The Review: Louisville Outguns Wake Forest In Wild Shootout

62-59. No, that was not a basketball box score. That ended up being the final outcome of Louisville’s upset over #19 Wake Forest, the first time the Cardinals beat a ranked opponent on the road since 2011. The 121 combined points is also the highest in the 101-year history of Louisville football.

As always, let’s look at some of the key storylines from the Wednesday pre-game write up and examine how Louisville performed.

Can Louisville’s Secondary Matchup With Wake Forest’s Receivers?:Β D+

Most of Wake Forest’s damage offensively was through the air, as the Demon Deacons tallied 423 passing yards as a team. Both Sage Surratt (12 catches, 196 yards, three touchdowns) and Kendall Hinton (13 catches, 134 yards) had monster outings, with Louisville seeming unable to slow down Surratt on any given drive.

The only reason this is prevented from being a failing grade is because Louisville got two huge interceptions, both coming inside Louisville territory and erasing potential points off the board for Wake Forest. One of those picks, along with a recovered fumble early on, led straight to Louisville touchdowns that they would need to survive a shootout.

Will Louisville’s Offensive Line Be Able to Disrupt the RPO?:Β C-

Louisville’s defense allowed 245 rushing yards, but it never really felt like the Wake Forest running game overwhelmed the Cardinals before the final six-plus minutes of the game. Christian Beal-Smith emerged out of nowhere with a 100-yard game, with Cade Carney also rushing for 95 yards.

Much like Louisville’s efforts in the passing game, though, a key fumble recovering prevents this grade from plummeting any further. Wake Forest’s fumble on their second drive of the game led straight to a Louisville touchdown, one that gave them a 14-point lead and enough of a cushion to lead the whole game.

Can Louisville’s Offensive Line Continue to Set the Tone?:Β A-

Despite having to use two quarterbacks yet again, Louisville’s offense continued to roll with a 60+ point outing. A lot of buzz should go to Evan Conley and Dez Fitzpatrick, and rightfully so with their big games.

But the biggest win for the Louisville offense? OnlyΒ one sack allowed during this wild game. Both Conley and starter Micale Cunningham had loads of time and blocking, and the lanes that Cunningham was getting before he exited the game were huge. It isn’t unreasonable to suggest that based off his early performance, he could have been heading for a career day in rushing. Blocking was especially crucial on Conley’s 41-yard touchdown run with 2:15 left in the fourth that ultimately iced the game.

Other Notes:

I know that there are a lot of stud freshman quarterbacks making waves across the country, from Boise State’s Hank Bachmeier to North Carolina’s Sam Howell and lots more. But Evan Conley’s performance through three games has been nothing short of exceptional, completing 65% of his passes for 422 yards and four touchdowns with an interception. In all three games, he has helped Louisville secure a blowout win over WKU, lead the Cards on a game-winning drive against Boston College, and iced a shootout win over a ranked Wake Forest team.

With how well Micale Cunningham and Evan Conley have played, I think both have earned the right to start and play the rest of the season. I don’t know who will start against Clemson and possibly beyond into November, but both are playing at a really high level right now. Just as long as Louisville doesn’t have to continue playing two quarterbacks throughout the duration.

Dez Fitzpatrick continued his hot streak last night, going off for over 100+ yards and scoring a touchdown for the third straight game. He’s 14 yards away from exceeding his 2018 season total on ten less receptions, and already scored more touchdowns than last year. When he gets involved, everybody on Louisville’s offense benefits from it.

His contemporaries, Seth Dawkins and Tutu Atwell, are not far behind him either. Dawkins had a season-high of 68 yards in 2018 against #1 Alabama; he’s had 170 and 68 in his last two games against Boston College and Wake Forest, respectively. Tutu Atwell had his fourth straight game with five or more catches, and halfway through the season, he is on pace for 1,018 yards and 12 touchdowns. That would make Atwell the first Louisville receiver since Harry Douglas to go for over 1,000 yards, and the first since DeVante Parker (2013) to have 10+ touchdowns. If this keeps up, Louisville is gonna have a great shot to reach bowl eligibility.

All of this came with Louisville also rushing for 225 yards, and both their quarterbacks averaging over ten yards per carry. No 100-yard rushers for the Cardinals in the game, but they got what they needed to. Expect it to be business as usual for Louisville for the rest of the season.

Louisville’s effort in the trenches on both sides of the ball was key in their win over Wake Forest. If there was one thing Wake Forest did well that wasn’t talked up a lot heading into the game, it was their own dominance at the line of scrimmage; the Deacons allowed only six sacks, and registered 13 on their defense.

Louisville’s totals for the game:Β two timely sacks that ended Wake Forest drives, andΒ one sack allowed. Winning that category by just one isn’t normally big in the grand scheme of things, but it should be amplified more when shootouts like this happen. Given how Louisville made more plays on defense like the two sacks, and like the three turnovers they forced, they ended up mattering a lot.

However, the defensive woes continued, and that’s not a good sign heading into the Clemson game. The Cardinals allowed 668 total yards, and 423 passing despite forcing a backup quarterback to come in for the third straight game. Allowing three touchdowns in a three-minute span is also discouraging, especially when Louisville had a 21-point lead with 9:14 left in the fourth quarter. Part of it is attributed to fatigue because Wake Forest has a high-tempo style, and they had 112(!) plays accounted for. But it was also allowing lots of passes downfield, and that’s something Clemson will almost assuredly do Saturday.

Before we wrap this up, the return unit deserves some kudos for their effort. A 100-yard kickoff return touchdown by Hassan Hall nearly put the game away early. Two huge returns by Tutu Atwell and Hall led straight to Louisville touchdowns. Those deserve praise, but so does the first onside kick recovery by Louisville. Altogether, the special teams help set Louisville up for four touchdowns, including the game-sealing 41-yard scramble by Evan Conley.

Next up: Clemson. Noon on Saturday.

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