Lamar Jackson hasn’t forgotten.
The Louisville quarterback, who has played the roles of hero and goat in this Kentucky series, said last week that he hasn’t forgotten the infamous fumble.
Before later being named the Heisman Trophy winner, Jackson struck a Heisman pose in that UK game after he tied it up 38-38. But then with two minutes to go, Jackson coughed it up on the Cats’ 10-yard line.
Kentucky promptly marched it down the field and won the game 41-38 on an Austin MacGinnis field goal as time expired.
“I’ve waited a whole year for this game,” the Louisville quarterback said after the Cardinals destroyed Syracuse last week.
He doesn’t remember it for the huge day he had, which included 281 passing yards, 171 rushing yards and the four total touchdowns.
He remembers the three picks.
And that fumble.
“I fumbled last year and we lost,” he continued. “I don’t like that, so it’s going to be a good game.”
Teammates and coaches have discouraged Jackson from focusing on that key mistake as the Cardinals (7-4) prepare to come to Kroger Field on Saturday for the annual rivalry renewal.
“Last year he put a lot of pressure on himself, thinking that fumble cost us the game, and that’s just how great competitors are,” Coach Bobby Petrino said on Monday when told of Jackson’s comments.
“Always when you look back on a game like that, there were 15 other plays where if you just do it like that, you win the game, but I could see him saying that.”
Perhaps Jackson only needs to look a season before that when he pulled the Cardinals out of some serious hot water at then-Commonwealth Stadium by coming off the bench and guiding them all the way back from a 24-7 halftime deficit.
In that game, Jackson ran for 186 yards and two scores and threw for 130 and another touchdown.
Coach Mark Stoops remembers all of the above all too well.
And he knows the Cats (7-4) will have their hands full with an extra-motivated Jackson, who this season alone has 1,287 yards rushing yards, 3,273 passing yards and is responsible for 40 touchdowns.
“It’s very difficult to prepare for him because you can’t possibly simulate the things that he does,” Stoops said. “We all know with Coach Petrino’s offense, they’re already an awful lot to defend and you mix in his ability to ad lib and make plays — ad libbing if things break down and also with designed quarterback runs — puts a lot of pressure on a defense.”
That defense will need to have a short memory, too. It’s going to take a full group effort to bring down the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
“I haven’t seen a game this year where he hasn’t made some people look silly,” Stoops continued. “So it obviously is going to take great team defense and a bunch of people rallying to the football.”
‘They’ve made their mark’
Some 25 Kentucky players — 19 seniors and six juniors — will take to Kroger Field for a final time on Saturday flanked by friends and family.
Some arrived as part of some of Stoops’ earliest signing classes, some transferred in from junior colleges or other schools, some walked on.
But all of them have made an impact on the program in a special way.
“They’ve been really a joy to coach, and as I’ve mentioned countless times in here throughout preseason and throughout the year, that the leadership on this team is very strong,” Stoops said. “And it starts and ends with the seniors.”
Some of the departing players have altered the UK record books like quarterback Stephen Johnson, kicker Austin MacGinnis and wide receiver Garrett Johnson, or made significant plays at big times like linebacker Courtney Love, wide outs Charles Walker and Blake Bone, and offensive linemen Cole Mosier, Nick Haynes and Kyle Meadows.
But each of the 25 players has been significant even if fans can’t see it right away.
“Those guys have been very good and instrumental in some of the positive steps that we’ve taken,” Stoops said of the back-to-back bowl trips to end their UK careers. “And hopefully younger guys will learn from that, and continue to grow and push the program forward.”
This group has meant a lot to recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow because they bought in when the vision wasn’t quite as clear for the direction Kentucky’s program was headed.
“They believed in it. They’ve made their mark,” he said, standing in the lobby of the football training facility. “I appreciate them and their families because they really believed in something that was hard to believe in. We didn’t even have this building. … We’re gonna miss them guys.”
More than a trophy on line
One of the first things that greets the Kentucky players when they arrive at their practice facility is the Governor’s Cup Trophy that the Cats hoisted off the field at Papa John’s Stadium after a stunning upset of the No. 11 Cardinals last season.
It was the first time the hardware had been in UK’s possession since 2010.
It’s been missed by the Louisville players, running back Reggie Bonnafon said this week.
“Last year we came up a little bit short but we have week to prepare for them and to get it back and that’s what our goal is,” the senior from Louisville Trinity said.
The heavy, shiny trophy came up on Kentucky’s end, too.
“It’s Kentucky-Louisville,” quarterback Stephen Johnson said of motivation for the rivalry. “It’s for that Governor’s Cup sitting right over there.”
While intense rivalries sometimes seem to be more about the fans than the players, that doesn’t seem to be the case in this game this weekend.
“It’ll be on 10. It’ll be on 10, I’ll assure that,” UK’s Garrett Johnson said of the intensity level. “Last game, senior game. Louisville game. You know it’s a huge rival. … The intensity will be on 10.”
And if a polished trophy and bragging rights aren’t enough motivation, both coaches noted that the hangover — or buzz — from this game lasts through the offseason.
“They’re long days, long weeks after a loss,” Stoops said. “Nobody likes to lose and the fact that there’s a long time between our bowl game and this game, it’s important.”
There’s plenty at stake even though both teams are promised another game this season. For Kentucky, it will try to get eight regular-season wins for the first time since 1984.
“That means something to me,” Stoops said. “I think as I’ve mentioned in here many times, you keep on trying to knock down as many doors as you can.”
Both teams might be able to parlay the victory to a bigger, better bowl game.
Plus there’s nothing better than the feeling after beating your rival.
“When you win, it makes life a lot easier, no question about that,” Petrino said, adding later: “You want bragging rights and you want to use it in recruiting. It’s something that is certainly a big game for us.”
UK football schedule
Home games in capital letters. Times are p.m.
Sept. 2: at Southern Miss (W, 24-17)
Sept. 9: EASTERN KENTUCKY (W, 27-16)
Sept. 16: at South Carolina (W, 23-13)
Sept. 23: FLORIDA (L, 28-27)
Sept. 30: EASTERN MICHIGAN (W, 24-20)
Oct. 7: MISSOURI (W, 40-34)
Oct. 21: at Mississippi St. (L, 45-7)
Oct. 28: TENNESSEE (W, 29-26)
Nov. 4: OLE MISS (L, 37-34)
Nov. 11: at Vanderbilt (W, 44-21)
Nov. 18: at Georgia (L, 42-13)
Nov. 25: LOUISVILLE, noon