CRAWFORD | No Heisman in the cards, but Louisville's Jackson still putting up Heisman numbers
Lamar Jackson won't repeat as Heisman Trophy winner, but he still deserves mention as one of the top players in the nation.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Lamar Jackson is still the most exciting player in college football. The Heisman Trophy, of course, is long gone. It evaporated in a less-than-stellar performance against Clemson on national television. It was finished with a late-game pick-six thrown against North Carolina State.
But there’s still not another player in the college game who is more worth the price of admission. There’s no one else who can turn ordinary into extraordinary with a single cut, spin or step in quite the same way as Jackson.
“He's one of those guys that for the whole entire 60 minutes of the game, your heart is in your throat every time he has the ball in his hands,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said this week. “At any point he can make an 80-yard play.”
Two weeks ago, even though his Wake Forest team led Louisville by two touchdowns throughout, Clawson said, “We never felt safe.”
But Jackson’s Heisman rivals can feel safe in this: There will be no Heisman repeat, and from the looks of things right now, Jackson won’t even be invited to New York as a finalist. But why? A look at his numbers compared to last season shows that he has been more efficient, increased his yards per carry and yards per completion. His completion percentage is up. His number of interceptions (and fumbles) is down.
Unfortunately for Jackson, so is his team. A Louisville program that came into the season hoping to contend for a playoff spot is now struggling to get to bowl eligibility.
“It’s not about me,” Jackson said after the loss at Wake Forest. “It’s about winning. That’s all I care about right now.”
The latest odds from Bovada show Jackson in seventh place among Heisman hopefuls. ESPN’s Heisman Trophy poll shows Jackson in seventh among that network’s Heisman voters, and far removed from enough votes for an invitation to New York. The Heisman rankings by Newsday show Jackson eighth. SBNation has Jackson sixth and The Sporting News fifth.
“I think he's playing really well, and obviously is one of the best players in the country,” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said during this week’s ACC coaches’ teleconference. “We're not taking care of business as a team enough to really get him into that talk and what he's doing, but when you look at his numbers and what he's done individually, you know, he's certainly one of the best players in the country. Now, I don't see all the other players and obviously know there's a lot of great players out there, but what Lamar does week in and week out really is amazing.”
Opposing coaches don’t argue that.
“This guy -- everybody knows what he does,” Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher said. “So I think him still being able to put up the numbers he does is amazing because when people game plan for you and have a whole year to plan for you and he's still putting up numbers and doing those things, I think it's amazing.”
Clemson’s Dabo Swinney said, “From just what I've seen of him, we played them early in the season, but he's electric just like he's always been. I know the season hasn't gone maybe the way they wanted it to from a win-loss standpoint, but he's still a great player.”
Everybody understands, of course, that the Heisman Trophy is a team award. But it also ought to be understood that Jackson is performing the way he is without a stellar team around him.
He leads NCAA FBS in total offense with 3,837 run-pass yards. The next highest player, Heisman favorite Baker Mayfield, quarterback at Oklahoma, is 430 yards behind him.
There are four running backs among the top contenders for the Heisman. Jackson has more rushing touchdowns than all of them, with 14 (tied for second most among Power-5 players). Jonathan Taylor or Wisconsin and Bryce Love of Stanford both have 12 rushing TDs. Josh Adams of Notre Dame and Saquon Barkley of Penn State both have nine. He leads the nation in carries of 10 yards or more. He’s in the top six nationally for rushing plays of 20 or more, 30 or more and 40 or more. He leads the nation in points responsible for.
He has raised his completion rate to just above 60 percent (from just above 54 a season ago). A year ago he threw for 272.5 yards per game. This year he’s at 312 per game.
He’s the only player in the nation in the Top 20 in passing and rushing yards. He leads the ACC in rushing yards per game and passing yards per game.
He’s the fourth player in NCAA history to total 8,000 passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards in a career. He’s the fastest player in FBS history to record 40 rushing touchdowns and 60 passing touchdowns, and only the fifth player to do it ever. He is the first underclassman in FBS history to have two seasons with at least 1,000 yards rushing and 2,500 yards passing.
Now, you tell me: He’s not one of the five best players in the nation?
Because of the Cardinals’ defensive struggles, every offensive mistake is magnified. But Jackson is making fewer mistakes than he did a year ago.
Perception is a tricky thing, but it is costing the junior this season. Still, it shouldn’t blur what he actually is accomplishing.
“Lamar has played really well,” Petrino said. “He's throwing the ball well. He's doing a lot of great things in the passing game, going through his progressions, taking care of the ball for the most part. He's done an unbelievable job running the football and executing the offense. You know, we just haven't been able to give him enough help in areas where we can stop teams and score enough points to win. But he's a great young man. He comes to practice every day and works extremely hard. He is a great competitor, so obviously he doesn't like to lose games, and he works hard every day to get better. You can't say enough about that.”
You can’t say enough about it, yet not enough is being said about it. Jackson won’t win the Heisman Trophy. Everybody, including Jackson, understands that.
But if you think he’s not the most exciting player in the game, even now, you’re kidding yourself.
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