CRAWFORD | 'Off' night? Jackson and Louisville still light up Marshall
Lamar Jackson gave himself an "F," for Saturday's performance at Marshall. WDRB's Eric Crawford takes a deeper look at how even an off night was extremely impressive from the No. 3 ranked Louisville football team.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WDRB) -- We all knew the night would come when University of Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson wasn’t at the very top of his game, when his running game would be bottled up, when his passing wasn’t quite razor sharp.
That night came, to be sure, at Marshall on Saturday. Jackson completed just one of his first five passes and six of his first 16, with an interception included in that bunch. He ran for negative yardage in the first quarter, and an almost-human 62 yards on 12 carries in the game.
The test, then, would be to see how the No. 3-ranked Cardinals and Jackson dealt with things when the offense didn’t seem quite well-oiled, when the X-box controller seemed defective at times. What’s this? Up just 7-0 at the end of the first quarter? Is this thing working?
But the Cardinals, and their talented sophomore quarterback, eventually began pressing the right buttons. On a night when coach Bobby Petrino said, “we started out sloppy” and Jackson, in his postgame comments, graded himself with an “F,” the No. 3-ranked Cardinals still put up the ninth-highest total yardage in a single game this season and rolled past Marshall 59-28 before the second-largest crowd ever in its stadium.
You know times are pretty good when your quarterback can throw for five touchdowns and 417 yards and still come off the field kicking himself, albeit in bare feet.
That’s how Jackson showed up to his postgame news conference.
“This is an ‘F’ game right here,” Jackson said, when asked to grade himself. “How many completions I have? (Answer from media: 24.) Out of what? (44.) That’s it. F. Yeah.”
This grades like he's a cross between Professor Snape and Dean Wormer. But as Sports Illustrated cover jinxes go, this was nothing. After that shaky start, he completed 12 of his next 16, including 5-of-5 for 75 yards and an 8-yard TD strike to Reggie Bonnafon in a devastating drive to end the first half, sprinting the Cardinals down the field in 34 seconds to give them a 35-7 halftime lead.
“I think it was good for us because we didn't take the ball and go score right off the bat, but we did come out and hit a big play with a nice, long throw down the sideline for a touchdown (a 71-yarder to James Quick on the game’s second drive),” Petrino said. “We had to earn it a lot more. I thought they did a good job defensively and what their plan was, mix things up for us. It was good for us to have to make adjustments on the sideline and throw and catch the ball more than we have in other games this year. . . . Overall I thought we got it going and cranked up pretty good, but it took us a while.”
On ESPN’s College Football Final, the commentators called this a “stat padding game.” And that’s a pretty good view of how the nation will see this game. They’ll look at Jackson’s numbers, and the team’s. They’ll see five touchdown passes, matching the second-most thrown in a college game this season, and pass him along to the next game.
They won’t hear Jackson say, “I guess we got mad at ourselves because we’re used to going out there and executing everything right at the beginning of the game, and when we went out there it wasn’t like that. . . . It was in my mind that we started off bad and we needed to make something happen because we’re letting these guys stick with us. . . . I was getting too happy and overthrowing my receivers, or sometimes throwing it low, so I’m hot about that right now.”
Jackson can be hot, but there’s no reason for the Cardinals to be bothered after Saturday’s win.
For starters, it was a second straight dominant performance by their first-team defense. The only points they allowed were the result of one of several special teams miscues, a muffed put that gave Marshall the ball at Louisville’s 14. The resulting touchdown was the only one the Thundering Herd would manage against Louisville’s first-team.
Even as the offense put only seven points on the board in the first quarter, it could work out its issues with the confidence of knowing that Marshall’s offense was completely buttoned up, managing just 135 yards in the entire first half.
“The defense really did a great job in the first half in putting the offense in good positions and getting turnovers,” Petrino said. “In the second quarter, the offense started to move the ball and put points on the board. I was really happy with the two-minute drive before the half. That was great execution, and Lamar did a great job trusting his teammates. We just finished the game and get ready for next week. It was a good win for us. It wasn’t the best game we’ve played all year, but it was good for us to come out and compete. We've got some things we need to clean up.”
The Cards also got another productive game from running back Brandon Radcliff -- 19 carries, 131 yards and a TD -- and they got their best game yet from tight end Cole Hikutini, who caught four passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns.
Petrino said he was pleased with the week of preparation, with the exception of a sub-par effort in Tuesday’s practice.
But all of this, in a game sandwiched between meetings with Florida State and Clemson, both selected for ESPN’s College GameDay, should come as no surprise.
If there weren’t some kind of let-down for Marshall, it wouldn’t be human.
Then again, there are times when Jackson has seemed super-human. This game underscores that his biggest opponent at times might be his own success. Graded against the curve of his first three games, the only thing that will suffice may be to match or exceed some performances that are historic in college football.
As it is, Jackson is rocketing up Louisville’s single-season and career lists at an unprecedented rate.
He has accounted for 44 touchdowns in his season and a half, already matching Jay Gruden at No. 6 on the Louisville career list, and just four away from tying Lenny Lyles at No. 5.
It would be easy, then, for Louisville fans (and even media locally and nationally) to get spoiled, to expect bigger and better when that expectation is in no way realistic.
Put it this way: The guy gives himself an “F” after throwing for 417 yards and five touchdowns. He ranks 10th nationally in passing efficiency rating and fifth in touchdown passes. Through four games, he has run or passed for 25 touchdowns. Think about how utterly ridiculous that is. He has, by himself, as many touchdowns as every team in the nation except for Michigan (and, of course, his own). He has more touchdowns than 121 of the 126 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Now, this crazy season rolls into Clemson, for its second “game of the year” showdown in two weeks. And Louisville should know, if nothing else, that even at less than his best, its quarterback is still the most dangerous player in the nation.
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