There's a reason that Lamar Jackson is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.
He showed the nation that reasoning, again, on Saturday.
Jackson wasn't his best self in Louisville's game against Virginia — he was airmailing passes he usually completes and the Cardinals offense had little verve for most of the game.
It was one of those sluggish games that every team has throughout the season, but in this circumstance, the sluggishness looked like it was going to derail both the Cardinals' College Football Playoff hopes and Jackson's Heisman candidacy.
The former was fair — if you're the No. 5 team in the nation, you can't lose to Virginia. The latter — not so much.
But Jackson made sure that neither fate came to fruition.
There's never been a Heisman Trophy winner who has been impeccable for every game of the year — though heading into Saturday's contest, you could argue that Jackson had yet to have a less-than-incredible game. Saturday was the inevitable lull game for Jackson, and by anyone else's standard, it was still spectacular: 24-of-41 for 361 yards, four touchdowns and an interception to go with 90 rushing yards.
The fact that it was not his best effort says it all.
Jackson had been robbed of a quintessential “Heisman Moment” this year for that reason — he's been so good he's yet to be tremendously challenged. When he did get close to that all-so-important comeback victory (why the Heisman voters have seemingly determined that one must lead a comeback drive to win the award is a question for another time), he was robbed of the highlight by a wayward receiver and a questionable defensive performance at Clemson.
He had that moment Saturday.
Down one with less than two minutes remaining, Jackson led Louisville on an eight-play, 75-yard drive, capped by a 29-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds remaining to beat Virginia 32-25.
Should it have come down to that moment? No, but Louisville was sure happy to have Jackson at the helm of the offense when it did.
It wasn't Jackson's fault that Louisville found itself in a position to lose with less than two minutes to play in the game. Football is a team sport and while the Louisville offense wasn't at its best Saturday in Charlottesville, the defense was lackluster at best. Virginia is disciplined but necessarily imposing, and Louisville had a hard time beating the basic Hoos attack.
Louisville fell behind 17-7 in the third quarter, but Jackson came back with an eight play, 80-yard drive to pull the Cardinals within three and then capitalized on a fourth-quarter turnover to take the lead with 8:09 remaining.
But the Louisville defense gave it back, leaving Jackson less than two minutes to take it back again.
Jackson hasn't won the Heisman Trophy yet, but the gap between him and the No. 2 contender, whether that be Washington's Jake Browning or Michigan's Jabrill Peppers, is massive. Even so, Jackson is playing with fine margins, despite the fact that he has a massive statistical advantage over every other player in the nation — if the Cardinals take on a second loss before a bowl game this season, Jackson's individual accolade push will take a hit, fair or not.
Jackson has set an incredibly high bar and will need to keep his play at that level for the next month to win college football's most prestigious award, but if that moment comes to fruition in December, we could well be looking back to a sleepy Saturday afternoon in Charlottesville as the reason it happened.