Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is a Heisman Trophy-level quarterback when defenses force him to make decisions under duress.
When he is not pressured, as N.C. State failed to do in any consistent manner in Saturday, Jackson produces sublime results.
The Heisman frontrunner accounted for 359 total yards and four touchdowns in a first-half beatdown of the Wolfpack, against an N.C. State defensive front that controlled the line of scrimmage against No. 4 Clemson last week.
“I think we were tired of hearing how physical they are and how hard they hit,” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. “We thought we were the more physical team.”
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N.C. State’s rushing defense did not fare all too badly against an offense that averaged more than 300 yards per game coming into the contest. But the Wolfpack’s inability to pressure Jackson left N.C. State’s defense to the mercy of Jackson’s right arm.
Jackson sat in the pocket for seconds at a time as the Cardinals gobbled up yardage and points. He waited patiently in the first quarter as Louisville receiver Jaylen Smith gained a step on cornerback Niles Clark on a post route that gained 74 yards and a touchdown, followed by a slow-developing screen to tight end Cole Hikutini that gained 67 yards in the second quarter. Jackson was content enough to keep his feet under him as he completed passes for first downs to Smith and James Quick before unleashing a dart to Jamari Staples for a 16-yard touchdown, his final touchdown of the half.
“I could count the seconds in my head, like five seconds (a pass attempt),” Jackson said. “That’s a lot of time for a quarterback, especially in college.”
The Wolfpack defensive front held Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was second in Heisman Trophy voting last season, to 35 rushing yards last week and did enough to disrupt his timing on plays down the field. The Tigers had four plays over 20 yards — none of which were more than 30 yards and none of which came on the ground.
Louisville hit down the field early and often Saturday, beginning with Jackson’s 36-yard touchdown run right up the gut on the game’s fourth play. Overall, the Cardinals produced five plays of 30 yards or more and nine plays of at least 15 yards.
Jackson was sacked three times, but the Wolfpack did not disrupt the rhythm of the nation’s best offensive player after holding stiff against an All-America quarterback last week.
“I look for the space around (Jackson in the pocket),” Petrino said, waving his hands shoulder-width apart. “Anytime you give him the space and the room around him, he can be really effective as a quarterback.”
Louisville’s offensive line didn’t produce enough holes in the running game for running backs Brandon Radcliffe and Jeremy Smith (combined 3.5 yards per carry) to gash the Wolfpack defense. But the Cardinals’ front five understood a challenge when watching N.C. State on film, considering the trouble that Duke gave Jackson last week in a 10-point Louisville victory.
“I had all the time in the world,” Jackson said. “That was a great job by them.”