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.

Lamar Jackson takes flight to new level

Life among college football’s 10 top ranked teams comes with numerous benefits, among them having University of Louisville football be a frequent topic on a wide range of sports broadcasts on national TV and radio.

Lamar Jackson looking good on an eight-inch screen above the clouds.
Lamar Jackson looking good on an eight-inch screen above the clouds.

Perhaps the best part is having UofL football games picked up on a weekly basis by ESPN and/or ABC television. Especially nice when one is out of state and traveling as we were during the Louisville-Boston College game on Saturday. 

Returning home on a Delta flight after seeing grandson Koby at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fla. A minor snafu having two people by my name assigned to the same seat. Easily remedied because the other person was female, and the manifest indicated her seat was further back in the airplane.

That situation resolved delighted to discover that satellite television was available on the big Boeing 737. No need to mess with the laptop or unpredictable Internet service. ESPN2 is carrying the game, the broadcast is free, and the picture is great.

One of those games where everything goes right, right from the opening coin toss, UofL winning the flip, getting the ball on offense, quarterback Lamar Jackson breaking open on the third play from scrimmage, dashing 69 yards for Louisville’s first touchdown.

Obvious that UofL is focused, following a close call against Virginia in the previous game and a disappointing seventh place rating by the college playoff selection committee. Highly motivated, more than a little miffed, ready to punish someone and Boston College is in the way.

Jackson could do little wrong, accounting for seven touchdowns for the third time in a game this season. He would keep the ball 15 times, rack up 185 yards and score three touchdowns on the ground. His receivers, including James Quick, were holding on to the ball in this game, allowing him to complete 12 of 17 passes for 231 yards and four more touchdowns.

Quick, nearing the end of his college career, pulling in three passes for 78 yards and two touchdowns. Just what he needed after a dismal performance last week.  Jaylen Smith picking up where he left off against Virginia, catching six passes for 123 yards and another touchdown this week. Cole Hikutini with a couple of receptions and a TD as well.

Coach Bobby Petrino had indicated his team had had a good week of practice, and appeared to be really focused. There was no better evidence of that than going an entire game without a single penalty. 

Final score: Louisville 52, Boston College 7.

Quite a show, and the best possible distraction from cramped airline seats and a three-hour-plus jaunt from Fort Myers to Detroit and back to Louisville. What a great trip.

Lamar Jackson gets a Heisman web site

screenshot-2016-10-17-10-54-25The University of Louisville has created a web site for Heisman Trophy candidate Lamar Jackson, making it easier for scribes and fans to keep up with his record-breaking statistics.

Check it out at Lamar8.com.

Through his first six games, the UofL quarterback has 1,806 passing yards and 832 rushing yards. He has accumulated 30 touchdowns, including 15 passing and 15 rushing for the seventh-ranked Cardinals.

He is, in fact, the first player in Atlantic Coast Conference history to pass for 15 touchdowns and to rush for 15 touchdowns.

And he’s only just begun.

Jackson needs to keep breaking records to get Louisville to playoffs

Following the disappointing loss to Clemson, University of Louisville football fans are left to ponder the chances of UofL still making it to college football’s championship playoffs. Their hopes hinge heavily on the popularity of sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Lamar Jackson rewriting NCAA record books. (Cindy Rice Shelton photo)
Lamar Jackson rewriting NCAA record books. (Cindy Rice Shelton photo)

Right now, Louisville’s best shot for a playoff shot would be for Jackson and the Cardinals to take down an unbeaten Houston when the teams clash in Houston on Nov. 17. The college football world is hoping that happens because serious football fans want to see as much of Jackson as possible.

Jackson is on pace to become the first player in Football Bowl Subdivision history with 6,000 yards of total offense in a season, according to Kelly Dickey, UofL sports junky. The record is 5,976 yards.

