A freight train named Lamar Jackson rolled through Central New York on Friday, and the Syracuse defense was tied to the tracks. After he opened the season with eight first-half touchdowns against Charlotte, it was hard to imagine a way for Louisville’s sophomore quarterback to exceed expectations against the Orange — but he pulled it off. Jackson and company rode into the Carrier Dome with a scorched-turf strategy, and shredded the SU defense as the Cardinals cruised to a 62-28 victory.
“They have a really, really good football team, and they have an outstanding player,” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said after the game. “There is no doubt in my mind that that is a top-20 football team, and they’re going to go a long way this year.”
Louisville set a new ACC record with 844 total yards. It took the Cardinals five offensive plays to score three touchdowns in the first five minutes of the game. They averaged 10.1 yards per rush, and 10.8 yards per pass. It was one of the most explosive offensive performances in college football history.
Jackson is the team’s catalyst, and he was breathtaking from the jump. He tossed a 72-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open James Quick on the first play from scrimmage, setting the tone for the rest of the evening. The senior receiver ran a gorgeous deep post against SU safety Antwan Cordy, who was left on an island after the entire defense bit hard on Louisville’s play action. Quick executed a perfect outside-in double move at full speed, and left Syracuse’s best defensive back in the dust between the hashmarks. Jackson laid the ball directly into Quick’s hands, and the Cardinals laid seven points on the scoreboard just 16 seconds into the contest.
That was Jackson’s only passing touchdown of the night, but it was far from the only score he had a hand in — the dual-threat QB ran for four touchdowns, including a jaw-dropping 72-yard scamper a few minutes later (yes, Louisville scored from exactly 72 yards out two times in the first five minutes) on which he juked multiple Syracuse tackling dummies — er, defenders. That was after he hit paydirt on a ho-hum seven-yard run with 12:13 remaining in the first quarter. His final, and most impressive, touchdown came late in the second, when he hurdled SU defensive back Cordell Hudson before waltzing into the end zone. It was an incredible play (probably better than Eric Dungey’s leap against Virginia last season), and it nicely summed up the entire night: Jackson running around, over, and through the Orange defense.
“I’m not sure anybody could catch him,” Babers said. “He’s the fastest guy on the football field, on both teams. I saw him outrun contain when there were three guys exactly where they were supposed to be.”
“Guys were there,” Syracuse linebacker and captain Zaire Franklin said. “Guys were in position, and it just didn’t matter.”
When it was all said and done, Jackson racked up 401 yards through the air and 199 on the ground. If he hadn’t been pulled midway through the fourth quarter, he would have become the first college player ever to throw for 400 and run for 200 in the same game. The Heisman contender lived up to the hype, and then some. Friday night was reminiscent of when Leonard Fournette visited the Carrier Dome last year — sometimes, you just have to appreciate greatness. Coming into the game, we knew Jackson was incredible, but you don’t truly understand it until you see the guy in person.
Believe it or not, there were other players on the field Friday night. UofL running back Brandon Radcliff piled up 156 yards on 10 carries. Jeremy Smith got one carry. It was a 30-yard touchdown. Traveon Samuel got one carry. It was a 21-yard touchdown. Louisville’s offense was a hot knife, and Syracuse’s defense was butter.
“When you look up at the scoreboard, and a team scored 62 points on you, you don’t really feel good about anything that you did,” Franklin said.
On the other side of the ball, Amba Etta-Tawo solidified his status as the Orange’s no. 1 option in the passing game. The Maryland transfer caught eight passes for 103 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Steve Ishmael, the presumed top target entering the season, gained 65 yards on four receptions, but most of that production came in garbage time. Eric Dungey struggled with efficiency against a stout and experienced Cardinals defense, completing just 25-of-51 passes for 255 yards, three scores, and one interception.
“It was tough competition out there,” Dungey said. “Louisville’s a great team.”
The result was disappointing after Syracuse dominated Colgate in the season opener, but in Franklin’s eyes, it doesn’t necessarily represent a step back for the Orange.
“I think we did get better,” Franklin said. “We just played a significantly better team. No disrespect to Colgate, but, obviously, Louisville’s talent level is just at a different place. I think we learned about ourselves as a team tonight and I think this is going to help us moving forward.”
Syracuse did play well for an extended stretch. In the middle quarters, SU actually outscored the Cardinals, 21-14. But in the first and fourth periods, UofL throttled the Orange, 48-7.
When you run into a transcendent player surrounded by NFL-caliber talent and a tremendous coaching staff, it’s tough to walk away with a win — especially in the second game of a new era for the Syracuse program.
During one of Jackson’s scrambles in the second half, an SU fan screamed, “Somebody hit this kid!” As the Orange found out Friday night, that is much easier said than done.