Russell Sweeter Than Sugar

Jan. 4, 2007

By Adam Caparell


Adam is's football editor and national football writer.
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NEW ORLEANS - JaMarcus Russell said the Sugar Bowl wasn't going to be about how he would play against Brady Quinn. It was about how he would play against the Notre Dame defense.


Well, Russell had himself quite a game, playing spectacularly, as LSU ran all over the Irish defense in convincing fashion, blasting Notre Dame 41-14 in front of 77,781 in the Superdome.


The junior finished with 332 yards passing, on 21-of-34, for two touchdowns earning the game MVP honors and some high praise afterward.


"He's one hell of a quarterback," LSU receiver Early Doucet said. "He has unbelievable talents. He can throw the ball in ways that are unheard of. He makes throws that I don't think any other quarterback in the country can make. He's just a special player and I'm happy to be on his team."


Special players make special plays and Russell was full of them in the Crescent City this night. But the biggest was his 58-yard completion to Doucet with under two minutes remaining in the first half and the score tied at 14.


Notre Dame had played the Tigers even and was feeling good about its chances with halftime quickly approaching. But that all changed in only a matter of seconds.


Russell uncorked a bomb -- one of the prettiest deep balls you'll see -- that turned out to be the beginning of the Irish demise. Watching it arch high in the air, looking like it was going to graze the roof of the building, it softly came into Doucet's hands after he beat the coverage. The ball traveled over 60 yards in the air and Tigers were now only five yards away from taking the lead for good, which they did two plays later on Russell's first rushing touchdown of the season.


"It gave us tremendous momentum in the game," LSU coach Les Miles said. "It was a great play, a great pass, a great reception."


It left the Irish disappointed and bummed.


"Honestly, giving up that score before halftime was little bit a downer," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. 


There have been questions about Russell's decision making in the past, about his intelligence as a quarterback. He showed how smart he is recognizing a mismatch and burning the Irish.


"From the looks, they had a linebacker playing one of our slot receivers who seemed to have a little bit of speed. Coach called a great play and it was up to us to execute, which thankfully we did very well" Russell said.


He nearly connected on another bomb to Dwayne Bowe that would have gone for 48 yards but it went through Dwayne Bowe's hands only yards from the end zone. He also threw another 58-yard completion to Brandon LaFell that went for a touchdown. On the run, avoiding the Notre Dame pass rush that made him flee the pocket, Russell flicked the ball perfectly to LaFell that put the Tigers up 20.


"He definitely put a stamp on the game that he can be one of the best quarterbacks in the country," LSU running back Justin Vincent said. "There's always the question: `Can he play in the big game?' But a lot of people don't realize JaMarcus might be the comeback king at LSU. When the game is on the line I think I want him to be my quarterback."


In the quarterback tale of the tape, Russell was the runaway winner against Quinn. The man who is considered by nearly all to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country didn't play like it.


Quinn had one of his worst games of the season by far, finishing with a pedestrian-like 148 yards passing on 14-of-35 with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Russell outplayed him badly.


Quinn threw a number of poor balls, had a bunch dropped and there was plenty of miscommunication between and some of his teammates - as when Jeff Samardzija had a Quinn-thrown pass hit him in the helmet in the end zone never knowing the ball was coming his way early in the second quarter.


Quinn also had several balls tipped at the line and felt the pressure from the LSU defensive front. Of course all the incompletions weren't his fault, but the bottom line is - fair or not - the quarterback is going to take the brunt of the criticism when his stats aren't up to par and his team loses.


"I'll say it was a team effort," Quinn said. "We really weren't converting on third down, making plays when we had the opportunity and really when you look at it, we weren't productive."


Quinn didn't want to throw his teammates - his receivers and offensive line - under the bus. He took the higher road, and it's commendable, but the LSU defense had a little something to do with it.


"We had a great game plan going into the game," said LSU cornerback Jonathan Zenon, who picked off Quinn once and had interception overturned on replay. "I think our defensive line put a lot of pressure on Brady Quinn in the second half and made him get rid of the ball much quicker than he really wanted to. Our DBs and secondary were there at the right spots and the right times."


Russell wasn't without a few blemishes. He threw an interception in the fourth quarter on a deep ball that Mike Richardson picked off in the end zone. Russell also fumbled the ball in the first quarter, but it didn't end up costing the Tigers at all thanks to a missed 33-yard field goal by Carl Goia. 


And who's going to remember them anyway. Russell had himself the best day of his college career, on the biggest stage of his life.


"It was a career-high passing day," Russell said, "but I give it up to the offensive line."


"I just think I have the best quarterback in the country," Miles said. "He played well, again."


Russell and a few other LSU starters left with 4:43 remaining in the game to a standing ovation from the Tigers fans. The immediately began chanting "One More Year."


If it was his last game in a Tigers uniform, he went out in grand fashion. Russell will have a tough decision to make in the coming days whether he wants to spend his final season in Baton Rouge or head for the green pastures of the NFL.


His stock may never be higher, but, either way, he's not tipping his hand.


"I'm not really thinking about leaving early right now," Russell said. "Right now I'm just happy we got a victory."


There will be plenty of talk about LSU being one of the favorites next year to win the national championship, especially if Russell decides to stay. It might not affect his decision, but it just so happens the BCS Championship game will be played on the same field where Russell cemented his place in Tiger lore.



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