By Sam Draut–
Another ugly game, another ugly victory.
Louisville defeated Wake Forest 20-19 on Friday night to improve to 4-4 after starting the season 0-3. The Cardinals second ACC road victory of the season puts them in sole position of third place in the ACC Atlantic Division. More importantly, with four remaining games, Louisville keeps their bowl hopes alive and has now won four of their last five games.
“Happy to get out of here with a win. It was a battle,” head coach Bobby Petrino said.” Our defense did a great job. It’s a good win for us.”
Four Picks: Trailing 19-17 at halftime, the Cardinal defense intercepted Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford three times and Kendall Hinton once in the second half to escape with a win at BB&T Field. Dee Smith hauled in his first career interception in the third quarter. Chucky Williams picked off a pass and returned it 20 yards to set up John Wallace’s 39 yard go-ahead field goal. Trumaine Washington and Shaq Wiggins picked off passes in the red zone in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
“They did a great job, we were getting pressure on the quarterback,” Petrino said. “They were catching the ball and making great interceptions.”
Off the edge: The game started and ended with superb play of outside linebacker Trevon Young. The junior sacked Wolford on the opening possession and ended the night with a sack and forced fumble that was recovered by Devonte Fields. Young finished with three sacks, the same total he had last week when he won ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week. Fields added nine tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss.
QB1: Lamar Jackson started his fifth consecutive game and passed for his cleanest game as a Cardinal. The freshman completed 19 of 26 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Jackson left the game in the second half after being pulled down by Wake Forest linebacker Brandon Chubb. Already suffering discomfort in his ankle, Jackson did not return after what appeared to be a left shoulder injury on the tackle. The Deamon Deacons contained Jackson throughout the night, limiting him to 2 yards on 13 carries and a long of five yards.
“I thought he did come back at the end of the first half and really did a nice job taking what we were telling him on the sideline and taking it out to the field,” Petrino said. “He made some really nice throws on the drive where we went right down and scored. We were able to get the ball to Quick and Staples and that helped us a lot.”
Impact: Jamari Staples finished with ten receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns. The junior wide receiver set season highs for receptions and receiving yards while being Jackson’s go-to threat all night. Staples first touchdown came after a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Skylar Lacy that pushed Louisville back after being a yard from the end zone. Staples willed his way through Wake Forest defenders and reached out for the touchdown.
Safety…but response: Tied 10-10, Jackson was sacked in the end zone for safety with 2:15 left before halftime, giving Wake Forest a 12-10 lead. The Deamon Deacons received the punt and scored three plays later after a 58 yard touchdown catch by Tabari Hines. Trailing 19-10, Louisville responded with a four play 78 yard drive to cut the deficit to 19-17 before halftime. The drive lasted just thirty three seconds and was capped off by a 22 yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Staples.
Deficiencies: Once again, the offense line looked atrocious. The Cardinals averaged 1.6 yards on 42 rushing attempts, good for 68 total yards rushing. Running back Jeremy Smith did get some momentum going in the fourth quarter and finished with 58 yards on 12 attempts. Louisville converted just 4-17 3rd downs.
“Third downs killed us in the second half,” Petrino said. “We just weren’t able to get it done.”
Defense: The Cardinals defense totaled five turnovers in the second half, but the interceptions and forced fumble overshadowed another solid performance. Though not as dominant as last week against Boston College, where Louisville held the Eagles to 78 total yards, the Cardinals played consistent. Louisville limited Wake Forest to 266 total yards, but 168 yards came on three plays. Converting 3 of 16 third downs and averaging 1.2 yards per carry, Wake Forest had little fluidity throughout the game.
Closer: After Jackson’s injury, Kyle Bolin closed the fourth quarter out, completing 3 of 4 passes for 38 yards, but could not lead Louisville on any scoring drives. After the Wiggins interception in the fourth quarter, Bolin marched the offense to the seven yard line, on a 13-play 73 yard drive that took up more than seven and a half minutes, but John Wallace’s eventual 36-yard field goal was blocked.
“Both Lamar and Reggie were nicked up, so Reg couldn’t go back in and we felt like Kyle could come in and execute the offense,” Petrino said.
Tying Carmody: Despite having his final field-goal attempt blocked, Wallace did tie Art Carmody for a school record 60 made field-goals. The senior kicker connected from 37 and 39 yards.
What it means?: With the victory over Wake Forest, the Cardinals closed out the middle third of their season 3-1. Four games remain on the schedule, first, two consecutive home games against teams with losing records; Syracuse and Virginia. Then the Louisville finishes up their season with road trips to Pittsburgh and Kentucky. Pitt, who is currently ranked twenty-third nationally, but fell to North Carolina on Thursday is Louisville’s stiffest challenge, followed by Kentucky. Securing bowl eligibility over the next two weeks against Syracuse and Virginia will help to take some of the pressure off Louisville’s postseason hopes going into the final third of the year.
What’s Next?: Louisville hosts Syracuse next Saturday at 12:30. The Orange are 3-4 on the season, but face seventeenth-ranked Florida State on Saturday.