UofL-Clemson: Jackson's Heisman moment awaits

UofL-Clemson: Jackson's Heisman moment awaits
(Source: John P. Wise/WAVE3.com)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Will this be Lamar Jackson's Heisman Trophy moment of 2017?

In Week 3 of last season, the UofL quarterback scorched then-No. 2 Florida State for 362 yards and five touchdowns in a 63-20 Cards romp. It was an effort that landed Jackson on the cover of Sports Illustrated and vaulted him to the top of the Heisman lists.

Now, 364 days later, the stage is even bigger and the lights even brighter. They'll actually be on on Saturday night. ESPN "College GameDay" and a national TV audience will tune in to see what the reigning Heisman winner has in store for the defending national champs.

Clemson brings a 2-0 record this season, and a seven-game winning streak to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The Tigers beat UofL 42-36 last October, but Jackson accounted for 457 yards and three scores in Death Valley that night.

"Lamar Jackson is an unbelievable football player," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said this week. "He's fun to watch. He's not fun to prepare for. He's not fun to play against. I much prefer to watch him. I enjoy that a lot better. We got our hands full with this guy."

Jackson enters this one as the national leader in total offense, and it isn't close. Through two games, he is averaging 505 yards a game. Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson is second, averaging 465, and Arkansas State's Justice Hansen is third, at just 412 a game.

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"He's a great player," UofL coach Bobby Petrino said. "You know you watch him the other day and you're like, wow, this guy is pretty good, you know. He's throwing it all over the place and he's running for touchdowns."

Bobby's son, Nick, is the Cards quarterbacks coach. He works closely with Jackson daily, and sees major improvement in the junior.

"Just his calmness in the pocket," Nick Petrino said. "I mean you could see it in practice all last year, but then when we got in the games his feet got a little happy and I'm really happy about how calm he is this year in the pocket, and he's getting through his progressions and he's not, he's really playing within himself and playing within the offense."

Both Petrinos point to a 75-yard touchdown strike Jackson threw in the second quarter of Saturday's 47-35 win at North Carolina, as a sign of Jackson's growth.

The Tar Heels blitzed off the corner, but there was no sign of panic in Jackson. Instead of taking off, running for what would have been a positive gain, he stepped up in the pocket, kept both hands on the ball, and fired a bullet to a streaking Jaylen Smith for a score.

"To be able to have that poise in the pocket and feel it and see it and have the quick release and accuracy says a lot about his maturity and how far he's come in his game," Bobby Petrino said.

Jackson will most likely have to be at his best against a Clemson defense that has not given up a touchdown yet this season. The Tigers are second in the nation in total defense, giving up just 118.5 yards a game, and just nine points total.

They held Auburn to just 117 total yards and 38 rushing yards in a 14-6 win over the Tigers last Saturday night.

It's the recipe for Jackson to kick off another Heisman campaign and position his team to get back into the College Football Playoff conversation.

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