Louisville's offensive fortunes now lie in the hands — and feet — of freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon.
Coach Bobby Petrino named Bonnafon on Thursday as his starter for Saturday's game against Wake Forest (2-2, 0-0 Atlantic Coast Conference). The Louisville native will make his first collegiate start in place of injured sophomore Will Gardner (knee), but has already played extensively for the Cardinals (3-1, 1-1).
Bonnafon ran for two touchdowns and passed for another in a rout of Murray State and replaced an ineffective Gardner for nearly two quarters in a loss at Virginia. Some thought he might be Louisville's starter after a tight QB competition in fall camp before Petrino chose the more experienced Gardner.
With Gardner sidelined, Bonnafon is now in charge of a Cardinals offense seeking consistency.
"He has a little bit of a different flavor because he is athletic and can run," Petrino said of Bonnafon. "It will be interesting to see how it all goes."
Bonnafon completed 14 of 20 passes for 151 yards and rushed for 21 in two games before missing last week's victory at Florida International to attend his father's funeral in Louisville. The 6-foot-3, 206-pounder returned to the team on Sunday to begin preparing for a Wake Forest defense that opens ACC play ranked 12th nationally against the pass (148.0 yards) and 21st in total yardage (308.3).
No matter who started under center for the Cardinals, Petrino knew the Cardinals were in for a challenge.
He probably didn't expect it to also be a matchup of first-year quarterbacks.
Wake Forest counters with John Wolford, who has thrown for 906 yards, six touchdowns with seven interceptions. Though part of the third-youngest roster in Division I with features 74 freshmen or sophomores, he's showing leadership and understanding that could make things interesting on Saturday.
"I've never seen a freshman get seniors lined up the way he does," Wake coach Dave Clawson said of Wolford. "He really has learned (the offense) quickly, and he knows it better than a lot of the guys that were here this spring, which has helped a lot."
Here are some things to watch when Louisville hosts Wake Forest on Saturday:
WAKE'S GROUND GAME: The Deacons' 42 yards-per-game rushing average doesn't figure to improve against a Louisville defense ranked seventh against the run at 78.3 yards per contest. Then again, they're coming off their first 100-yard effort against Army and wide receiver Matt James sees potential for creating the balance they seek. "That really opens up the passing game for us," he said, "and then when we are passing the ball down the field we can run the ball better."
LOUISVILLE'S EXECUTION: Petrino sometimes pauses when discussing an offense that's still a work in progress, especially up front. Several more passes were batted down at the line of scrimmage at FIU and Louisville allowed four sacks, nine tackles for loss and just 12 yards rushing on 35 attempts. That could mean a different look on the offensive line in a quest for better run and pass blocking.
QUICK FIX: Louisville sophomore WR James Quick had a breakout game vs. FIU with seven catches for 174 yards and two TDs including a 74-yarder. With senior deep threat DeVante Parker yet to return from a foot injury, Quick's performance provided the big-play potential the Cardinals have needed.
I'LL TAKE THAT: Safety Gerod Holliman scored the Cardinals' first defensive TD by returning an interception 32 yards at FIU, one of two pickoffs in the game. He leads the nation with five INTs and has picked off two passes in back-to-back games.
GETTING ACQUAINTED: Saturday's game is just the second between the ACC's Atlantic Division schools and the first since the 2007 Orange Bowl. Louisville won that game 24-13 in what turned out to be the final game of Petrino's first stint with the Cardinals.
AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Winston-Salem, North Carolina contributed to this report.