Close only counts in horseshoes and Louisville Football is no longer in the business of moral victories. Walking out of the Georgia Dome Saturday evening was in a word, bizarre. The orange and navy clad Auburn contingent shuffled along eerily quiet while their red and black counterparts were left scratching more than their heads. A certain 18 year old had electrified the 74,000 in attendance, millions more throughout the country, and number eight had given Cardinal Fans the "itch". The Lamar Jackson era has officially arrived in Louisville and the world can't wait to see what he does next.
A quarterback hasn't made an SEC defense look that helpless since Auburn's own Cam Newton ran circles around everyone in 2011 on the way to a BCS Championship. Lamar Jackson isn't Cam Newton, he certainly isn't Teddy Bridgewater, but who knows, one day he may be better than both.
Action Jackson is raw, inexperienced, and in the midst of learning one of the most complicated playbooks in all of football. However, Lamar possesses an athletic ability perhaps unseen inside of Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, and has instincts for the quarterback position that are unmatched by Bonnafon, Bolin, Gardner, and most QB's across the country. The kid has potential in every strand of that wild hair he hides underneath his helmet, and because of that potential, I recommend Louisville supporters everywhere take a lesson from Teddy.
Perhaps unfathomable now, but in 2011 Will Stein was the starting quarterback for Louisville Football and the Cardinals were set to face Florida International in a second warm up game before traveling to Commonwealth Stadium against arch rival Kentucky. In typical Charlie Strong offensive fashion, Louisville almost refused to put points on the board and embarrassingly lost to FIU. A small contingent of Bridgewater whispers had been clamoring for Teddy to take the reigns from day one, and after another home loss the majority of the fan base was ready for the future. Will Stein started against UK, but was injured early in the game. Rail thin, bright eyed, and unknown at the time, two-gloves Teddy trotted onto the field. When the clock read zero that night in Lexington Louisville Football had found its savior.
Everyone knew Teddy was special at the time, we couldn't have predicted the exact future, but it was fairly obvious that the kid was going to resurrect the Cardinals. Teddy's ascension to legend status was a bumpy road filled with losses, heartbreak, and disappointment. One week after dismantling Kentucky, Teddy returned to Louisville and lost to Marshall. Two road losses, one in Chapel Hill and the other against rival Cincinnati followed the Marshall disaster. In just three weeks, all hope had evaporated and Charlie Strong fired his offensive coordinator. Was Teddy really the answer? The Cardinals bounced back that season before a bitter defeat in the Belk Bowl, and the rest of Teddy's career... history in the making.
The Lamar-Teddy comparisons have already begun and believe it or not, I think Jackson can handle the pressure of being Teddy's replacement. Lamar is bigger, faster, and more athletic, his instincts are undeniable, but can he master the intangibles that made Bridgewater the best to ever wear a Cardinal uniform?
Jackson is on a mission. He possesses a confidence rarely seen in 18 year olds, and before his time is done Lamar will guide Louisville Football through unknown and previously unattainable territory. The kid has "it", something hard to define, but try re-watching the second half of Saturday's game because Lamar provided several visual examples. A certain Tiger defensive end may be able to define "it" for you, the one Lamar left frozen to the turf on his very first collegiate touchdown.
Lamar Jackson's era didn't arrive because Reggie played poorly. Jackson's time is now because he is simply one of the best players on the team and gives Louisville the best chance to win. Coach Petrino and Reggie Bonnafon do not need my advice, but Braxton Miller of Ohio State should open their eyes to endless possibilities and I firmly believe Reggie should switch to wide receiver. He is an NFL caliber athlete, with an NFL body and, could spend the next three years as one of Jackson's favorite targets. Also, Bolin and Gardner are capable backups.
Some say Bobby Petrino cannot recruit. I haven't witnessed that many impressive true freshmen on the field in any Louisville game, ever. The future face of Cardinal greatness headlines this phenomenal 2015 class, and Lamar Jackson will soar as quarterback for the University of Louisville. Among the many lessons learned from Teddy, patience must be exercised while pursuing perfection. The era of Jackson has enveloped Cardinal Football...the future starts now.
All Hail UofL !!