By The Sports Xchange
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Quarterback Lamar Jackson has established himself as the clear favorite for the Heisman Trophy.
Jackson, however, is far from the only reason why No. 10 Louisville has to be considered a legitimate national championship contender.
Dominating both sides of the scrimmage line Saturday in front of the largest crowd to watch a game at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, the Cardinals administered a 63-20 Atlantic Coast Conference whipping to No. 2 Florida State.
Upping their overall record to 3-0 and their conference mark to 2-0, Louisville outgained the Seminoles 530-284 in total yards and led by an unthinkable 63-10 early in the fourth quarter before two garbage-time scores spared Florida State its worst loss in school history.
“This one’s really a team win,” Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino said. “Our defense did an unbelievable job pressuring the quarterback and getting the ball back for our offense, our special teams made a couple of big plays and we did a great job running the ball because our guys blocked downfield.
“Offensively, I felt good. I felt we were consistent. We removed them from the line of scrimmage.”
Aided by a solid front, Jackson made Florida State look as overmatched as Charlotte or Syracuse, which allowed 70 and 62 points, respectively, in Louisville’s first two games. Jackson accounted for 362 total yards – his lowest total of the year – and five touchdowns.
Jackson hit on 13 of 20 passes for 216 yards and a score, while rushing for 146 yards and four touchdowns on 17 carries. In the season’s first three games, Jackson has passed for 913 yards and eight scores while running for 464 yards and 10 touchdowns. Dating back to the final two contests of 2015, Jackson has run and thrown for 100 yards in five consecutive games.
It’s getting harder to pump the brakes on Jackson for Heisman, and Petrino didn’t sound like he was all that interested in trying, aside from a half-hearted observation that he was having to do too many interviews.
“I’m just proud of how he prepared for the game, how he was able to stay calm,” Petrino said. “You get nervous for the game and all these things flying around, but he was able to focus and concentrate. You could see it by the way he played the game.”
The Cardinals’ bus has a lot of drivers these days, though. Running back Brandon Radcliff added 118 yards and a score on 14 carries, while wide receiver James Quick contributed 122 yards on seven receptions.
Defensively, the front seven simply whipped the Seminoles (2-1, 0-1). They limited running back Dalvin Cook to 54 yards on 16 rushes and teed off on freshman quarterback Deondre Francois, sacking him five times and hitting him perhaps five other times.
Francois completed just 7 of 18 passes for 101 yards and a 20-yard touchdown to Auden Tate with 10:56 left in the second quarter, drawing Florida State within 14-10.
“We were feeling good then,” Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We felt like we had weathered the storm, that this was going to be a good football game, just like we expected.”
Instead, Louisville scored the next seven touchdowns. When Jackson wasn’t putting on a show, Radcliff was carving up Florida State’s run defense, or the Cardinals were forcing 3-and-outs from an increasingly rattled Seminoles’ offense.
For good measure, Jaire Alexander tacked on a 69-yard punt return touchdown 71 seconds into the third quarter and a 61-yard return later in the period. Jackson’s only mistake of the day, an interception, likely kept Louisville from its second 70-point game in three weeks.
Petrino said his coaches spent months preparing for this game, even though two others preceded it. Remembering they lost halftime leads the last two years in falling to Florida State, the Cardinals stressed finishing the job this time.
“Ever since we got into the ACC,” Radcliff said, “we know we’ve had a hump to get over, and it was Florida State.”
Consider the hump not only climbed, but destroyed.
NOTES: Florida State DE Josh Sweat (knee) didn’t start but was able to play, although he didn’t record a tackle. … Louisville donned special red helmets with a butterfly on the back to honor the late Muhammad Ali. It was the first time in about 40 years it’s worn red helmets. … Seminoles S Derwin James (knee) missed the game after being injured last week against Charleston Southern. He could be out another six weeks.