INDIANAPOLIS — Lamar Jackson‘s sequel might not have been as flashy as his Heisman Trophy-winning start last season.
It was every bit as effective.
Jackson finished with 485 total yards, two touchdown passes and led two late scoring drives on opening night to help No. 16 Louisville escape with a 35-28 victory over Purdue in Indianapolis on Saturday night.
“When you’re not executing the way you want to execute, it challenges your poise and your leadership,” Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino said. “I thought we had a lot of leadership. I thought Lamar competed extremely hard.”
Jackson went 30 of 46 with 378 yards through the air, rushed 21 times for 107 yards and climbed into the top five on the school’s career lists for TD passes and yards rushing.
But on a night that Jackson was far from perfect, the Cardinals (1-0) surprisingly made it tough on themselves.
From a rash of penalties to a spate of turnovers, Louisville looked more like the team that closed out last season with three straight losses than the one expected to contend for a playoff spot.
And after falling behind 14-10 at the half, 21-13 in the third quarter and 28-25 early in the fourth, they needed Jackson’s heroics to save them with back-to-back scoring drives. His 20-yard TD pass to Dez Fitzpatrick with 9:01 left finally put the Cardinals ahead for good, 32-28.
Jackson then moved Louisville into field goal position to make it a seven-point game.
Few expected Purdue (0-1) to be close. But former Louisville star quarterback and assistant Jeff Brohm had his team ready to take advantage of the miscues in his Boilermakers’ coaching debut.
Louisville lost two fumbles on the goal line and nearly had another one on Reggie Bonnafon‘s 10-yard TD run.
A third fumble led to a Boilermakers touchdown.
The Cardinals missed another scoring chance when they mismanaged the clock at the end of the first half.
Louisville was called for five false start penalties in the first 16 minutes, finished with nine and had another penalty for an illegal snap. Cornerback Jaire Alexander, an All-American hopeful, got hurt on an ill-advised return off of a blocked field goal.
“It’s a win, that’s the way we look at it,” Cardinals receiver Jaylen Smith said. “You fumble three times, you have over 110 yards in penalties, it can’t get much worse than that.”
And the best player on the field, Jackson, eventually bailed them out.
“I thought we showed fight,” Brohm said. “But unfortunately we came up short.”
Louisville: This victory shouldn’t fool anyone. While the Cardinals pulled it out and Jackson put up Heisman-like numbers, they must make a lot of improvement over the next two weeks to challenge defending national champion Clemson in the ACC.
Purdue: Brohm and the Boilermakers faced long odds but played well enough to challenge a team expected to compete for a College Football Playoff spot. It’s an encouraging start for the rebuilding program.
Elijah Sindelar got the start Saturday, marking the ninth consecutive year a different quarterback has opened the season for Purdue. David Blough, last year’s starter, entered in the second quarter and played through the third but departed after throwing his second interception. Sindelar re-entered in the fourth and finished the game. Sindelar was 15 of 31 for 118 yards with two TDs and one interception. Blough was 18 of 26 for 175 yards with two TDs and the two picks.
Louisville: Even a lopsided win probably wouldn’t have helped the Cardinals make much of a move in the rankings But this kind of win could hurt their ranking.
Louisville: The Cardinals finished with 16 penalties for 110 yards and had three turnovers. Louisville’s other runners had a combined 12 carries for 39 yards. Jaylen Smith had a career-high eight catches for 117 yards, and Louisville wound up 524 yards in offense. Stacy Thomashad a 61-yard interception return for a touchdown to give Louisville its first lead, 25-21.
Purdue: The Boilermakers had four turnovers and gave up four sacks. Tario Fuller led a stagnant running game with eight carries for 29 yards. Purdue finished with 21 carries for 51 yards and 344 total yards. Anthrop had seven receptions for 82 yards and two scores.
Louisville: Opens ACC play on Sept. 9 at North Carolina, its final tuneup before Clemson.
Purdue: Will play underneath the lights Friday night when Mid-American Conference contender Ohio visits.