Back in July at ACC Kickoff, when asked about the unfair expectations that come with being a Heisman Trophy winner, Louisville's Lamar Jackson admitted he thought they were unfair.
Expectations are one thing; realties are another. One week into the Cardinals quarterback's repeat bid, it seems that much more impossible for him to win No. 2 after No. 16 Louisville narrowly beat Purdue 35-28 Saturday.
Now, Jackson could still meet or exceed his numbers from a year ago -- when he threw for 3,543 yards and 30 touchdowns and ran for another 1,571 and 21 scores -- but his chances were largely hinging on what he did with those stats.
Could he get the Cardinals into the College Football Playoff, or at the very least keep them in the mix until late in the season? What we saw in Indianapolis wasn't the performance of a team that can give Jackson the resume he needs to challenge Archie Griffin as the only two-time winner.
Even if Jackson, who averaged 393 yards in winning the Heisman, can continue to rack up 485 yards on a consistent basis -- he passed for 378 and two scores and ran for another 107 vs. Purdue -- can he be backed up by rebuild a defense that yielded 337 yards?
Granted, Jackson did avoid becoming the first returning Heisman winner to start his season with a loss since Ty Detmer and BYU fell to top-ranked Florida State 44-28 in 1991 -- but it wasn't an overall outing from the Cardinals that set the stage for them to challenge Clemson and Florida State for the ACC Atlantic Division crown.
Those Tigers loom, with the fifth-ranked defending national champs coming to town on Sept. 16, and Jackson and Co. will need a breakout next week on the road against North Carolina (a 35-30 loser to Cal in Week 1) to build confidence before facing Dabo Swinney's crew.
Because, frankly, that confidence didn't come against the Boilermakers.
Purdue was 91st in total defense in 2016 and gave up a whopping 38.3 points per game (117th) in winning just nine games. Its offense, 80th in FBS, had more yardage against the Cardinals (344) than it had in its last five games vs. Top-25 teams dating back to 2015.
Jamie RhodesJamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
Granted, self-inflicted wounds hurt Louisville, which fumbled three times at the 1-yard line, a rash of miscues that Jackson started himself on the first possession of the game. But the Cardinals needed a Stacy Thomas interception return for a TD with 3:18 in the third quarter to take the lead for the first time.
Alarmingly, most of the questions that haunted the Cardinals still hang over them.
After losing an FBS-high 22 fumbles last season, Louisville lost three to Purdue; there's a lack of a running game behind Jackson, with quarterback-turned-wide-receiver-turned-running-back Reggie Bonnafon leading with just 33 yards on six carries, and after being the fifth-most penalized team in FBS in '16, discipline remains an issue with 16 flags for 110 yards.
The one positive was that an offensive line that yielded 47 sacks (124th) didn't give up one.
It was a lackluster start for Jackson, one that is only going to be fuel for those who were looking for a reason to deny him the trophy after last season's slide. Remember, he had a 46.5 completion rate in the Nov. 17 loss to Houston, threw three picks in falling to Kentucky and hit at a 37 percent rate and failed to hit the end zone against LSU in the Citrus Bowl.
In his attempt to pull an Archie, Jackson was playing from behind before a down in '17. If an often shaky opener was any indication, they'll have tangible reasons to keep Jackson from history too.