He threw for 378 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 107 more in a 35-28 win over Purdue last week. In terms of usage, he dominated. With 46 pass attempts and 21 rushes, Jackson had the ball on almost 85 percent of Louisville’s 79 offensive snaps.
“To me, he is the next closest thing to Michael Vick I can ever compare,” safety Donnie Miles said. “I haven’t seen any quarterback like him.”
To say Louisville runs through Jackson isn’t an exaggeration — it’s a well-known fact. Defensive coordinator John Papuchis said he has no problem focusing on Jackson for the majority of every practice. But finding someone to mimic Jackson on UNC’s scout team wasn’t an easy task.
“You can take just an athlete out there and have him try to replicate him,” Papuchis said. “But Lamar Jackson throws the ball really good … To be honest with you, most of the time we’re using Logan Byrd. Does he have the same kind of juice and wiggle that Lamar Jackson does? No. But who does?”
Fedora credited Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino for getting the ball into Jackson’s hands as much as possible. A lot of Jackson’s runs come on read options and power options, where he makes the decision to hand the ball off or pull it back based on an unblocked defensive lineman. Fedora calls them “ability reads,” since Jackson will sometimes just take the ball himself no matter who’s near him.
“We know he likes to pull the ball even if we’ve got a guy sitting right there,” defensive end Malik Carney said.
And there’s the scrambling, too. North Carolina’s defensive backs and linebackers have been doing drills to prepare for when Jackson extends plays — which is bound to happen.
California’s two longest touchdowns last week came when the quarterback scrambled, so communication in those same situations against Louisville will be key. Linebacker Andre Smith noted that Louisville’s wide receivers also do a great job finding open space once their quarterback starts running around.
For Smith, this isn’t the first time he has met Jackson. Both of them played high school football in Florida and met when they were taking an official visit to Nebraska. It happened in the cafeteria.
“You’re just making casual conversation — ‘Where are you from?’ and stuff like that,” Smith recalled. “And he was like, ‘You seen that Vine video of the guy pointing after he stopped and walked in?’ So he showed me the video and then told me that was him.”
Now, Jackson doesn’t need to identify himself. He’s the most electrifying player in college football, and everyone on UNC’s roster knows it. Players want to contain him as much as possible and force him to throw the ball rather than break the game open with a run. For that to happen, linebacker Cole Holcomb highlighted one thing over all others.
“Really it's just population,” he said. “We know he's going to be keeping it a lot, and we need to get hats to the ball. That's the one thing — don't just let one guy tackle him. Get everybody there. Bring the cavalry.”