Two of the ACC's more pleasant surprises will meet on Saturday in Winston-Salem. Louisville has already exceeded last season's win total and will take on a ranked Wake Forest team that is one of just two remaining unbeaten teams in the ACC.
The Cardinals used a late Blanton Creque field goal last week to down Boston College for their first ACC win since 2017. At 3-2 under first-year head coach Scott Satterfield, Louisville already has one more win than it did all of last season. Two weeks removed from a 27-24 win at Boston College, the No. 19 Demon Deacons are off to a 5-0 start with three wins decided by six points or fewer.
After losing the first four meetings between the schools, Wake Forest has won the last two in the series, including a 56-35 victory last season on the road. The 5-0 start is the best for Wake Forest since its 2006 ACC championship season. The Demon Deacons haven't started 6-0 since 1944.
Louisville at Wake Forest
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Wake Forest -6.5
When Louisville Has the Ball
Odds are that Malik Cunningham will again be the starter under center for Louisville on Saturday with Jawon Pass still day-to-day. Cunningham was regarded as a better runner than a passer, but he has thrown the ball just fine over the last month. With eight total touchdowns and just one interception, Cunningham would be the ACC’s leading passer if he had enough attempts to qualify.
The strength for Louisville this season has been the running game, as the Cardinals rank third in the ACC and 20th in the country at 228 yards per game. Javian Hawkins leads Louisville with 562 yards rushing on an efficient 6.2 yards per carry. Among ACC backs, only Boston College’s AJ Dillon and Florida State’s Cam Akers have more yards on the ground. Louisville is also solid at wide receiver with Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick.
The Wake Forest defense has yielded its fair share of yards this season, but it is giving up only 21 points per game. Senior linebacker Justin Strnad is the ACC’s leading tackler with 53 total stops. Up front, junior Carlos Basham Jr. has already equaled last season’s sack total with 4.5, which is good for fourth in the ACC, to go with 6.5 tackles for a loss.
Defensively, Wake Forest has been vulnerable against the pass. Amari Henderson has two interceptions to lead the team this season. Safety Nasir Greer ranks second for the Demon Deacons with 28 total tackles.
When Wake Forest Has the Ball
Quarterback Jamie Newman is the ACC’s top-rated passer. After a strong finish to 2018, Newman has truly taken flight this season with more than 300 passing yards per game, a 70 percent completion rate, 17 total touchdowns, and just three interceptions. Joining Newman in the backfield will be freshman running back Kenneth Walker III, who has 318 yards rushing on an ACC-best 9.6 yards per carry.
Out wide, Sage Surratt and Scotty Washington have already combined for almost 1,000 receiving yards. The two are tied for the ACC lead with six touchdown receptions. When it comes to total offense, only Clemson is averaging more yards and more points than Wake Forest among ACC teams.
The Louisville defense has given up at least 35 points to every Power 5 team it has played thus far. The Cardinals are experienced up front, but the majority of the pressure in its 3-4 scheme comes from the linebackers. Rodjay Burns and C.J. Avery are the best two at that position. Burns is the only Louisville player with multiple sacks this season with two.
Safeties Khane Pass and Russ Yeast are the top two tacklers for Louisville. The Cardinals have forced just five turnovers this year, which ranks 106th in the country. Both teams have very good specialists.
Louisville has been competitive for pretty much all of 2019, but Wake Forest will be a difficult matchup. The Demon Deacons have one of the ACC's best quarterbacks in Newman, who will be facing a defense that has struggled against the pass. For the Cardinals to pull the upset, Cunningham will have to make big-time throws. Louisville hasn't beaten a ranked team since topping No. 2 Florida State more than three years ago.
Prediction: Wake Forest 38, Louisville 27
(Top photo courtesy of @WakeFB)