CRAWFORD | Right now in college football, Louisville's Jackson might be the Greatest Show on Turf
Lamar Jackson confirmed his credentials as one of college football's most exciting players with an eight-touchdown performance against Charlotte. But he also showed himself to be much improved in some areas.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- This much is settled already. University of Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, with the ball in his hands and daylight in front of him, may well be the most exciting player in college football.
There are times when this kid looks like Usain Bolt in a heat race against a bunch of sportswriters.
Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino just doesn’t want to watch that show exclusively -- and with good reason. He’d like to keep the sophomore speedster upright, and to keep opposing defenses in a mix of dread and uncertainty.
The game plan heading into the season opener against Charlotte wasn’t for Jackson to carry the ball 11 times for 103 yards in the first quarter. But Petrino was fine with it.
He’s also fine with what surely will be a slew of attention for his sophomore quarterback after Jackson threw for six touchdowns and ran for a couple more in the first half of Thursday night’s season-opening 70-14 win over Charlotte.
“He'll handle it well,” Petrino said when asked how he thinks Jackson will handle the hype that’s surely coming.
Here’s what pleased Petrino so much about what Jackson did. He ran when he had to run early -- but he went right back to the game plan when the throws became available. Charlotte threw some sellout blitzes at the Cards. They brought the house. They did some things the sophomore had never seen on tape. He used his 4.4 speed to avoid that rush, and to pick up yards when he had to.
Four of the six plays on Louisville’s first drive were Jackson runs, including carries of 9 and 17 yards and the scoring run of 36 yards.
“I thought Lamar really settled in after he scrambled around a couple times and made some plays with his legs,” Petrino said. “Maybe he wasn't having his vision down field like he should have early, but I thought the game was great for him to be able to concentrate and focus and come to the sideline and take coaching and then go out there and do it.
“A couple of the runs in the first quarter were called, either hand the ball or keep it and run,” Petrino went on. “A couple of them were scrambling around and making plays. I was really happy to see us look like a passing team in the second quarter and take the right drops at my feet, receivers be where they are supposed to be, or the running back, or him understanding that no one had the running back and delivering the ball to him, I liked that. I thought he did a much better job in the second quarter knowing what the coverages were than he did in the first quarter.”
And it’s when Jackson is sharp throwing the ball and getting good enough protection to take a look at the defense that he’s at his most dangerous, because defenses never can forget about what he can do if he takes off.
At least twice, Charlotte became so preoccupied with Jackson that it let running backs leak out of the backfield completely uncovered, giving up a touchdown in one case. Better teams won’t do that. But Petrino liked that Jackson was able to recognize that it was happening.
“He’s a superb athlete,” Charlotte coach Brad Lambert said. “He can make you look bad in a hurry.”
Jackson hit 12 receivers in the game. In just one half of play, he tied Chris Redman’s 1998 record for touchdown passes in a game. He broke Redman’s record for total TDs in a game. ESPN says he’s the first player in modern college football to throw for six TDs and run for two more in the first half of a game.
Could Jackson remember having a game like that before?
“Probably high school,” he said. “I don't think in college I've played like that but it's fun though.”
He said a little trash-talking by Charlotte motivated him.
“That's what made me say, ‘I’ve got to get right.’ I can't just let them keep talking like this,” Jackson said. “We going to make them shut up.”
Of course, records come and go. Big games are remembered for a time, then fade away. But an Internet meme is forever.
Some people on Twitter froze a TV screen shot of Traveon Samuel sitting next to Jackson on the sidelines. The resulting “Samuel L. Jackson” of their uniform names spread like wildfire.
“They just showed me back in the locker room,” Jackson said. “That's funny. When they showed me that I started laughing.”
What isn’t funny is Jackson’s potential. Yes, Thursday night was a single game against an overmatched opponent. But In his past three games, Jackson has run for 512 yards and six touchdowns, while also throwing for 10 touchdowns. Clearly, much more difficult tasks are ahead. The next month isn’t likely to pass like a video game for the sophomore. But if the Cardinals can clean a few things up, and execute the things Petrino stresses to them, this could be a special season for both Jackson and the Cardinals.
As Samuel L. Jackson, playing Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction said, “If my answers frighten you then you should cease asking scary questions."
What does Jackson plan for an encore?
“I don't know yet,” he said. “Just, when the game comes I'll deliver.”
Petrino will go back over Jackson’s performance. He’ll look at the eight touchdowns in nine possessions in the first half and find areas of improvement. Asked about the eight TDs Thursday night, Petrino said, “He probably should have had nine.”
And he was smiling.
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