cards hope to get back above .500 in the ACC.
The Demon Deacons come in to Louisville with a 2-2 record. Their two wins have both been at home v. Gardner-Webb and Army, while both of their losses came on the road v. Louisiana-Monroe and Utah State. Defense has been the team’s strong point this season, as they come into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium ranking 21st nationally in total defense and 11th nationally in pass defense. Their offense thus far into the season makes Louisville’s struggles look like a Chip Kelly offense. They are averaging just 42 yards per game rushing, and they have been on the receiving end of 15 sacks and 38 tackles for loss. Louisville will be the first BCS conference opponent of their season.
The last time these two faced off was in the 2007 Orange Bowl. Louisville ultimately won that contest 29-17 behind 311 yards passing from QB Brian Brohm, 10 catches and 165 yards receiving from WR Harry Douglas, and 82 yards rushing on 16 carries from RB and current RB coach Kolby Smith. Both teams hit a rough patch following the game, but while Louisville resurrected behind Charlie Strong, Wake has yet to get back to BCS-level heights.
Names to watch for Wake Forest
Josh Banks and Zachary Allen. The sophomore DL Banks has a pair of sacks on the season, 4 tackles for losses of 15 yards, and has 13 total tackles on the year. Allen, a senior DL, has 20 total tackles on the year, also has a pair of sacks to his name and is second on the team with 5 tackles for losses of 18 yards. With Louisville’s struggles on the offensive line this season, if the group does not maintain their blocks, these two could be seeing a lot of time in the backfield.
Name to watch for Louisville
Could it be anyone else? Reggie Bonnafon will be getting his first collegiate start, and with the spotty play of Will Gardner, he has a chance to win the job for good today. A lot of pressure is on the young man, and fans have been clamoring for him to replace Gardner since the Virginia game. He has certainly shown flashes of elite playmaking ability, but can he do it against a far superior defense than Murray State? We shall see.
Freshman TE Devin Pike for Wake Forest was a one-time Louisville commitment under Charlie Strong. When Petrino took over, he and the Cards went their separate ways. He has played in all 4 games for the Demon Deacons this season, registering 4 catches for 26 yards.
Key for Louisville
Protect Bonnafon. He has the elusive running ability Gardner lacks, but that does not mean he should expect to take a running start before every snap. He needs enough time to see the field and make good decisions. If that happens, expect him to make plays. If it does not, expect him to make a lot of mistakes.
Key for Wake Forest
Rattle Bonnafon. Two keys, one player. Wake has been very good in their pass defense this season, so it should not be a given Bonnafon will find open receivers right at the snap. The line has been sub-par, allowing for several sacks and tackles for loss. If the front 7 of Wake can blast through the Louisville OL, Bonnafon could be in for a long day, and for someone with only minimal experience under center, that could mean for a game of mental errors.
Louisville 31, Wake Forest 10. Louisville’s slow start to the season has a lot to do with the QB and the OL’s inability to protect him. A faster, more elusive passer with better accuracy should play to Louisville’s favor. Wake’s pass defense may be bordering the top 10, but they have not faced a dual threat QB like Bonnafon, and their lack of success on the road vs. mediocre competition does not bode well for their chances in Louisville. The Cards will not suddenly transform into a vintage Petrino offense, but they will do enough to give themselves a comfortable cushion, and the defense will continue it’s high level of play to give the Cards their second ACC win.