The game seemed pretty much over anyway by the time freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson jogged into the end zone, untouched, to give Louisville a two-touchdown lead over Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.
Before the ensuing extra point set the final score — Cards 38, Cats 24 — Jackson fell to the Commonwealth Stadium turf and stayed there for a couple of minutes.
He had earned the rest.
Jackson entered the game late in the first quarter with Louisville trailing underdog Kentucky, 21-0, and all of the momentum squarely on the Wildcats’ side.
He left the field after that last touchdown run — and a brief battle with cramps in both calf muscles — with 4:02 on the clock and the Cardinals securely in the lead.
In between, he put on one heck of a show.
Jackson ran for 186 yards and two touchdowns, threw for 130 yards and another score, and kept the Wildcats’ defense on its toes for the entire second half.
“I thought he really grew up,” said U of L Coach Bobby Petrino. “He made some great plays — running the ball, throwing it. I think that’s the thing that was good for me to see. He really concentrated on reading the plays. Not guessing and not making a predetermined decision.
Louisville’s go-ahead drive started at the UK 34 and lasted just 49 seconds and three plays.
“That’s when you’re starting to mature as a quarterback.”
Louisville started off behind before the game even began.
A few minutes before kickoff, it was announced that linebacker Trevon Young, who leads the team in sacks, and defensive lineman James Hearns had been suspended due to a violation of team rules.
UK scored on its opening drive to take a 7-0 lead. Then U of L starting quarterback Kyle Bolin threw an interception on the Cards’ third play from scrimmage. Two plays later, UK led 14-0.
Bolin threw another interception on Louisville’s next possession, and this one was returned 81 yards by Josh Forrest for another UK touchdown to make it 21-0 barely 10 minutes into the game.
That’s when Jackson entered the Cards’ huddle, offering some concise words of encouragement.
“I just told them, ‘It’s game time. Let’s go,’” he said.
It took the freshman just three plays to get Louisville on the board — two passes to James Quick and his own 16-yard touchdown run.
They were wearing down. They kept getting tired. They were giving up. So I just kept (going).
Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson
The Cards’ offense went back to sputter mode for the rest of the half — and the U of L defense lost leading tackler Keith Kelsey to injury in the second quarter — but Jackson was ready to roll after halftime.
He ran the read option to near perfection in the third quarter — with four runs of more than 10 yards in the period — and led his team to two touchdowns and a field goal to pull the game even at 24 entering the fourth quarter.
Louisville’s go-ahead drive started at the UK 34 and lasted just 49 seconds and three plays, two of them runs by Jackson that went for a total of 30 yards.
UK had troubles with similar quarterbacks earlier this season, and the U of L freshman said he noticed that in the film room during the week leading up to the game.
He saw more of the same Saturday.
“They were wearing down,” he said. “They kept getting tired. They were giving up. So I just kept (going).”