CHAPEL HILL — Lamar Jackson, as described by North Carolina coach Larry Fedora earlier in the week, is “a guy where you can do everything perfectly and he can (still) make you look bad.”
So imagine how much damage Louisville’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback could do when the team trying to defend him is anything but perfect.
Or better yet, simply take a look at the final stat sheet from the Cardinals’ 47-35 victory against Fedora’s Tar Heels at Kenan Stadium on Saturday.
Jackson rang up for 525 total yards — 393 passing and 132 rushing — while accounting for six touchdowns in sending UNC to its second straight loss to start the season. The 525 yards were the most ever given up in a game by the Tar Heels. The six touchdowns tied a school record by an opponent.
It was a brutal performance by a defense that was supposed to be UNC’s strength and a unit that was being counted on to carry the team while its young offense grew and matured.
And Jackson’s playmaking ability was only partially to blame.
“Lamar Jackson is every bit as good as everybody says he is,” Fedora said. “The guy’s pretty special and he made some things happen today that most people can’t do. Then we gave him some opportunities you can’t give a guy.
“There were way too many (times that) we weren’t even close to receivers when their guys were catching the balls. I don’t know if you can say that’s because of Lamar Jackson. We’ve got to do a much better job on that back end.”
The numbers are staggering.
Louisville (2-0) had 27 plays that went for 10 yards or more, nine plays of 20 yards or more and four of 30 or more.
Many of the same mistakes that plagued the Tar Heels in last week’s season-opening loss to Cal were repeated again against the Cardinals — blown coverages, putting pressure on the quarterback but allowing him to escape and make big plays, not being able to get off the field on third down. It didn’t help that junior linebacker Andre Smith, who had 11 tackles but couldn’t back up his boast about not letting the game become the “Lamar Jackson Show,” went out early in the third quarter with an undisclosed injury.
Louisville converted nine of its 17 third down opportunities, controlled the ball for 12 more minutes than UNC and punted only once all day. Its 705 total yards were the third most ever allowed by the Tar Heels, surpassed only by the 789 East Carolina piled up in that infamous 70-41 beat down in 2014 and the 756 surrendered to Baylor in the 2015 Russell Athletic Bowl.
“We had a good plan, we prepared well. It was just a lack of execution,” said linebacker Cayson Collins, citing a problems in communication for the multiple coverage breakdowns. “It’s shocking. It’s disappointing. It’s something we definitely have to pick up. We take responsibility for it, but it’s something we’re not happy with.”
As much as Collins and the defense struggled, their teammates on the other side of the ball were just as complicit in the Tar Heels’ fate.
Louisville actually did everything it could to keep the UNC in the game by getting field goals instead of touchdowns early and failing to convert fourth down situations on consecutive possessions in the third quarter.
The Tar Heels trailed by only one at halftime and actually led 28-27 heading into the final period despite losing starting quarterback Chazz Surratt to a hip injury. But when given the opportunity to steal a victory against the nation’s 17th-ranked team, they twice failed to take advantage in short yardage situations.
The first came with UNC trailing 33-28 early in the fourth quarter when backup Brandon Harris threw an errant pass on a fourth-and-one play from the Louisville 29. Five plays later, Jackson hit a wide open Dez Fitzpatrick for his third touchdown pass of the game.
Then on the next series, with enough time to still have a chance, the Tar Heels drove all the way to the Louisville 3 before tight end Brandon Fritts — who had already scored twice –dropped the ball inches short of the pylon on a desperate fourth down lunge for the end zone. Again, the Cardinals drove right back down the field for the clinching score, with Jackson running it in for the third time.
“Football is a game of inches,” Fritts said. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I went to reach out for the ball and I fumbled it. I probably won’t sleep tonight thinking about that one.”
If there was one positive to come out of the game for UNC, it was the play of its quarterbacks.
Surratt started and threw for 168 yards and two touchdowns in the first half before coming out as a precautionary measure because of the pain he felt in his right hip from a earlier hit. Harris, who started last week’s opener, came off the bench and threw for 216 yards and a score.
UNC also got a touchdown on a 94-yard kickoff return by wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams.
“I give Brandon a lot of credit for coming in and throwing the way he did,” said receiver Austin Proehl, who had eight catches for 120 yards. “Chazz did a great job, too.
“You obviously don’t want to lose games, but there’s positivity today. … I believe in our guys, I believe in this team and a lot of our guys do. We’re going to continue to work and try to win football games.”