Lamar Jackson, have (another) Heisman moment.
Because more than the Lamar leap against Syracuse or his jaw-dropping run against Florida State, Jackson came through with a play that stands as the biggest moment of the Louisville season.
With his team trailing 25-24 to Virginia, Jackson lofted a beautiful throw where only Jaylen Smith could catch it in the end zone. Smith made an athletic catch and came down with the ball with 13 seconds remaining. On the two-point conversion, Jackson found Smith again and the Cards somehow survived a game in which they were outplayed for long stretches, winning 32-25 on Saturday afternoon in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Jackson, forced from the pocket repeatedly, completed 24 of 41 passes for 361 yards, had four touchdown passes and an interception and ran 18 times for 90 yards. Though he looked uncomfortable for stretches and had his streak of games with at least one rushing touchdown and one passing touchdown broken at 10 games, Jackson made the plays to win -- the way just about everybody watching him has come to expect.
And boy, did Louisville need those plays. That touchdown saved Louisville from near certain College Football Playoff elimination. With one loss, the Cards need to win out and get some help in order to even have a shot to make it in as an at-large selection.
Yet for the second time in three weeks, Louisville faced an ugly reality. It was a dismal performance against a heavy underdog that threatened to sink its playoff hopes. A few weeks back, Louisville struggled through a 24-14 win against 35-point underdog Duke, a game in which the Blue Devils decided to milk the play clock to keep the ball away from Jackson. That strategy nearly worked.
Virginia came into Saturday's game as a 34-plus-point underdog, too, but its players talked with confidence all week about the opportunity to upset the Cards. The Cavaliers have flummoxed Louisville since it joined the ACC in 2014, winning that season and losing by just a touchdown last year.
For a vast majority of the game, Virginia completely outplayed Louisville, dominating on the line of scrimmage, sacking Jackson five times and forcing crucial turnovers. Louisville trailed for the first time in the first quarter all season. Even when the Cards finally took the lead in the fourth quarter, Virginia never went away.
Kurt Benkert converted a fourth down then threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Doni Dowling to get Virginia within one point at 24-23 with 1:57 to go. Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall decided to go for the win, and Benkert executed the 2-point conversion pass perfectly to Albert Reid.
But that gave Jackson more than enough time. He marched the Cards 75 yards and converted a fourth-and-3 of his own with a 5-yard pass to Cole Hikutini. Two Jackson scrambles set up the Cardinals for the winning touchdown pass and the season-saving play.
The game should be another lesson that Louisville won’t be able to just walk onto a field and take winning for granted against overmatched opponents. Not only that: Any team vying for an at-large playoff selection is going to be held to a higher standard because it has much more to prove.
Louisville won’t make a big impression on the committee with continued performances similar to Saturday. The Cards survived, yes, but they should not have been in a position just to survive against a team with only one conference victory. Virginia is vastly improved since early in the season, but Louisville did itself no favors with its sloppy play.
Yes, the Cards need help from other teams to be able to have a playoff shot. They got that when West Virginia lost Saturday. But no amount of help is going to make a difference if they can’t help themselves.