Rally boosts No. 3 Louisville's ranking, playoff prospects
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Cheers rose around Louisville's stadium Saturday evening as the video screen flashed Pitt's 43-42 upset of Clemson, an ironic moment considering the No. 5 Cardinals couldn't get on the scoreboard themselves against Wake Forest.
Their fortunes had changed several hours later after a 44-12 rout that might also improve Louisville's playoff outlook.
A wild weekend featuring upset losses by the No. 3 Tigers , No. 2 Michigan and No. 4 Washington shook up the rankings and vaulted Louisville three spots to No. 3, where it was in late September. Whether similar reshuffling occurs when playoff rankings are updated Tuesday night remains to be seen; the Cardinals (9-1, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 6 CFP) are focused only on themselves entering another challenge Thursday night at Houston (8-2).
''We just need to win our games,'' quarterback Lamar Jackson said after accounting for one touchdown against the Demon Deacons. ''We can't worry about that (rankings) right now. We just have to play Houston. We weren't really trying to worry about who's going to win, who's going to lose, we just had to play our game. It was a close game with us, and anything can happen.''
Clemson still holds the tiebreaker over Louisville after its Oct. 1 victory over the Cardinals and can clinch the Atlantic Division title by beating Wake Forest on Saturday. But Louisville is where it wanted to be in the playoff picture and aims to keep going.
Louisville's latest victory almost symbolized its pattern of following dominating wins – most of which were decided early – with tense outcomes against heavy ACC underdogs. What was different against Wake Forest was that the Cardinals dominated late and got things started behind someone other than Jackson, their Heisman Trophy front-runner.
Wake Forest built a 12-0 lead by converting three first-half fumbles into field goals, limiting Jackson's passing lanes and sacking him four times. Louisville turned to running back Brandon Radcliff in the third quarter, and he shifted momentum with three TDs as the Cardinals scored 41 points over the final 22 1/2 minutes.
''It was tough for us,'' said Radcliff, whose 55-yard TD run started the scoring deluge. ''We were trying to get our momentum. We know we're a great offensive team and it takes just one play for us to get back in rhythm. That's what we were trying to do the whole time.''
Jackson contributed a short TD pass late to avoid being held scoreless for the first since last November against Virginia. The sophomore combined for 298 of Louisville's 491 yards.
''It's good for him to have a game like this, where it wasn't just so easy,'' coach Bobby Petrino said. ''It's only the fourth time this year he had to finish the whole game, so I think it's good.''
Louisville's defense deserves the biggest nod for holding Wake Forest to field goals before yielding just 37 second-half yards and 214 overall, along with seven sacks. That wasn't easy considering it spent more than 38 minutes on the field and had no time for scoreboard watching.
Petrino says he didn't learn Pitt had beaten Clemson or that USC was leading Washington until afterward (the Trojans won 26-13). He seemed happier that his team avoided becoming upset victims on a day of upheaval in the top 10.
Louisville faces a similar task with just a few days to prepare for Houston, which won here 34-31 last season. While the Cougars no doubt aim to play spoiler, the Cardinals seem prepared for this latest hurdle after clearing several in recent weeks.
''That's a pretty good team they have, so we just have to be ready,'' Jackson said. ''We just have to go down there and fight hard.''
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