November 24th, 2017

Reed: Saturday's rivalry game could be Jackson's final as a Card

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Billy Reed

Executive Editor 

Reed: Saturday's rivalry game could be Jackson's final as a Card
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Whatever happens in the Governor’s Cup game between Louisville and Kentucky, Lamar Jackson’s college career likely will be done. Yes, the defending Heisman Trophy winner still has a bowl game and a senior season ahead of him, should be so choose.

However, the general feeling seems to be that he will forego one more year at U of L to enter the next NFL draft on the grounds he has nothing left to prove or gain at the college level. And it that’s the case, why risk a career-ending injury in a meaningless bowl game?

So watch Jackson closely Saturday because we won’t see his like again anytime soon. His athleticism has made him college football’s most exciting player for two seasons. Every time he touches the ball, there’s a chance he’ll do something jaw-dropping with it.

If he plays as well against UK Saturday as he did in his prior two games against the Wildcats, the Cards almost assuredly will take the Cup back to The Viille. As a freshman, he came off the bench when U of L trailed by 21 and pulled out a victory. Last season, even though the Cards lost on Austin MacGinnis’ field goal, UK couldn’t stop Jackson, although he stopped himself a couple of times by trying to do too much.

Card fans are hoping their porous defense can get a least a couple of stops, but that’s no guarantee. After 11 games, neither of these 7-4 teams has produced a it as crackling as the one Rand Paul’s neighborhood put on our junior U.S. Senator. That factor, plus each team’s propensity for coughing up the ball and getting stupid penalties, could mean the game won’t be as high scoring as it figures to be.

If Jackson does leave for the NFL, Coach Bobby Petrino could go through the exit door right behind him. He had been a model citizen and decent coach during his second stint at U of L. However, he also let last season’s glory slip away with three losses (one to UK) to end the season, and this fall the Cards have been upset by Wake Forest and Boston College.

But the main reason he might leave is that Tom Jurich, the athletics director who gave him a second chance despite a sordid sex scandal that ended his tenure at Arkansas, is no longer around to protect, advise, and monitor him. With Jurich out of the way due to the basketball scandals, Petrino’s enemies may have the opening they need to run him off.

Unless he gets out first, of course. Despite the Arkansas mess, several prominent programs desperate for a winner might take a look at Petrino. The guy knows how to win and recuit, which makes him a hotter commodity than, say, UK Coach Mark Stoops.

You never hear Stoops mentioned for any of the open jobs because he hasn’t impressed much of anybody except UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart. After five years at UK, many Wildcat fans think his offense is too conservative, his defense to easy to score on, and his bench a study in chaos.

But Barnhart gave him a contract that told you everything you need to know about UK’s low expectations in football. All he has to do to get a year’s extension and a $250,000 bonus is win seven games. At some members of the Big Five conferences, a seven-win season would be considered grounds for dismissal

A win over the Cards would give the Cats an 8-4 record with a bowl game to come. By UK standards, that’s exceptional. But that’s also not exactly taking the program to the “next level,” especially in a season when the Cats had about as easy a schedule as it’s possible to have in the Southeastern Conference.

So if some U of L fans feel that the Cards have missed an opportunity for greatness during the Jackson era, so do some UK fans feel the Cats have blown the chance for a special season when perennial rivals Tennessee and Florida are so bad that both already have fired their coaches.

The difference between an 8-4 season and a 7-5 one is much greater than the numbers might indicate. Eight wins, with a possible ninth in a bowl, amounts to respectability. But seven wins, with a possible sixth loss in a bowl, is the sign of a program spinning its wheels.

In sophomore Bennie Snell, UK will have the best runner on the field. The offensive lines seem like a push. The defenses can’t be depended upon, although last week the Cards held Syracuse, the only team to defeat mighty Clemson, to 10 points in perhaps their best defensive game of the season.

But if this, indeed, is Jackson’s last game in a U of L uniform – or even if it isn’t – he again will be the straw that stirs the drink, the cynosure of all eyes, the star who gets top billing on the marquee.

On the dark and bloody ground now known as Kroger Stadium, I think he’s going to light up the scoreboard. The game will be a matter of whether UK can match him, touchdown for touchdown. It could happen, but I can’t see it.

Cards 42, Cats 28.



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