The outcome of the smackdown was already a given when the Cardinals, up 37-10, started a drive at their own one yard line with 12:58 to play.
Lamar Jackson, who has blamed himself for last season’s loss because of his game-denying giveaway late in that battle, fumbled on first down. In the end zone. But, as cool as he was all day — and make no mistake, LJ has never been as collected and in charge as he was Saturday in Commonwealth Stadium — Jackson picked up the ball, intuited where there might be a crack through which to escape, found it, foraged for yardage and Heismaned his way for a 15 yard pickup.
This one was never in doubt. That play was typical of how U of L rose to the occasion every moment.
Two and half minutes later, U of L finished the 99 yard journey when Jackson lofted a TD pass to Jaylen Smith.
For all the incredible feats of legerdemain that Jackson has performed while at the helm of the Cards, his demeanor and flawless performance against the Wildcats Saturday stands at the top of the list for me.
He’s had games with bigger numbers. He’s had games with more spectacular scampers and hurls.
But at High Noon in the Bluegrass on the final Saturday of this regular season, he was ready to take on all comers like Gary Cooper as Marshall Kane. (The movie was “High Noon” in case you didn’t make it to the movie house in ’52.)
Unlike Kane in Hadleyville that fateful day, Jackson, the maestro, the catalyst, had help.
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Starting with Bobby Petrino, another fella who hadn’t the slightest intention of losing to the Cats two years in a row.
For the first time really since he got to Louisville for Era II, it was like the old days. There were Cardinal receivers wide open all day. No defenders within yards many of the times.
Yet, Jackson only threw it 21 times, connecting on 15 for 216 yards and two TDs. The scoring toss to Smith was excellent. The one to Dez Fitzpatrick was pin point perfect.
Petrino has always savored a strong running game. Which this year’s team has developed, and put on display against arch rival.
UK’s Benny Snell is a beast, deserving of all the praise he garners. But Kentucky’s other carriers added only 20 yards to Snell’s 211.
Meanwhile, seven Cardinal rushers gobbled up 346 yards on 43 carries. It’s, you know, strength in numbers. LJ led the way with 156. Reggie Bonnafon added 63; Dae Wiliams, 62.
How efficient were the Cardinals executing Petrino’s immaculate game plan?
Louisville never punted.
Louisville never fumbled.
Lamar threw no picks.
Until the Puma Pass-directed final drive, which ended when the final horn sounded and U of L with a 1st & Goal at the UK six yard line, Louisville had scored on every single offensive possession.
That, mes amies, is the definition of offensive efficiency.
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Let us now praise the offensive line.
The Big Uns were guilty of three no consequence false starts early, and were essentially lock down, pass protecting, hole opening monsters for the 29:21 the Cards had possession.
They gave up no sacks.
Allow me to repeat. NO SACKS.
In fact, LJ was hurried but once the entire afternoon.
And then there were the holes that provided the entryway for all that yardage.
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It’s frustrating to watch Peter Sirmon’s defense.
But, credit where it’s due. Bringing down Snell ain’t easy. The guy’s a best, the best rusher this season in the SEC. (Yes, it’s harder to tackle a runner up high like you’re playing in the Toy Bowl, but still.)
But, here’s what the numbers say:
Johnson was sacked twice, and hurried three other times. Louisville’s defenders tallied four TFLs. And the usually tweedly secondary posted seven break ups.
Trevon Young got the sack to end UK’s first drive after halftime, though it was really a coverage sack. Stacy Thomas’s huge sack ended UK’s next possession.
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Kudos to the zebras.
When that fight broke out in the first, they acted reasonably and accurately. Nobody was tossed.
Not so smart was G.G. Robinson, who put his helmet on Johnson’s with the result a given, was ejected for targeting and will have to sit out the first half of any bowl game.
Also not so smart were the Wildcats responsible for unnecessary roughness on consecutive plays and an unsportsmanlike conduct infraction on the next snap. The drive they kept alive, which also featured Petrino’s oddest call of the day, a run into the middle of the line on 3d & 8, ended with U of L up 34-10.
* * * * *
How impressive was Lamar Jackson?
UK’s Premier Cardinal Hater Matt Jones said on his post game show that the only player he ever saw play against the Wildcats who was as good as Lamar was Herschel Walker.
* * * * *
U of L got ahead.
U of L stayed ahead.
The game was never in doubt.
The Governor’s Cup is back in Louisville.
— Seedy K