Wake Forest and Louisville, the only two teams in the ACC Atlantic that currently own losing records — and the only teams in the conference yet to notch an ACC victory — will square off on Saturday at Cardinal Stadium. Fresh off an open date, the Cardinals return home to face the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest was handled on the road last Saturday by Florida State, 38-17.
The visitors have lost four of five, while the home team comes in losers of four straight. Louisville would have to win out to avoid its worst season ever under head coach Bobby Petrino. For the Demon Deacons, Dave Clawson is hoping to run the streak of consecutive winning seasons at the school to three.
After dropping the prior four matchups in the series, Wake Forest topped the Cardinals last season in Winston-Salem, 42-32. Louisville hasn’t lost five straight games since 1997. The Demon Deacons will try to avoid starting 0-4 in conference for the first time since 2014.
Wake Forest at Louisville
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 27 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: Raycom Sports
Spread: Louisville -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The Louisville ground game
When it comes to rushing yards per game this season in the ACC, only Florida State has been worse than Louisville. The Cardinals average less than 109 yards per game on the ground, and the team’s leading rusher is actually backup quarterback Malik Cunningham. No other player has more than 200 yards this season. Louisville managed a meager 47 rushing yards its last time out against Boston College in a 38-20 loss.
The good news for Louisville is that Wake Forest ranks dead last in the ACC in stopping the run. Last week against FSU, the Seminoles rushed for 132 yards against Wake Forest but on a season-high 4.6 yards per carry. Linebacker Justin Strnad leads the Demon Deacons in tackles this season with 46 stops while defensive tackle Willie Yarbary owns a team-high 5.5 tackles for a loss. As a team however, Wake ranks just 10th in the ACC and 78th in the country in that category.
2. Playmakers out wide
Getting consistency out of the quarterback position hasn’t been a strength for Louisville as both Jawon Pass and Cunningham have seen time under center. When it comes to playmakers out wide however, the Cardinals are hardly at a shortage. The overall struggles on offense have kept Dez Fitzpatrick and Jaylen Smith from making as many plays as they could have this season but when given opportunities, the two make for one of the best duos in the ACC. Essang Bassey is very good on the outside for Wake Forest, but the secondary overall has been one of many weaknesses for the Deacon defense. Wake allowed more than 350 passing yards to Florida State last week.
For Wake Forest, the name to know is sophomore Greg Dortch. Dortch seemed to be limited last week by injury and finished with just four catches for 24 yards against the Seminoles and was not back deep on punt returns. Still, Dortch leads the Demon Deacons in receptions, yards and touchdown catches and leads the ACC in the first two categories while ranking third in the other. Dortch also leads the country with two punt returns for scores. He’ll be the guy that Louisville needs to account for on Saturday.
Wake Forest and Louisville haven’t had the ball bounce their way, so to speak, this season and self-inflicted wounds should play a big role in Saturday’s contest. When it comes to turnover margin, Louisville is the worst team in the ACC at minus-nine for the year. The Cardinals are not only turning the ball over in bunches with 15 on the season, but many of those have been untimely.
The Demon Deacons rank 11th in the ACC in turnover margin this season at minus-three. It was an interception thrown by quarterback Sam Hartman last week that allowed FSU to start inside the Wake 10-yard-line and ultimately go ahead for good. In terms of penalties, Wake has been more disciplined, committing the fewest in the ACC and for the second fewest penalty yards. Louisville on the other hand is assessed the third-most penalty yards per game in the conference. Saturday’s game could come down to which team does the least to beat itself.
Having an extra week to prepare and this contest at Cardinal Stadium should be an advantage for Louisville, but reports about head coach Bobby Petrino’s buyout and a five-game losing streak have morale pretty low. It probably isn’t much higher for Wake Forest which has taken it on the chin in each of its last two games. The schedule down the stretch however, is more favorable to the Demon Deacons, who still see bowl-eligibility as a realistic option. Wake Forest also still appears to be a more together team at this point in the year.