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Wake Forest Football Preview: Louisville Cardinals

The Deacs are on the road again

NCAA Football: Louisville at Wake Forest Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

In week 9, the Deacs are back on the road and heading to Louisville, Kentucky to take on the Cardinals. Between Wakeyleaks, some anonymous comments about Lamar Jackson that got attributed to Dave Clawson, the whole Matt Colburn scholarship situation, the 2019 onside kick, and last year's clock management controversy, the Wake-Louisville game has seemingly morphed into one of the most entertaining rivalries in the ACC. In the 5 games since the infamous 2016 matchup, the two teams are separated by just 7 total points with both teams averaging over 40 points per game. If you like high powered offenses and not much defense, this is the game for you.


  • Opponent: Louisville
  • Date: Saturday, October 29th, 2022
  • Location: Cardinal Stadium | Louisville, KY
  • Vegas Insider Total Wins: 6.5
  • 2021 Record: 6-7
  • Previous Matchup: Wake 37—BC 34 (2021)
  • All time vs Wake Forest: 6-3

Record wise, the Cardinals were a perfectly average team last season, finishing .500 both overall and in ACC play during the regular season. They were another team that, with a few favorable bounces here and there, realistically could have finished the season with 9 wins. They lost to Wake Forest on a field goal with seconds remaining, Virginia on a touchdown with seconds remaining, and Clemson after failing 4 times at the goal line to take the lead with seconds remaining. They finished the season with a 3-point loss to Air Force in the First Responders Bowl.

On offense, everything revolves around QB Malik Cunningham. Cunningham has been one of the most consistently great QB’s in the ACC over the past 4 years. Since his arrival in 2018, Cunningham has completed over 60% of his passes for 62 touchdowns and has also rushed for over 2,600 yards and 38 touchdowns. Last season he accounted for 39 of Louisville’s 50 offensive touchdowns and led the team in both passing and rushing. He is easily the most athletic and versatile quarterback in the ACC, which allows the Cardinals to run everything from air raid concepts to the triple option.

It’s no surprise then, that the offense was the strongest unit for the Cards last season, ranking 27th with 447 yards per game and 40th with 32 points per game. As Cunningham is most dangerous as a runner, the Cards ran the ball on about 60% of their plays last season and finished 22nd in the nation with 210 rushing yards per game. They use a lot of pre-snap motion and option style plays that make it difficult for the defense to figure out where the ball is going—with a just a second’s hesitation, Cunningham and can pull the ball and be off to the endzone before the defense even knows what hit them. Along with Cunningham, the Cards are returning four starters on the offensive line—including AP preseason All-American Caleb Chandler—and their top 2 running backs from last season in Jalen Mitchell and Travion Cooley.

The passing game could be the weak point for the Cardinals this season. Louisville returns just 1 of their top 4 wideouts from a team that finished 65th in the nation with 236 pass yards per game a season ago. They are getting back their leader in receptions and yards in tight end Marshon Ford, but I’m honestly not sure if a tight end leading the team in reception is more a reflection of the tight end or the receivers. A clear #1 receiver for Louisville could help them take the next step this season.

When the offense is so good and the team only wins 6 games, the defense is probably going to be the reason why. Last season, the Louisville defense was 77th in the nation in scoring defense—giving up 27 points per game—and 84th in the nation in total defense—giving up 404 yards per game. For comparison, that was about 2 fewer points per game and 10 fewer yards per game than the Wake Forest defense that drove most of us crazy all season long. That’s not exactly great company to be in. Louisville did get a couple of very good transfers in the offseason with MTSU’s Quincy Riley, who was 4th in the nation last season with 5 interceptions, and Ole Miss’s Mohamed Sanogo, who has 209 career tackles. They also return 2nd Team All-ACC linebacker Yaasir Abdullah—the senior racked up 60 total tackles, 10 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss last season. Much like the Deacs, Louisville’s season outlook may hinge on their defensive improvements during the offseason.


If recent history is any indication, this is going to be another high scoring shootout with some sort of controversy the pops up after the game. Louisville and Wake Forest are similar teams in that they have great offenses and not so great defenses, which means they have to score a lot of points to win games. This one should be close and could be another game that simply comes down to whether or not Sam Hartman is going to be starting for Wake Forest. Without Hartman, I think the home field advantage gives the Cards the win.