Friday night, the Louisville quarterback was just one rushing yard from becoming the first player in NCAA history with 400 yards passing and 200 yards rushing as the No. 13 Cardinals ran away from Syracuse 62-28.
Though, to be fair, he did hit that 200-yard mark on the ground (he lost a yard on a run) and Jackson finished with 411 yards through the air (on 20 of 39 passing) and 199 rushing on 21 carries. He’s still the first player ever with 400 yards passing and at least 175 rushing, and he started off this night needing just one play to get Louisville on the board in the Carrier Dome.
Jackson hit James Quick for a 72-yard scoring strike on the opening play, part of a five-TD night for the Cardinals star.
Here’s how mind-blowing the start to Jackson’s season has been: he now has 13 touchdowns after two games. Last season, only one team — Louisiana Tech — had hit the end zone that many times after two games, and we’re talking about one player who is responsible for that buffet of TDs.
After hitting Quick for the first score, Jackson ripped off a 7-yard TD run of his own less than two minutes later, then went 72 yards on the ground for yet another score.
But maybe his most impressive play came with the Cardinals leading 42-28 in the third quarter and facing 3rd and 18 on their own 17-yard line. The Orange blitzed and linebacker Zaire Franklin, an All-ACC preseason pick, seemingly had Jackson covered inside. Instead, the QB stepped up and through traffic and went 33 yards for a first down.
It was another epic outing, coming on the heels of his Cardinals-record eight TDs in the season opener vs. Charlotte. A step up in competition simply meant Jackson was stepping it up in performance.
Which poses the question: what will he have in store next week for Louisville’s first test in No. 3 Florida State a game that could validate or potentially derail his growing Heisman Trophy campaign and the Cardinals’ standing as an ACC Atlantic Division contender?
A season ago, Jackson threw for 307 yards and three scores and ran for 32 yards, but he and the Cardinals were outclassed. Leading 7-6 at halftime, Louisville had no answer as the Seminoles scored five TDs in six second-half drives, taking advantage of a pair of Jackson turnovers.
Down 20-14 in the third quarter, Jackson was sacked by safety Derwin James, who forced a fumble that set up a Florida State TD. Then he threw an interception on the next Cardinals possession, a gift that the Seminoles turned into a 20-point lead.
He and the Cardinals weren’t ready for the limelight then. Now? Bobby Petrino’s offense is in capable hands, but for Jackson and Co., the season boils down to two games in a three week span: next weekend vs. Florida State and Oct. 1 at No. 2 Clemson, two teams that Louisville has never beaten since joining the ACC.
Louisville is more than Jackson, with a defense that is star-studded behind coordinator Todd Grantham. It boasts a front seven that includes linebackers Keith Kelsey and Devonte Fields, tackle DeAngelo Brown and safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, and while the did gve up 370 yards to Dino Babers’ fast-tempo offense, the Orange had just racked up 554 the previous week against Colgate, and figure to have plenty of prolific days as the season wears on.
But it’s Jackson’s prolific stat line that has our attention. There’s no more dark horse status and the Cardinals are now firmly in the spotlight, and in less than a week, we’ll begin to find out what he and Louisville are going to do with it.