The Louisville Cardinals are gearing up for their final run through the Big East in 2013 and are poised for a special season. As it stands now, the Cardinals appear to be favorites in just about every game they will play this season and could make some noise in the BCS National Championship race if they are able to run the table. While the offense looks like it is well-equipped to get the job done, the perfect season could come down to the defense where senior defensive end Marcus Smith must turn up the pressure next fall.
While the Louisville defense ranked pretty well last season as the No. 36 scoring defense in the country, one aspect they struggled with was rushing the passer. They couldn’t seem to consistently get to the quarterback last season and ranked No. 78 in the country in sacks a year ago. The Louisville coaching staff is hoping that returning 10 starters on defense, including the entire two-deep of the front seven, will help turn that weakness from last season into a strength in 2013.
But to do that, the team will need Smith to step up as a leader. Last year, Smith led all defensive linemen with 29 tackles, including a team-high seven tackles for loss. While he was able to consistently play in the opponents’ backfield last year, he only recorded four sacks. He disappeared down the stretch in 2012, finishing just four tackles in the final four games of the season, including the Sugar Bowl victory over the Florida Gators. In that game, he had just one tackle, though it was a sack of Jeff Driskel, so at least he made it count.
If the Cardinals hope to meet the lofty expectations they will carry into 2013, they need more out of their defensive line in the form of a consistent pass rush. Marcus Smith must step up and become the leader of the line and improve his sack production next season for that to happen. Does he have the skills to make it happen?