LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Preseason questions on whether Reggie Bonnafon, Will Gardner or Kyle Bolin would be Louisville's main quarterback took a surprising turn when Lamar Jackson got most of the snaps in the Cardinals' season opener.
The question now is whether Jackson can win a game for Louisville when the freshman makes his first start Saturday against Houston.
Bonnafon started against Auburn with a trick opening play that ended badly when Jackson's floater pass was easily intercepted. The Tigers converted that turnover into a touchdown en route to building a 24-0 lead, but Jackson ended up getting most of the action and nearly lead Louisville back before falling 31-24 to the No. 6 Tigers.
Coach Bobby Petrino said game film revealed Jackson's poise, maturity and dual skills, convincing him to give Jackson the nod in their home opener against the Cougars (1-0). Jackson's goal is improving on mistakes made in his otherwise promising debut.
"I didn't pass like I wanted to and I need to take my time," said Jackson, who was 9 of 20 passing for 100 yards and ran for 106 and a TD on 16 carries.
Louisville (0-1) leads the series 8-7 and faces the Cougars for the first time since 2013 (a 20-13 victory) when the schools were members of the American Athletic Conference. Both schools have changed coaches since then: Petrino replaced Charlie Strong last year while Tom Herman enters his second game with Houston after three years as Ohio State's offensive coordinator.
The Buckeyes won last year's national championship with three QBs, and Houston executed Herman's high-scoring philosophy in a 52-24 rout of Tennessee Tech.
The Cougars also feature a dual-threat QB in Greg Ward Jr., who combined for 382 yards and three TDs on offense in the win. Petrino hopes the glimpses Jackson provided in his debut can translate into the victory Louisville needs with No. 12 Clemson looming on Thursday.
"He really gave us a lift," said the coach, adding that Jackson's next step is "understanding how to prepare for a game, focusing in the meetings (and) understanding this is college football now."
Here are some other things to watch when Houston visits Louisville:
BLOCKING ISSUES: Jackson's mobility is a needed asset as Louisville's offensive line remains a work in progress with several new starters. The Cardinals rushed for 238 yards but need better pass protection to give Jackson time to throw. "Everything can probably improve," 320-pound freshman left tackle Geron Christian said.
VERSATILE WARD: Houston's junior QB passed for 275 yards and ran for 107 in last week's victory, his second-best single game outing after a 400-yard effort in 2014 against Cincinnati (360/40). His 13 career starts include four at wide receiver, and he has also returned punts.
CLAMP-DOWN CLEMONS: Junior Cardinals safety Josh Harvey-Clemons has a long way to go to match Gerod Holliman's nation's-best 14 interceptions, but the Georgia transfer made a strong debut with two pickoffs against Auburn along with 14 tackles. Trumaine Washington added another for Louisville, which made a school-record 26 last season.
COUGAR COVERAGE: Houston gave little ground literally against Tennessee Tech, holding the Golden Eagles' rushing game to just 33 yards on 29 attempts. The Cougars' pass coverage was a bit more generous as they allowed 312 yards, most coming on a 71-yard touchdown pass. Either way, they must be ready to stop a Louisville offense that overcame two early turnovers leading to 14 Auburn points to outgain the Tigers 405-327.
HOME-OPENER DOMINANCE: Louisville is 13-4 in home openers at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium including four in a row. Petrino is 5-0 lifetime with the Cardinals in home openers.
AP Freelancer Josh Abner contributed to this report.