CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Louisville is off to a better start in protecting Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. That could make things even tougher for North Carolina's mistake-prone defense to slow the 17th-ranked Cardinals on Saturday.
The Cardinals (1-0) enter their Atlantic Coast Conference opener after allowing no sacks in the season-opening win against Purdue. Jackson thrived with 485 yards of total offense, giving the quarterback a good start in his bid — even if he says it isn't his focus — to become only the second two-time Heisman winner.
"I was proud about all the other things he did," coach Bobby Petrino said, "understanding what coverages there were, there even one time where he checked a protection and we weren't really in the right protection.
"But he had the right reason to check the protection — they blew the coverage completely. He did the right thing."
The 35-28 win against Purdue wasn't perfect, marred by three lost fumbles and 16 penalties for 110 yards. But avoiding sacks after ranking 124th out of 128 Bowl Subdivision programs last year by allowing 47 last year made things easier on Jackson.
"I was just trying to get the ball out of my hand on time and trying to get it to easy targets and make positive plays instead of negative plays," Jackson said.
Things could come easier against the Tar Heels (0-1), who surrendered 363 yards passing to a first-time starting quarterback during last weekend's 35-30 home loss to California. The unit also surrendered two touchdowns of at least 50 yards and managed just one sack.
Junior linebacker Andre Smith called Jackson the nation's best player while also offering confidence that UNC's defense could slow him.
"We definitely don't want it to be a Lamar Jackson show," Smith said. "So if he's able to beat us with his arm then — well, he's not going to beat us at all, I take that back. He's not going to beat us. We're just going to stop anything that he tries to do.
"He's not going to be able to run on us. We have everything solidified with that. And we're going to cover downfield. If the receivers go up and make a good play . then it is what it is. We've got to come back next play and do the same thing."
Some other things to know about Saturday's Louisville-North Carolina game:
QB UNCERTAINTY (AGAIN): UNC coach Larry Fedora won't commit publicly to a starting quarterback for the second straight week. He went with LSU graduate transfer Brandon Harris against Cal but leaned more on redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt as the game wore on. Expect to see both players again Saturday.
NO ALEXANDER: Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander is out after injuring his right knee returning a blocked field goal against Purdue. Senior Ronald Walker or freshman Russ Yeast are the likely replacements for the Charlotte native.
HOLD ON: Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino stressing ball protection after last week's fumbles. That included Lamar Jackson and Reggie Bonnafon losing the ball while trying to stretch for the goal line. "Sometimes if you're going down and they can't see whether you're down, they're going to call it a fumble and let the video overturn it," Petrino said. "You just can't do that."
POCKET CONTAINMENT: UNC coach Larry Fedora said Jackson "can make you look foolish" with his ability to make big plays through the air or on the ground. One key will be to contain Jackson in the pocket. "We never want rush lanes in our defense," defensive coordinator John Papuchis said, "but obviously we have to be so much more aware this week because so many big plays can happen if your rush lanes break down."
CARTER'S BOOST: UNC could use another strong performance from freshman tailback Michael Carter, who showed power and burst by running for 94 yards and two touchdowns (the second is shown below) against Cal. He also had a team-high nine catches for 53 yards.
AP Sports Writer Gary B. Graves in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.
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