CRAWFORD | In victory over Virginia, Lamar Jackson keeps making history
With his University of Louisville career likely nearing its end, junior quarterback Lamar Jackson continues to pile up historic achievements.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – We’ve seen it before. We won’t see it live, before our eyes, for too much longer.
Lamar Jackson fakes a handoff, sprints through a pair of defenders at the line, and is gone. From the moment he took his first step forward after the fake handoff to the goal line, 72 yards later in actual distance covered, was 8.06 seconds.
The duration of the highlight took only about half the time of ESPN’s video pre-roll ad that preceded it. And now, you have to figure, Jackson’s time in Louisville is growing short.
We’re down, in all likelihood, to one more game in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
In his probable penultimate performance in the building, Jackson had a pretty average game by his standards – he passed for 195 yards and three touchdowns. He ran for 147 yards and one touchdown on 15 carries. Louisville won the game 38-21.
I was on the visiting sideline for Jackson’s big run, a 68-yarder in the first quarter. For the last 20 yards, he was just cruising. I watched defenders dig, put their heads down and extend to try to pursue him as fast as they could. Jackson kept pulling away. He was Secretariat at the Belmont, a tremendous machine. Can it be almost over already? Will we ever forget? We better not. We’d better make time to remember.
Seventy-two yards in less than 8.1 seconds, in game conditions, in cruise control for the last 20 yards. Pointing toward the end zone for the last ten, looking back as he crossed the goal line.
Now, let the record show this – and let it stand as a key piece of evidence that Jackson is not only a talented player and elite runner, but a good teammate and legitimate football player, regardless of position: That touchdown streak in the first quarter wasn’t his fastest run of the day.
No, that was saved for later. And the ball wasn’t in his hands.
In the third quarter, he spotted Jaylen Smith open down the right sideline, six yards ahead of a cornerback scrambling to catch up, and lofted the ball into the end zone, just a tad too far, a touch too much on what would have been an easy touchdown pass. Too bad.
Except that it wasn’t. Smith fully extended, reached up his right hand, and cradled the ball, one handed, softly into his grasp before running out of the corner of the end zone.
Jackson, who had been pressured by a couple of defenders, took off sprinting at the 20. In a flash, he was all alone in the end zone, leaping up to congratulate Smith.
“Yeah, he was the first one to me,” Smith said.
“Yeah,” Jackson said. “I had to. You know I was excited about that. That was a great catch.”
It was a great catch, and was recognized as such. Fewer probably noted the effort Jackson made to be the first on the scene in the end zone. Fewer still, probably, recognized the effort it took to make the throw. Smith, of all people, was the one to point it out.
“The catch was cool, but I don’t know if anybody realized what Lamar did in the pocket,” Smith said. “It’s like he did, like, a karaoke step back and forth. It was ridiculous. . . . If people realized what he did in the pocket, they’d be just as impressed.”
Let the video show: Jackson dropped back, felt pressure, had to step up, and then to step back, and to his right to avoid the rush of Virginia linebacker Chris Peace. Keeping his eyes downfield, he threw the pass for Smith.
“That was my favorite part of the video, right there,” Smith said.
Everyone will remember the great runs. Jackson’s teammates will remember him as a team guy, somebody who celebrated their accomplishments and shouldered blame when it came their way. People with Jackson’s talent don’t always do that.
Jackson leads the NCAA in total offense at 417.9 yards per game (39 yards ahead of No. 2, Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma). So I was wrong earlier. His 342 yards didn’t make for an average game. They made for a below-average game for Jackson. He has played in 35 games at Louisville. That one only ranks No. 20 in total yardage.
The stats are easy to see. He ranks fourth in the nation this season in rushing touchdowns alone. He’s the only player with more than 4,000 yards of total offense. He’s the only player in the nation to run for more than 1,000 yards and pass for more than 3,000, just like he was the only player in the nation to do it last season.
And more special than that? He’s the only player in NCAA history to do that in back-to-back seasons. Jackson isn't majoring in history at Louisville. But he is making it.
“He always pulls a different rabbit out of the hat,” Smith said. “There's always a new trick. You can't refer to him as a one-trick pony. There's always something different, something more, and more spectacular than the week before. It's like 'wow.’”
I feel for Louisville coach Bobby Petrino when he says, as he said on Saturday, “Another tremendous performance. . . . What else can you say about Lamar?”
As someone who has written thousands of words about Jackson, there’s not much else you can come up with. Except, maybe, for this. A teammate, Jaylen Smith, said this, and it ought to be remembered, just as Jackson’s 20-yard sprint to be the first to congratulate him after his one-handed catch should be remembered.
“He's Lamar. He's a fantastic guy,” Smith said. “It's more amazing to see him off the field, to know how humble he is, how hard he works. I mean, he's all right -- he ain't all that for real. I'm just kidding. What he does off the field and how he carries himself off the field just speaks volumes on the player he is on the field. It just translates.”
That’s the language of respect. And Jackson deserves it.
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