It's probably safe at this point to say Lamar Jackson has had an up and down season. A lot of downs, sure, but Saturday against Northwestern represented an up. Maybe the start of a climb. The junior corner had perhaps his best game of the year against the Wildcats.
"I think he was playing real good versus Northwestern," linebacker Mohamed Barry said of Jackson. "A lot of pass breakups, finishing through the hands of a receiver. He has grown and you see he’s trying to make that big play still. Could’ve had that interception, was this close."
Jackson finished with just two solo tackles and two passes broken up in the box score, but he was targeted by Northwestern seven times and only gave up one catch for nine yards. In the first quarter, on Northwestern's first drive of the game, Jackson had his fingertips on a ball that could have been his second interception of the season.
It didn't get pulled in, a missed opportunity the way the Huskers score things, but Jackson was in a position to make a play.
After a benching against Purdue on Sept. 29, Jackson lost his starting spot to junior Eric Lee Jr. Several miscues and a holding call that negated a first-half interception were enough for the coaches to pull him.
Head coach Scott Frost was raw after a 42-28 loss that night.
"We can’t get holding calls on interceptions and then talk trash to their sideline and start dancing on the field," he said. "I’m tired of looking at it. There’s really no difference from a coaching perspective from 'I can’t do it' and 'I won’t do it'. The people that won’t make good decisions . . . if that keeps up I’m just going to ride with the guys that are doing it the right way."
Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said later in the week leading up to Nebraska's Oct. 6 game at Wisconsin that Jackson has to earn his spot back. "When adversity hits you will do one of two things," he said, "you will sit on the ground or get up and fight. Right now, he’s not fighting."
From that point on, it seems Jackson has fought. We're just two weeks away from that benching and the tone on him has completely changed.
"Lamar’s one of the guys that I think has made significant improvement," Frost said Monday. "Still like to see him go make some great plays but he’s doing things the right way now. He’s been a good teammate and he’s got enough talent to be a really good player if he keeps on that track."
His performance against Northwestern was penalty-free and it was largely free of the poor effort plays that have shown up on film throughout the season, the ones that make the coaching staff scratch their heads. He entered the Wisconsin game as the No. 2 for the first time since his freshman season, rotated in throughout the game and still had his share of mishaps. Wasn't the case against Northwestern; he started. Then he showed up back on the top line of the Huskers' depth chart for Minnesota.
Ever since their arrival on campus, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander and Fisher have been hard on Jackson in part because they see the potential for a stout corner.
The converted high school safety has the physical tools, they've said, to play at a high level. A 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame with long arms gives him NFL-caliber size; Jackson just hasn't put things together through three seasons in Lincoln.
One game won't undo any of that and Jackson will have to continue proving himself to keep his starting job, but maybe he's starting to turn that corner.
"I think he took coaching well after Coach [Fisher] sat him down," Barry said. "I don’t think he dwelled on it too long, and I think he has the right approach and he’s trying to get better and better at his game.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.