Jan. 2, 2007
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - It's the last time LSU's imposing, cannon-armed quarterback and the receiving corps he's dubbed, "The Three Musketeers," line up together.
"The three BIG musketeers," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said while discussing the threat posed by LSU's passing attack in Wednesday night's Sugar Bowl.
Senior receivers Dwayne Bowe and Craig "Buster" Davis will be gone for certain next season. Quarterback JaMarcus Russell is a strong candidate to finish his career as a junior and enter the next NFL draft. Only Early Doucet, a junior, is expected to be back next fall.
The four have been playing together regularly for the better part of two full seasons, during which LSU has gone 21-4.
This season, they have combined for 2,355 yards and 23 touchdowns. The Sugar Bowl against Notre Dame offers a national audience one more look at them, and Weis just hopes they don't make the Fighting Irish look bad.
"One of the reasons why their passing percentage is so high is that these guys make all the plays," Weis said. "It kind of reminds me of several teams that you watch where you just know if you put too much attention on one guy, you've got the other two guys that just have field days."
Russell has completed 68.5 percent of his passes this season. All three receivers are not only fast, athletic and make tough catches with consistency, but also tend to have size advantages against the defensive backs trying to cover them.
Bowe is listed at 6-foot-3, 217 pounds, Davis at 6-2, 207 and Doucet at 6-0, 206. Notre Dame cornerbacks Mike Richardson and Terrail Lambert both are 5-11, while strong safety Chinedum Ndukwe is 6-2 and free safety Tom Zbikowski is 6-0.
"The receivers are fast, big and can catch a ball anywhere you look," Zbikowski said. "They're real good with the ball when you watch them with the wide receiver screens. They have a lot of yards after catch. They're a little more physical than other receivers."
Bowe has put up the best numbers of the three with 912 yards and 11 TDs this season. His 25 career touchdowns are the most in school history. He and Russell have combined on 22 of those, a school record for touchdown hookups between a receiver and quarterback.
Using the example of Bowe doing back flips from a standing position, LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher marvels at the combination of size, quickness and agility he's seen in the Tigers' leading receiver.
"Dwayne is physically very gifted," Fisher said. "He's got the quickness of 190-pound guy with strength and power of big guys."
Russell and Bowe compare their relationship to that of brothers, and Russell periodically takes Bowe with him on trips home to Mobile, Ala.
They've both talked about "the look" that Russell gives Bowe while calling plays in clutch situations.
It happened in LSU's last home game this season, when the Tigers were on the brink of being upset by Southeastern Conference rival Ole Miss. Russell called a play that had Bowe running a slant into tight coverage in the end zone. Bowe thought he was not the best option on the play, but Russell nodded at him in the huddle, so Bowe was ready when Russell rifled the short pass into a small opening for the tying touchdown. LSU won in overtime.
After the game, Bowe asked Russell if he noticed how small the margin for error was on the play.
"He told me, 'When I've got you, I've got you,"' Bowe recalled. "He made a great throw."
Bowe has not been shy about saying he expects to have a big game against Notre Dame, which has been burned badly by several receivers this season.
Some examples: Purdue's Selwyn Lymon had eight receptions for 238 yards and two TDs, North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks had six receptions for 171 yards and two scores, Michigan's Mario Manningham had four catches for 137 yards and three TDs, and USC's Dwayne Jarrett had seven catches for 132 yards and three touchdowns.
Complicating matters for the Irish, Weis said, is they can't afford to double up too much on Bowe, or Davis (786 yards, four TDs) and Doucet (657 yards, eight TDs) could have big games themselves.
"In the past, we've played against teams where they have one primary guy, where we try to take that primary guy out and make the other guys beat you," Weis said. "That's a very dangerous philosophy versus this team right here because they have multiple guys, especially with this quarterback, that can beat you."
LSU coaches praise the unselfishness of the receiving trio, who impress them even with their blocking and by keeping quiet when fewer passes come their way than they would like.
"Coach always tells us, don't be the guy that's always complaining. I promised myself I was not going to be the guy who does that," Bowe said. "We all motivate each other to do our best and JaMarcus does a great job spreading the ball out."