Flashback to October and you might have thought Lamar Jackson had the Heisman already locked up. In September alone, the University of Louisville’s dual-threat quarterback scored 13 passing touchdowns to only 3 interceptions on top of 12 rushing touchdowns. His individual scoring surpassed over 80% of FBS teams’ total scoring. Lamar Jackson seemed unstoppable.
There was just one problem; Jackson’s competition was against inferior opponents. In fact, Louisville’s first four opponents combined for a season record of 20-28. The only significant opponent along this stretch was #12 Florida State whose defense ranks a mediocre 45th in the nation. The Seminoles give up 24.4 points per game and surrendered whopping 63 to Louisville.
Put aside Florida State and Jackson’s the other opponents, Charlotte, Syracuse, and Marshall, combined for a season record of only 11-25. All three of their defenses ranked in the below 100 in both points and yards per game. These cupcake games Jackson played in September set the stage for high expectations and exaggerated public perceptions throughout the rest of the season.
For the most part, Jackson delivered. He finished the season 10th in passing touchdowns at 30 and tied for 3rd in rushing touchdowns at 21, ahead of all but three running backs. He’s a proven scoring machine.
However, Jackson struggled against stronger opponents. After averaging 53.8 points through their first five games, Louisville was held to just 24 in a closer-than-expected win against Duke in Week 7. Jackson was held to just one passing and one rushing touchdown, and the Cardinals as a whole scored 4.2 points less than Duke’s average points allowed per game at seasons end. Jackson’s performance wasn’t awful and certainly wasn’t damning considering Louisville’s success coming in, but it did humanize the quarterback who seemed invincible up until that point.
The cracks in Jackson’s game were further revealed against now #24 Houston. Though facing a much stronger defense than Duke’s, Houston held Lamar Jackson scoreless until the 3rd quarter when he scored his first and only touchdown of the game. The previously unranked Cougars ended up clobbering the Cardinals 36-10 in what turned out to be one of the biggest upsets of the season.
The loss was devastating. Houston was perhaps Louisville and Jackson’s final chance to distinguish themselves against a decent opponent and make their case for a playoff berth. However, on that Thursday night in prime time, Jackson and the Cardinals came up short, all but dashing Louisville’s playoff dreams. Jackson’s performance received particular scrutiny as he had tweeted a gif of Will Smith giving side eye in response to the College Football Playoff Committee ranking Louisville only 5th two days beforehand. Jackson’s conduct was immature and ultimately unsubstantiated. The margin between he and the other Heisman hopefuls became narrower than ever.
Houston was not the Cardinals’ only loss. Louisville came up short against Clemson early on and lost in a heartbreaker against Kentucky after a giving up a go-ahead field goal in their final game of the season. Jackson was partially to blame for these losses. Although he accounted for seven touchdowns, Jackson also threw four interceptions, three of which came against Kentucky. Jackson also lost a fumble in the final two minutes that Kentucky capitalized on to score a their game-winning field goal and end Louisville’s season on a low note.
Fumbling has been an issue for Jackson and the Cardinals all season; Louisville ranks dead last in the nation with 21 lost fumbles.
Louisville’s late losses were mostly a result of poor defense and a bit of carelessness; not Jackson’s lack of talent. However, if Louisville had a more successful finish to their season, Lamar Jackson’s Heisman chances would be practically assured.
Compare Jackson’s late season dip to the performance of other Heisman hopefuls.
#4 Washington Quarterback Jake Browning regrouped from a poor showing against USC to decimate #8 Colorado 41-10, scoring two touchdowns of his own against the Buffaloes top-20 defense and finishing the season with only one loss.
#9 Oklahoma Quarterback Baker Mayfield rallied after two early season losses to strong opponents to finish the season undefeated, including a convincing three-touchdown beatdown of rival #10 Oklahoma State in Bedlam. However, the Heisman Committee won’t ignore Big 12’s “defense is optional” football philosophy that aided in Mayfield’s success.
#3 Clemson Quarterback Deshaun Watson has burst back into the picture of late. Although he has only six rushing touchdowns on the season, Watson has actually passed for seven more touchdowns than his ACC counterpart. Perhaps most importantly, Deshaun Watson and the Tigers have suffered only one loss compared to Jackson and Louisville’s three and punched their way into the College Football Playoff. Of all the players threatening Jackson’s Heisman dreams, Watson certainly seems the most deserving.
Lamar Jackson lead his team to a #13 ranking and is one of the most talented players in college football right now, but he hasn’t consistently looked the part. Bottom line, the Heisman was his trophy to lose, and he might just have.
Awaiting the December 10th decision,