LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As he got up from the table following his past Tuesday’s press conference with the media, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said he was on his way to watch more film on Lamar Jackson, go practice on how to defend the Heisman Trophy winner and then, “I’m going to go throw up.”
Louisville’s quarterback makes every defensive coordinator throw up. Last year, few teams slowed him down as he threw for more than 3,500 yards and ran for another 1,500. His 51 total touchdowns set an ACC record.
When he turns on the film and watches Jackson play, Venables says he is fun to watch as he makes defenders miss like no one he has seen since his days of trying to stop Vince Young at Texas. Then he comes to the realization that he has to figure out a way not to stop Jackson, but just slow him down.
“Some of its fun, and then the more you see of it, the more sick you get,” Venables said.
So far this year, Jackson has 1,010 total yards and has scored eight total touchdowns. Not only has he thrown for 771 yards already, while completing 64.7 percent of its passes, but Jackson also leads the Cardinals with 239 rushing yards and has run for three touchdowns, including a long of 43 yards.
“He is the best player in college football and you have to be prepared for that,” Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins said. “He is obviously a really talented and dynamic player so you just … you know he is going to make plays, but you can’t let that stop us from getting on with the game plan and doing our job. You just have to be ready to go.”
Second-ranked Clemson, who will visit Jackson and No. 14 Louisville tonight at Papa John’s Stadium, was ready to go last year as the Tigers’ defense shut Jackson down in the first half. He turned the ball over twice, was sacked four times and was held under 150 yards. However, he went off in the second half and finished the game with 457 yards of total offense and three touchdowns.
“He is going to make his plays and he is going to do his thing. There is a reason why he is the Heisman Trophy winner,” Wilkins said.
The Tigers (2-0) will do their thing too. As impressive as Jackson has been through the first two weeks, Clemson’s defense has been just as impressive. The Tigers had 11 sacks in last week’s win over Auburn and held the SEC’s Tigers to just 117 total yards.
Last year Clemson hit Jackson 29 times overall in the Tigers’ 42-36 win, more than any other team that played the Cardinals last year. But so far this year, Jackson is avoiding hits. He has been sacked just twice and he is doing a better job of recognizing blitzes and getting the ball out of his hand faster.
“He got a free corner on a blitz and he saw that last week against North Carolina and he throws a 75-yard touchdown where the corner just falls off of him and he throws a strike for 75 yards,” Venables said. “Those are the kinds of things a special player can do.
“It is one thing to take what is there. He can make something out of nothing all day.”
Wilkins says the defense understands Jackson is not like anyone they have played this year or last year since Jackson last season, and that he is in a league of his own.
“He is just so impressive and so fast,” the defensive tackle said. “He just does some impressive stuff that most players can’t do, let alone quarterbacks.”