Most fans would concede, however, that the odds getting to the playoffs are not great, not with nine undefeated teams in the top 10 of the Associated Press. Seventh-ranked UofL is the only team in that group not undefeated  after the first five weeks.

Louisville was so close to still being in that group, one yard from a first down, two yards from a game-winning touchdown with less than 40 seconds remaining in the game.

Like William Gay getting flagged for being offside on that failed Rutgers field goal attempt back in 2006, the memory of James Quick going down so easily a yard short a first down is going to stick with UofL fans for a long, long time.

While it’s true that one play or one player may not necessarily be responsible for losing a game, it can’t be denied that had a single play turned out differently that Louisville would be considered an odds-on favorite to make the playoffs this season.

UofL is going to need a lot of help to get there.  Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson are 1, 2, 3, respectively. Other traditional big-time programs like Michigan, Tennessee and Texas A&M, as well as Washington and Houston are serious contenders for one of the four playoff spots.

NCAA football betting odds for the slots are all over the place but at least one  source has Alabama and Ohio State at 5-2 odds, Clemson and Washington at 7-1, Houston and Louisville at 8-1, Michigan at 12-1 and Miami, Tennessee and Texas A&M at 20-1.

Forget about UofL getting to the ACC championship game. There’s just no way Clemson loses two more conference games. Louisville has to get back on the winning track and stay there, taking care of business against Houston and in the final home game against Kentucky.

Equally, if not more, important, Jackson must continue his record breaking pace. Along with that comes an immediate ratings boost for any network in a game in which he is involved.

He’s currently averaging 300.8 yards of total offense per game in his career, according to Dickey. He says Jackson is currently on pace to break the NCAA record of 63 total touchdowns in a season with 4:17 left in the second quarter vs. Kentucky on Nov. 26.

Louisville football approaches another crossroads

Another one of those “biggest games in University of Louisville football history” coming up Saturday. If UofL wins, there will be several more monster games this season, each bigger that the last.

The Cardinals are facing a Herculean challenge this weekend, facing a fifth-ranked Clemson team that has won 18 games in a row at home. The official capacity of Memorial Stadium is 81,500 but the stadium can accommodate close to 90,000 for a major showdown.

Why is Bobby Petrino smiling?
Why is Bobby Petrino smiling? (Cindy Rice Shelton photo)

This game means everything to Clemson which came within five points of winning a national championship last season. The Tigers know what to expect, they will be highly motivated, and probably playing in front of a record crowd. They will be confident, charged up and expecting to win.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, once considered the hands-down favorite for Heisman Trophy, has something to prove, having been overshadowed by UofL’s Lamar Jackson during the first four games. Watson been in the national spotlight many times, and it’s proving time, he’s ready for his moment.

The time for wishful thinking, the coulda, woulda, and shouldas, are hopefully in the past.

The Cardinals rank first in scoring offense (63.9 points per game) and total offense (with 682 yards per game). Clemson, however, ranks among the top 10 in scoring defense (11.0 points), passing defense (125 yards) and is allowing only 92.7 yard rushing per game.

Louisville is currently ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press poll for the second week in a row. The last time UofL was ranked that high was in the poll following a Thursday night win over West Virginia at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in 2006. The Cardinals weren’t there long, losing a nailbiter the following week at Rutgers.

As much as this game means for Clemson, it means so much more to the University of Louisville. The media frenzy surrounding UofL will become even more insane if the Cardinals beat Clemson, starting out 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, with wins against two teams ranked among the top five in the country.

Ten years between top five rankings is a long time, both times under Bobby Petrino’s leadership. An affirmation of Tom Jurich’s belief that Petrino is one of the best football coaches in the nation. UofL fans have seen a lot of ups and downs, not wanting to gamble on another decade.

Pardon us if we seem to be more than a little anxious about actually beating Clemson. Hard to act like one has been there before when we haven’t been there before.

The time for wishful thinking, coulda, woulda, and shoulda are hopefully in the past. The future is front of us. This Saturday at Clemson.