CRAWFORD | Freshman Jackson officially moves into starting QB sp - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Freshman Jackson officially moves into starting QB spot for Louisville

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Louisville freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson against Auburn. (Photo by Mike DeZarn special to WDRB). Louisville freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson against Auburn. (Photo by Mike DeZarn special to WDRB).

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The University of Louisville football team has a new starting quarterback.

Lamar Jackson, a freshman from Boynton Beach, Fla., came on in relief of sophomore Reggie Bonnafon in front of 73,000-plus fans in the Georgia Dome against No. 6-ranked Auburn on Saturday, and the Cardinals outscored the Tigers 24-17 the rest of the game in in a 31-24 loss.

“He really gave us a lift,” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. “We had four series in the second half, we got three touchdowns and a field goal. He made a lot of big plays, some of them with his legs, some of them with his arm. He showed a great competitiveness.”

Asked if Jackson is the starter moving forward, Petrino said, “Based on the way he performed the other night, yeah.”

TRANSCRIPT | Bobby Petrino's pre-Houston news conference

Jackson passed for 100 yards and ran for 106. And when he ran, he ran like he meant it. His presence breathed life into a U of L offense that had been shut out to that point. And it helped out an offensive line that had trouble dealing with Auburn’s bigger, more athletic offensive front.

Nobody was happier than his roommate, wide receiver Jaylen Smith, who got the start in his first college game after the knee injury to Jamari Staples.

“I think Lamar is the most exciting quarterback in college football right now,” Smith said. “That’s my rooommate, and we used to sit over the summer and talk about if we got a chance to get in there we were going to make plays. And everything we talked about came out this past weekend. It was just exciting to watch him play when I wasn’t on the field and exciting when I was out there blocking for him.”

Jackson is a gifted runner. Some of his Tecmo-bowl-esque field reversals show his ability in the open field. But he doesn’t have the run-first mentality of a lot of running quarterbacks. Both Petrino and Smith praised his passing ability.

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“Lamar can throw, there’s no question,” Petrino said. “We called a lot of pass plays. But some we called he just took off and ran. But we called a lot. We went with five wide receivers in the game sometimes, and four wide others, and three at other times. He threw the ball down the field. We felt like, ‘Hey we don’t have much time left here we need a chunk play,’ so we called a go route and he hit (Devante) Peete down the sideline on the go route and changed the field around a little bit.”

Jackson’s delivery is unorthodox. He has a wrist-flick delivery that looks strange, but has the ability to be accurate with it, and deliver the ball with velocity.

“Lamar has a great arm. He can probably throw a ball 85 yards, easily,” Smith said. “His throws are accurate, and they’re high velocity. It’s easy for him to throw you open, because he can get it there so fast. So you have to be ready for it.”

While it was a surprise to most to see Jackson play more than half the game on Saturday, it wasn’t a surprise to the team or the coaching staff. Petrino said he’d considered starting Jackson, and in fact that was one factor that went into his putting off an announcement of the starter, but didn’t want to put the true freshman into a position more difficult than he can handle.

Petrino has always been mindful of putting freshmen in position to fail, and hurting their overall development by damaging their confidence early. That's why he's always been reluctant to put too much on them too soon.

But the plan was to get Jackson into the game early — so much so that they called a downfield pass play for him on the game’s opening snap (which wound up in a Jackson interception). Jackson had a few packages, but wound up doing it all.

What Petrino likes perhaps the best about his freshman is that he seems to be a natural at the position. He has the ability to make quick decisions on running lanes, and once he tucks the ball he commits fully to the run. That ability convinced Petrino he had a freshman who would play sooner than later.

“Just his ability to not only run the football and do the things he can with his legs, but he has instincts,” Petrino said. “He understands where the rush is coming from. He can feel it and step up in the pocket. There were times in practice where the running back went to the left, he’d be in his progressions, and turn and just give it to the back. He can see things flash and quickly get the ball out. He has a really quick release, he can snap his wrist and be accurate when his body might not be in the exact same position. Some guys can’t do that. So his instincts of playing the position, you can tell he started playing quarterback when he was real young and has been doing it his whole life.”

After the game Saturday, Jackson said, “I was surprised I played as much as I did. All week we worked on certain plays, but not playing the rest of the game once I came in.”

His career got off to a bad start. The play was designed to be snapped directly to Jackson, with quarterback Reggie Bonnafon breaking outside in motion and then taking off as a receiver. Jackson got the ball, but too early, before Bonnafon had even finished his motion. With the play broken, Jackson was flushed out of the pocket toward the sideline by pressure. Instead of eating the loss or trying to pick up a few yards, he threw the ball up for grabs and it was picked off, setting up Auburn’s first touchdown.

Asked after the game what was supposed to happen on the play, Jackson said, “A touchdown, that’s what was supposed to happen.”

On the bench, Petrino told him, “Don’t worry about it. Get ready to play.”

The plan all along was to bring Jackson into the game for a series at some point in the second quarter. After a botched exchange gave Auburn an 82-yard fumble return, Petrino brought the freshman into the game. And he never came out.

Now he has the chance to be the full-time starter. There’s some worry over whether he’ll be durable enough if he runs quite often, but Petrino said that’s not as big a concern because of Jackson’s speed.

“There is some thought as to how many times he can carry the ball a game,” Petrino said. “The good thing about some guys on the field is when they’re one of the best athletes on the field, they don’t get hit hard a lot. They’re able to get their body out of the way. . . . The thing that was so encouraging was his competitiveness, his competitive spirit, and doing what we were coaching him to do and taking it from the sideline onto the field.”

Petrino wants to see more. And chances are, he’s not the only one.

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