In this space before last season I said that Louisville’s offense would go as far as Lamar Jackson would take it. I think it’s fair to say the same this year. Jackson has abilities that are well above most players in the country and Bobby Petrino has geared his offense around utilizing those talents as much as possible. While the offense wouldn’t have to completely change like it did last year with Kyle Bolin, it’s very doubtful that the offense is as good as it can be if Jackson isn’t in there.
Jackson was explosive on the ground last season and really excelled on read option plays. Early in the year he absolutely killed defenses that that tried to stack the box to stop the run. As the season progressed, teams started to spread a bit and attempt to contain him. While I don’t expect Jackson to have a drop off in production, I do wonder if the teams that have good athletes will see the type of success that LSU and Houston did when it comes to taking away Jackson’s legs. Wake Forest actually played Jackson really well last year but without top level athletes to stop him, he was still able to pull off a handful of big running plays.
There is still room for Lamar to improve and that is mostly in the passing game. Going into last year I was looking for him to be more consistent. He still spent the year showing flashes of great ability while also short-arming intermediate passes and overthrowing open receivers on deep balls. Jackson has the “arm talent” we always hear about with scouts but the precision accuracy with Jackson runs very hot and cold. Even in Jackson’s really good games like FSU and NC State last year, he missed wide open guys on easy throws. That’s the next step to take this offense to a different level. If Jackson can become a consistent passer throughout the entire game, Louisville’s offense shouldn’t have games like Houston or LSU where taking away Jackson’s running ability kills the offense.
Behind Jackson is highly regarded recruit, Jawon Pass. Pass redshirted last year but he has received all of the second team snaps since the season ended, and perhaps during bowl game prep. Kyle Bolin has moved on to Rutgers and with that move, the offense should be able to run the same if Jackson were to have to sit for some reason.
Pass isn’t the dynamic athlete that Jackson is but he’s a good enough athlete to run read option plays or scramble for a first down or a big run if needed. Where he has struggled is with his accuracy during the open practices this spring and into the fall. Pass has a very weird throwing motion and it seems like that motion sometimes impacts his accuracy. I would imagine that this was a known issue when Pass was recruited as he had plenty of games his senior year where his completion percentage was around 50%. Bobby Petrino would likely have some of his easier pass plays dialed up if Pass were forced into action.
True freshman Malik Cunningham is likely to redshirt this year and learn the offense. Fans didn’t get much of a look during the fall open practice, but when he was out there it was obvious that he has a live arm like the two guys ahead of him. I’m not sure what would happen if Jackson had to sit and Pass was ineffective, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Reggie Bonnafon get a chance to move back to quarterback before they move on to a green freshman like Cunningham.