LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- A Louisville football season that got off to a wobbly start against Ole Miss and Eastern Kentucky that had fans hyperventilating over fears of another poor campaign has suddenly turned positive.
So positive, in fact, that the Cardinals (3-1, 1-0 ACC) and their followers can now even start dreaming about a possible run at the Atlantic Division championship, especially with dominant force Clemson (2-2, 1-1) having an unexpected meltdown and in trouble for the first time in over a decade.
The Tigers have suffered stunning defeats against Georgia Tech (10-3) and North Carolina State (27-21 double OT) and no longer resemble the overwhelming choice for the ACC title that they did in the preseason polls.
Meanwhile, UofL has strung together its first three-game winning streak in the Scott Satterfield era and are looking to make it four straight in a crucial matchup with surprising No. 24/25 Wake Forest (4-0, 2-0) in Winston-Salem, N.C. Saturday afternoon (3:30, RSN).
It's not only a chance for the Cards to join the division championship conversation in a race that suddenly looks wide open, but also to beat a ranked team on the road since upsetting the Demon Deacons 62-59 on Oct. 12, 2019.
However, the Cards will be without a key player for the second straight week, as Satterfield announced Monday afternoon during his weekly teleconference that wide receiver/punt returner Braden Smith suffered torn ligaments in Saturday's 31-23 win over Florida State and is out for the rest of the season. Smith had 11 catches for 68 yards on one touchdown, threw a TD pass against UCF and had returned five punts for 60 yards. Linebacker Monty Montgomery suffered a season-ending knee injury against Eastern Kentucky.
"That is two great players in back-to-back weeks for us, and I hate it," Satterfield said. "That's the awful part of this game that we have to deal with on a weekly basis. We see it across the country. It's one thing you do not want to see for anybody on any team. I hate it for how hard these guys work and then the season gets taken away. But Braden is in good spirits and we know he will bounce back even stronger."
Satterfield said he felt UofL played an outstanding game against the Seminoles in all phases in the first half, and then in the second half the offense struggled but the defense performed well.
"Offense didn't do a lot in the second half at all," he said. "Just couldn't get any momentum going. Didn't get good any drives. Poor execution. Just a lot of different things. But nevertheless, fought hard, our defense played better in the second half and we got a good road win. We made just enough (offensive) plays in the first half to win the game, that's the bottom line."
Looking ahead, Satterfield said he isn't concerned about any potential title implications against Wake.
"We don't worry about all that," he said. "We worry about Wake Forest. If you start thinking about all the other stuff, then you're not focusing on what needs to be focused on, and that's the team we've got to play this week. It's fun to talk, but that stuff doesn't really matter. We've got to play as good as we can possibly play to beat Wake Forest.
"The team that prepares the best week-in-and-week-out and performs will have the opportunity to win their conference and go to a great bowl or to the playoffs. But you have to stay in the moment and stay focused on the team you're playing."
Wake is coming off a 31-27 win at Virginia and is No. 3 in the ACC in both scoring offense (38.9 points per game) and scoring defense (14.3 per game).
In a close game, the Deacons will have an edge because they boast the league's best placekicker in junior Nick Sciba, who has connected on 19 consecutive field goals without a miss, the longest active streak in the NCAA. Against Virginia, Sciba made field goals from 46, 23 and 35 yards and he owns a .901 career field goal percentage (64-of-71), highest in NCAA history.
WILL CLEMSON GET WELL BEFORE VISIT TO UofL?
Clemson might have fixed all of its problems by the time Louisville meets the Tigers in Cardinal Stadium on Nov. 6, but right now they are a mess on offense, as coach Dabo Swinney readily admits, despite four straight top-10 recruiting classes.
After fumbling seven times in the first two games, Clemson committed 13 penalties against NC State and managed only 184 yards and eight first downs in regulation. They didn't score a touchdown in an opening 10-3 loss to Georgia and quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei threw a pick six for the Bulldogs' only TD. They also struggled offensively in a 14-8 win over Georgia Tech.
"It's been a long time since we've been in a situation like this, that's for sure," Swinney said. "We've had a lot of great moments and we've had a lot of great times, and there's going to be a lot more to come. But this is where we are right now. The criticism is warranted. Hey, that comes with the territory because of the expectation and standard of who we are, and we're not meeting that. It's just that simple."
Uncharacteristically, Clemson has failed to gain over 300 yards in three games, succeeding only against Georgia State. It's an even worse look considering that Tony Elliott is college football's highest-paid offensive coordinator, with a $2 million annual salary. Swinney came to his defense after Saturday's loss.
"I mean, Tony Elliott, he's special. And I'm not really concerned about what other people think to be quite honest with you," Swinnye said. "We've been really, really good on offense here for a long time and there's nobody I believe in, trust or respect more than Tony Elliott. You know, this guy didn't just forget football, that's for sure."
The Cards had better hope the Tigers are still struggling when they shows up in early November because they have averaged a whopping 52.6 points per game in their last four victories over UofL, which is winless in six tries.
VIRGINIA KICKOFF ON HOLD--The ACC announced on Monday afternoon that Louisville's game against Virginia on Oct. 9 in Cardinal Stadium will be played at 3 or 3:30 p.m. The game is one of three in the ACC that is on hold until after this weekend's contests.
The UofL-UVA game, along with the Florida State at North Carolina and Wake Forest at Syracuse games will all be played a 3 or 3:30 p.m. on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or the ACC Network.
RED-WHITE SCRIMMAGE SET--UofL's men's basketball team will compete in the Louisville Basketball Team 108 Tip-Off intrasquad scrimmage in the KFC Yum! Center on Oct. 16 at 1 p.m. The event will offer the first public look at the 2021-22 team in competition in a game setting.
Tickets, priced at $10 each for lower-level seating, will go on sale on Wednesday at 10 a.m. online at Ticketmaster.com. Tickets are available for UofL students at no charge.
The UofL ticket office is located on the third floor of the Swain Student Activities Center and is open weekdays between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The KFC Yum! Center box office, located on the arena plaza, is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Both offices are cashless.