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Key Matchups: Wake Forest

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The Key Matchups focus a good amount on Wake Forest’s defense.

NCAA Football: Utah State at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

DAVE CLAWSON VS. HIS OWN PLAY CALLING

I’ve stressed this a good amount this week but Wake’s offense is much better this year in Dave Clawson’s fourth year. He’s finally settled on a quarterback and his offensive line has been good enough to give him some confidence in the passing game. He also has a group of pass catchers that make that passing game dangerous at times.

Even with all of that, and a solid running game, Clawson often gets conservative when he needs a key play. Last week with a 3rd and 2 situation in Georgia Tech territory, Clawson chose to run the ball up the middle with Cade Carney twice. He has one of the best tight ends in the country that he could’ve used in play action. He also has multiple veteran receivers and one of he best receivers in the conference at his disposal. Instead he gave it to his running back who’s averaging less than four yards per carry. Twice. It didn’t work and they lost ground on both runs. He did the same types of things last year against Louisville.

Clawson has to learn how to get out of his own way a bit and trust his talent.

JESSIE BATES VS. LAMAR JACKSON

One of the most impressive plays I watched last season was when Jessie Bates stripped Lamar Jackson in the game last year. Jackson broke left through the line and gained some width to get around a defender that was being blocked. Bates took a great angle that allowed him to run with Jackson. Once Bates got to Jackson and wrapped him up, he rode him for a yard or two and then took a swipe at the ball. Lamar fumbled and Wake got their third turnover of the first half.

Bates was a freshman then and the two things that stood out to me when I watched that play were that he was athletic enough to keep up with Lamar and smart enough to go for the ball. I don’t think you can truly take Lamar out of a football game, but Wake gets enough pressure that I think you can get Lamar uncomfortable enough that he’s not running like himself. What I mean by that is that it’s not a planned run or a comfortable run for him. He isn’t keeping it on a zone read with no one in his face. He isn’t scrambling because he doesn’t have anyone to throw it to. On those runs his vision is clear and he’s seeing everything in front of him. Wake makes you panic and wonder where guys are coming from. That leaves a guy like Bates in a spot where he shrinks that advantage because he might not have to worry about Lamar turning him into a highlight like he did to Kyle Meyers last week on his long run.

Bates doesn’t play with the fear that most young players do. He acts and then thinks and his instincts typically work out for him. He was a consensus freshman All-American last year for a reason. Wake will need him to be the guy that does it all to keep Lamar from getting free from their rush and turning a sack into a big touchdown.

REGGIE BONNAFON VS. WAKE’S FRONT 7

All season long we’ve been waiting for Reggie Bonnafon to finally turn the corner as a running back. Reggie has talent that allows him to pretty much play anywhere and be a strong player but he hasn’t shown the ability to be really good anywhere. That’s changed a lot over the last two weeks. He was able to get a big run and show off his speed against Boston College and against FSU he showed that he can run behind his pads. Over the last two games Reggie is averaging 6.5 yards per carry and I’d argue that he’s the biggest key in this game if Petrino chooses to use the read option like he did last week.

The front 6/7 for Wake Forest will do their best to shoot gaps or get offensive linemen turned so that the linebackers can get through gaps themselves. If UofL runs the option plays like they did last week, Lamar should have the opportunity to give to Reggie on quick decisions that get him into the line quickly. That should be an opportunity for Louisville to exploit a weakness in Wake’s scheme.

JAYLEN SMITH VS. WAKE’S CORNERS

Jaylen Smith hasn’t made much of an impact since returning from his wrist injury but that could change this week. Wake’s starting corners have done a very good job of staying with receivers but they haven’t been great at actually making plays on the ball. Smith has the size and speed to get down the field and make some big plays. His drop on the last drive of the FSU game showed that he can get open even if he didn’t haul it in.

Louisville didn’t push the ball down the field very much in last year’s game but I think they will look to change that this year. Wake relies on havoc up front but they will leave their corners on an island to do so. This is where Smith could really make some big plays with an offensive line that can give Lamar a little more time.

CAM SERIGNE AND GREG DORTCH VS. LOUISVILLE’S SAFETIES

The middle of the field has been a huge issue for Louisville’s defense even though it hasn’t seemed to be a glaring one over the last two weeks. FSU got a couple of big plays down the middle last week but they didn’t really go back to those throws too much after that. Boston College really beat UofL with their tight ends on outside throws.

If you go back to the beginning of the season, it really becomes clear that it’s not really the area of the field that is the issue. It’s the people covering interior targets. Zak Cannon may lead the team in tackles but he’s been a liability in coverage all year. Chucky Williams has typically been a reliable guy for the defense but his gaffe last week showed just how inconsistent guys who aren’t in man coverage a lot can be. Throw in Khane Pass and Dee Smith and there’s not a guy that you would bet the house on in a pass coverage situation.

Greg Dortch is used in a fairly unique way by Wake. John Wolford will fake a read option run and stand up and fire the ball right where the strong side linebacker should be. The run action sucks that linebacker into the line and Dortch beats the nickel or safety to the spot for an easy catch and possible run after the catch. It’s worked a lot and Louisville's linebackers have overplayed things on run plays and play action plays a good amount this year. That could leave him wide open for some big plays.