Jackson saved Cardinals season, and Heisman candidacy

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Lamar Jackson and No. 5 Louisville were less than two minutes away from having all their team goals wiped out in a loss to huge underdog Virginia.

But Jackson had even more at stake. Besides his national championship aspirations, his Heisman Trophy worthiness demanded he rally the Cardinals.

That he came through surprised no one on Louisville.

''He's really calm, and really confident. Focused,'' coach Bobby Petrino said. ''He's a great competitor.''

Louisville trailed 25-24 after Virginia scored with 1:57 left and successfully converted a 2-point conversion, with quarterback Kurt Benkert hitting Albert Reid, whipping to crowd at Scott Stadium into a frenzy.

After a touchback on the ensuing kickoff, Jackson and the Cardinals went to work.

''Lamar came into the huddle smiling and stuff, so I mean, everybody just knew what we had to do,'' wide receiver Reggie Bonnafon, who already had two touchdown catches, said. ''It's up to you to execute it.''

Jackson started the critical drive with an 18-yard run.

After a 7-yard run by Brandon Radcliff, Jackson had a pass batted down at the line, then threw too low for Jeremy Smith on third down, setting up a fourth-and-3. The crowd got loud, sensing a huge upset.

''You've got to stay focused,'' he said. ''If you get out of your element and let the crowd get to you and let the defense harsass you, you might blow the game, and we're not having that. That's not what we're trying to do here.''

On fourth down, he hit Cole Hikitini for 5 yards, keeping the drive alive at Virginia's 45.

Jackson took off on the next play, gaining nine yards, and again on the next, gaining seven.

Louisville called timeout. There were 18 seconds remaining.

When the teams lined up for the next play, everyone on the Cardinals knew where the ball was going. Virginia was in one-on-one coverage with Jaylen Smith of the right side. It automatically meant fade route in the end zone.

The only thing left was for Jackson to make the throw.

''He threw it to a spot where only I could get it and the DB had no chance to get it,'' Smith said of the catch, with Juan Thornhill in coverage. ''Those are the little things that make Lamar the best quarterback in the country.''

As the Cardinals headed off the field, Petrino found, and hugged, his quarterback.

''I'm not sure what I said,'' he said later. ''I probably said, `I love you man.'''

Even after a loss at No. 3 Clemson, Jackson's ability to dominate games has made him the Heisman Trophy favorite. He threw four touchdown passes at Virginia, but was in danger of having the first three matter little if the Cardinals lost as 33.5-point favorites. The final drive, though, turned a bad day into a good one.

Petrino, though, isn't sure he needs to promote his player's Heisman credentials.

''I'm not that sure we have to say a whole lot because of his play and his stats and everything that he's done speaks for itself,'' the coach said afterward. ''I haven't seen anybody better, but then again, I don't see everybody.

''That's the thing that's upsetting to me is when someone says, `This is the greatest player. This is that. This is this.' You don't see everybody. I don't see anybody out west. I don't see anybody up north where it's freezing cold and windy. I see Lamar, and I can't imagine there's somebody better than he is.''

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The AP's college football page: http://collegefootball.ap.org

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Follow Hank on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr

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