By Matt Bradshaw–
When a true freshman totals over 400 yards through the air and on the ground in a major college bowl game, it is safe to say that major hype will follow.
This is the case for quarterback Lamar Jackson, Louisville’s most anticipated football player since Teddy Bridgewater.
In hindsight, it’s hard to see how anyone could possibly overlook Jackson in high school. The South Florida native’s highlight tapes made him internet-famous because of his athleticism. Jackson’s mesmerizing playmaking ability overshadowed his quarterback abilities. Jackson needed a chance to prove he is a high level signal-caller. With offers from Clemson, Florida, Florida State and others, Jackson turned them down to head to The Ville.
During the summer, a small rumble about Jackson’s quick release and athleticism began brewing. Jackson wasn’t given the starting nod in Louisville’s opening game last year against Auburn. While Jackson didn’t start, he did manage to throw an interception of the first play of the game. Throughout the game, the Tigers outplayed the Cardinals and gained a 24-0 lead by the third quarter. Enter Jackson.
The crushing deficit that Jackson faced did not stop him from making an impact. Jackson began turning the game into backyard football and U of L was back in the game. He ended up leading the Cardinals to three touchdowns and a field goal in their final four possessions. Louisville outscored Auburn 24-7 while Jackson was in the game.
This performance showed fans and the coaching staff what Jackson is capable of. Combine this with an inconsistent line, and Jackson ended the year with six starts. He was by no means perfect at his job, but the potential and raw talent exhibited by the true freshman gave U of L the best chance to win.
In Louisville’s 45-3 rout of Samford last September, Jackson set a school record for rushing yards in a game by a quarterback with 184 yards. By January, Jackson surpassed that record twice.
Against Florida State’s No. 21 pass defense, Jackson threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns. Jackson finished second in ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year voting behind Pittsburgh’s Qadree Ollison. Jackson’s 3,000 yard and 23 touchdown season helped the Cardinals to an 8-5 finish after a 0-3 start.
Many consider Michael Vick the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback the game has ever seen. Vick earned this respect due to his video game speed and agility mixed with his ability to throw ball 60+ yards with a simple flick of the wrist.
The future No. 1 NFL draft pick only had three games of at least 100 yards passing and rushing during his two-season college career. Jackson had five last year.
In an ESPN ranking of the Top 10 breakout players in college football for 2016, Jackson showed up atop of the list. Jackson added fuel to the fire when he threw for 519 yards and eight touchdowns Louisville’s spring game.
With the Cardinals’ first game on Sep. 1, Jackson begins his first full season as the face of the Louisville program.
Photo by Wade Morgen / The Louisville Cardinal