After his Louisville Cardinals beat archrival Kentucky up and down the field Saturday — an effort that ended with a 44-17 victory — U of L Coach Bobby Petrino put the ability of the best player on that field in perspective.
“To me,” Petrino said, “he’s the best player that you’re ever going to see. His ability to throw the ball and run the ball — there is nobody that’s been like him, and it’ll be awhile before you see somebody that’s like him again.”
He was talking, of course, about reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, and the Wildcats surely hope they’ll never see him on the opposite sideline again.
Jackson ran all over Kentucky for the third consecutive season. In this one, he carried the ball 18 times for 156 yards. He also completed 15 of his 21 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns.
This performance came two years after his first visit to Lexington, where U of L fell behind 24-7 at halftime and flew ahead as soon as Jackson took over. The freshman came off the bench in that game and ran for 186 yards and two touchdowns, leading his Cards to a come-from-behind, 38-24 victory.
The only blemish on Jackson’s otherwise sterling record against the Cats came last season in Louisville. He threw for 281 yards, ran for 171 yards and accounted for four touchdowns that day, but he also threw three interceptions, and his costly fumble in the game’s final two minutes led to UK’s game-winning field goal, a stunning result against a heavily favored U of L team.
Jackson said last week that he had thought about that game for a year.
A reporter started to ask him how much Saturday’s result — and redemption — meant to him. Jackson answered before the question was completed.
“A lot,” he said.
He’s now run for 513 yards in three games against the Wildcats, and those three games have been filled with what-just-happened moments that fans on both sides will never forget.
On one such play Saturday — with Louisville starting a drive on its own 1-yard line — Jackson lost the snap, and the ball bounced around in the end zone. For a split second, taking a safety seemed like a best-case scenario for the Cardinals, and then Jackson happened.
He snapped up the ball, found a hole and ran it for a 16-yard gain.
“He should have scored on that one,” Petrino quipped after the game.
“I tried to go 99, but I got caught,” Jackson said.
The Cardinals would go 99 eventually, and the touchdown that capped that drive — a 14-yard pass from Jackson to Jay Smith — made the score 44-10 with 10:12 still left in a dreary afternoon for the Wildcats.
Many of the UK fans still remaining at Kroger Field headed for the exits then, one last look at one of the greatest college football players ever stored in their memories.
Jackson is still a junior, but he’s already being projected as the possible No. 1 overall pick in the next NFL Draft, and it seems unlikely he’ll be back to terrorize the Wildcats next season.
Petrino heaped praise on his star quarterback after this game. The coach called Jackson “the ultimate competitor.” He called him “the greatest teammate.” And he called him “the most humble guy” he’d ever been around.
Jackson lived up to that last one a few minutes later. He was reminded that — as a former Heisman Trophy winner — he’d have a vote for this year’s Heisman. And he was asked if he’d vote for himself.
The star QB let out an embarrassed laugh and said he hadn’t thought about it.
Told that Petrino had called him the best player we’re ever going to see, Jackson raised his eyebrows. He was then asked if he ever thinks about himself in those terms.
“I mean, I just play football with all my heart,” Jackson said. “That’s just what I love to do.”