CRAWFORD | Here we go again: Jackson's encore takes shape in 47-35 win at UNC
What does Lamar Jackson do for a Heisman encore? Don't ask him. Just watch him. Eric Crawford on Jackson's big day in Louisville's 47-35 win over North Carolina.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WDRB) – Lamar Jackson probably heard the question a thousand times in the months between winning the Heisman Trophy last December and the start of this season: What do you do for an encore.
Truthfully, he wasn’t sure what to say. He used a variety of answers: “I’m not trying for the Heisman. I just want to play football. I just want to win.”
Over the past two Saturdays, answering that question has gotten a lot easier. He doesn’t have to say anything. He just has to play. On a sun-splashed afternoon in Chapel Hill, Jackson calmly threw for 393 yards and three touchdowns. He ran for 132 yards and three more. And he directed the Cardinals to a 47-35 win over the Tar Heels to set up another game in the brightest of national spotlights when Clemson visits Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
What does Jackson do for an encore? He became just the first player in history from a Power 5 school to post back-to-back games with better than 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing (according to ESPN Stats and Info). In his first two games, he's accounted for 1,010 yards. Against Power 5 opponents.
Earlier in the week, North Carolina linebacker Andre Smith said of Jackson, “We definitely don't want it to be the Lamar Jackson show. . . . He's not going to beat us. We are just going to stop anything he tries to do. He's not going to be able to run on us.”
What happened? It was the Lamar Jackson Show. UNC couldn’t stop him. Michael Vick was Tweeting about him again. Even Joel Klatt, the FOX analyst who didn't rank him among the top five quarterbacks in college football entering the season, had a Twitter comment:
On Jackson’s first touchdown run, he faked a handoff, took off up the middle, then shook Smith with one move in the middle of the field and outran him to the end zone, looking back and staring at him slightly as he crossed the goal line for a 43-yard scoring run.
On Jackson’s final touchdown, when he spun out of a group of players to fight daylight on an 11-yard run, Smith was the first player to miss. But he wasn’t the only one.
As a team, it’s still tough to know what to make of Louisville. They have plenty of talent, but still have some misfires offensively and their issues against the pass are troublesome – even considering the injury to preseason All-American cornerback Jaire Alexander.
But Jackson? He’s the best player in college football. And even if you want to argue that point, it’s tough to argue that he’s not the most exciting player in the game.
Among his mind-blowing moments Saturday:
1). After a UNC touchdown in the second quarter, Jackson dropped back to pass, sidestepped a defender, took two steps up in the pocket and flicked a pass 50 yards downfield into the hands of Jaylen Smith, who ran in for a 75-yard TD. It wasn't just the quality of the throw, though, that had Petrino smiling. It was that Jackson, a year ago, probably wouldn't even have made the throw or even seen Smith, because he would've taken off running. This year, he beat the blitzer, stepped up a couple of steps and calmly found Smith streaking down the middle.
2). Twice he eluded the grasp of more than one North Carolina player simultaneously to avoid taking a sack and make positive yardage.
3). The 43-yard TD run, where he showed some of the elusiveness he displayed last season in the open field, one of the few times he’s gotten to the second level with daylight this season.
4). His final touchdown, where he again emerged from a group of players, made Smith miss, then seemed to be wrapped up by safety Donnie Miles only to turn on a dime, evade his hold, and lunge three yards to reach the end zone, slamming the ball to the turf across the goal line.
But add to those these things:
5). Jackson hit nine different receivers and now has thrown 85 passes this season without an interception.
6). Much of Jackson’s damage was done in the pocket, with good protection, and devastating accuracy on his short and intermediate-range passes. On second and third downs his completion percentage is 67.5 (27-40) for 308 yards and two touchdowns.
“What a player,” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. “What a great competitor.”
Louisville wideout Dez Fitzpatrick, who had a pair of TD catches on Saturday, said that the Louisville locker room was aware of what Smith said during the week.
“We tried to kind of block it out a little bit,” Fitzpatrick said. “But definitely, we wanted to make them pay. . . . He’s just a once in a lifetime type of quarterback.”
All Jackson said on Twitter was, “Better have that same energy when you see me because I’m going super Sayian!”
For those of you above a certain age and without children, that’s a reference to the Manga series Dragon Ball. Allow wideout Jaylen Smith to translate: “Super Sayian is Lamar 5.0. 2.0 is understatement. 2.0 is 700 yards of total offense. That’s Super Sayian Lamar.”
North Carolina coach Larry Fedora doesn’t know about all that. But he knows Jackson is good.
“When you’re in a situation and one-on-one with him in open space, he’s going to win. He’s going to win,” Fedora said. “There are times when you’re in a two-on-one that he’s going to win. He’s special. You all saw him. He sat back there and threw the ball like he’s in the NFL. People say he’s not that type of quarterback, they’re wrong.”
So here we are again. Lamar 2.0 or 5.0 or whatever. His encore is under way.
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