LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Wake Forest wants to maintain its top-10 ranking and winning streak against a Louisville program that has finally strung together victories.
If recent series history offers a clue, Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference showdown could be another high-scoring affair that comes down to the final possession.
The teams have combined for an average of nearly 85 points the past five meetings, including last season’s 37-34 shootout won by the Demon Deacons on a last-minute field goal. No. 10 Wake Forest (6-1, 2-1) enters with the nation’s 10th-ranked scoring offense (41.4 points per game), and coach Dave Clawson expects even more as his team tries to stay within reach of first-place and No. 5 Clemson in the Atlantic Division.
“I do feel in this room there is a standard, and I don’t think to a man we felt like we played to our standard,” Clawson said, referring to last week’s 43-15 ACC win over Boston College. “And to win these games this week and down the stretch, we’re going to have to play to our standard.”
That's a scary thought considering Demon Deacons quarterback Sam Hartman averages nearly 293 yards passing per game with 21 touchdowns. Louisville (4-3, 2-3) hopes its stingy defense can slow down the Deacons and create opportunities for an offense scoring 27.1 points per contest.
Scott Satterfield likes where Louisville is defensively after last week’s 24-10 victory over Pittsburgh sealed on Kei’Trel Clark’s 59-yard touchdown return after linebacker Yasir Abdullah forced a sack and fumble. The Cardinals have allowed just 27 points in their two wins and have intercepted at least two passes in three of the past four outings.
“If you go back the last two weeks, it’s really those big plays,” he said. “That’s really what it comes down to. Our defense has been getting great pressure.
“Our coaches have done a really nice job the last three weeks on that side of the ball and our players have bought into it.”
At the same time, Satterfield acknowledged the formidable challenges that Wake Forest and Hartman pose along with the “slow mesh” run aspect that disguises whether the QB will hand off or pass.
“You’ve got to stay in your gaps, you’ve got to be able to pick and choose when to bring pressure,” he added. “It’s very difficult to defend.”
Malik Cunningham (1,593 total yards, 14 TDs) returned from a one-game absence because of concussion-like symptoms to throw two TD passes, setting up the second with a gutsy 33-yard catch-and-run to the 11. The senior was also shaken up from another hard hit that resulted in Brock Domann starting the second half and playing a fourth-quarter series.
Domann contributed a 28-yard pass leading to an insurance field goal. Coming a game after the junior led Louisville past Virginia in his first start, Satterfield seems comfortable with either one behind center.
Louisville enters with a league-best 25 sacks through seven games, while Wake Forest is mid-pack when it comes to sacks allowed (16). The Demon Deacons’ line will have to play well to buy time both for Hartman to throw and for the “slow mesh” part that makes the offense so potent.
“They get after the quarterback a lot,” Demon Deacons offensive lineman Spencer Clapp said of the Cardinals. “They do a lot up front, really with their front six or seven. … It’s really taking care of your job, doing your job at a high level because this is a very veteran group and they’re very experienced and very talented.”
FINISHING THE JOB
Louisville’s struggles closing out opponents have given way to stingy endings the past two outings. The Cardinals have shut out Virginia and Pitt 24-0 in the fourth quarter, including a season-high 17 points last week to rally past the Panthers.
MORE TESTS LOOM
Wake Forest is the second team in a challenging stretch of games against teams that are either ranked or have been in the AP Top 25. James Madison visits next week before the Cardinals travel to No. 5 Clemson and host No. 24 North Carolina State before closing at No. 19 and archrival Kentucky.
Louisville is 1-6 against ranked teams and 0-3 against top 10 foes under Satterfield.
Louisville leads 6-3, though Wake Forest has won three of the past five. The Demon Deacons are 1-3 in Louisville, winning 56-35 in 2018.
AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard in North Carolina contributed to this report.
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