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Louisville Cardinals vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons Preview and Prediction

Lamar Jackson

Lamar Jackson

At the beginning of the season, one would have assumed the Louisville Cardinals would be a major favorite heading into this weekend's game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

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However, Louisville has not been consistent, and Wake Forest looks a little better than most expected, so this figures to be a more even game than initially thought.

The Cardinals enter with a 5-3 overall record with a 2-3 mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference, while Wake Forest comes in at 4-3 and 1-3. At this point, those latter numbers put both teams out of the race to win the ACC's Atlantic Division, but these both look like solid bowl teams.

Louisville is coming off a 31-28 win over Florida State in Tallahassee, and although head coach Bobby Petrino's team is out of the College Football Playoff race much earlier than it was a year ago, the Cardinals are still a dangerous out for anyone on their schedule. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is not at the pace statistically he was in his Heisman Trophy-winning season in 2016, but in some ways he has improved.

The Demon Deacons have proven to be a thorn in everyone's side this fall. This isn't the most talented team, but head coach Dave Clawson has gotten the most out of it so far, and Wake has been competitive with the toughest teams on its schedule.

Louisville at Wake Forest

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 28 at 12:20 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ACC Network

Spread: Louisville -3

Three Things to Watch

1. Mobile number

Really almost all season, but especially the last few weeks, the Demon Deacons have had to face mobile quarterbacks. They did so against Clemson three weeks ago, then Georgia Tech last week, a team that basically requires a dual threat. But as the Demon Deacons prepare to face Louisville, they will have a whole different challenge in Jackson, who is simply on another level when it comes to speed and running ability from the quarterback position. For the season, Jackson has rushed for 868 yards and 11 touchdowns on 136 attempts. Wake Forest is 87th in the nation in run defense and has allowed 182.7 yards per game on the ground. While Louisville has other weapons capable of doing damage, it's Jackson the Demon Deacons have to be worried about the most.

2. Pressure cooker

Each team can bring the heat when it comes to a pass rush. Wake Forest leads the nation in tackles for a loss, an impressive achievement given the amount of talented defenses around the country. One player whom Louisville's offensive line will have to account for at all times is defensive end Duke Ejiofor (above, right). Through seven games, he has 5.5 sacks to go along with 13 tackles for a loss. On the other side, Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford will have to contend with Louisville's best pass rusher in sophomore Jon Greenard. This season, Greenard has made five sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss. The more difficult job no doubt falls on Ejiofor's shoulders with Jackson's elite escapability, but how each team can create and sustain pressure will be a key factor in determining the outcome.

3. Wake weapon

There have been a number of terrific breakout freshman performers this season in the ACC, and Wake has one of the best in redshirt frosh Greg Dortch. He's not going to blow anyone away with his size, but the 5-foot-9, 165-pounder from Virginia has the speed, route-running ability and hands to be a threat every time Wolford drops back to pass. Last week, Dortch caught eight passes for 125 yards. For the season, Dortch has made 43 receptions for 555 yards and five touchdowns. Only one freshman in the country, Ball State's Justin Hall, has caught more passes (46) than Dortch. If Wake Forest gets caught in a shootout with Jackson and Louisville, the Demon Deacons will need another big game from Dortch to keep up.

Final Analysis

Louisville has to feel good about the fact that — unlike last season — the Cardinals did not let things go off the rails once some real adversity hit. In 2016, the Cardinals closed the season with three losses in a row. Despite some early stumbles, Louisville responded with a big road win over a struggling but still talented Florida State team. Although Wake Forest has made some strides against the upper-echelon teams in the league, the Cardinals bring a level of talent that still trumps what the Demon Deacons can bring to the table. Expect Lamar Jackson to have another big game, and although Wake Forest should keep it close, Louisville's talent edge should win out.

College football rankings: Louisville

Prediction: Louisville 35, Wake Forest 31

— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.