Andre Smith, the North Carolina linebacker, will never be accused of lacking confidence, at least. Smith is perhaps the most outspoken member of the Tar Heels' defense, and he didn't sound intimidated on Wednesday about the challenge he and his teammates will encounter this weekend.
UNC on Saturday at Kenan Stadium hosts Louisville, and its reigning Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Lamar Jackson. Smith, when he met with reporters for a post-practice interview, offered plenty of praise of Jackson, whom he compared at one point to Michael Vick.
And yet Smith also said that UNC will “stop anything” that Jackson “tries to do.”
Here's Smith, unfiltered:
“We definitely don't want it to be the Lamar Jackson show. So if he's able to beat us with his arm, then – well, he's not going to beat us at all. I take that back. He's not going to beat us. We're just going to stop anything that he tries to do.
“He's not going to be able to run on us, we have everything solidified with that, and we'll cover downfield and if the receiver's going to make a good play, like they did on Saturday here, Cal, then, I mean, it is what it is. We've got to come back next play and do the same thing.”
Smith, the junior middle linebacker, isn't exactly speaking from a position of strength. The UNC defense allowed six plays of at least 20 yards last weekend during a 35-30 defeat against California, and the Tar Heels surrendered 6.42 yards per play, which ranks 101st nationally after the first weekend.
Louisville, meanwhile, is known for its offense – and particularly for Jackson's big-play ability. Smith, known for his jovial outspokenness, might have intentionally been speaking in hyperbole. Nonetheless, he has put himself in the unenviable position of needing to prove he can indeed slow down Jackson.
During Louisville’s 35-28 victory against Purdue last weekend, Jackson, a junior, threw for 378 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 107 yards. He threw 30 touchdown passes last season, and ran for 21 more on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy.
Earlier during his session with reporters, Smith said he'd faced “a lot of great players” during his years at UNC, including the likes of Dalvin Cook and others. And “now we get, what's his name?” Smith asked. “Lamar Jackson?”
Smith quickly said, “I'm kidding, I'm kidding, I'm kidding. I was joking.” He offered no such qualifier to the part about how Jackson is “not going to beat us at all,” or to the statement that UNC will “stop anything” Jackson attempts.