Louisville wants to avoid more bad feelings from another feel-good story.
Eliminated from the national championship picture by a lone loss to surprising Rutgers, Louisville's quest for a school record 12th victory is blocked by Wake Forest, another upstart which had never won nine games prior to this season.
Both the Cardinals and Deacons overcame potentially devastating injuries that threatened to derail their brilliant seasons. Louisville lost RB Michael Bush for the season in the first game and QB Brian Brohm for two games in September. But Brohm returned and directed the seventh-ranked passing offense in the nation and led the Cardinals to their first BCS bowl appearance.
Meanwhile, Wake Forest lost QB Ben Mauk for the year in the season opener and RB Micah Andrews in the third game of the year. Despite the losses, solid defense, limiting mistakes and a strong kicking game boosted the Deacons to their first ACC championship since 1970.
Orange Bowl: No. 5 Louisville (11-1) vs. No. 15 Wake Forest (11-2)
When: Jan. 2, 8 p.m. Where: Miami TV: Fox Announcers: Matt Vasgersian, Pat Haden, Terry Donahue
No. 5 Louisville Cardinals Conference: Big East Record: 11-1, 6-1 Coach: Bobby Petrino (31-6 in three seasons at Louisville) Passing leader: Brian Brohm (175 of 279 for 2,738 yards, 16 TDs, five INTs) Rushing leader: Kolby Smith (138 carries, 780 yards, 5.7 yards per carry, seven TDs) Receiving leader: Harry Douglas (60 catches, 1,100 yards, six TDs) Defensive leader: DT Amobi Okoye (49 tackles, 12 for losses, six sacks, three QB pressures, three forced fumbles)
No. 15 Wake Forest Deamon Deacons Conference: Atlantic Coast Record: 11-2, 6-2 Coach: Jim Grobe (37-34 in six seasons at Wake Forest) Passing leader: Riley Skinner (150 of 227 for 1,780 yards, eight TDs, four INTs) Rushing leader: Kenneth Moore (93 carries, 434 yards, 4.7 yards per carry, two TDs) Receiving leader: Nate Morton (34 catches, 555 yards, three TDs) Defensive leader: FS Josh Gattis (73 tackles, five interceptions, seven passes broken up, one forced fumble, one recovered fumble)
Louisville running game vs. Wake Forest run defense: Running was expected to be a strong point until Michael Bush suffered a season-ending injury in the first game. But the Cardinals' rushing success didn't leave with him. Louisville still averaged 190.3 yards on the ground, primarily behind Kolby Smith and George Stripling. Smith gained 780 yards, and Stripling finished with 458. RB Anthony Allen has set a freshman record with 12 rushing TDs and has carried 89 times for 395 yards. The Cardinals rushed for at least 162 yards in each of their last three games. Meanwhile, LB John Abbate, who has 105 tackles, leads a Wake Forest defense that has held seven opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing. However, the Deacons' last two regular season opponents - Georgia Tech and Maryland - combined to rush for 337 yards. Maryland, which averaged just 123.9 yards rushing yards per game, had 194 against Wake Forest.
Louisville passing game vs. Wake Forest pass defense: QB Brian Brohm has completed 62.7 percent of his passes this season and has thrown for at least 300 yards five times, including the last two games. The Louisville passing game is so explosive that when Brohm missed two games with injury early in the season his replacement, Hunter Cantwell, passed for 513 yards. Speedy junior Harry Douglas and 6-foot-6 sophomore Mario Urrutia have combined for 113 receptions for 2,029 yards and 12 touchdowns. Also, Louisville QBs have been sacked just 18 times this season. Wake Forest S Josh Gattis is excellent, but the Deacons are vulnerable to the pass. They rank 72nd in pass defense and eight opponents have recorded at least 200 passing yards against them. However, Wake Forest leads the nation with 22 interceptions. Gattis has five and CB Riley Swanson has four. The Deacons have recorded 30 sacks, with DE Jyles Tucker leading the way with six.
