Wake Forest once had a defense that lived to create negative plays with an aggressive scheme. Those days seem to be over after a couple of changes at defensive coordinator. Mike Elko took a group of players that weren’t all that talented and utilized their speed to create an absurd amount of plays behind the line of scrimmage. Since he’s moved on, they haven’t seen the type of havoc that his defenses created. That has caused their team to have some much closer games than they maybe should have.
The defensive front for Wake Forest has played solidly so far this year. Carlos Basham is one of the best defensive ends in the ACC and he’s played like it so far this year. Basham has 4.5 sacks on the year to go along with two more tackles for loss. The issue for this line is that they are very young outside of Basham. They haven’t gotten a lot of tackles by the other guys up front and no on else is getting to the quarterback enough. Louisville has allowed a lot of tackles for loss this year, but they have to at least make this defensive front make those plays if they are made.
The best group on this defense is the linebackers, in my opinion. Justin Strnad leads the ACC in tackles per game and he flies all over the field. Wake has done a great job at getting guys that can run when it comes to their defensive recruiting. Strnad wasn’t highly recruited and he was very undersized. But they saw his athleticism and knew that he could develop. It’s paid off as he’s played a more vital role each year he’s been there. Louisville’s offensive line has to make sure that they don’t get out over their pads when they try to block him. He’s quick enough to skirt a block and get into the hole to make a play.
Luke Masterson and Ryan Smenda are the other two linebackers in the 4-3 alignment Wake plays. Smenda starts in the middle and is third on the team in tackles. Masterson is a converted safety that plays in their rover position that is similar to the “Card” position Louisville has. He’s another guy that has impressed me with his speed. He’s not an amazing player in coverage but he does provide this team with some versatility.
Wake Forest has the same pair of starting corners for what seems like the sixth straight season. Essang Bassey and Amari Henderson have been very solid corners for Wake for a while now and they’re off to a good start to this year, also. Both players are among the top players in the conference in passes defended and Henderson has two interceptions on the year. While the Wake Forest pass defense isn’t very good, these two players cover well and make big plays for the defense.
Safety is a bit of a question for Wake. Nasir Greer has made a lot of tackles but that’s about it. They don’t really get any impact plays from the guys in the back and nothing that I’ve seen has shown them as guys who can handle the Louisville receivers in coverage. The secondary in general is where Louisville has to take advantage. Getting players down the middle of the field should pay off.