We’re far enough into the season that most remaining weeks, two ACC teams among the seven weekly conference games take on the headache of finding a way to slow down a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback.
Clemson junior Deshaun Watson, third in last year’s Heisman voting, and Louisville sophomore Lamar Jackson, an upstart this season, have been leading their teams to impressive wins, Top 10 rankings and big individual numbers.
Last week, everyone received a break from Jackson, as Louisville had a bye. This week, ACC teams are spared Watson, as Clemson has a bye.
It’s Duke (3-3, 0-2 ACC Coastal) that draws the short stick this week: The Blue Devils travel to face Louisville (4-1, 2-1 ACC Atlantic) and the prolific Jackson on Friday night at Papa John’s Stadium.
“He’s spectacular,” said Duke Coach David Cutcliffe in his Sunday night teleconference call. “He’s a great athlete and a great quarterback.”
Jackson, a 6-foot-3, 205-pounder Boynton Beach, Fla., can be described as a Heisman candidate or a clone of Watson. Take your pick. Either description gets the point across.
In Louisville’s 42-36 loss on Oct. 1 at Clemson, Jackson outgained Watson. Jackson totaled 457 yards (295 passing, 162 rushing) and Watson 397 (306 passing, 91 rushing).
“They’re very similar,” said Cutcliffe when asked to compare them. “I’ve only seen both on film, but they’re fierce competitors. They’re everything you want in a quarterback, and they’re really fast.”
Through only five games, Jackson has rushed for 688 yards and 14 touchdowns with a long of 72 and passed for 1,625 yards and 14 touchdowns also with a long of 72. Twenty-eight touchdowns in five games!
That’s an all-conference season for some quarterbacks.
Duke’s defense is coming off a 13-6 win at home over Army, but this week is a new ballgame. The Blue Devils limited the nation’s leading rushing attack 202 yards below its season average of 367.0, although that was with a help from the weather. Army ran for only 165 yards in a monsoon Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Duke may need a more powerful force than Mother Nature to slow down Jackson.
The Blue Devils aren’t likely to slow down the Louisville offense that scored 63 points on Florida State and 36 on Clemson. That means the offense will have to keep up with Louisville. That’s a tall order. Subtract Duke’s 49-6 win over North Carolina Central, a Football Championship Subdivision member, and the Blue Devils average only 19.6 points a game.
Duke still hasn’t found a rushing attack to take the pressure off redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Jones to make plays through the air. Jones was up to the task when he threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns to beat Notre Dame, but he felt the pressure when he forced passes and was intercepted five times in 34-20 loss the next week to Virginia.
Jones’ ups and downs say more about how special is Jackson.
Jones is a redshirt freshman considered to have NFL potential, but Jackson also is only two years removed from high school as a true sophomore. He played at times like an inexperienced quarterback last year, but he spent the offseason studying film to improve his passing game skills. He’s been playing like a senior – not to mention a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Follow Tom Shanahan of Today’s U on Twitter: @shanny4055