Pass eager to lead Louisville after Heisman-winner Jackson
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Jawon Pass has plenty of confidence. The Louisville quarterback will need all of it for both his major challenges this season.
First there’s succeeding 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Pass has spent two seasons preparing for that.
Then there’s showing what he’s learned from that tutorial in his first collegiate start on Saturday, facing reigning national champion Alabama, the preseason No. 1 in the AP Top 25.
“I wouldn’t change it if I could,” Pass said of facing the powerhouse Crimson Tide. “It’s a great opportunity for us as a team to go out and get a win.
“I think I’d be nervous no matter who we’d play, just having a certain feeling in my first start. But I’ll be all right. I won’t be that nervous,” he said.
How the passer nicknamed “Puma” fills the offensive void left by the departure of the best player in program history is a long-term key for Louisville.
Nobody expects the 6-foot-4, 231-pound Pass to replicate the dual-threat dominance of Jackson, who broke multiple school and Atlantic Coast Conference records while compiling 13,175 yards of total offense and 119 touchdowns. That’s not saying Pass isn’t capable of doing damage with his arm and feet, or that expectations are lowered.
He just wants to define himself.
“I don’t think about living up to anyone or anything like that,” Pass added. “I just try to play football and have fun. I’m calm under pressure, smart and just try to put my teammates in a better position to make plays.”
Louisville coach Bobby Petrino believes Pass might make the Cardinals offense better because of his grasp of playing in the pocket and chemistry with surrounding players. And because he’s had two years to prepare.
“He’s getting there as the leader,” Petrino said of Pass on Monday. “The first thing you have to do as a quarterback is do your job really well, to be a leader. You have to be able to direct and change the mood at times. I’ve seen him see that and do it, and demand kids pick it up and get going.
Pass showed promise with a limited body of work last season, completing 23 of 33 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 62 yards and a TD in six appearances as a reserve. His efficiency passing the ball solidified his spot as Jackson’s successor, now it’s time to see what he does with full-time control of the offense.
Pass acknowledged that his competitive side sometimes made it tough to be patient, though Jackson’s success and status helped maintain perspective. His priority since Jackson’s departure has been keeping things clicking with good decision-making and mechanics.
Louisville enters the game in Orlando, Florida, with experienced receivers for Pass to work with such as sophomore Dez Fitzpatrick (team-high nine TDs) and junior Seth Dawkins, who combined for 1,341 yards last season. Top returning receiver Jaylen Smith (980 yards, seven TDs) also hopes to see action after missing several weeks recovering from an emergency appendectomy on the first day of camp.
Alabama coach Nick Saban meanwhile has tried to steer attention away from whether Jalen Hurts or Tua Tagovailoa starts at QB for the Tide toward the challenge his rebuilt defense faces against Louisville — even with a new face lining up behind center.
“He’s going to try to get his team involved,” defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs said of Pass, “but also he’s going to try to put the ball on the ground a lot and try to run it. That’s where it’s up to us to keep it contained and do our job up front.”
No matter the outcome, Petrino said what happens after this weekend matters most for Louisville’s offense. Pass will make mistakes along the way like Jackson, but the goal is turning those growing pains into results. Having been around for a while might explain why Pass is encouraged.
“We’re used to everything that’s going on,” Pass said. “We’re used to (Jackson) being gone, so it’s been a good transition. I’m just trying to do the best I can.
“I got a glimpse of it last year, but we’re really about to see it now.”
Follow Gary B. Graves on Twitter: http://twitter.com/GaryBGraves