Wake Forest exceeded nearly everybody's expectations as the Demon Deacon football team held a narrow three point lead over the Cardinals entering the 4th quarter last Saturday. Despite having gained only 110 yards through the first three periods of play, Wake had jumped on top when defensive lineman Tylor Harris recovered a fumble in the end zone for his third fumble recovery of the game. And that's when it all came crashing down for the Wake squad. After forcing a critical third down play after the field was flipped, Louisville converted the thirteen yards needed to move the chains and ultimately scored a touchdown six plays later to keep the lead for good.
The defense put forth a valiant effort on nearly every front, particularly following what can only be called an egregious ejection of senior leader (and arguably the best player on the team) Kevin Johnson on a targeting call halfway through the first quarter. A clearly distraught KJ alongside an irate coach in Dave Clawson struggled to keep their emotions in check after the senior was tossed from the game for what was called "targeting the head" and subsequently upheld on review. Let me say that I do not think this play cost Wake the game because that would be silly as we sit here looking at the Demon Deacon offense who gained a meager 100 yards; but by the same token I've watched the play probably 25 or 30 times at this point and I cannot fathom in what universe you should be ejected on a play where the receiver drops his head right at impact causing KJ to hit the upper neck/head area on what was a simple toss out to the flat from freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon. It was the definition of an absurd call and it was certainly damaging to the Demon Deacon defense to say the least. #FreeKJ
That being said credit is due to Bobby Petrino and the Cardinals for keeping their cool in the fourth quarter after repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot with bad turnovers and silly penalties on offense. Bonnafon did what needed to be done to get the win despite looking shaky at times in the pocket and the Louisville defense was as good as advertised (presumably aided by Wake's utter incompetence in all things offensive).
Just to mix things up, but primarily because it fits so well given what happened on Saturday, let's jump into a little game of "the good, the bad, and the ugly" to get some analysis out of the Kentucky Katfight that was. Let's start with the good: Wake's defense and Tylor Harris. While Wake did give up 421 yards on offense, this was largely due to the ten minute gap in time of possession and the fact that Louisville ran 27 more plays than the Demon Deacons did. While Wake was able to get some push at the line of scrimmage (and I was impressed by the play of the defensive line - an area I thought would be rough at the start of the season) it took a remarkable performance from Brandon Radcliff to break through for 129 yards, seemingly finding any tiny gap to burst through and break one for five to seven yards for the Cardinals' offense.
Wake had eight tackles for loss, including four sacks and also forced three turnovers: all fumbles recovered by Tylor Harris who set an FBS record for the most fumble recoveries in one game (and in doing so picks up the week five Sam Swank Golden Boot Award, marking the third time this year the defense has won it) I didn't expect Wake to be able to compete as well as they did despite the pre-game remarks from Louisville fans on how bad their offensive line was, but we ultimately performed well and Ziggy a.k.a. Zachary Allen did a great job working around the edges and getting a lot of pressure into the backfield to shut down a lot of what the Cardinals were trying to do. Through five games Brandon Chubb and Ryan Janvion are both in the top 20 in the country for tackles and while that is certainly due to our offensive woes consistently leaving the defense out to dry, they have both been nothing short of excellent through five games. Kudos to the defense for hanging in there and consistently giving Wake a chance to win this year.
Now let's turn to the bad. It's a little bit of a blurred line here as far as where the bad turns into the ugly, but I'll try my hardest to keep them separate. I don't like harping on guys on an individual level, particularly at the college level because these young men put their heart and souls into everything they do on the football field and work damn hard to make sure they're the best that they can be, but I know freshman John Wolford is kicking himself after a few throws he made out there. First off, he looks great in the pocket. He's extremely comfortable out there and the first thing that strikes me about him is how confident he is the second he gets the ball. Even though he is consistently on the run for his life, he is willing to hang in there, find a man, and deliver a bullet to ensure that his receivers have a chance to come down with the ball. For that, he deserves a tremendous amount of credit.
