Welcome back Bobby Petrino! Facing off against the Cardinals in the 2006 Orange Bowl, Wake Forest probably has more fond memories of you than any other university in the nation. Unfortunately (or fortunately) for the Demon Deacons, this 2014 Cardinals team barely resembles his offensive juggernauts from the mid-2000s. (To be fair- beyond a poised freshman quarterback- this Wake Forest squad bears few similarities to that glorious 2006 team.) With all of Charlie Strong's players from a year ago, the defense anchors Louisville. It ranks 12th in the nation in points against at 15 points per game. On offense, they are 36th in the NCAA with 36 points per game.
This season, Louisville is 3-1 (1-1) opening the season with a watershed "Welcome to the ACC" demolition of Miami 31-13. Two weeks later, however, the Cardinals pulled off a watershed #GoACC moment by losing to Virginia- who was predicted to finish last in the Coastal Division- 23-21.
Starting quarterback Will Gardner is out for Saturday's game after injuring his left knee in a win over Florida International. Freshman Reggie Bonnafon gets the nod under center. The uber-athletic quarterback is 14-20 for 151 yards and a TD in mop-up duty. The Louisville-native also has run for two TDs. This is good news for the Demon Deacon secondary, who will try to force him to make poor reads, and bad news for the defensive ends who need to keep him in the pocket.
Out of the backfield, senior Dominique Brown gets the majority of the looks with 64 carries for 285 yards and three TDs. Brown is a powerful, between-the-tackles back who rushed for 143 yards and a TD on 33 carries against the Hurricanes. Also, the speedy freshman LJ Brown could see a few looks as a change-of-pace back.
The Cardinals have sorely missed preseason All-America candidate DeVante Parker, who won't return for another few weeks due to a broken bone in his left foot. Louisville did receive a break-out performance from former blue chip prospect James Quick. The 6-1 sophomore reeled in seven catches for 174 catches and two TDs. Can the speedy Quick continue this level against ACC competition? Also, the cerebral senior Eli Rogers has been a key contributor in the slot. Expect the untested Bonnafon to look for Rogers, who has 17 catches for 196 yards this year, early and often.
Earlier this week Dave Clawson was asked how he expects to attack the third-ranked run defense in the nation. He responded, "How do you think?" So, yes, expect a lot of John Wolford dropping back in the pocket. But for the Demon Deacons' sake, he better be throwing short, quick passes. In four games, the Cardinals have already amassed 11 sacks and 27 tackles for loss.
This year, the Cardinals have had no trouble switching from a traditional 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. At defensive end, the Cardinals have star defensive end Sheldon Rankins and along with BJ Dubose. Rankins' combination of size and speed will pose a mismatch for any Wake offensive lineman. At nosetackle, Louisville starts run-busting sophomore DeAngelo Brown.
While their defensive line is strong, their linebackers are loaded with NFL-caliber talent. After playing on the line last year, Lorenzo Mauldin has moved to "monster back," the blitzing linebacker. Mauldin already has 18 tackles and 6 for loss. James Burgess is third on the team in tackles and is a physical specimen. Sophomore Keith Kelsey actually leads the team in tackles with 24 and two sacks. After a strong freshmen year, Kelsey has established himself as a valuable NFL prospect.
Louisville anticipated stud years from seniors Terrell Floyd and Charles Gaines in the secondary, but have been pleasantly surprised with the additional talent pool. After losing Calvin Pryor to the Jets, the safety spot was a cause of concern. Sophomore Gerold Holliman has more than stepped-up with five INTs this year, including a pick-six. Yes, 5 INTs!
Kicker John Wallace has established himself as one of the nation's best. He is a perfect 20 for 20 on extra points and has nailed all four of his field goal opportunities, including two between 40-49 yards. Ryan Johnson averages 40.5 per punt. James Quick is the punt returner, averaging an absurd 9.8 yards per return. Meanwhile, Corvin Lamb takes the kicks, averaging 31.2 yards, including one TD.
In our way-too-early series, I predicted a 38-13 Louisville win, but that was with both Gardner and Parker. I don't think the Cardinals put up that many points. And after four games, I'm not confident the Deacs will put up that many points against a top ACC defense, either.
Wake Forest 9