LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Can Lamar Jackson run and pass his way into the Heisman Trophy conversation in 2016?
The Cards quarterback had, arguably, the most impressive performance of the bowl season. He rushed for 226 yards and two touchdowns, and passed for 227 and two more scores, in UofL's 27-21 Music City Bowl win over Texas A&M. Unfortunately it was a performance overshadowed somewhat in the news cycle by the two playoff games the next day.
Jackson is electric and has so much raw speed that it's just a matter of time before he breaks an impressive run. It was obvious before the season that head coach Bobby Petrino and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee were in awe of what they had.
Most people figured it to be a three man race to start at quarterback for the Cards. A race that did not include Jackson. Reggie Bonnafon, Kyle Bolin and Will Gardner had all led UofL to wins in 2014, but it was Jackson who threw the first pass of 2015, and who eventually wrestled away the starting position.
He'll have some stiff competition in 2016. 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry could potentially return to Alabama for his senior season, and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford and ACC Player of the Year DeShaun Watson of Clemson were both in New York in December as Heisman finalists. Plus, LSU running Leonard Fournette rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2015, and will be back in Baton Rouge.
For comparison sake, 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry rushed for 236 yards and two touchdowns against Texas A&M and Fournette finished with 159 yards and one score against the Aggies.
For Jackson to have any chance, he'll have to produce in the Cards most high-profile games. Fortunately that will include match ups with Watson and Clemson and at home against Florida State. It wouldn't hurt for Clemson to beat Alabama in the National Championship game next Monday.
Jackson only had 8 yards rushing against the Tigers in 2015 and only threw one pass in that game. Kyle Bolin was the starter for that one. Jackson did start at Florida State, rushing for 32 yards on 19 carries and throwing for 307 yards and three touchdowns, with an interception, in a 20 point loss.
In his one season, he is already the leading career rusher for a quarterback in UofL history, with 960 yards. The old record was 756 yards by Stefan LeFors.
There are a few things in Jackson's favor. For one, he has plenty of room for improvement as a passer. He completed 135 of his 247, that's 54.7%, for 12 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.
"Just keeping my feet set and delivering great passes," Jackson said, adding, "being on target a lot instead of messing up on my mechanics."
His roommate, UofL wide receiver Jaylen Smith, knows Jackson will put in the work. "He was 12-for-26, and I know Lamar can probably complete every pass that was incomplete and he knows that," Smith said. "Next year hopefully we're in the Orange Bowl, the playoff, 400 yards, looking for bigger and better."
"There's a lot of room for improvement, no doubt about it," Garrick McGee said, "but in regards to being competitive and really caring about our team and our program doing well, he has it. The improvement comes with dropping and understanding defenses and throwing the ball, but there's really no improvement when it comes to being a competitor and really caring about us doing well."
Another positive that could be in Jackson's favor, three sophomore's have won the Heisman since 2007. Tim Tebow (2007), Sam Bradford (2008) and Mark Ingram (2009). Not to mention Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston, who won as a redshirt freshmen in 2012 and 2013.
It's a long shot and may take an unbeaten season to get him to New York, but after the performance we all witnessed in Nashville, I'm not sure I'd bet against him.