Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson was the most dynamic college football player from start to finish in 2016, and he was rewarded with the 82nd Heisman Trophy on Saturday night to prove it.
From eight-touchdown performances to late-game escape acts, there was no shortage of plays and games to remember Jackson’s season by. But here are his top five Heisman moments from 2016:
5.) Jackson hurdles over Syracuse with ease
One of the first glimpses at Jackson’s tremendous athletic ability came in Week 2 against Syracuse when he soared high into the air to hurdle an Orange defender en route to scoring one of his five touchdowns on the day in the Carrier Dome.
It was jaw-dropping how effortless Jackson made the play seem, as he leaped over the incoming tackler with relatively little downfield acceleration going for him on a roll-out to the left side.
That score was the cherry on top of a five-touchdown, ACC-record 610-total yard performance that could’ve been more if Jackson wasn’t taken out late in the second half with the Cardinals owning a commanding lead.
Jackson’s big numbers served as an encore performance after he stole the national spotlight in his record-breaking Week 1 outing against Charlotte the previous week (more on that later).
With his big day against Syracuse, he showed that his opening day numbers were no fluke and gave hope that there were more highlights to come.
4.) Louisville-Clemson battle lives up to the hype
As Jackson’s meteoric rise continued over the first few weeks of the season, most college football fans’ eyes quickly turned to the Oct. 1 matchup in Week 5 between defending ACC champion Clemson and upstart Louisville.
It was set to be a battle between quarterbacks with the experienced Deshaun Watson and Clemson’s talented offense going up against Jackson and Co. It also happened to be Jackson’s first true primetime road test in hostile Death Valley.
In the end, Clemson came out on top in a highly-entertaining 42-36 shootout that ranks up there with the best games of the regular season. However, despite the loss, Jackson’s Heisman hopes only gained steam.
Jackson finished the night with 295 passing yards, 162 rushing yards and three total touchdowns. Trailing 28-10 at the half, Jackson led a 26-0 Louisville run out of the break to give the Cardinals a slim lead with eight minutes remaining, marking their first lead since the opening minute of the game.
Watson had the last laugh after engineering two scoring drives down the final stretch and finished with five touchdowns. But he also had three interceptions compared to Jackson’s one turnover.
Despite the loss, Jackson turned some doubters’ heads with his composure under center in the high-pressure conference battle.
3.) Jackson to the rescue against Virginia
Louisville didn’t have to go through too many two-minute offense situations in 2016, as the Cardinals mostly relied on scoring early and often to down opponents.
But on Oct. 29 against Virginia, the then-No. 5 Cardinals were in danger of a big-time upset after scoring only 14 points through the first three frames.
The Cavaliers scored a touchdown and successfully converted their two-point try to retake a 25-24 lead with only 1:57 to go in regulation. With the Cardinals’ backs against the wall, Jackson then drove his team 75 yards down the field on eight plays for his first late fourth quarter game-winning drive of the season.
Jackson completed the comeback with a beautiful 29-yard floater to Jaylen Smith for the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds left on the clock. Smith showed great concentration on the catch in one-on-one coverage and Jackson delivered the ball perfectly over the defensive back's reach.
Every Heisman winner needs a Heisman-worthy drive on his resume to go along with his overall stats. That Week 8 drive against Virginia was Jackson’s defining sequence.
2.) Jackson shreds then-No. 2 Florida State
Before his top five clash with Clemson, Jackson faced another top challenge against then-No. 2 Florida State in Week 3. And Jackson aced that test in a 63-20 blowout.
Like in many of the Cardinals’ early-season blowouts, it was Jackson’s legs that most impressed – even against one of the fastest defenses in the nation in the Seminoles.
Jackson torched FSU for 146 yards and four touchdowns on the ground to go along with a 13-for-20 performance through the air with another touchdown. The Cardinals quickly got out to a 35-10 advantage by halftime and their 63 total points marked a record for the highest total ever allowed in FSU history.
The top highlight of the day came on a 47-yard touchdown run by Jackson where he weaved himself in and out of running lanes before a final spin move to get him past the final line of defense in front of the end zone.
The play looked like something out of a video game, which was fitting given the debut of this wonderful College GameDay sign paying homage to Tecmo Bowl earlier that morning:
Next level. https://t.co/MGOVgOAM0R— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) September 17, 2016
That game opened the eyes of many college football fans that may have dismissed Jackson’s first two performances for being against lower levels of competition. It also drew plenty of praise from former college standouts like Michael Vick:
Lamar Jackson 5x better than what I was at V-Tech....Enough said!! #future— Mike Vick (@MikeVick) September 17, 2016
1.) Jackson scores eight touchdowns in one half
In an era where “what have you done for me lately” talks reign supreme in college football, it’s very rare that Week 1 results still resonate by the end of the season.
But in the case of this year’s Heisman race, Jackson broke the mold.
Jackson’s opening weekend stat line against Charlotte speaks for itself: 17-of-23 for 286 passing yards and six touchdowns in addition to 119 yards on the ground and two more scores. All in one half.
Jackson’s Cardinals won that game 70-14 and Jackson was replaced after Louisville built up a 56-0 lead at the half. With the sophomore under center, the Cardinals scored touchdowns on eight of their nine first half possessions.
Even against a Charlotte team that finished the year 4-8, those numbers are staggering. And it left everyone wondering what Jackson could have done in a full 60 minutes of game action – Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes set the new single-game total yards record this season with 819 against Oklahoma; Jackson was on pace for 810 before he was replaced.
The player who makes the first case for the Heisman in Week 1 seldom maintains his candidacy over a long season filled with peaks and valleys. Jackson was able to do so, however, by following up his early fireworks with a string of consistent outings and highlight reel plays.
His eight-touchdown game against Charlotte just opened the floodgates for more to come.
College football fans should rejoice that Jackson, only 19 years old, will be back to make new memories next year. Only one player has taken home the Heisman twice, but with Jackson’s talent, he should have a good shot at returning to the New York stage in 2017.