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Lamar Jackson (eight TDs) leads Louisville to rout of Charlotte

By Bucky Dent, The Sports Xchange
Lamar Jackson (eight TDs) leads Louisville to rout of Charlotte
Louisville's Lamar Jackson. (YouTube/Howie Linsey)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Asked if he had ever coached a player who accounted for eight touchdowns in a half, as quarterback Lamar Jackson did on Thursday night, Louisville coach Bobby Petrino couldn't think of one.

"Should have been nine," Petrino quipped.

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Petrino and the 19th-ranked Cardinals happily settled for eight, as Jackson led them to an overwhelming 70-14 rout of Charlotte in both teams' season opener at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

Jackson accounted for 405 total yards in a performance that served as a continuation of last year's Music City Bowl, when he threw for 227 yards and ran for 226 in a 27-21 win over Texas A&M. Jackson threw for 286 yards and six scores on 17-of-23 passing, while adding 119 yards and two touchdowns on only 11 carries.

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Prior to Thursday night, the most touchdowns any Louisville player had ever recorded in a single game was six. Jackson shattered that record and didn't even take a snap after halftime.

"I wanted to show everybody my throwing ability," he said. "I was just trying to get everyone the ball. We have a lot of big-time players. I'm trying to get the ball in their hands instead of it looking like me running all the time."

The rap on Jackson last year was that he wasn't the most accurate thrower, as he hit only 54.7 percent of his passes. While the 49ers will probably be the weakest team the Cardinals play this year, Jackson appeared more polished in the pocket for most of the first half, stepping into most throws and making solid decisions.

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Charlotte coach Brad Lambert was impressed with Jackson's ability to function as a pocket passer.

"He threw it well, and if the pocket breaks down, he can extend plays," Lambert said. "We had a hard time handling Lamar. He can make you look bad in a hurry."

Indeed, Jackson wasted no time making the 49ers, in just their second season as an FBS program and only their fifth year of playing football, look overmatched. He ran for 68 yards on a game-opening 75 yard drive, twisting the final 36 on a scramble for the first of 10 Louisville touchdowns 2:57 into the game.

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Jackson followed with scoring strikes of 13 and 24 yards to converted quarterback Reggie Bonnafon and backup running back Jeremy Smith, respectively. Then he finished the first quarter by breaking the goal line's plane on a 1-yard run for a 28-0 lead.

Foot firmly planted on the gas pedal, Jackson kept cranking out touchdowns in the second quarter, all with his arm. After hitting Brandon Radcliff and L.J. Scott with 16 and 20-yard scoring passes, respectively, Jackson set his school record at the 2:59 mark with a 32-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver James Quick.

Jackson led a two-minute drill to end his night, driving the Cardinals 66 yards and concluding it with a 1-yard flip to Cole Hikutani with five seconds remaining for an absurd 56-0 halftime lead.

"We looked like a real passing team in the second quarter," Petrino said.

Overshadowed by Jackson's display was a defense that was simply stronger and faster than Charlotte's offense. Louisville allowed only 92 yards and five first downs in the first half, forcing four 3-and-outs.

"Our goal is to get the ball back for the offense," linebacker James Hearns said. "The more we feed them, the more they have a chance to score."

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The 49ers managed to avert a shutout when Kevin Olsen lofted a 24-yard touchdown pass to Austin Duke with 8:36 left in the third quarter. Olsen finished the game 16-of-29 for 141 yards while being sacked twice.

Charlotte also scored with 3:46 left in the game when Anthony Covington recovered a fumbled punt in the end zone.

Backup quarterback Kyle Bolin threw for 105 yards and two touchdowns while running the Cardinals most of the second half.

But there was no doubt who the star of the show was - the guy who set a school record in less than one half.

"We showed everybody why we are here this year," Jackson said. "It's going to be a great season."

NOTES: This was the 10th time in the last 11 seasons that Louisville opened the season at home. ... Charlotte played for the first time against a top 25 FBS team. ... The teams combined for 23 penalties and 167 yards on the night.

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