Early season Heisman Trophy frontrunner Lamar Jackson and No. 3 Louisville visit Marshall Saturday at 8 PM, ET on CBS Sports Network. To find CBS Sports Network on your TV, visit http://www.cbssportsnetwork.com/.
The No. 3 Louisville Cardinals are coming off a 63-20 blowout of Florida State last weekend and look to be one of the top teams in the nation. The next challenge on the docket is a road date with the Marshall Thundering Herd. The Herd opened the year 1-1 with a win over Morgan State and a loss last week against Akron.
Marshall has a high powered offense that’s led by QB Chase Litton and the big question this weekend is whether he can unlock a Louisville defense that’s allowing just 20 points per game. We caught up with CBS Sports Network college football analyst Brian Jones to get his thoughts on the match-up, if it’s a trap game for the Cardinals and more.
CBS Local Sports: Louisville made the jump up to No. 3 in the country following their win over Florida State and now have a non-conference game against Marshall. What is the most interesting thing to you heading into this match-up?
Brian Jones: Well, a lot of us don’t know much about Marshall just yet. They’ve got a dynamite quarterback, and that was displayed a week ago when they put a ton of points on the board but still fell to Akron, in a game that lit up the scoreboards there (65-38 Akron).
Louisville is just impressive across the board. Of course, Lamar Jackson is getting all of the pub, as he should. But, that defense, they come highly regarded and played just an incredible game last weekend shutting down that Florida State offense and holding them to just 20 points. There was never any question last week whether that defense could hold up against Deondre Francois and Dalvin Cook, they just swarmed them and kept them in check the whole afternoon. Kudos to them and to coordinator Todd Grantham. They’ve got a couple of pretty good transfers playing well for them in Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaq Wiggins, who played for Grantham at Georgia, along with Devonte Fields from TCU, where he was Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman before being dismissed from the team.
I’m going to give a lot of credit to Charlie Strong as well to tell you the truth, because 12 of the 22 starters right now were Strong recruits. That tells you he still has left a mark on this program as well. You look at the guys that they’ve had drafted the last few years, five first rounders, fifteen total draftees, that tells you the kind of talent they have on campus. These guys are showing quickly that Louisville is not just a basketball school. Petrino put him on the map in his first stint there, Charlie Strong kept them going and now Petrino being back again, they’re really making some noise with this dynamite quarterback and a complete football team.
CBSLS: With how well this Louisville defense has played, can Marshall score enough to keep up with the Cardinals?
BJ: I’m going to say no they can’t. This defense, they’ve got such speed, such talent. The way you win games like this, you win them in practice. You look on the other side of the ball and even though practice isn’t usually “one’s vs one’s” you’re going up against some good talent even at the backup spots. You get an idea of what the speed is going to be like in practice. When you’ve got one of the more electric players in the game in Jackson and you have to chase him around in practice and in spring ball, that makes it a lot easier going up against other teams because not many have players like him.
CBSLS: When it comes to Lamar Jackson, the numbers this year have been insane. What have you seen from him that has allowed him to grow and progress to this level of play?
BJ: We really saw it beginning at the end of last season in the bowl game against Texas A&M. He put up 200 yards on the ground and 200 yards through the air in that game. We had his first game as a freshman last year on CBS against Auburn and though I’m sure he didn’t expect to play, they ended up playing two or three quarterbacks in that ball game and since then you’ve just seen him get better as a passer.
My partner Rick Neuheisel is always talking about teaching the concepts of the quarterback position not just one, two, then take off and use your athleticism. You’ve got to teach them to go to one, go to two, go to three, then maybe come back to one and have an idea of when to utilize that athleticism that you possess. It can’t always be run-first or run-second. You’ve got to go through your progressions if you want to be one of these elite quarterbacks. You’ve seen Jackson develop in terms of that process. He also has a better idea of reading defenses and he has a better rapport with his wide receivers. That’s the key.
CBSLS: This Marshall game is sandwiched between the Florida State game last week and a date with Clemson next week for the Cardinals. Does this game feel like a “trap” game at all where the Cardinals could get caught looking ahead?
BJ: Yes. Yes for sure you can get caught looking ahead and they shouldn’t do that. This will be a tough ball game. Now, they’re the hunted. They’ve been the hunter, now, how do you act when you’re the hunted? Are you going to have a bad game? Are you proving that you’re for real?
Those first two ball games, against Charlotte and Syracuse, you put up great numbers. Then you go out and do that against one of the perennial powers in college football, everyone takes notice. Everyone knows your name and is patting you on the back. How do you handle that? That’s going to be the key. This could be a trap game if they go into this game thinking that they have arrived. You have not arrived yet, this is the fourth game of the season. This is still a long road to hoe.
Stay humble and make sure you go play the kind of football that you’ve been playing the last three weeks. Don’t act like you’re better than you actually are because there’s still some things on that tape that you can work on.
CBSLS: Louisville is expected to win this game, but, if you’re in that Marshall locker room, what are you saying to your guys? What areas are you pointing to as possible ways to win this game?
BJ: Well, you’re pointing out that hey, we get scholarships too and they put on their pants just like we do. You can’t go into the game afraid, you have to go in believing you can win. Yeah, it may be a tough task, it may be an arduous task, but you don’t go in afraid. You go in and control the things you can control and don’t have any self-inflicted wounds. You go in with pride, knowing that other people are going to see this film.
They’re going in with a lot of attention, a lot of eyeballs, on this game. You’re playing the number three team in the nation. This is a huge opportunity for Marshall to announce itself and state that they’re not an also-ran, that they’re not an “easy win”. That’s how they have to approach this ball game. It’s a huge opportunity for them to step up and make a name for themselves.
CBSLS: Which match-up are you looking forward to watching the most in this game on Saturday?
BJ: I’ll be interested to see how the defensive ends for Marshall can, if they can, corral Lamar Jackson. It was the same question going into last week against Florida State. The key also, is to be able to tackle him. He’s so slippery. He’s sneaky fast, sneaky quick, he just slithers past guys and eats up yardage. So, can they corral him and force him back into the interior of the defense?
The key to that is reading your keys and knowing that if the ball is going inside, I can’t get down there if I’m a defensive end. You have to keep that outside leverage and don’t let that young man go outside of you. It’s the same principle we learned back in my heyday taking on the option. Do your job. You take care of your responsibility and then you hunt for work. We’ll see how Marshall is able to stay on their keys and play fundamentally sound gap defense.