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Heisman Trophy winner Jackson stars in U of L spring game; newcomer Fitzpatrick also impressive

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By Russ Brown
NKyTribune correspondent

LOUISVILLE — After last year’s 73-7 Red romp, Bobby Petrino thought he had divided his University of Louisville football team more evenly for Saturday’s Red-White spring intrasquad game by splitting the starters to make it more competitive.

But with Lamar Jackson around, there was very little Petrino could do short of surrounding his star quarterback with a supporting cast consisting of student managers.

Despite playing just slightly more than 2 1/2 quarters, the Heisman Trophy winner led the Red team to a 52-7 victory by completing 19-of-32 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns and running 34 yards for another TD in front of an announced crowd of 14,000 in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. He accumulated a quarterback rating of 181.1.

Despite playing just slightly more than 2 1/2 quarters, the Heisman Trophy winner led the Red team to a 52-7 victory by completing 19-of-32 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns and running 34 yards for another TD (UofL Athletics Photo)

Jackson dominated in last year’s spring game, too, throwing for eight touchdowns against the second-team defense. About half of the projected defensive starters for next season were on the White team this time, but it didn’t seem to matter.

“I thought we divided them pretty even, and I still think we ere pretty even,” Petrino said afterwards. “But I guess there was a difference-maker out there, and that was Lamar. I was really excited to see some of the throws he made and some of the catches the receivers made. I felt he executed well. There were some perfect balls thrown.”

Petrino had said earlier in spring practice that Jackson had made significant progress in the passing game, and he did nothing to dispell that notion in the scrimmage.

“He’s made huge strides in reading coverages, going through progressions and taking a lot of pride in doing it,” Petrino says. “After every play, he’s wanting to make sure that he did the right thing in seeing the safeties, seeing the rotations and seeing the coverages.”

Says Jackson: “I probably made one check last year and that was the Boston College game, when I saw an over front and I checked to another play. But this year, I’m trying to have it where I’m Tom Brady with it, Peyton Manning, stuff like that. Just go to the line and check out of anything that looks wrong.”

While Jackson’s performance was no surprise, his favorite target was probably unknown to most UofL fans until Saturday. However, redshirt freshman Dez Fitzpatrick showed he could be a factor this fall by catching nine passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns, both of which were impressive. His first TD was a 19-yarder in which he lept over a defender for the catch in the second quarter. Then in the third period he scored again on an 80-yard catch-and-run.

“He’s young, but he’s an awesome receiver,” Jackson says of Fitzpatrick. “He ran his routes great, has great hands and is able to get himself open.”

“Dez really showed up and did a great job for us,” Petrino said. “I was happy with the time the Red offensive line gave, and on the other side of the ball Jaire Alexander obviously had a good game.”

Alexander, a rising junior cornerback who was a second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection last season, had seven tackles, including two for loss, an interception and a pass breakup.

“He’s a tough matchup,” Petrino says. “Has been all spring long. He has great skills.”

If there was a disappointment, it was the play of backup quarterback Jawon Pass for the White team. The redshirt freshman threw four interceptions and was sacked three times while completing only 14-of-30 passes for 162 yards.

Louisville will open the season against Purdue on Sept. 2 in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

PETRINO DEFENDS AD JURICH

In a press conference previewing the game Friday, Petrino defended UofL athletics director Tom Jurich and the athletics department after criticism from UofL trustee John Schnatter during a board meeting this week.

Schnatter, whose Papa John’s pizza company bought the naming rights to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium when it was constructed, referred to Jurich as “invisible”, apparently because of what Schnatter considers a lack of communication with trustees. He also questioned the athletic department’s spending and said the department needs to be “fixed.” He didn’t cite any specifics and hasn’t expanded on or clarified his comments since.

“We’re the envy of people across the country because of our fiscal responsibility and everything that has transpired on our campus,” Petrino said. “It’s amazing to see what he’s been able to accomplish. It’s just unbelievable to me (what Schnatter said). Everybody that’s within the athletic department knows Tom is a great leader and does it for every single sport. There is no question in my mind that Tom Jurich is the best athletic director in the United States.”

QB KYLE BOLIN TO TRANSFER

Third-string quarterback Kyle Bolin, a Lexington Catholic High School product, said he plans to transfer from UofL for his final season of eligibility. He has earned his bachelor’s degre and will be able to play immediately at an FBS school.

Bolin has visited Cincinnati, said Northern Illinois has also offered him a spot and that Texas and Western Michigan have contacted him.

Bolin started five games in 2015, competing most of the season with Jackson. He lost his starting job after throwing two early interceptions against Kentucky in the regular season finale. Jackson turned in a spectacular performance against Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl, and there was no doubt who would be the starter last season.

Bolin’s younger brother, Clay, is a walk-on at UofL, having transferred from Morehead State this semester.

TEAM AWARDS FOR 2016

Scholar Athlete of the Year–Blanton Creque; Comeback Player of the Year–Stacy Thomas; Most Durable Cardinal–Geron Christian; Offensive Grinder–Brandon Radcliff; Defensive Grinder–DeAngelo Brown; Offensive Player of the Year–Cole Hikutini; Defensive Player of the Year–Jaire Alexander; Special Teams Player of the Year–Mason King; Team MVP–Lamar Jackson.

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