By Sam Draut–
The University of Louisville football team ended its spring sessions of practices with the annual Spring Game in front of 16,221 fans at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
After impressive performances to end the 2015 season, quarterback Lamar Jackson garnered much of the team’s attention heading into spring practices, and the rising sophomore showed why in the culmination of the Cardinals spring practices. More known for his running ability during his first year of college football, Jackson passed from the pocket as Louisville’s Red team cruised to a 73-7 win over the White team.
Lambo: While his speed and athleticism have never been doubted, Jackson’s passing ability was the biggest storyline heading into spring practices. The 6-foot-3 Florida native looked comfortable in the pocket against the second-team defense and completed 24 of 29 passes for 519 yards and eight touchdowns.
“He had a lot of open guys, a lot of time,” coach Bobby Petrino said. “I liked his decision making. I made sure to get off the field. I wanted him to handle everything out there.”
Playing for the entirety of the first half and the opening possession of the second half, Jackson made reads, progressions and connected on several deep touchdown passes. Jackson hit James Quick in stride for an 85-yard touchdown pass and then connected with Jamari Staples 54-yard touchdown in the first half. On Jackson’s opening play of the second half, he found Reggie Bonnafon for a catch and run 65-yard score.
“I showed I could throw,” Jackson said. “I got an arm and I have accuracy.”
Petrino said Jackson’s accuracy has improved through the spring along with his leadership. He liked Jackson’s demeanor as he prepared for the spring game.
“He was really getting himself ready for the game,” Petrino said. “I like the energy he gave to the receivers.”
Defense: Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s two best pass rushers, Trevon Young and Devonte Fields, did not participate in spring practices. Young is still recovering from a fractured hip suffered in the Music City Bowl while Fields was held out after offseason shoulder surgery.
The first-team defense allowed one touchdown, a 65-yard run by Malin Jones in the opening possession of the second half, but dominated the second-unit offense besides the big run. Grantham was frustrated with his unit’s performance in the opening sequence after halftime, but the first team defense ended the day allowing 181 yards of total offense.
“We did great today on defense,” safety Josh Harvey-Clemons said. “We communicated and played together.”
Playing the star-position, Josh Harvey-Clemons had one sack and two tackles-for-a-loss, but also played in coverage.
Stacy Thomas played in place of James Burgess in the Music City Bowl after the three-year starting linebacker was ejected on the first play from scrimmage because of targeting. With the graduation of Burgess, Thomas becomes one of Louisville’s starting inside linebackers alongside of Keith Kelsey.
“Thomas played really fast and really physical,” Petrino said. “His ability to replace James Burgess is really important to us.”
Backfield: Six different running backs had five or more carries, led by Jeremy Smith’s team-high of 63 yards on five rushes. L.J. Scott rushed for 51 yards on six carries and Jeremy Smith scored two touchdowns and rushed for 46 yards. Senior Brandon Radcliff rushed for 25 yards on six carries. Petrino said the core of running backs had a good spring.
Receiving core: Nearly all of the Cardinals receiving core returns from last season and the group finished spring practices on a high note. Quick finished with five receptions and 152 yards and Jamari Staples hauled in four catches for 107 yards and a score.
The receivers had good timing with Jackson on deep throws and intermediate routes. Jackson found Cole Hikutini several times in the middle of the field. The senior tight-end had five receptions for 75 yards and scored two touchdowns.
While Bonnafon has started at quarterback and played running back in his first two seasons at U of L, he played lined up as a wide receiver for most of the spring.
“Reggie had a good spring,” Petrino said. “He has great hands, he is getting quicker on his routes. He can gives us a lot of different things we can do with him.”
What’s next: The team heads into the summer months with growing expectations with 18 starters returning from a team that ended the year winning six of its last seven games capped off by a victory in the Music City Bowl against Texas A&M.
“I like high expectations, why not, lets go for it,” Petrino said.
Photo by Wade Morgen / The Louisville Cardinal