This certainly isn’t Bobby Petrino’s Louisville team.
It was two seasons ago, not even two full years, that Louisville came to Winston-Salem with reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson leading the way. That was the Deacons’ first game against the Cardinals since the Wakeyleaks investigation, which was sparked by 2016’s trip to Louisville.
Entering that game in late-October 2017, Wake Forest had lost three straight games after winning the first four and needed to beat one of, at the time, the elite programs in the ACC.
Enter Greg Dortch’s four-touchdown performance and an offensive explosion, and the Deacons’ season was redirected. Quarterback John Wolford dazzled, Wake Forest’s defense slowed Jackson for most of the day, Matt Colburn II exacted some revenge and Chuck Wade Jr. — a receiver back then — cruised into the end zone to seal the victory.
Oh, how times have changed.
Now Wake Forest enters its game tonight against Louisville as the team with national attention, while the Cardinals are quickly gathering steam with Scott Satterfield as their new coach. The Deacons are the ranked team with a quarterback playing at an ACC-player-of-the-year level, while the Cardinals are putting the pieces back together after last season’s train wreck.
“It’s so much different. I think all the hype was around Louisville (in 2017) and it’s almost a little, like, flipped right now,” said senior offensive lineman Nate Gilliam. “Some hype is around us. But as soon as you buy into all that hype, whether you’re the opposing team or us, it’s going to tank eventually.
“Because you’re not going to be doing the same things you’ve been doing to get to this point.”
That’s been a key point to Wake Forest’s preparation for tonight’s game. The Deacons, with heightened attention, have been dead-set on their 1-0 every week mentality.
It’ll be put to the test again by a Louisville team that Coach Dave Clawson said has his team’s full attention.
“I mean, we’ve played against these guys, these guys are talented. This is not the Louisville team that we’ve beaten the last two years,” Clawson said. “This is a different team that’s playing at a different level, and there’s confidence and there’s buy-in and just watch the film.
“I mean, they had 664 yards against BC. I think we’re pretty good on offense, we did not have that type of production against BC’s defense.”
For a comparison, Wake Forest had 440 yards against Boston College two weeks ago.
Wake Forest beat Louisville 42-32 at BB&T Field two seasons ago, that game setting the table for the second-half surge that ended with the Belk Bowl victory. The Deacons went to Louisville last season and returned to Winston-Salem with a 56-35 win.
Petrino and his staff were fired after last season, having gone 2-10 and winless in the ACC. Satterfield, a former Appalachian State coach, has already delivered better results this season — and it’s been done largely with the same cast the Cardinals had a year ago.
“It’s the same team. They were a young team last year and now this year it’s basically the same group of guys that we played last year, but new coaching staff and they’ve bought in,” said senior tight end Jack Freudenthal. “These guys play hard, and you can see it.”
That wasn’t the case in the past two seasons.
“You could see on the field when we were playing them the last two years, they just fought each other, they got mad … But this year it’s completely different,” Freudenthal said. “These guys are bought in, they have leaders on their team, the coaching staff has them ready each week. And you saw them play against Boston College; they played really well.
“It’s going to be a really good challenge for us, especially off our bye week, we have to get up.”
That’s where — theoretically — the changes Clawson and his staff made to how the Deacons approached last week’s off date could come into play. Wake Forest didn’t lessen the workload as much as in years past during the off week, an effort to change the history of results after off weeks in Clawson’s five-plus seasons.
So, there’s been plenty of change heading into this game — while the Deacons hope it doesn’t change the recent success against Louisville.