Wake Forest running game vs. Louisville run defense: Like Louisville, Wake Forest lost its top running back early when Micah Andrews tore an ACL in the third game of the season. Converted WR Kenneth Moore has rushed for a team-leading 434 yards, including 165 against Maryland on Nov. 25. Wake Forest rushed for 160 yards or more in four of its last six games, but was held to 62 by Virginia Tech and 91 by Georgia Tech. Seven opponents have failed to rush for 100 yards against Louisville, but the Cardinals were blistered by West Virginia and in the second half against Rutgers. Still, they allow an average of 104.25 yards to rank 21st nationally.
Wake Forest passing game vs. Louisville pass defense: Freshman QB Riley Skinner doesn't throw for a lot of yards and doesn't get a lot of touchdowns, but he doesn't make many mistakes, either. Although he has thrown for 200 yards just three times (vs. Duke, Liberty and Georgia Tech) and has not thrown more than one touchdown pass in any game, he has been intercepted just four times all season and completes 66.1 percent of his attempts. Nate Morton is his most productive receiver with just 34 catches, but three receivers have at least 30 catches. The Deacons rank just 107th in overall passing offense and have allowed 22 sacks. Louisville doesn't boast a tremendous pass defense. The Cardinals allowed 211.1 yards per game to rank 74th nationally and have just 11 interceptions. Louisville has allowed more than 200 yards passing to seven opponents, including a season-high 328 to Pittsburgh on Nov. 25. However, the Cards can apply pressure to the quarterback. Their 41 sacks is second most in the NCAA this season. LB Malik Jackson has eight sacks and DT Amobi Okoye has six.
Coach vs. Coach: Wake Forest was 26-63 in eight seasons before coach Jim Grobe's arrival. In six seasons under Grobe the Deacons are 37-34 and won their first ACC championship since 1970. This seasons national coach of the year, Grobe is already the second-winningest coach in school history. Petrino took over a solid Louisville program four years ago and has turned it into one of the best in the nation. Under Petrino, the Conference-USA coach of the year in 2004, Louisville has posted its second 11-win season in three years.
Louisville will win if: Protecting Brohm is Louisville's top priority. In their only loss, 28-25 to Rutgers, Brohm was sacked five times and harassed so much that he completed just 48.1 percent of his attempts. Given time, Brohm can take advantage of the edge Louisville receivers have against the Wake Forest secondary. The Cardinals also must capitalize on their scoring opportunities. Louisville has converted on 93 percent of its scoring opportunities in the Red Zone, including 67 percent for touchdowns. But Wake Forest opponents have scored touchdowns on just 41 percent of their Red Zone opportunities.
Wake Forest will win if: The Deacons must do what they've done well all year – run the ball and avoid mistakes. Wake Forest rushed for just 93 yards combined in its two losses to Clemson and Virginia Tech. An efficient running game won't put the onus on Skinner's passing arm. Wake Forest is among the nation's leaders in turnover margin, having forced 29 turnovers while committing just 15. Just as was the case in the ACC championship game, the Deacons' best chance may be to stay close and hope All-American kicker Sam Swank has a chance to win it in the fourth quarter.
Worth noting: Wake Forest is appearing in only its second January bowl game. The only other January bowl game the Deacons played in was the inaugural Gator Bowl after the 1945 season. … The Deacons have forced at least one turnover in every game this season and forced more than they committed in every game since the season-opener. … Receiver Nate Morton has accounted for 11 touchdowns – six receiving, three passing and two rushing. … Wake Forest TE Zac Selmon is the son of former Oklahoma star Dewey Selmon. … Louisville is making its ninth consecutive bowl game appearance. … The Cardinals are 16-3 against non-conference opponents under Petrino. Two of those losses came in bowl games. Louisville is also 36-2 when scoring at least 30 points under Petrino. … If WR Mario Urrutia gets 71 receiving yards he'll join Harry Douglas as a 1,000-yard receiver, which would mark the first time in school history Louisville has had two receivers reach 1,000 yards in the same season. … Louisville has had four drives that covered more than 90 yards this season.
Line: Louisville by 10
Buchanan's pick: Louisville 35, Wake Forest 20
Other Rivals.com Expert picks:
Bobby Burton, editor-in-chief: Louisville 42-14
Bill King, Rivals Radio host: Louisville 27-21
Steve Megargee, national college football writer: Louisville 35-21