LEXINGTON – It’s no secret. Lamar Jackson is good at football.
But how good is he exactly?
University of Louisville coach Bobby Petrino had high praise for his junior quarterback following the Cardinals’ 44-17 win over in-state rival Kentucky on Saturday.
“To me, he is the best player that you're ever going to see,” said Petrino. “His ability to throw the ball, run the ball – there is nobody that has been like him and there will be nobody for a while before you see somebody that's like him again."
Jackson completed 15-of-21 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns in the game, while also running for 156 yards on 18 attempts, which is about an average day at the office for the 20-year-old quarterback. The performance was enough for him to be named the Howard Schnellenberger Most Valuable Player. It was the second time he’s received the award and he is only the second player to receive it twice, with the other being Teddy Bridgewater.
Last season – which earned Jackson the Heisman Memorial Trophy – he completed 230-of-409 passes for 3,543 yards. This year, he’s thrown for 3,489 yards. He ran for 1,571 yards in 2016, and has gone for 1,443 yards on the ground this year. Those numbers are good enough for the top two spots on Louisville’s single season rushing list.
Saturday was the ninth time he’s rushed for over 100 yards in a game this year, breaking his own record for 100-yard rushing games in a season at the school. It was the 22nd time he’s done it in his career, putting him in a tie for third in ACC history with Boston College’s Montel Harris. He moved into seventh on the NCAA’s career list for rushing yards by a quarterback, passing Indiana’s Antwaan Randle El.
For Jackson, the ranking from his coach just makes him want to keep getting better, if that’s even possible.
“It just makes me grind harder,” said Jackson. “If he looks at me that way, if my teammates look at me that way, I just got to stay that way and own up to what he said.”
Even with the eye-popping numbers, it’s the plays he’s able to make that make No. 8 truly special. On one play Saturday, Jackson avoided a sack and took the ball 10 yards for a first down. On another, from the Louisville 1-yard line, Jackson fumbled, but managed to avoid any danger by picking up the ball, finding a hole and taking it 16 yards down the field.
“You know what, he surprises me every day. You know, every day in practice he'll do something or he'll turn around and look at me and comment on his knowledge of the passing game and what he would like the receiver to do or what the corner did. It is just so much fun to watch how much he's grown. The ultimate competitor,” said Petrino. “I don't think I've ever been around someone that competes like he does and backs it up with confidence and is so humble. You know, he is the most humble guy. Even last week's game, watching them at the Syracuse game, he was on the sideline cheering and encouraging every guy out there after he came off the field. So he's just the greatest teammate and greatest kid in the world.”
Despite being the reigning Heisman winner and what he’s been able to accomplish this season, Jackson isn’t favored to repeat as the nation’s best player. Others, like Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Stanford’s Bryce Love have both been projected ahead of Jackson throughout the season.
But even if Lamar Jackson isn’t named the best college football player of 2017, or if he’s not the best player you’re ever going to see, he’s still incredibly talented and fans should enjoy watching him give everything he's got on the football field, because he’s enjoying doing it.
“I mean, I just play football with all my heart,” said Jackson. “That’s just what I love to do.”