CRAWFORD | Jackson's aerial show in Spring sends Louisville's Fa - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Jackson's aerial show in Spring sends Louisville's Fall expectations sky-high

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WDRB photo by Eric Crawford WDRB photo by Eric Crawford

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- I've been trying to figure out just the right way to temper expectations for the University of Louisville football team, given the way quarterback Lamar Jackson has looked the last three times we've seen him.

Then I took a second look at those three performances:

-- Rallying the Cardinals from behind to win at Kentucky, running for 186 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 10.6 yards per carry while throwing for 130 yards and a score.

-- Leading the Cards past Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl, running for 226 yards and two touchdowns (10.3 yards per carry) and throwing for 227 yards and 2 TDs.

-- Completing 23 of 28 passes for 454 yards and 7 touchdowns -- IN THE FIRST HALF -- of Louisville's spring game. He finished 24 of 29 for 519 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Yeah, about tempering those expectations. That's not going to happen.

It should be noted that Jackson's passing performance came against U of L's No. 2 defense.

It also should be noted that given what Jackson did on the ground against actual teams last season, those passing numbers might cause some No. 2 moments for opposing defensive coordinators very soon.

One guy watching closely was a former player who used the run-pass combination under Petrino to devastating effect. Stefan LeFors was not a household name, but he triggered some of the most potent college offenses Petrino has ever coached. And after watching Jackson stand and deliver instead of sprint and destroy, he came away impressed at the possibilities.

"He's special," LeFors said. "He's fun to watch, that's for sure. You can see, I think, the game is slowing down a little bit for him more and more. Obviously everybody knows how well he can run the ball, but if he can add the element of passing and being more consistent in the pass game, he'll be tough to stop."

On one 85-yard bomb to James Quick, Jackson uncorked the ball at his own 6 and Quick hauled it in around the opponent's 35. Just how far can this guy throw the ball?

"I don't know, I never tried to see," Jackson said.

Come on. Really. Just tell us how far you can throw it?

"However far I need to."

I don't want to turn the guy into some kind of mythological character. He's a sophomore quarterback with a lot of room to improve. He's only now beginning to grasp the system Petrino wants to run with him. It has taken some work. On the long pass to Quick, both he and Petrino agreed, he held the ball too long.

"That's the spring game," Jackson said, shrugging it off.

The numbers are just window dressing for Petrino. He's looking for other things. He's looking for Jackson to make the same decisions on the field that he would make. He likes for quarterbacks to do that 90 percent of the time. Jackson isn't there yet. But he's getting closer.

"What I liked most is the decision-making," Petrino said. "I like to get off the field and watch him, and see if he's predictable where he's going to go with his progressions, and he was. A couple of times we were a little late getting rid of it, but he did a good job."

There's a certain way Petrino wants to see Jackson carry himself. He sat down with him after the season and talked to him about leadership. And he probably was most happy that he saw evidence of that on the field.

"What was fun to watch was his demeanor, in walk through, warming up, how he handled himself in the locker room," Petrino said. "He was really going through the process of getting ready to play. I probably haven't talked enough about -- his leadership qualities have really grown and stood out this spring. . . . In warm-ups, he was concentrating on his follow through, his accuracy, the energy that he gave to the receivers when they came out to take the field. You could see that he was ready to compete."

What you didn't see Jackson carry much during the spring game was the football. He was credited for 31 yards on 6 carries. But each of those runs was blown dead by coaches.

"We made a decision this spring that he got enough running in last year that he didn't need to do that," Petrino said. "And we wanted to put more pressure on him to throw the ball."

Jackson hit on seven passes of 25 yards or more, and four of those went for more than 40. He's been working on the deep ball since the end of last season, in addition to all of the other passing drills coaches have been putting him through. They understand, given his arm strength, if Louisville poses a credible deep threat, there's really no easy way to defend this offense. Jackson is an elite running threat. But if he can throw it deep, accurately, and get enough time to do it, defenses can't load up on the running game.

"Coach has been telling me that I've been throwing the ball to flat and not letting the ball turn over," Jackson said. "So that's what I've been trying to do, practicing with the garbage cans, throwing it up and letting it turn over and drop right in."

He's throwing it better, making better decisions, showing better leadership, and he's displaying a competitiveness that is becoming a rallying point for his teammates. Leading come-from-behind wins will do that.

"I'm always going to try to make a play," Jackson said. "I'm going to let you know I'm here."

So, I guess the takeaway here is that I can trash that tempered expectations column. Nobody would heed it anyway. The hype machine with Jackson will run full speed ahead, and the outlook for the Cardinals will be not-so-cautiously optimistic. And that's fine with Petrino.

"I like high expectations, so yeah, why not?" Petrino said. "Let's go for it. I don't think there's anything wrong with having high expectations."

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