LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Malik Cunningham threw for 195 yards and accounted for three scores for Louisville, which blitzed past Wake Forest 45-21 Saturday.
The Cardinals (4-7, 3-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) overcame a sluggish start to rally for a victory in their regular-season finale. After gaining just 7 yards in the first quarter, they finished with 453. Louisville gained 254 of those on the ground.
Cunningham completed 73% (16-for-22) of his passes. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for another. He went without an interception for the first time in five games.
The Demon Deacons (4-4, 3-4) amassed 351, but they couldn’t stay on the field as they converted just seven of 18 on third down.
“We just never had a rhythm on offense,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “On offense, we looked like a team that hadn’t played football in a month.”
Louisville, meanwhile, converted seven of 14 third downs and held the ball for 36:56.
On a day when Louisville honored its seniors, it was actually a game for freshmen to shine. Jalen Mitchell ran 20 times for 168 yards, the eighth-best performance ever by a Louisville freshman. Jordan Watkins rushed for his first score, while Francis Sherman caught his first touchdown.
Both teams were missing key players. Louisville standout receiver Tutu Atwell announced during the week he would miss the contest, while receiver Donavon Greene and defensive end Boogie Basham did not dress for the Demon Deacons.
In addition, the Cardinals were without three senior offensive linemen. That included Robbie Bell, who was injured in the Boston College game, and Cole Bentley, who sat out because of COVID-19 reasons, the team’s two most experienced centers. The plan then was to move senior Cameron DeGeorge, who hadn’t played center before at Louisville, but then he was ruled out midweek.
Despite all those roster losses, Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said there was never any plan to cancel the game.
“All we can do is practice and work, and hey, if someone is not available, then who’s next,” said Satterfield, who added that it was “incredible” to get 11 games in this season.
Next at center ended up being Austin Collins, a true freshman. Collins' name didn’t appear on the press box roster Saturday, and he didn’t even get 48-hours notice to prepare.
“Funny story, I’ve never played center. It’s my first ever game at center,” Collins said.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons last played on Nov. 14, and it showed as quarterback Sam Hartman had by far his worst day of the season. The sophomore completed 17 of 41 passes for 224 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. After committing just one turnover previously, Wake Forest committed two on Saturday that led to 10 Louisville points.
Louisville: The Cardinals made mistakes early, but they didn’t commit any turnovers, which had been their Achilles’ heel this season. Mitchell might not have the explosive speed Javian Hawkins has, but the redshirt freshman showed big-play capabilities with runs for 70 and 47 yards.
Wake Forest hosts Florida State next Saturday.
Louisville has completed its regular season.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25