Time for next stage in Lamar Jackson’s career

Fortunately the loss to Mississippi State will not be the game people remember about Lamar Jackson’s college career

Over-reliance on any one player, however, is never a good thing. Probably the best thing for Jackson and the University of Louisville football program if he decides soon to pursue a career in the National Football League.

Almost impossible for Jackson to live up to massive expectations. Every sensational play, every pass completion, every dazzling run, every touchdown making him indispensable to his team. If Jackson wasn’t involved, it wasn’t going to happen.

Coach Bobby Petrino, getting away from the offensive strategies that have worked well for him in the past, was overly dependent on the instincts of one player. UofL’s success, or lack of it, may have suffered as a result, with little evidence of progress in the team’s overall development.

When Jackson was having a off day or not getting enough protection, he was prone to making major mistakes as he was Saturday when he threw four interceptions in the 31-27 loss to Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville.

It got to a point where some fans closed their eyes when he dropped back to pass. A fifth interception seemed inevitable. He completed 13 of 31 passing attempts for 171 yards with a passing efficiency mark of only 47.4% for the game.

Jackson gained 158 yards on the ground, including a touchdown, on 24 carries, not wanting to give up the ball to his running backs. Possibly for good reason with Malik Williams, Reggie Bonnafon, and Dae Williams combining for only 29 yards on 15 chances.

Bonnafon, a senior, was one of those teammates who never quite lived up to his potential. He finished the final game of his career with 13 yards rushing. He was never a real punt return threat, gaining nine yards on his only return Saturday.

“Lamar’s a great competitor and he has big shoulders,” said Petrino afterwards. “He competed extremely hard. We were in a position to win the game because of how hard he ran and the touchdowns he made …

“I would love to see him come back. Lamar needs to sit down with his parents and try to understand ‘What would better develop me?’ There have been guys who have come back for another year, playing the same system and do great. He’s really needs to do what is best him. He’s been an unbelievable player and a great person.”

Jackson has created some incredible memories for fans over the past three seasons. Time for him to move on, however, time to focus on the his future in the NFL.  UofL needs to move on as well, focusing on the team’s total development, getting everyone involved, and seriously competing again in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

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.”

 

Stormy weather not that bad, Louisville football pummels Syracuse

Quarterback Lamar Jackson and Jaire Alexander embrace after hooking up on a 72-yard touchdown pass play in the second quarter (lead photo). Stormy weather (above) but not the terror the TV weather guys were forecasting (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).
Lamar Jackson prepares to enter Cardinal Stadium for what was what probably the final home game of his career at the University of Louisville (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Nothing could have come close to the scary weather predictions made by Louisville’s TV forecasters during the days leading up to the UofL-Syracuse football game.  A possible storm of the decade it seemed and it was going to be confined to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

The first thing to remember is that wind, rain and/or snow make for great football, creating great memories for the players and fans. The second is that the forecasts are going to be exaggerated, never matching the intensity of the people making them.

As a result lots of loyal UofL football fans were scared off Saturday, not venturing out of their comfort zones. Amazing that some 34,265 were there to enjoy one of Louisville’s most dominant games of the season, a 56-10 win over Syracuse.

Lamar Jackson is the first to congratulate Malik Williams on his 46-yard touchdown in the first quarter (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Nothing special, Cardinal fans have seen much, much worse. The most loyal, the ones who chose to endure the elements, were rewarded Saturday with the honor of seeing what may have been quarterback Lamar Jackson’s final home game at PJCS.

Just another in many big games for him — 230 yards and two touchdowns through the air and 120 yards and two more touchdowns on the ground. Lamar Jackson earned legendary status during his three seasons at UofL.

All the numbers, all the touchdowns, all the memorable moments, probably never to be repeated again by anyone anywhere. Absolutely impossible to exaggerate all that he has accomplished. 

Senior running back Malik Williams, happy to be taking the ball from Jackson, having his best game ever in his final home game — 180 yards rushing, including two touchdowns, including a 46-yard TD on the second play of the game, and a 56-yard run on another play.

