Spread: Louisville -2.5
How to Watch / Listen: Noon kickoff on ACC RSN
Last Time: Wake Forest jumped to a hot start and never looked back. The Deacons scored 28 first half points and compiled 625 total yards. Senior quarterback John Wolford had a career day with 461 passing yards and five touchdowns, while receiver Greg Dortch had 11 catches for 161 yards and a school-record four touchdowns as Wake Forest rolled to a 42-32 win over the Cardinals.
Louisville leads the all-time series 4-1.
The State of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons
After blowing Louisville out last year, Wake Forest finished with an 8-5 record, one of their better seasons in a while and took a Belk Bowl victory over Texas A&M.
But life hasn’t been glamorous for the Demon Deacons in 2018. Wake Forest had to replace a lot of key players on defense (including safety Jessie Bates and interior lineman Duke Ejiofor), as well as longtime starting quarterback John Wolford. They also fired defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel four games into the season, after a 56-27 loss to then No. 8 Notre Dame.
Currently, Wake Forest sits at 3-4, having lost four of their last five games. Their wins this year have come at Tulane (23-17 in overtime), and at home against Towson (51-20) and Rice (56-24).
Key Players: WR Greg Dortch, RB Cade Carney, S Cameron Glenn
Many will remember Greg Dortch from last year’s game between Louisville and Wake Forest, where he had the best game of his young career. Dortch had 11 catches for 161 yards and four touchdowns (and nearly a fifth, but he fumbled the ball out-of-bounds trying to reach for the goal line). Unfortunately, he also suffered a punctured small intestine during the game, which cut his fantastic freshman season short.
Dortch doesn’t have eye-popping measurables (listed a 5’9″ and 170 pounds), but he is undoubtedly Wake’s best playmaker on offense. He has great speed, route running and ball skills, some of which make him one of the better receivers in the ACC. He leads the entire team in almost every receiving category by a wide margin, posting 52 catches for 616 yards and five touchdowns. Expect him to be a focal point in Wake’s offense again, as they utilize him at every level of the field to test Louisville’s vulnerable back seven.
The main identity in the “Clawfense,” though, is the running game. Wake is 30th in the FBS with 213.3 rushing yards per game, and they’ll use multiple guys. Cade Carney leads the pack (489 yards, four touchdowns), and they will use Matt Colburn (360 yards, two touchdowns) and quarterback Sam Hartman often. Against a Louisville defense that has struggled stopping the run in recent weeks, the Wake offense could have the potential to score plenty of points again.
Wake doesn’t have a lot of playmakers on defense, in what is statistically one of the worst in the ACC. If Louisville finds itself losing the turnover battle though, watch for their secondary with safety Cameron Glenn, and receiver-turned-defensive back Chuck Wade (one pick-six).
Can Louisville’s Offense Sustain Momentum?
To put it lightly, Wake Forest’s defense has been disappointing this entire season. They rank 115th in rushing defense (221.57 yards per game), 118th in passing defense (276.9 yards per game), and only have 12 sacks along with three interceptions in 2018. If Louisville’s offense is going to have a signature outing this season, this is the game that they’re going to have to do it in.
The Cardinals have to move the ball early, and they have to stay consistent in their gameplan, especially in the second half. Louisville has been a poor second half team in recent weeks for multiple reasons; against Florida State, they abandoned the running game despite having their best outing to date, at the time. Against Georgia Tech, they couldn’t keep themselves from turning the football over (and their defense literally couldn’t force a punt). And against Boston College, a poor offensive line performance and general inability to move the ball doomed them.
Given that, they have to run the ball and sustain lengthy drives. Wake Forest has given up 1,331 yards on 197 carries (6.75 carries) in their last six games, allowing 200+ yards in four of their last five games. Wake’s defensive line has struggled in setting the tone upfront, so a healthy diet of Hassan Hall and / or Trey Smith would do wonders.
That would also set up Louisville with a big day in the passing game. If Hall and Smith can get big chunks of yards and produce, then Jawon Pass should be able to throw it downfield against a vulnerable secondary. With Louisville’s wide receivers, Jaylen Smith and Dez Fitzpatrick have to be productive at a high level.
The “Clawfense” v. Louisville Back Seven
A lot of people are expecting Louisville v. Wake Forest to be a shootout, and it’s not hard to see why. Both defenses have been poor this season, and with a big-time playmaker like what Wake Forest has in Dortch, the Deacons should once again be able to put up points.
To do so, expect Wake Forest to push the tempo like they did last year. They run about 88 plays per game, which is staggering for multiple reasons. Louisville’s defense hasn’t handled tempo well, and they’ve been prone to staying on the field way too long. They also haven’t been able to handle the run very effectively at times. Given that the “Clawfense” has been predicated on running the ball inside — and in the last two seasons, throwing it to Greg Dortch whenever possible — they can exploit a Louisville defense that has troubles playing to their assignments.
The main focus of the Wake passing game will be Greg Dortch v. the Louisville secondary. Louisville will have to throw everything it can at Wake Forest to prevent him from having another highlight-reel performance.
Can Louisville’s Special Teams Give Them An Edge?
With this game expected to be a shootout, Louisville’s special teams has to come through for them with a big play or two. In their only two wins this year, the special teams found a big play that turned out to be the difference. Against Indiana State, it was Rodjay Burns’ punt return touchdown that gave them an early lead. Against WKU, a blocked field goal changed the momentum of the game and gave Louisville what it needed to barely scrape by.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be a blockbuster play like a big return or a blocked kick, but it does have to be at a high enough level to boost the team. A lengthy return could set Louisville up with short field position, and thus easier opportunities for points. A strong punting game could pin Wake Forest deep, and give the defense some momentum to force some stops.