By Dalton Ray–
Fifth-ranked Louisville needed a game-winning drive to defeat unranked Virginia on the road. Lamar Jackson led a gutsy final drive and threw a 29-yard strike to Jaylen Smith for the go-ahead score. Capping off a 75-yard drive with 13 seconds remaining, U of L avoided a huge upset 32-25. The Cardinals now move to 7-1 (5-1).
Jackson totaled 451 yards and four touchdowns. Jamari Staples and Cole Hikutini both had big games, hauling in 13 catches and over 200 yards between the two.
Getting down early hurt the Cardinals and U of L couldn’t get out of their own way. At the half, Virginia led 10-7 and Louisville had six drops, allowed three sacks and went 1-for-6 on third down.
Louisville scored 18 of their 32 in the final quarter to win. Scoring 17 unanswered, Virginia responded with a touchdown with over a minute left. The two-point conversion gave Virginia a 25-24 lead before Jackson marched the Cardinals down the field.
Jaire Alexander picked off UVA quarterback Kurt Benkert twice and had six tackles. Cavaliers brought down Jackon five times while Benkert hit the deck only once.
Of Louisville’s final five drives, four ended with a score with three being touchdowns. The Cavs managed one touchdown, two punts, an interception and were sacked on the final play of the game.
Jackson showing his heart again
Like against Clemson, Jackson put everything on the line in order to win the game. Faced with three-fourths of the field in front of his offense, Jackson didn’t flinch in the face of pressure.
On fourth and short on the final drive, the amount of pressure peaked. After back-to-back incomplete passes, Jackson took the snap and stared down the barrel as two Virginia defenders charged him. Action Jackson held strong in the pocket and ripped a dart between the closing defenders to his safety blanket Hikutini to keep the drive alive.
Jackson showed that if he couldn’t get the ball down the field through the air, he would lower his shoulder and get it on the ground. Taking big shots from defenders, Jackson seemed to embrace it as the wire-thin gunslinger jumped right back up after each blow.
After bouncing around defenders, Jackson took the shotgun snap, took one drop-step and lofted a ball right to Smith to silence the crowd.
First quarter miscues
Louisville couldn’t get out of their own way initially. Starting their first drive inside their own 15-yard line, James Quick dropped two would-be touchdown passes. UVA fielded a punt around the 50 and took it into the redzone, capping the drive with a field goal.
The next drive, two big plays gave the Cards a scoring threat, but back-to-back dropped passes from Quick and Seth Dawkins swandered their chance.
Jackson found Jamari Staples on a contested strike and U of L had life. The next offensive possession, an uncertain hand-off on a zone read led to a fumble. UVA responded with a touchdown strike.
Dropped passes and penalties
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Louisville had trouble pulling in easy catches and committed way too many penalties.
These mistakes nearly cost the Cardinals a victory and almost created the biggest upset of the college football season. In the first half alone, Louisville ended with six dropped passes. All were catchable balls; two were touchdown passes and three were first down passes.
U of L is one of the most penalized teams in the nation. Entering the game, Louisville’s 63 penalties placed them tied for ninth in the nation. Their 578 penalty yards puts them as eighth.
Against UVA, Louisville added another seven penalties for 68 yards. Three holding calls against the Cardinals just before the half ended prevented the Cards from scoring any points before the half.
Louisville now averages eight penalties for 80 yards through their eight games.
Louisville’s kyptonite has been found
Petrino and his 2016 team is tabbed as one of the most exciting teams in the nation. Averaging over 50 points a game, totaling over 4,600 yards and a defense that takes the ball away, it’s easy to see why.
So, what’s the recipe for stopping the flash of the Cardinals? Ball control.
First brought to light in the Duke game, there is now a set blueprint to defeat U of L. To stop Louisville, teams need to have a slow grind on offense and protect the ball. Keep the Cardinals’ defense on the field and force them to make big stops.
Todd Grantham’s defense relies on turnovers and has trouble stopping teams man-for-man. Getting into managable third down situations puts even more pressure on the defense. One missed tackle, bad pursuit or non-domiant tackle means the offense can convert.
Jackson doesn’t handle this type of situation ideally. The Heisman front-runner starts to press and force the action when the defense is on the field for extended possessions.
Photo by Laurel Slaughter / The Louisville Cardinal