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Players to Watch: Louisville Cardinals

The key players on an underperforming ACC Atlantic team.

Louisville v Boston College Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

Wake had a very lackluster performance against Florida State on Sunday. The offense looked great on the opening drive as they were able to march down the field in their fast-paced system. After that, however, the team failed to retain the momentum from that drive and ended up losing 38-17. The defense once again proved to be a key weakness for the team.

In that game, I told you to watch out for receiver Nyqwan Murray and defensive end Brian Burns.

Here’s how those two performed.

Murray: 8 rec, 131 yards, 1 TD

Burns: 4 tackles, 2 sacks

It was clear that these two lived up to their expectations on Saturday. Murray led the team in both receptions and receiving yards, and was a key reason why the Seminoles were able to space the field offensively.

It was another run of the mills game for Burns, as he has proven to be one of the better defensive linemen in all of college football.

This week, Wake faces off against the Louisville Cardinals.

Headlined by long-time head coach Bobby Petrino, the team has taken a significant dip since the departure of Heisman Trophy winner and 1st-round pick Lamar Jackson last season. So far, the team has a 2-5 record, with their wins coming against two out of conference teams in Indiana State and Western Kentucky. They haven’t been able to match up against the powerhouse of the ACC, and besides the four-point Florida State defeat, they haven’t been competitive in any of the conference games.

Here are the players to keep an eye on from Louisville:

Jaylen Smith

Smith was one of the main reasons for Lamar Jackson’s ascent into elite quarterback play in Louisville. He proved to be as reliable as ever when the Cardinals needed a big play down the field. Although his speed isn’t near where you want it to be, his physical attributes help counter that. At 6’4”, 223 pounds, he is a hefty and recognizable target for the team’s offense.

This size advantage helps in creating one-on-one opportunities with his opponents, which, in most cases, he’s able to come down with it for the big play. This ability to break away for long gains is troublesome for the defense, not only in the physical game, as they would have to track him down more down the field, but also in the mind game. Having the threat of chunk plays instills a defender to back up more on the assignment than normal, causing a laid-back style of approach. This consequently opens up the Cardinals’ running game as there will be fewer players surrounding the box.

Here’s an expample of his big play ability.

This year, Smith has tried something that’s never happened in his previous three seasons. This is running the ball, instead of receiving. So far this season, he has carried six times for 56 yards. By creating a new dimension of his game, it once again brings another checklist for his opponents to follow on the man-to-man matchups. He has created a higher importance to the Cardinal offense as he leads his team in all-purpose yards on offense.

The Achilles heel for Smith has been his catching ability. He drops way too many balls. This year, in particular, Smith has had trouble bringing in the ball, especially on big third downs. A dropping trend could come back to haunt him not only in the game against Wake but in his potential pro career.

Tabarius Peterson

Patterson is trying to make a name for himself at his new position. Coming in as a weak-side defensive end, he was quickly moved to the linebacker position his freshman year. Unfortunately, things never seemed to click as he averaged just one tackle per game. Luckily for him, he was moved back to his position that made him a successful three-star recruit.

There’s something about Patterson’s game that is unconventional among other ends in the nation. He is not an explosive player off the bounce and doesn’t drive inside like Clelin Ferrell whom I’ve talked about before on the site. Instead, he uses his football IQ and the location of the football to display his game. It’s almost like he’s patiently waiting when the ball is snapped, and he hesitates in order to scan the field around him. That way, he’s able to locate the ball at an easier rate than he would if he hit that initial contact all the way through on the snap.

Through this style of play, he has solidified himself into a great coverage man if the team calls upon him to play that role. He’s able to maintain his area and track down the open flat route to pursue the tackle. That’s one of the reasons why he’s really come on in his sophomore season. Through just seven games, he’s nearly doubled his total tackles from a season ago with 32, in two fewer games than his freshman campaign. The zone tactic could cause trouble for the Wake offense, especially if they draw routes in his area.

Of course, being stabilized at the line of scrimmage does come with the biggest downfall for a defensive lineman. That, of course, is getting to the quarterback for sacks. In seven games played this season, he has managed to earn just a half of a sack. This is an alarming number and one that the Deacons could use to their advantage by focusing their offensive line coverage on the right side of the offense in order to protect quarterback Sam Hartman at a better rate.

In all, both Jaylen Smith and Tabarius Peterson should be matchups to keep an eye on for Saturday. Smith could be the decisive factor on offense, while Peterson may be a big pest for Sam Hartman’s crew.