He made a few mistakes this game, however, that ultimately cost Wake the game, including what was a good look but bad throw on third down to Cam Serigne across the middle in the first half which was picked off when it looked like Wake was going to add to a 3-0 lead. Similarly the shovel pass on third down, where it looked like Wolford did lose his cool a little bit with the blitz coming hard from the right side, was a play that you simply cannot make when you've got another chance to add to your lead following what was an absolutely comical fake punt call by Louisville coach Bobby Petrino. As a sidenote, that was one of the worst calls you will ever see in football and the Saints-Cowboys call on Sunday night just reiterates how stupid a call it is. These are just learning experiences though and I'm very very excited about what Wolford brings to the table moving forward. This was the worst game he's had so far, going 19 for 34 with only 122 yards and three interceptions, but that's what this season is all about: week to week improvement and Wolford is going to come out of this season better off for all the trials and troubles. Keep your head up young man because I think you're going to be a player down the road.
Moving on to the final portion of this week's format is the ugly and BOY was it ugly. Yes, that's right, I'm talking to you offense. This offensive performance was just absolutely pitiful to be completely honest. The offensive line actually looked a little bit better than they had over the first four games, but it's just impossible for your offense to get anything going when guys are just straight up whiffing on defensive linemen coming into the backfield. I don't have enough fingers to count the number of times I saw a big guy up front for Wake get beat by the guy right in front of him WITHOUT EVEN TOUCHING HIM. It seems like it's actually impossible that this happened as much as it did since it's normally the linebackers who come in untouched but at times it honestly looked like a couple of the big guys just picked up tickets on StubHub and were happy to grab some popcorn and front row seats to the action.
For the third time in five games, Wake had negative rushing yards which now leaves the Demon Deacons at 128th in the country. For anyone keeping track at home, that's DFL in the FBS. In fact, Wake somehow "jumped" (and by jumped I mean flopped) SMU for the distinction of the worst rush offense in the nation after SMU lost to TCU 56-0. Oh well, that's not bad, I mean TCU is a pretty good team. BUT WAIT...SMU has been outscored so far this season a total of 202 to 12 through four games. Yes....202 to 12. They have one touchdown through four games, and it was on a hail mary from the 33 yard line as time expired against the powerhouse North Texas Mean Green to ensure that the Mustangs only lost 43-6. So despite the fact that SMU has scored only 12 points in addition to leading the nation by over three sacks allowed a game (they have 29 through four games), SMU has still gained 50+ yards more on the ground than Wake has. That's almost impossible just to be honest. It really is.
This game was essentially the same as the ULM game in the opener except against a much better overall team (which I guess means we improved). ULM's defense has given up 350+ yards in each of their three games since they played us, where they gave up 94, while Louisville's defense is third in the nation in total defense. I wasn't really expecting too much from our offense but when the drive chart on offense looks like this, it's hard to say that you weren't a little bit disappointed:
Punt, punt, field goal, interception, punt, interception, punt, halftime (thank god), punt, punt, touchdown (defensive), punt, interception, punt, punt, turnover on downs
Wake's longest drive on offense was 27 yards and the team went 2 for 16 on third down. Really the "ugly" award could have just gone to the game in general based on how both teams played, but I feel like in the interest of really being honest it has to go to Wake's offense since Louisville was able to basically shut us down while also firing off 421 yards of their own. Louisville played a pretty bad game and Wake stayed in it with their defense, but the bottom line is you can't win football games gaining only 100 yards and we have now had the two worst total offensive outputs since at least 2000 in a five week stretch. That's pitiful.
However, the ugliness from the offense did lead to one positive: our boy (Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oy Oy Oy) Alex Kinal was able to rattle off a plethora of kicks to continue his assault on the all-time NCAA punting record. In this week's #KinalKount I think it's most important to note that with 212 total kicks as a Wake Forest punter, he is a mere eight punts away from tying Wake's all-time career punting record, currently held by Ryan Plackemeier, at 220 total kicks. FSU has been quite generous over Kinal's first two years as he has boomed a ridiculous 22 punts total against them and there's no reason to believe that he won't be the all-time Wake career leader in punts this time next week.
Let's take a look at Kinal's numbers after his nine punts against Louisville marked the 11th time in two and half seasons (29 total games) that he has punted the ball at least nine times in a game: