Lamar Jackson nears perfection as Louisville football rips Kentucky

Reggie Bonnafon and Lamar Jackson emerge from the tunnel for their final regular season game (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Lamar Jackson may be reaching his peak as the end of an unforgettable era draws near. Much better than the player who won the Heisman Trophy last season.

Lamar Jackson fields questions at press conference following UofL’s sixth win in the last seven games against UK (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Jackson has created a lot of magical memories during his career as the Louisville quarterback but he may have waited until the final regular season game for one of his best overall performances. Couldn’t have come at a better time than in a 44-17 win over Kentucky.

Jackson has had numerous games in which he has run or passed for three or more touchdowns, surpassing 100 yards rushing and over 300 through the air. He did it so frequently that it almost became routine, something football fans took for granted.

This was one of those rare games when he didn’t run for a single touchdown and he only passed for two touchdowns. But he never had a more complete game, with UofL scoring every time it got the ball before Jackson left late in the game.  UofL punter Mason King would not be needed in this one, thank you.

Coach Bobby Petrino would say afterward that “Lamar Jackson is the best player you’re ever going to see. There has never been a player like him and there won’t be for a long time.”

Haunted by costly fumbles and interceptions in last season’s loss to UK, Jackson said he had been looking forward to this game for a year. Nothing but pinpoint passing in this one, completing 15 of 21 passes to seven different players for 216 yards.

No hesitating, no panicking, no mistakes. Knowing what to do with the ball on every play. Getting lots of help again from Reggie Bonnafon with two touchdowns to go with nine carries for 64 yards and Dae Williams with six carries for 62 yards and a touchdown.

Getting plenty of protection from a greatly improved offensive line, yielding no sacks, paving the way for 32 UofL first downs, compared to only 20 for Kentucky.  The defense, while giving up 211 yards to Bennie Snell, allowed only eight passes to be completed, holding UK to 110 passing yards.

Petrino with plenty of accolades for a team that looked like it was going nowhere before winning the last three games. “The assistant coaches kept coming to work with a positive attitude and a great work ethic,” he said. “The defense kept bringing, they just kept coming. I’m really happy with the way we played. The execution was great.”

Petrino said it was so much fun to see how much Jackson has grown during over the past three seasons. “He’s the ultimate competitor. I don’t think I’ve ever been around someone who likes to compete as much as he does. He backs it up with confidence, and he’s so humble.

“He was on the sideline cheering and encouraging every guy on the field  after he came out of the game. He’s the greatest teammate and greatest kid in the world.”

 

Jackson fumble leads to another Louisville stumble

Was it just a couple of weeks ago that the University of Louisville football team was considered a serious contender for the 2016 college football playoffs? Reality took a while to catch up, shattering any and all illusions or disillusions.  

Kirk Herbstreit, of ESPN, had UofL listed third in his rankings back then, saying on air that he believed the Cardinals were capable of beating top-ranked Alabama. There were lots of people who agreed with him, including those who made Louisville third in the Associated Press poll.

Another rocky day for Lamar Jackson in the season finale (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).
Another rocky day for Lamar Jackson in the season finale (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Quarterback Lamar Jackson, like his University of Louisville football team, is looking all too fallible these days. Either he’s not as good as was once considered or most teams have figured out how to slow him down considerably.

Two weeks ago, Jackson was considered a virtual shew-in for Heisman Trophy honors, the “lock of all locks,” considered by Las Vegas to be a 1-50 favorite for college football’s most coveted award.  He was at that point considered all but invincible.

The outlook changed dramatically when Louisville fell victim to Houston in a devastating 36-10 loss, exposing all of UofL’s weaknesses, knocking the Cardinals out of any serious discussion about the nation’s best football teams this season.

Jackson a mere shadow of his national perception in the loss, managing to make only 20 of 43 passes while rushing for only 33 yards. His team would register only one touchdown while Jackson was getting sacked 11 times.

Just when one couldn’t imagine things getting any worse, things did get worse on Saturday. Louisville was knocked off by arch-rival Kentucky 41-38 before a crowd of 54,075 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

When he wasn’t scorching UK’s defense, Jackson was keeping the Wildcats in the game. He would have three costly interceptions and would cough up the ball in the final minute that would lead to the winning field goal.

UofL’s slumping performance in recent weeks, along with Jackson’s problems, may have an impact on the Heisman race. The national sports media, being what it is, thrives on creating drama when none may actually exist.

The Heisman Trophy is generally associated with winners and national contenders, with an individual player usually receiving a lot of credit for his team’s success. Louisville is free fall now, no longer in contention, plummeting in the polls. 

Jackson has not done himself any favors in the past two games, making many Heisman voters scratch their heads, looking for possible reasons to reconsider their votes.

Question: Can Stoops control UK players against Louisville

The antics of University of Kentucky players prior to the annual football game against the University of Louisville last season had to be the worst display of poor sportsmanship I’ve ever seen.  It remains to be seen whether UK coach Mark Stoops has learned anything from that episode.

Fans were in a state of disbelief as too many UK players to count waved their middle fingers and upside-down L’s toward the stands during pre-game warmups at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Predictably, some of them stomped on the UofL logo at midfield.Screenshot 2015-11-27 10.03.28

Then several of them brazenly wandered to the Louisville side of the 50-yard line, getting into the faces of UofL players, pushing and shoving, as if seeking to ignite an all-out rumble. So many UK players on UofL’s side of the field, more intent on conflict than any concern about the upcoming game.

Anyone who witnessed that had to be concerned about what would happen on UK’s home field this year. The situation is strikingly similar to last year, with Kentucky again needing a win to become bowl eligible. The Wildcats are backed into a corner, they’re desperate, and they are in their own den. If they could do what they did at an away game, who knows how far they will take it Lexington? On their home field?

In his pre-game remarks Monday, Stoops seemed to accept responsibility for the extracurricular activities. He said the emotions may have hurt his team and there will be no repeat of the histrionics. “We don’t need to do that, we need to worry about playing football,” he said.

Hopefully, that’s true. But that should have been obvious to the UK coaching staff last season, instead of encouraging their players to be aggressive. Embarrassing themselves while insulting both UofL and UK fans. Why would he have lowered himself to that level in the first place?

Stoops is going to have to prove he can control himself and his players this Saturday. Some of these UK players, including starting quarterback Drew Barker, were among those involved in a brawl at Richmond bar in which an Eastern Kentucky University football player was seriously injured. No significant legal action wasf taken as a result of that incident, nor were any UK players dismissed from the team.

Among the UK players to keep an eye is C.J. Johnson, a senior defensive tackle, who wears No. 67. Johnson told reporters, “A lot of players from Kentucky hate them, hate them (Louisville) a lot.” Strong emotions and words for someone raised in South Carolina. If Johnson’s attitude is typical of his teammates, Stoops may have difficulty controlling his troops.

UofL players restrained themselves pretty well before last year’s game, considering UK’s silliness came as a total surprise. College teams just don’t come into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and act like that. Any effort by UofL fans to respect the visiting team that day was wasted, the UK coaching staff and players tarnishing their school’s image in a major way.

Louisville players will not be caught off guard this weekend.  The hope is that they will continue to maintain their focus on football.  The worst thing would be to actively respond to the gutter-sniping. Give them what they want, but do it to them on the football field.

Top five Louisville football rain games

Nothing like college football on a Saturday afternoon in the fall.

But fall football is often accompanied by extreme weather, including incredibly hot temperatures and stormy weather, sometimes challenging even the most devout University of Louisville followers.Screenshot 2015-08-17 17.06.54

Which UofL fan will ever forget the inaugural game at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium on Sept. 5, 1998? The day Cardinal fans had been dreaming of for decades, having their own football stadium. Largely funded by business and fan donations, the new stadium sent a message that Louisville was committed to competing at the highest level.

Temperatures on the field were at least 105 degrees, and John L. Smith was making his debut at UofL, getting introduced to the UofL-UK rivalry. Kentucky would take full advantage of UofL that day 68-34, still looking for more points when the horn sounded. PJCS ran out of bottled water that day and dozens of fans treated for heat stroke. A miserable day for football.

With what some weather forecasters are describing as a “Godzilla El Nino” heating up out west, the upcoming fall season could be a wet one. UofL fans have been through many rough weather games and have learned how to prepare for them. UofL football actually has a good track record for rain games. Here are my top five rain games:

Sept. 26, 2002 –Florida State was in town, undefeated after four games and ranked fourth in the country. Accompanying the Seminoles were remnants of tropical storm Isidore  and a wind-driven drizzle that never subsided. The crowd of 38,109 hung around until the end, rewarded by the unforgettable sight of Henry Miller spurting 25 yards for the game-winning touchdown on the second play in overtime for a 26-20 win. An equally vivid memory was the fans in a kaleidoscope of rain ponchos converging on the field, and the goal posts taking a victory lap around the field.

Sept. 2, 2000 — A memorable duel between quarterbacks Dave Ragone and Jared Lorenzen. UK held a 19-14 lead in the third quarter when a violent lightning storm erupted, sending fans at PJCS scrambling over seats and into the aisles for protection. The delay would last for an hour and twelve minutes. UofL would block a dead certain UK game winning field goal on the final play in regulation. Tony Stallings would rush 25 yards on the second play in overtime to give UofL a 40-34 win.

Nov. 27, 2004 — The downpour began shortly after Eric Shelton took a handoff from Stefan Lefors on the first play of the game and scampered 80 yards for a touchdown. The bitter-cold rain was constant as UofL continued to pile on the points en route to 70-7 rout of the Cincinnati Bearcats. Adding fuel to UofL’s fire that day was the fact that the Cincinnati players had jumped on the UofL logo at midfield prior to the game. One the rare games where this observer left before the end of the game (grandson in hand).

Sept. 29, 2012 — This game between UofL and Southern Mississippi was scary before so much water accumulated in various parts of the field, the rain continuing to fall throughout the game. The Hattiesburg field was waterlogged, with at least three inches of waters in some spots.   UofL was 4-0 coming into the game, Southern Miss was 0-3, and the intensity was high, equalling earlier games in the rivalry. Teddy Bridgewater came into the game averaging 262.2 yards passing, but was held to 9-of-13 passing for 85 yards. Senorise Perry would score from 14 yards out with eight minutes to go, giving UofL a 21-17 win.

Dec. 28, 1993 — Not a fall game but Jeff Brohm was quarterbacking Louisville against Michigan State in the Liberty Bowl, with Howard Schnellenberger on the sidelines. Temperatures in the mid-20’s, with rain mixing with sleet. Thank goodness for battery-powered heated seat pads in that one. UofL trailed 7-3 going into the fourth quarter, emerging with a 18-7 win after Brohm’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Ferguson and a 14-yard touchdown run by Ralph Dawkins.

Nice rainy day memories, especially with UofL coming out on top.

Keion Wakefield picks Louisville over Kentucky

The University of Louisville football program wins another hat-picking contest Thursday, with Keion Wakefield, a talented wide receiver from Male High School, picking the Cardinals.

Wakefield briefly picked up a University of Kentucky hat, giving Wildcat fans a fleeting thrill, before placing it aside and donning the UofL hat.  He chose the Cardinals even though his brother Keron plays at the Lexington school.

A 5-foot-9, 165-pounder, Wakefield helped Male High to an 11-1 record last season and had 40 catches for 670 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s obviously serious about playing college football at the higher level.