Louisville, Jackson again have multiple receiving options
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) An all-hands-on-deck approach is Louisville's passing game is the objective this season for quarterback Lamar Jackson, so seeing multiple receivers on the stat sheet was a good omen for the Heisman Trophy winner.
Dez Fitzpatrick and Seth Dawkins were among the wideouts to play major roles in the opener. Now comes the matter of following up promising season debuts.
The receiving corps will be counted on once again in the Cardinals' Atlantic Coast Conference opener Saturday at North Carolina (0-1).
Dawkins emerged from sporadic play to post career bests of four catches for 56 yards in the No. 17 Cardinals' 35-28 victory over Purdue last Saturday. Fitzpatrick was an even bigger factor in his first collegiate game, grabbing four passes for 95 yards including the 20-yard, go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
''Going into the game I didn't know what to expect,'' said the 6-foot-2 freshman, who also caught Jackson's longest completion of 39 yards.
''But if I heard my number called, just make the play. I knew I was going to be out there. ... I just tried to make the best out of it.''
Seizing opportunities will be huge as Jackson and Louisville look to contend for a conference title. Having lost their top three receivers from last season, the question was whether the Cardinals could get their high-octane offense rolling through multiple choices.
While Jackson didn't always click against the Boilermakers, he still connected with nine different receivers and completed 30 of 46 passes for 378 yards and two scores. Junior Jaylen Smith did what was expected of him as the Louisville's top returning receiver, finishing with eight catches for 117 yards, leading seven players with at least two receptions. Traveon Samuel, 5-7, added five catches for 55 yards.
Encouraging as the group's performance was, Dawkins believes he and other receivers can be better.
''It definitely gives us a little swag,'' said Dawkins, who had 11 catches for 191 yards and a TD as a freshman. ''Knowing we have to throw the ball, knowing they have confidence in us and that we believe in ourselves makes it more fun.''
Coach Bobby Petrino praised Fitzpatrick's performance in particular and his perseverance. After watching anxiously last fall as Louisville and Jackson thrived, Fitzpatrick was impressive during spring practice and that has continued into the season with an attention-grabbing effort.
Fitzpatrick also aims to improve in many phases. Jackson will give him a lot of chances to do just that.
''He can get open, he has great hands,'' Jackson said of Fitzpatrick. ''Every catch (he made) was spectacular to me, awesome catches, great routes, great touchdown.''
Jackson spent a lot of the offseason working to get in sync with all the Cardinal receivers. And with so many openings, Louisville co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Lonnie Galloway stressed the importance of seizing the moment to players along with emphasizing holding on to Jackson's rocket throws.
One game showed a group willingness to fill the void, and Galloway certainly isn't shocked that Smith, Fitzpatrick and Dawkins benefited the most in a crowded box score.
''You're going to lose guys, but Seth played sparingly last year and you had seen him work in camp,'' Galloway said. ''Dez didn't play but practiced, and Jaylen split some time with (James) Quick. You knew you had guys, (and) now it's time for him to step up.''
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