By Dalton Ray and Conner Farrell–
The countdown until Louisville football’s home opener against Charlotte is now 76 days. The team has 16 returning starters and there’s a lot of buzz around the program. Entering the third year of Bobby Petrino’s second stint, expectations are starting to build.
Will Louisville be able to get over the hump and knock off ACC top-dogs Florida State or Clemson? A large majority of that answer relies on one spot, the quarterback. The roster bolsters four players at the position, but Lamar Jackson has the attention of U of L fans and the college football world.
Over the next ten weeks, TLC’s sports staff will have a weekly breakdown of each position. To get things started, we will tackle one of the most important positions, the QB spot.
2015 Stats: (Passing) 135-247, 54.6 completion-percentage, 1,840 yards, 12 touchdowns, 8 interceptions
(Rushing) 163 attempts, 960 yards, 5.9 per carry, 11 touchdowns
The incumbent starter of the 2016 team is one of the most electrifying athletes in the country. Entering last fall, Jackson’s dazzling speed and quick release was known after summer practice. The unknowns were how much playing time and what position would Jackson play. After the dual-threat QB replaced Reggie Bonnafon against Auburn and nearly led a comeback, the true freshman started the majority of the season and traded time with Kyle Bolin.
The brightest spot of the season for the signal caller came in the final two victories against Kentucky and Texas A&M. In the bowl game against A&M, Jackson accomplished what only Vince Young and Johnny Manziel have done in bowl history: rush for 200 yards and pass for 200 yards in a game. Jackson tallied over 700 total yards and eight touchdowns in Louisville’s seventh and eighth wins on the year.
As Jackson gets more comfortable in the Petrino offense, the sky is the limit for the sophomore. This offseason, Jackson has garnished national attention from multiple media outlets and has even been named a dark horse Heisman candidate. Petrino believes Jackson is ready to make the next step as a passer.
“(Jackson) has really made a lot of strides in our bowl preparation in his ability to do well under center and his footwork,” Petrino said. “His understanding of defenses was a great improvement. I just want him to have a lot of confidence with his accuracy.”
In the spring game, Jackson passed for 519 yards and eight touchdowns. If the spring game is any indication of the way “Action” Jackson will play this season, the 2016 year will be one to remember.
2015 Stats: 78-136, 56.9 completion-percentage, 1,154 yards, 7 touchdowns, 6 interceptions
The junior signal-caller will more than likely be the immediate back-up to start the season. Last season, Bolin started in four games and played in seven total. Bolin’s most impressive work came in the 41-17 win against Syracuse. Bolin threw for a career-high 362 yards and three touchdowns versus the Orange.
The Lexington-Catholic product is a pro-style, drop-back quarterback; which is the complete opposite of Jackson. Bolin is a fiery field general who makes his energy visible on the field and knows where he stands on the team.
“I understand my role, I have to know the ins-and-outs of the offense and try to push guys during practice,” Bolin said. “I want to lead by example on and off the field.”
Now in his third year under Petrino, Bolin will be looked to lead the younger players at the position and step up when called upon. The homegrown player is an extremely viable back-up that utilizes crossing routes by receivers and gets his running backs and tight ends involved in the passing game, signatures for Coach P’s offense. If it wasn’t for Jackson’s late-season burst, Bolin might have come into the 2016 year as a starter.
At this time last year, when Pass announced his commitment it was huge news. Pass was one of the hottest uncommitted-recruits in the nation after a standout junior year and a successful outing in the Elite 11 camp. Pass has been open about not shying away from taking the starting spot.
“I’m not afraid. Anywhere I go, there will be a competition,” Pass said. “I want to be the guy wherever I go.”
Pass is the highest rated player of the 2016 recruiting class and Petrino’s crown-jewel. According to 247sports, Pass was rated as a four-star and the fifth dual threat QB in the class. The 6’4”, 215-pound incoming freshman chose Louisville over football powerhouses Alabama, Auburn and Notre Dame.
Nicknamed “Puma”, Pass is an extremely raw quarterback in terms of footwork, delivery mechanics and progression reading. Pass’ physical tools are what make him so special and a can’t-miss quarterback. The Columbus, Georgia native has a huge arm, good deep-ball accuracy and a good athlete.
Pass will have to break bad habits of being a high school player who relied on his athleticism to bail him out of situations but has all the talent needed to be a multi-year starter. Pass simply has the make-up a coach would look for in a quarterback: wide frame that can put on weight, big arm, mobile and confident.
With a player of this much talent, it’s hard to keep them off the field. A redshirt year might be in-store for Pass as current starter Jackson, only a sophomore, could hold down the QB spot for the next two to three years. Development is the biggest key to success for Puma.
Stats: (2016 Spring Game) 3-9, 33 completion-percentage, 0 touchdowns, 1 interceptions
Horton is a junior walk-on and has yet to get on the field as a Cardinal. Graduating from Leslie County in 2013, Horton was a three-year starter. Tim Couch, 1999’s number-one overall NFL draft pick, is also an alumnus of Leslie County. Horton had his best team success in 2011 when he led the Eagles to a 9-3 record. The hearty-quarterback comes from a small school and doesn’t seem to have a big chance to beat out any of the quarterbacks listed above.
File Photo / The Louisville Cardinal