It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t the way we pictured it, but the number 5 team in the nation got an important road win against Virginia. The Cavaliers always seem to give the Cards a hard time, even and especially when they are over-matched. Two years ago, the Cavaliers pulled off the stunning upset over the then top-25 ranked Cardinals, last year it was battle the whole game with a late score to put the game away, this year’s game followed the same script. The Cardinals found themselves down 10-7 at halftime, the lowest point total in a half this season. And with 1:57 left to play, Louisville found themselves in dangerous territory down 25-24, then Lamar pulled off maybe his most memorable Heisman moment yet.
The Cardinals spent most of the game trailing the Cavaliers. The defense gave up a touchdown on the first possession of the second half, something no team has done against Louisville all season. After that score, the scoreboard read 17-7, and something felt terribly wrong. Then Brandon Radcliff showcased his senior leadership by huddling his offense together, calming them down from their mistakes and then hyping them up for the opportunity to showcase their abilities. After that, the team was awake and after two touchdown passes from Lamar to Reggie Bonnafon and a field goal from Blanton Creque, the Cards had successfully flipped the script with 17 unanswered points and a 7-point lead with 8:09 to play in the game. Virginia would respond, and in a big way. The Cavaliers converted multiple big plays to keep their final drive alive and ended in the end zone pulling them to within an extra point. They did not play for the tie, and easily converted the 2-point try, giving the Cavaliers a 1-point lead with just under 2 minutes to play. (Insert Lamar Jackson Heisman Trophy Moment Here). Lamar led the offense down the field with poise and confidence, even with the entire Virginia student section waiting to storm the field to celebrate a top-5 upset. With 13 seconds left, Lamar threw a pass that would make anyone watch the replay on a loop just to see how perfectly thrown it was. He found Jaylen Smith in the end zone on a 29-yard dime that only his 6’4″ receiver could catch. After the 2-point conversion the Cards finally had the game won, a sack would end the game and the number 5 team in the land avoided the catastrophic, season-ruining upset.
I’m trying something new, I’m going to name my 3 stars of the game on either side of the ball. The game would have been drastically different without the play of these three players and thankfully we don’t have to experience that reality. Star 1: the obvious choice, Lamar Jackson. Although his streak of consecutive games with both a rushing and passing touchdown came to an end, the sophomore still put on a show. He ended with 361 yards on 24/41 passing for 4 touchdowns with an interception, and he piled on 88 yards on 17 carries as well. Lamar did nothing but improve his Heisman chances, had the Cards lost this game and he hadn’t thrown the perfect game winner, this would be a different discussion but the kid gets it done, simple as that, no one is better in the nation. Star 2: Jamari Staples. Welcome back, Jamari! After a quiet first half of the season, the UAB transfer performed the way we all expected him to after the monster performances he had last year. He had 120 yards on 7 receptions and 1 touchdown. Star 3: Jaire Alexander. Go ahead and give this guy the Thorpe, he is absolutely incredible. The true sophomore had two huge interceptions, most importantly his last one that came in the 4th quarter that allowed the Cards to take a 21-17 lead. His coverage is excellent, but his ball hawking skills are second to none.
In the end, people may say this game hurt Louisville’s chances at a playoff spot, I disagree. Yes, the Cards should’ve beaten Virginia by more points and were the much better team. But a loss would have most certainly ended any playoff hopes and possibly a New Years 6 appearance. Yes, it would have been that bad. Louisville remained at 5 in both polls, and if anything Lamar just added another clip to his Heisman reel. The Cards cannot afford to do this each week, they cannot come out flat in another game this season. Every week counts, and this is the time to impress the committee and with the weak schedule left, the Cards need to win impressively every week. I still believe we will get in, I think Louisville plays Bobby Petrino football and the committee can’t say no to a player as unique as Lamar. Keep the faith and the wins coming.