LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Wake Forest's defense played well enough to steal a conference win on road. The Demon Deacons offense failed to do its part, rushing for minus-22 yards and throwing three interceptions in Saturday's 20-10 loss at Louisville.
Wake Forest (2-3, 0-1 ACC) had eight tackles for loss and four sacks. Nose tackle Tylor Harris had three fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown, but first-year coach Dave Clawson's ACC debut was spoiled as they again struggled to run the ball.
"I thought the defense played their hearts out," Clawson said. "It's the same story on offense: we really struggle to block people."
Wake Forest entered Saturday averaging 42 yards rushing per game but had 100 yards on the ground in last week's 24-21 win against Army. The Louisville defensive front proved a much more difficult matchup however as the Cardinals (4-1, 2-1) had eight sacks and allowed just one substantial run all game, a 15-yard gain from Isaiah Robinson when the outcome was all but decided.
"We get overwhelmed up front and Louisville has a heck of a defensive front," Clawson said. "We were certainly concerned about that matchup going into the game and they are certainly as good as advertised."
That pressure also translated to quarterback John Wolford who threw three interceptions and finished 19 of 34 for 122 yards passing.
"I've got to play better, I can't turn the ball over in the red zone," Wolford said. "The offense scores three points and a lot of that is on me, I missed a lot of throws."
Louisville's Brandon Radcliff ran for two touchdowns and 129 yards as the defense held firm in Saturday's ugly affair.
Wake Forest scored first on Mike Weaver's 43-yard field goal late in the first quarter and retook the lead at 10-7 with 8:32 remaining in the third quarter following Harris's fumble recovery in the Louisville end zone for a touchdown.
"That touchdown took their momentum away," said junior linebacker Brandon Chubb, who finished with nine tackles. "They just found a way to comeback."
Radcliff was the key as his 16-yard score with less than 12 minutes left followed his 29-yard second-quarter touchdown.
Fourth-quarter field goals of 31 and 34 yards from kicker John Wallace sealed the Louisville win in front of the crowd of 51,463.
Averaging 38 points a game and heavily favored to win, it's not a game Louisville coach Bobby Petrino will cherish. But it still counts.
"We'll take it. It was a struggle," Petrino said.
In a game noted for the oddity of having two true freshmen start at quarterback, the two defenses provided most of the day's dramatic moments.
Louisville's two second-quarter interceptions in its own territory stopped Wake Forest from getting out to a clear lead.
Safety Gerod Holliman snagged a tipped pass and returned it to the Wake Forest 29 before Wallace missed a 46-yard field goal attempt when the drive stalled. It was Holliman's fifth interception in the last three games and his sixth on the season to lead the nation.
Reggie Bonnafon started Louisville's first sustained drive of the day with a 33-yard pass along the sideline to Radcliff. Radcliff capped the 80-yard scoring drive four plays later with a 29-yard touchdown run, giving Louisville a 7-3 lead with 3:55 left before halftime.
"When your number is called, you just have to come out and capitalize on it," Radcliff said.
It was Bonnafon's first start, replacing an injured Will Gardner. Bonnafon returned to the team Sunday after missing last week's win at Florida International following the unexpected death of his father. He finished 16 of 32 for 206 yards and ran 14 times for 71 yards. There were moments of promise but also of confusion as a bad exchange led to a running back Dominique Brown's fumble on the opening drive. Bonnafon also bobbled a shotgun snap that Wake Forest recovered and was stripped for the Demon Deacons only touchdown.