LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- You see a game like No. 10 Louisville played Saturday and you search for perspective, try to resist the urge to read too much into one devastating performance. The calendar says it's still summer. The trees in this upper part of the South are still as green as the Field Turf at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The season is one-quarter over. If this were a 1,500-meter race, the rabbit would still be out in front.
But. Oh. My. Goodness.
This wasn't Charlotte that Louisville humiliated, 63-20. This was Florida State, a national champion three years ago, a playoff team two years ago, a No. 2-ranked team when the ball was kicked off before the largest home crowd (55,632) in Louisville history.
Or, as quarterback Lamar Jackson said, "Just another team on our schedule. Now we're looking forward to Marshall. Wasn't nothing special."
Jackson continued his remarkable sophomore season, running for four touchdowns and 146 yards, and throwing for 216 yards and a fifth score. It's too early to say Jackson is the best player in the FBS, but he has been the most exciting. He accelerates through the line of scrimmage like a human Tesla. Takes the corners pretty well, too.
The only flaw in Jackson's game might be his abilities of assessment. Not only because he didn't judge this win as historic, mind-blowing, or even special. No, because Jackson graded his performance as a D.
"I threw an interception," he said. "I think it was seven incomplete passes I threw. Bad balls."
Remind me not to take his class next semester.
No one agreed with Jackson, especially not Michael Vick, who tweeted after the game that Jackson is "5x better than what I was at V-Tech....Enough said!!" Vick, remember, took Virginia Tech to the BCS Championship Game in 1999.
"It means a lot. That's my favorite player," Jackson said. "Coming from him? I was amazed when they told me in the locker room. I was happy."
Older, wiser Cardinals understood that this victory, even in mid-September, meant something. They remember blowing leads to Florida State the past two years. They remember starting last season 0-3. Don't forget: This is only Louisville's third season in the ACC.
"We look at the start of the season and we know that everything has to go through Florida State and Clemson," coach Bobby Petrino said. "... I can't tell you how proud I am of our players and our assistant coaches. Our assistant coaches have been working on this game for a long time -- since last winter. I think their hard work and dedication really showed up."
Louisville, wearing red helmets for the first time in decades, took control of the game from the opening drive. So what was your favorite moment of dominance? Was it Jackson's final touchdown, a 47-yard run on the second play of the fourth quarter in which he burst through the line, broke free safety A.J. Westbrook's ankles and blew through corner Marquez White's tackle attempt at the goal line?
Was it Seminoles quarterback Deondre Francois' final pass of the game, which Louisville safety Chucky Williams intercepted and returned 36 yards to the Florida State 10? Francois had only two more completions (seven) than he was sacked (five), not to mention the other hits he endured. The Florida State offensive line didn't do much better for tailback Dalvin Cook, who had some of the greatest four-to-eight-yard carries that any back has ever run. He finished with 54 yards on 16 carries.
Was it Jaire Alexander's 69-yard punt return for a touchdown on the fourth play of the second half, the score that pretty much guaranteed that Florida State wouldn't come back here the way it did in Orlando from 22 points down against Ole Miss?
Jameis Winston wasn't in Louisville to give a halftime speech. The Tampa Bay Bucs left Friday evening for their game Sunday at Arizona. If anyone told the Seminoles at halftime that they are dogs, not puppies, they didn't listen. But head coach Jimbo Fisher could have brought in Sir Winston Churchill to give his "We shall never surrender" speech and it wouldn't have mattered.
Even though 63 is the most points Florida State has ever given up, this was not the worst loss in its history. There was that 49-0 loss to Florida in 1973. It wasn't even the most humiliating loss for a second-ranked team in Seminoles history, an distinction that might be perpetually reserved for the season-opening 31-0 loss to No. 1 Miami in 1988.
But it was bad. And it was humiliating, from the scoreboard to the most elementary lapses. Late in the third quarter, with the Cardinals on the Seminoles 1, Florida State defensive end Brian Burns sprinted onto the field after both units already had lined up. He was a few steps too late to get involved. With only 10 defenders in formation, Louisville running back Jeremy Smith all but trotted into the end zone. Burns dropped his head and he turned back toward the sidelines.
"Guys, I'm not going to panic," Fisher said. "I'm going to look at it, get better, and move on. We are going to do the same things we do every week. There is no reason to panic."
That's the attitude that Fisher should have. And when Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said, "I didn't think anybody could ever come out and dominate Florida State that way," that sounded exactly right, too.
It's often difficult in early season games to calibrate performances. Is the winner that good or the loser that bad? But now that Louisville and Florida State have played three games, one-quarter of their schedules, it's clear that this is merely a case of identity theft. The Cardinals are the top-10 team; the Seminoles are the wannabes. While it might be too soon to speak of torches passed -- Louisville must play at No. 5 Clemson in two weeks -- we certainly can speak of Seminoles passed.