Cards may need to stage another ‘Freak' show to beat Wake Forest

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Much of the pressure will be on Louisville's defense when the Cardinals (3-2, 1-1) take on Wake Forest's offensive juggernaut Saturday night at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, N.C.

After all, the Deacons (5-0, 1-0) have been Demons on offense. They are among the nation's leaders, ranking No. 11 with an average of 515 yards per game. That leads the ACC, and Wake's scoring average of 35.8 points per game is second only to Clemson's 38.0 in the league.

However, if the defense can't slow the host team and UofL gets in another shootout similar to last week's 41-39 win over Boston College, the Cards will need a repeat performance by their "Freaks."

That's the self-named trio of wide receivers who played a huge role in the victory over BC when each of the three surpassed the 100-yard mark for receptions in the same game.

Tutu Atwell, Seth Dawkins and Dez Fitzpatrick combined to rack up a staggering 19 catches for 388 yards. Dawkins, a senior, led the way with a career-high 170 yards on six receptions. Atwell, a diminutive sophomore, racked up 110 yards on a career-high eight catches, and Fitzpatrick added 108 yards on five touches. Fitzpatrick, a redshirt junior, has gotten hot lately, with 12 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns in the last two games.

Although they had only two touchdown receptions against BC -- a 59-yarder by Dawkins and a 23-yarder by Fitzpatrick -- their big plays helped set up the three short rushing TDs and Blanton Creque's two field goals.

The performance will serve as a morale- and confidence-upgrade for all three heading into the most rugged part of their schedule. But it was especially gratifying for Dawkins, who had gotten off to a slow start with just four catches for 39 yards.

"It was kind of a relief," Dawkins said. "The run game has been so strong this year. I knew it was bound to happen soon; you just have to wait your turn. This was really a confidence booster for the team. We didn't want to go into tough games on a losing streak. We had a players-only meeting and said, 'We've got to get this one. This is a mandatory one.'"

Louisville has utilized three quarterbacks in the first five games because of injuries. Micale Cunningham is expected to start against Wake, with either Jawon Pass or Evan Conley as his backup, depending on whether Pass is healthy. He has missed the last three games with a foot injury. But Dawkins says he and his teammates feel comfortable with whoever is under center.

"We have confidence in all these guys throwing the ball and making decisions," he said. "It really doesn't matter who is back there. We know that they can get the job done, so we just have to be able to make plays when the ball comes our way."

That certainly seems to be the case. Louisville leads the ACC with 12 plays of 40 yards or more, including seven over 50 yards and four of more than 60 yards. The Cards are 18th nationally in yards per play at 6.93, which is second behind Clemson's 7.08 in the ACC. Against the Eagles, they had 12 plays of over 20 yards.

You might say that Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson has noticed.

"Louisville is playing at a very high level, and it starts with their offense," Clawson said during his weekly press conference. "Extremely explosive. Their skill is excellent. Their collection of receivers is as good as, or better than, anybody we've faced this year.

"Atwell is a very dynamic receiver. He's extremely fast and he can make you miss. And on the outside, Fitzpatrick and Dawkins are big-time receivers. This will be as big a challenge as we've had in the secondary with these guys."

Lending credence to the expectation that this could easily develop into another high-scoring affair is the fact that both teams are among the ACC offensive leaders while both have struggled at times defensively.

Wake is 12th in the league in defensive efficiency with a ranking of 141.8, having allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 64.4 percent of their passes for 10 touchdowns. That's just barely ahead of Louisville's 141.8 efficiency rating (13th in the ACC). The Cards have also given up 10 TDs through the air, but have fared slightly better in completion percentage allowed at 58.6.


Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

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