Louisville’s playoff dreams over, but will rout impact Lamar Jackson’s Heisman hopes?

Lamar Jackson was held 179 below his season average as Louisville suffered its second loss.
Troy Taormina/Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

So much for Louisville making its case to crack the College Football Playoff rankings' top four. Houston, as the loquacious Paul Heyman might put it, left the No. 5 Cardinals beaten, victimized and conquered.

Everything, it seems, that could go wrong, went wrong in a stunning 36-10 blowout Thursday night.

Heisman Trophy front-runner Lamar Jackson was held to 244 yards and one touchdown as the Cardinals were resoundingly removed from the playoff conversation.

As for that award their QB is chasing? Well, we'll get to that.

Among the questions the selection committee faced in its rankings on the heels of three of the top four teams — Clemson, Michigan and Washington — stumbling, was why Louisville, with one loss, had seemed to reach its ceiling.

Knocked for a resume that included just one win over a current Top-25 team (Florida State) and perceived struggles against opponents it should have steam rolled, Louisville had its chance to make a statement on a standalone, prime time game vs. a team in Houston that spent five weeks in the top 10.

Instead, it had its worst game of the season, being held to zero first half points after averaging 27.3, and managing 138 yards after the break after pouring in 325 per game. In all, the Cardinals offense was kept 39 points and 270 yards below its averages.

Maybe we shouldn't have been surprised, because Louisville has its problems, and they've been there all season long.

Coming into Thursday night, only five teams — none of which have a winning record — had committed more turnovers than Louisville's 24, and the Cardinals ranked 118th in yards penalized per game (70.1).

Those same problems beset Louisville in Houston, losing two fumbles — including one on the opening kickoff — and was flagged 16 times for a whopping 127 yards (74 of which came in the first half on 10 penalties).

The difference, though, is that Jackson had always found a away to bail them out.

Just five days before the loss to Houston, Wake Forest kept the Cardinals scoreless in the first quarter and led 12-3 at halftime before Louisville rattled off 44 unanswered points.

Two games before that, Jackson had to come to the rescue down 25-24 at Virginia with 1:57 to play, and Duke was within three before Jackson provided a cushion with 1:32 on the clock.

There was simply no magic there this time. Cougars prized recruit Ed Oliver — before he exited with an apparent knee injury led a defensive front that dominated Louisville's offensive line and kept constant pressure on Jackson, sacking him 11 times.

Even on his first touchdown pass, as Jackson hit tight end Cole Hikutini for a 12-yarder, he had to wheel his way through a host of Cougars, and gave up a safety when he threw the ball away with Houston defenders chasing him down.

The Cardinals clung to the notion that they passed the “eye test,” with their only loss by six points to a Clemson team that has been in the CFP's top four every week. Now, that narrative has changed, and however much the committee had been chastised within the Louisville locker room — Jackson among them, tweeting a GIF of Will Smith shaking his head — that 12-member group was ultimately proven right.

Louisville isn't a playoff team — though they are a Wake Forest upset of No. 4 Clemson from earning a spot in the ACC Championship Game as the Atlantic Division's representative — but their QB, make no doubt, is still very much the Heisman leader.

While the likes of Washington's Jake Browning, Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield or Dede Westbrook, Michigan's Jabrill Peppers and Clemson's Deshaun Watson remain very real threats to earn invitations to the ceremony, that's their ceiling.

None of them have been a clear challenger waiting for Jackson to slip up. It's a testament to how transcendent Jackson has been, and at the same time how ho-hum the rest of the field has been.

His TD pass to Hikutini tied Watson for the ACC's single-season record of 47 TDs responsible for, and he did it with two games to play. Jackson is also one rushing touchdown from becoming the sixth FBS player with 20 on the ground and 20 through the air in the same season. Key, given that other three to do it at power conference schools — Florida's Tim Tebow in 2007, Auburn's Cam Newton in '10 and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel in '13 — all won the trophy.

Generating 4,476 total yards — and on pace for potentially more than any Heisman winner at the time of the voting — the Louisville QB has earned himself a misstep, even if this one came in November with the entirety of the college football universe watching.

The same, though, can't be said for his team when it comes to the playoff.

Blame a culmination of all of Louisville's problems, or simply not enough Lamar Jackson magic, but Houston slammed that door.

And they did it resounding fashion.

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His book, 'Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,' is out now, and 'The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners' will be released Nov. 22, 2016.