Reggie Bonnafon getting a hug from Interim Athletic Director Vince Tyra during Senior Day ceremonies (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Senior Reggie Bonnafon, also playing in his last game at PJCS, continuing to play wherever he was needed, today as a running back and kick returner. He would score two touchdowns in the second quarter — his first on a 33-yard, the second on a 34-yard pass from Jackson.

What a performance from the UofL defense, holding Syracuse to 197 yards rushing and 138 yards passing. Freshman Dorian Etheridge in on 11 tackles, including five solo’s. Senior linebacker Stacy Thomas and freshman C.J. Avery in on seven tackles. Make a note and look ahead, two freshmen for 18 tackles, more to come.

Such an enjoyable game to watch, having learned over the years how to survive the elements at Louisville football games. Great to see the defense emerge from invisibility to becoming an effective force. Nice to once again pummel Syracuse, one of those schools that would have left UofL in a lesser conference.  

We’ve run out of football Saturdays again in Louisville, they always seem to go so quickly. Especially when the Cardinals are playing like they were the last two games.

Tom Jurich should be there for first game in expanded PCJS

Tom Jurich watches as his son, Mark, announces the Thornton’s sponsorship of the Academic Center in 2013 (Charlie Springer photos).

The massive edifice of the north end zone expansion at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium is impressive. Even more so under the lights during a recent home game. A striking preview into the future of University of Louisville football.

When viewing the concrete and steel framework, it’s impossible not to think about Tom Jurich’s impact on the University.  Making UofL athletics nationally competitive in almost every sport, consistently among the top 20 in basketball, baseball, soccer and football.

One has to regret that Tom, who had the vision and the optimism to tackle the project, will probably not be on hand for the official opening on the stadium, which is scheduled Sept. 9, 2018.

Of all the projects TJ has undertaken, this may have been the one he wanted the most. The expansion will be a stunning addition to the stadium,  with the addition of 10,000 seats, including 1,000 club seats, 70 premium boxes and 12 exclusive field-level suites.

One is optimistic that Tom’s son, Mark Jurich, will be an integral part of the ribbon-cutting ceremonies and for the opening home game. Tom had put him in charge of the project, fundraising and all, and he appears to be right on target in terms of fundraising and construction.

What would make the event even more special would be for Tom Jurich there as well. Interim Athletic Director Vince Tyra has said Tom is a good friend and he greatly admires what he accomplished at UofL. Tyra should do everything he can do to make that happen.

Hell week ends for Louisville with win over Florida State

Plenty of accolades to go around following the University of Louisville football team’s 31-28 win over Florida State Saturday at Tallahassee:

— Kicker Blanton Creque for that 34-yard field goal with five seconds left on the clock. First game winner ever for him in the closing seconds. More than making up for a dud at the end of the first half.

— Running back Dae Williams finally making it into the backfield after recovering from an injury that kept him on the bench for most of the season. The freshman scoring his first touchdown on a 25-yard dash in the third quarter. The long wait for him finally over.

— Running back Reggie Bonnafon in one of his better offensive performances, 74 yards rushing and a two-yard touchdown. Never flashy but never to be counted out.

— Cornerback Trumaine Washington intercepting two Florida State passes, including that one he returned 22 yards in the second quarter leading to a UofL touchdown in the second quarter. Finally making an opposing quarterback pay, twice even.

— Quarterback Lamar Jackson, of course, rushing for 178 yards and a touchdown while passing for an additional 156 yards and another touchdown. The exceptional becoming the expected.

— Defensive Coordinator Peter Sirmon for a noticeable improvement in his defensive unit’s tackling, holding Florida State’s offense to 155 yards rushing. Earning a reprieve from the boo birds for at least six days.

— Junior linebacker Isaac Stewart in on nine tackles, including five solo tackles. Emerging from the pack, providing much needed leadership. Goodbye obscurity.

— Coach Bobby Petrino winning his second game in four tries against Florida State. First win in Tallahassee for the Cardinals since Johnny U in 1952. His offense at times more closely resembling Bobby 1.0 this day.

Down goes Florida State again, ending the week from hell for Louisville fans. Needed that one.