Syracuse’s challenge: containing Louisville QB Lamar Jackson
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Syracuse coach Dino Babers remembers how Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson ran, threw and even leapt over the Orange last season.
Jackson’s hurdle of a Syracuse defender for a touchdown was an indelible image during a 62-28 victory that paved his way toward winning the Heisman Trophy. The Orange want to prevent him from wreaking similar havoc on Saturday in another signature performance.
“He ran all over us, and he threw all over us,” Babers said. “He got both parts in last year and hopefully he doesn’t get both parts in this year to the degree he did last year.”
Syracuse (4-6, 2-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) has several priorities when it visits Louisville (6-4, 3-4).
The Orange must win out to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2013. Limiting Jackson will be the key against Louisville, particularly after yielding 734 yards in a 64-43 home loss to Wake Forest.
Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford had 499 yards of offense and three TDs each passing and rushing against Syracuse, which now must defend a Heisman winner who accounted for an ACC-record 610 yards and five TDs last year in the Carrier Dome.
“He does everything better than the quarterback at Wake Forest,” Babers said of Jackson, adding that he’s playing better than in 2016. “That’s not good for us.”
Conversely, the Cardinals aim to follow up their best performance this season in beating Virginia 38-21 .
Jackson accounted for four TDs and 342 yards of offense and became the first FBS player in NCAA history to compile consecutive seasons with 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 rushing. The junior needs just 37 yards to break Chris Redman’s school record of 12,129 yards total offense.
Louisville’s defense complemented Jackson by holding Virginia to 277 yards and just 63 on the ground. The Cardinals are bowl eligible and seek consecutive wins since starting 2-0, which won’t be easy against Syracuse’s high-scoring attack.
“That’s been our main focus in practice, just being able to handle tempo so we’ll be ready for a high-speed game from Syracuse,” linebacker Stacy Thomas said.
Here are some other things to watch as Syracuse visits Louisville:
JACKSON’S FUTURE: Projections of Jackson as a first-round NFL Draft pick have fueled speculation about whether Saturday might be his home finale. The QB wasn’t available for interviews this week, but Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said the school has assigned consultant Joe Mendes to advise players about their pro futures. “Obviously, I want him back,” Petrino said.
WHERE’S DUNGEY? Syracuse QB Eric Dungey did not play last week against Wake Forest, and the Orange missed his leadership in the second half when they were outscored 40-5 with backup Zack Mahoney at the helm. Dungey was a game-time decision last week and likely will be again, though Babers was noncommittal. Mahoney was 33 of 60 passing for 384 yards and three TDs in his first start of the season. “We’re hopeful we can get more out of him because we’re going to need that,” Babers said. “Hopefully, we get first-half Zack and not second-half Zack.”
HIGHLIGHT REEL: Cardinals wide receiver Jaylen Smith has quickly reacquainted himself after missing three games with a wrist injury. He has 22 receptions for 324 and two touchdowns, with both scores coming last week against Virginia. Smith’s one-handed, fingertip control of Jackson’s 21-yard TD pass was a notable clip for both players.
STEADY STEVE: Syracuse wideout Steve Ishmael is 54 yards shy of eclipsing Marvin Harrison’s school record of 2,728 receiving yards. Ishmael also needs just three catches to surpass Amba Etta-Tawo’s school season record of 94 catches set a year ago. Ishmael ranks second nationally in receptions per game (9.2) and is third in receiving yards per game (113.1).
SENIOR SENDOFF: Louisville will bid farewell to 14 seniors, Petrino’s first class since returning for a second coaching stint in 2014. Among those playing their home finales is Louisville native Reggie Bonnafon, who began as the starting quarterback before switching to receiver and now running back this season. “I played here since high school and Little League,” he said. “To have my last game here will be kind of bittersweet.”
AP Sports Writer John Kekis in Syracuse, New York, contributed to this report.
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