Louisville Squandered the Lamar Jackson Era

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Lamar Jackson accounted for more than 500 yards Saturday against Boston College: 332 passing with a pair of touchdowns, 180 rushing and another three scores. Louisville lost, 45-42.

Saturday’s outcome crystallizes the unfortunate squandering of the Lamar Jackson era. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner will, or at least should, go down in college football lore uttered in the same breath as transcendent talents Cam Newton, Tim Tebow, Charlie Ward.

Jackson joined all three in the illustrious Heisman Club. Unlike those three, he will never play for a national championship, assuming he opts to forego his final year of eligibility. Heck, losing to Boston College and falling to 0-3 in ACC competition virtually guarantees one of the best individual playmakers ever will never get a crack at his own conference championship.

When Louisville endured a similarly difficult start to ACC play two years ago, I suggested Bobby Petrino should have a shorter leash than most coaches.

It was on this very same week, after being routed by Florida State, that a freshman Lamar Jackson really began getting loose. Jackson was dynamite on the back-half of the 2015 season, his 186 and 226-yard rushing performances against Kentucky and Texas A&M to close the campaign provided a springboard into 2016.

And that first half of 2016 just might be the most exciting, jaw-dropping stretch for any one player in my time following college football. But Lamar Jackson flourished in spite of the program, not because of it.

That’s become increasingly clear in the 10 games. Jackson continues to register eye-popping numbers and deliver highlight-reel moments in spite of a porous offensive line. The Cardinals remain competitive because the offense can score points at a pace keeping up with the big yields coordinator Peter Sirmon’s defense allows.

Lamar Jackson’s open-field runs, his jukes and spin-moves, as feel as though they’re occurring on a treadmill.

Louisville’s struggles almost give me an added appreciation of just how excellent Jackson’s been in his college career. Almost. He’s made what would otherwise be bad teams competitive, but the end result invokes the same frustration I felt with a Texas Longhorns basketball team that had Kevin Durant averaging 26 points and 11 rebounds per game finishing third in the Big 12 and bowing out in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament. Just call Dez Fitzpatrick the D.J. Augustin to Jackson’s KD.

Even at that, Texas wasn’t losing to a comparable opponent to this BC bunch, which came in at 2-4 with a scoring offense ranked No. 84. And Rick Barnes certainly didn’t have the baggage Petrino brought back with him to Louisville.

Jackson winning that Heisman is fortunate; one of the best players in modern college football history ensured his place in the game’s lineage. It sure isn’t coming via the program.