The Orange Bowl will have two eleven-win teams fighting it out for respect. Louisville wants to show the college football world that the Big East should be taken seriously, while Wake Forest wants to prove that their season was no fluke and that they are a serious contender. The Deacons will have no problem playing the underdog role in this game. They have been doing it all year without the respect of college football fans and experts. Louisville's explosive offense is feared throughout the nation, so which team will get it done on Tuesday night?
How they got here...
Louisville's schedule was supposed to be a walk in the park. Even without star running back Michael Bush, they were still favorites to go undefeated. All they had to was beat West Virginia, and they did, 44-34. However, surprise story Rutgers ruined Louisville's title hopes when they beat the Cardinals a week later. Louisville, though, did win the Big East after West Virginia beat Rutgers the last weekend of the college football season. UL brings a potent offense with them that is feared throughout college football. The Wake defense will have to play a near-perfect game to win.
No one had Wake Forest winning the ACC. Most people didn't predict them to go bowling this year. The Demon Deacons won five games to open the season, then blew a 17-3 lead against Clemson in a 27-17 loss. Some thought that Wake Forest was exposed, but they kept fighting. The Deacons went 5-1 in their next six games, locking up an ACC title game spot. They beat Georgia Tech in a defensive battle 9-6, and now they are in the Orange Bowl against a top five team. College football's George Mason is looking for a happy ending.
Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville - Brohm leads an offense ranked 2nd in the nation in total offense. Though he missed two games during the season, Brohm still managed to pass for 2738 yards, more than Heisman winner Troy Smith. In his last 3 games, Brohm has thrown for 10 touchdowns and just 1 interception. Give him time in the pocket, and he will pick apart any defense.
Harry Douglas and Mario Urrutia, WRs, Louisville - The wide receiving duo of Douglas and Urrutia led a passing attack ranked 7th in the nation. Both receivers caught 6 touchdown passes, and each averages over 75 yards a game. Urrutia is 6'6", making him difficult to cover just due to his height. Both should get the ball constantly and will be key in this game.
Riley Skinner, QB, Wake Forest - The redshirt freshman was the only freshman in the country to lead his team to more than nine wins. He won ACC rookie of the year and led the conference in passing efficiency. He isn't called upon to do as much as Brian Brohm, however, that is just how the Deacons like it. Keep it simple, and make the big plays during crucial times. Unless the Wake Forest defense can shut down Louisville, the freshman will have to do more than usual.
Jon Abbate, LB, Wake Forest - The heart and soul of the Deacon defense is linebacker Jon Abbate. He led the team in tackles with 105 and wears the number 5 in honor of his brother, who passed away earlier in the year. Instead of holding up a '4' when the 3rd quarter ends, the whole Wake Forest team will hold up 5 fingers. It is an amazing sight. Abbate and his defense will attempt to shut down Louisville's offense. He has the heart to do it.
The unsung heroes...
Malik Jackson, LB, Louisville - Jackson leads Louisville in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks. The junior linebacker and the rest of the front seven need to get pressure on the young Skinner. If Louisville can keep Wake Forest in check offensively, there is almost no way for the Deacons to win.
Sam Swank, K/P, Wake Forest - The Lou Groza and Ray Guy semifinalist will be key in the Orange Bowl. Wake Forest can't have missed field goals in a game where every point matters. They also can't allow Louisville to have a short field, and Swank is dynamite in both categories. It is hard to find another special team player that means more to his team than this guy, and he needs to have one of his great games against Louisville.
Bobby Petrino, Louisville - Petrino is arguably the best coach in college football. He always has his team prepared, especially offensively. Year in and year out, UL manages to have a dynamic offense. Petrino is 40-9 since he has been at Louisville. It seems that every team with an open coaching job wants Bobby Petrino, but I doubt he will be leaving for another college football job anytime soon.
Jim Grobe, Wake Forest - Coming into the 2006 season, Grobe's record at Wake Forest was 26-32. Wake was an after-thought when people thought about the ACC. This year though, Grobe led the Deacons to their best record in school history. Many media outlets, including SCS.com, gave Grobe coach of the year honors. Somehow, he took this ACC whipping boy and turned it into a dangerous top 15 team.
The keys to the game...
[#1] Wake Forest's defense must slow down Louisville's offense. If they can pressure Brohm like Rutgers did, they should be able to keep Louisville in check. Wake Forest would like to keep this game in the 20s.
[#2] Louisville needs to open the passing game with the running game. If Louisville can run the ball, Wake Forest will have to respect both aspects of UL's offense. Running back Kolby Smith needs to keep the offense balanced.
[#3] Forget that Wake Forest is a Cinderella. Yes, it is a nice story, but Wake Forest is for real, and they need to be taken seriously. Wake Forest's heart and determination will keep them in this game.
Louisville's overlooked defense is better than most would suspect. Overshadowed by the offense, the defense ranked 19th in the country in scoring defense. They also ranked 2nd in sacks with 41. Wake Forest will have to score more points then they are comfortable with to win this game. Louisville's offense may be flashy, but the defense will win or lose this game for the Cardinals.
The staff says...