Louisville Runs Wild in Music City

(ESPN's Laura Rutledge with Louisville starting RT Aaron Epps with champions trophy (photo by Amanda Ledbetter).

(ESPN’s Laura Rutledge with Louisville starting RT Aaron Epps with champions trophy (photo by Amanda Ledbetter).

NISSAN STADIUM – It was a game with numerous questions surrounding the quarterback position, Texas A&M answered some, Louisville answered them all. Lamar Jackson’s 453-yard MVP performance carried the Louisville Cardinals to a 27-21 victory over the Texas A&M Aggies in the 18th Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in front of 50,478.

Texas A&M lost their top two quarterbacks to transfer in the weeks leading up to the game, the duties fell to Jake Hubenak and his inexperience showed from his overamped start to his overwhelmed finish. For the game he was 28-for-48, 307 yards, two touchdowns, but two turnovers. Consistency was not there, a cool hand was too often not there, and in the end neither were the results.

Louisville had played three quarterbacks extensively this season, Kyle Bolin, Reggie Bonnafon and Lamar Jackson. After this game, the competition is over. Lamar Jackson had his stamp on this game from the very beginning, and dazzled us all with his legs and his arm, sadly even the Aggies defense. Jackson rushed for a bowl record 226 yards, 126 in the first quarter, and passed for another 227 though only 12-for-26. It is that inaccuracy that led to the multiple quarterbacks, but the way he carried himself and the offense as a whole, he made a definitive statement for a team hoping to use this game as a jumping off point for 2016.

I say sadly even the Aggies defense because far too often they were passive, seeming to watch Jackson go, not being proactive enough and when they were, the execution was not there. Myles Garrett, the star of the A&M defense, missed two key tackles in the first half on Jackson, the first of which leading to a 61-yard touchdown run that put Louisville up 20-7. The run came right after A&M had found some rhythm on offense, Tra Carson capping a 70-yard drive with a beautiful 9-yard touchdown, Adrian Peterson jump cut and all.

Louisville scored touchdowns in three of their first four possessions, and the other two still gained 28 and 39 yards respectively. On defense, they lost senior linebacker James Burgess to a targeting foul on the very first play from scrimmage. In true “next man up” fashion, sophomore Stacy Thomas stepped in and led the team with 11 total tackles, five solo. Outside of that initial touchdown drive, things were slow going for A&M until an even more unlikely 97-yard drive late in the first half, highlighted by a 55-yard run from Carson, and ended by a 4-yard Hubenak pass to Ricky Seals-Jones to make it 20-14.

The second half began with Garrett finding his way, a sack and a hurry on the first two Louisville possessions, then a key mistake by Hubenak broke the Aggies’ momentum. Another 37-yard Jackson rush set him up to find Keith Towbridge for a 17-yard score that made it 27-14. Following a three-and-out, A&M went no-huddle, Hubenak hit Josh Reynolds for 36 yards to set them up, but Taylor Bertolet missed a 39-yard field goal, a miss that proved very costly.

A&M went 86 with their next possession, Hubenak to Christian Kirk down the far sideline for a 29-yard touchdown. All of the energy was with A&M, but on their final possession needing a touchdown instead of a field goal, an unfortunate replay reversal put them behind the marker, and the Aggies were unable to overcome it. A&M finishes 8-5 with many questions moving forward, Louisville also 8-5, but 8-2 after starting 0-3 and with much optimism for the future.