In the second College Football Playoff rankings released this past Tuesday, the Louisville Cardinals moved up one spot from seventh to sixth. It appears the Cardinals will need Clemson to possibly lose two out of its last three games of the season to gain one of the four playoff spots at the end of the season.
But Louisville (8-1, 6-1 ACC) also must continue to handle its own business, with this week’s opponent being Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons (6-3, 3-2 ACC) have been one of the surprising teams and became bowl eligible with a 27-20 win over Virginia. That victory all but guarantees that Wake Forest will play in its first bowl game since 2011.
Saturday will be the fourth all-time meeting between Wake Forest and Louisville. The Cardinals have won the previous three matchups, including the 2007 Orange Bowl when Louisville was a member of the Big East and took on the ACC champion Demon Deacons. Last season, the Cardinals avoided the upset in Winston-Salem, N.C., with a 20-19 victory that was fueled by Wake Forest’s five second-half turnovers.
Wake Forest at Louisville
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Louisville -35
Three Things to Watch
1. John Wolford
A major reason for the turnaround of the Demon Deacons this season has been the play of quarterback John Wolford. His passing numbers won’t wow anybody (1,313 yds., 5 TDs, 7 INTs), but Wolford’s dual-threat ability is something defenses must be aware of each week.
Against Virginia last week, Wolford rushed for 94 yards (which tied his career high) and a touchdown on 16 carries. On the season, Wolford has 456 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
Coming into this game, Louisville is ranked seventh in rushing defense, so Wolford’s running room could be limited on Saturday. He must play a nearly flawless game for Wake Forest to pull off the upset.
2. Lamar Jackson
With each passing week, Lamar Jackson just seems to break more records while padding his Heisman Trophy résumé. In Louisville’s 52-7 victory over Boston College last week, Jackson threw for 231 yards and four touchdowns with an interception. He also rushed for 185 yards and three more scores, bringing his season total to a whopping 45 (26 passing, 19 rushing) total touchdowns.
Among the many records he has already set, Jackson last week became the first quarterback in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. Wake Forest’s defense has quietly been solid against the run, ranking 35th in the nation. But this unit, starting with defensive end Duke Ejiofor and linebacker Marquel Lee, will need to put forth its best effort if it wants to slow done Jackson and the nation’s No. 1 offense.
3. Jessie Bates III
Wake Forest’s redshirt freshman safety should be one of the front-runners for defensive rookie of the year in the ACC. Last week, Bates recorded his fifth interception of the season and ran it back 39 yards for what turned out to be the deciding score in the Demon Deacons’ 27-20 win over Virginia.
Bates’ 63 tackles are the second most among freshmen in the ACC. He also is tied for second in the FBS with those five picks and is third in yards (158). He is one of seven players in the FBS with more than one pick-six this season.
Louisville shouldn’t have a hard time with Wake Forest, but this does have the potential to be a close game for a couple of quarters. The Demon Deacons need to rely on their running game, which averages 164 yards per game, to keep Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals’ potent offense off the field.
If Wake Forest can limit Louisville’s offensive possessions, than the Demon Deacons have a chance of hanging around. But even if Jackson and company don’t put up huge numbers like last week’s totals against Boston College (515 yards, 52 points), the Cardinals have more than enough firepower to win this game.
Prediction: Louisville 41, Wake Forest 20
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.