Here’s the link.
By Jon Wilner
A week ago today, the day before Tennessee, I didn’t think it was possible. I figured Jackson would be a nice second-tier Heisman Trophy candidate, more viable than Marshawn Lynch perhaps but not someone who would be in the discussion — the serious discussion — throughout the season. Really, how often do receivers win it? (It’s been 16 years.)
How often do they even have a chance? (Rarely). And how often do receivers from the west coast, who play so many games after Heisman voters have gone to bed, and who do not play for USC … how many times are they even considered legitimate candidates? (Very rarely.) But everything changed for Jackson in about eight seconds last Saturday.
That’s how long it took him to work his change-of-direction magic with that punt return, to make like Reggie Bush and Desmond Howard and Tim Brown. That, folks, was a “wow” play, a signature play — the kind of play that grabs the attention of Heisman voters everywhere. And more importantly for Jackson, it was the kind of play that should hold their attention. It will be talked about and rebroadcast for weeks, maybe months, and that’s just what Jackson’s candidacy needed in Week One, on national television, against a ranked opponent — against a ranked opponent the SEC, in fact. In case you hadn’t heard, there are a few Heisman voters on that side of the Mississippi. Jackson needed a signature play and got it by starting left, reversing field, side-stepping, then back-stepping, then blowing through the Vols in a few seconds of pure brilliance. It was the “wow” play of the weekend by the top-tier Heisman contenders, and no one else was even close. Not only did Jackson take advantage of his greatest opportunity (ie: media expose) between now and the USC game on Nov. 10, he bought himself time.
Now, even if he doesn’t do much at Colorado State this week, or against Louisiana Tech the following week, it doesn’t matter — he’ll have that punt return buzz to carry him through, keep him in the discussion until he can turn out another dazzling play against Pac-10 opponents. Time is what Jackson needed as Cal enters the off-the-radar portion of its schedule, and time is what Jackson made for himself. Time, and margin for error. Looking ahead, Jackson does not need to return a punt for a touchdown every game to stay in the Heisman race (although he probably could, if teams kicked to him). Nor does he need to catch 10 passes a game. In the Heisman race, receivers/returners are judged differently than quarterbacks and running backs. They don’t have to produce huge numbers on a weekly basis. What they need are 1) to play on a top-10 team, and 2) to make big plays in big games. After all, that’s how the only two receivers to win the Heisman in the modern era went about winning it. Tim Brown had a brilliant career at Notre Dame, but he won the 1987 Heisman on the strength of three plays. The first was a leaping, physics-defying touchdown catch over two Michigan defenders in the season opener. (Spectacular play in the season opener? Hmmm, that sounds familiar.) Brown’s second and third signature plays came a week later, against Michigan State. In a two-minute span in the first quarter, he returned consecutive punts 71 and 66 yards. Both went for touchdowns. Brown had a terrific season, but those three plays in the first two games hooked Heisman voters and fueled his candidacy.
And quick: What do you remember from Desmond Howard’s 1991 season? That’s easy. His marvelous, full-extension, corner-of-the-end zone catch against Notre Dame, and the Heisman pose he struck after a 93-yard punt return touchdown against Ohio State. (Punt return touchdown? Hmmm, that sounds familiar.) Those two plays won Howard the Heisman — not the 30 touchdowns in 33 career games for Michigan. Jackson, by the way, has 22 TDs in 25 games. If he keeps up that pace, or something close to it, he’ll have enough touchdowns. But to keep his candidacy hot through November, he needs the same kind of signature plays Brown and Howard made. He’s got one, and it should last him a few weeks.