After bowl loss, Louisville awaits Jackson’s NFL decision

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) celebrates a touchdown during the first half of the TaxSlayer Bowl NCAA college football game against the Mississippi State, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Another season of eye-popping statistics made Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson a finalist for his second Heisman Trophy and rallied the Cardinals from a midseason slump to their eighth consecutive bowl appearance.

Louisville came up just short of a second straight nine-win season with Saturday’s 31-27 loss to No. 24 Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer Bowl. The program now waits to see if the junior will turn pro as many expect after compiling more records and awards.

”I got to sit down with my coach and my family,” Jackson said after the defeat, in which he accounted for 329 yards and three touchdowns.

Jackson passed for 171 yards and two scores but was intercepted four times. Louisville (8-5, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) still had a chance to win at the end before his pass was deflected in the end zone, a disappointing finish to a contest that featured more examples of his mobility.

Jackson finished third in this year’s Heisman voting after becoming the award’s youngest winner last December. He repeated as the ACC’s offensive and overall Player of the Year with a performance that surpassed his breakout sophomore season in some areas.

Jackson passed for 3,660 of his 5,261 total offensive yards and 27 of his 45 touchdowns. His 1,601 yards rushing set a school record and moved him into sixth place in the FBS with 4,132 in his career.

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said he didn’t know if Jackson had anything left to prove in college but made it clear he’d love to see him return for his senior season.

”I think what Lamar needs to do is sit down with his parents, really try to understand what would develop,” the coach said. ”There’s been guys that come back for another year, play in the same system and do great. … He’s an unbelievable player, a great person.”

Louisville and Jackson began this season facing skepticism after closing last year with three straight losses that revealed weaknesses on both sides of the ball. From the outset, the Pompano Beach, Florida, native was peppered with questions about his pro future, even though his name was absent from preseason lists of the nation’s best players.

Jackson answered those doubts with both his arm and legs and his experience, showing progress. He saved his best for last in leading Louisville from a 1-3 start in league play to win three of its final four ACC games.

The regular-season close also showcased the Cardinals’ defensive improvement under first-year coordinator Peter Sirmon despite injuries to key players. The most notable was cornerback Jaire Alexander, who was limited to six games after hurting his knee in the opener.

Alexander returned down the stretch to help that group rebound with some of its best performances. He didn’t play in the bowl game after announcing last week that he will enter the NFL draft, where he could be joined by several teammates.

Most of the attention will be on Jackson, who took heart in leading Louisville back from the slump to return to the postseason. Though it ended with a second straight bowl loss, the QB found solace in getting his team to Jacksonville, Florida, and playing.

”We faced some adversity at the beginning,” he said. ”The way my team bounced back, I just owed it to them (to play the bowl game). Ain’t nobody special. … We’re the same. It’s a team game.”

The question now is whether Jackson eventually returns to that site on an NFL roster.

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