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LSU Team Report
LSU saved its best 2006 performance for its biggest game of the season.
The Tigers, after claiming a 21-14 halftime lead, jumped all over Notre Dame in the second half for a dominating 41-14 victory in the Sugar Bowl.
"They took it from us there in the third quarter," Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn said.
More than any other game this season, the Tigers put it all together. And did it on a big stage.
"You saw big strong men imposing their will on their opponent," said coach Les Miles, who completed his second season at LSU.
With an 11-2 record for the second consecutive season Miles is convinced the program is on solid footing and ready to take the next step in 2007.
"I think it was certainly a program victory," Miles said. "You raise the groundwork for a strong future. I think everybody can tell that this program is hitting speeds they haven't seen before.
"Everyone will understand that you can win the national championship at LSU. The future's very bright."
The future is especially bright with the return of 14 starters and several experienced backups who saw significant playing time in 2006. The Tigers know they must find a way to replace some key players from a senior class that finished 44-8, including receivers Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis and safeties LaRon Landy and Jesse Daniels, but they'll have to wait and see on the status of two talented juniors, quarterback JaMarcus Russell and defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey.
Like his team, Russell closed out an impressive season with a strong finish in the Sugar Bowl, completing 21 of 34 passes for 332 yards and two touchdowns. If he chooses the draft, he could be one of the first three quarterbacks selected. If he returns, he will enter his senior season as a legitimate Heisman candidate.
"He definitely put a stamp on the game that he can be one of the best quarterbacks in the country," tailback Justin Vincent said. "A lot of people don't realize that JaMarcus Russell might be the comeback king at LSU. When the game is on the line, I think I want him to be my quarterback."
With Russell, LSU looks like a realistic contender for the division, conference and national championship races in 2007. Without him the Tigers will still be good, but no one knows for certain how good they will be with quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Ryan Perilloux competing for playing time.
The Tigers should also benefit from a more favorable schedule. After playing Florida, Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee on the road in 2006 they will play Virginia Tech, Florida, Auburn, South Carolina and Arkansas at home in 2007.
"You just start preparing for next season," safety Craig Steltz said. "It starts today. You might be able to take a day or two off, but you never stop preparing yourself. That's what that year of preparation does for you in the bowl game."
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: QB JaMarcus Russell -– Russell produced some impressive stats as a junior, completing 68.5 percent of his passes for 233 yards per game and 28 touchdowns with seven interceptions. More important, he emerged as a leader and clutch player for the Tigers after some early struggles and set himself up for a big decision about his future. "He will be offered a pile of money (from the NFL), and he'll have to make a very independent, personal decision," LSU coach Les Miles said. "But if he returns, he certainly will be a Heisman Trophy candidate."
FAST FORWARD: The Tigers lose some valuable seniors and may lose Russell and DT Glenn Dorsey to the NFL but the foundation is solid and the younger classes are filled with talent. The coaches have a lot of faith in backup quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Ryan Perilloux, so the potential loss of Russell might not be as damaging as it would be at some programs. If the young receivers, tailbacks and safeties grow up quickly the Tigers should have the talent, depth and schedule to win the SEC West, play for the SEC championship and contend for a national title.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We felt very touched to be able to represent Louisiana at home in the Sugar Bowl. I can't tell you how many people came to us to say thank you for being here, thank you, and then telling us their Katrina story." -- LSU coach Les Miles following the Sugar Bowl.
TB Keiland Williams -– The more he played as a true freshman the better he got. Give him a spring to learn the offense and a summer to improve his speed and he should be even better as a sophomore. The Tigers ran the ball by committee in 2006 but Williams has the talent to step and become a go-to back.
WR Early Doucet –- The departure of receivers Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis puts a target squarely on Doucet as a senior.
CBs Chevis Jackson and Jonathan Zenon -– The loss of safeties LaRon Landry and Jesse Daniels will put even more heat on the cornerbacks to play man-to-man coverage without a lot of help from the safeties.
QB JaMarcus Russell –- Russell's decision wasn't that difficult -- he will likely be one of the top three quarterbacks selected and could go first or second overall to Oakland or Detroit according to some "draft experts."
FS LaRon Landry –- Landry, a four-year starter, is generally regarded as one of the 2-3 best free safeties in the draft and is regarded as a potential first-round pick. Landry has the combination of size, speed and instincts to be a standout at the next level.
WR Dwayne Bowe –- He had some problems with drops in 2005 and sought help for vision correction. Once he took care of that he became a more solid, consistent receiver with 60 receptions and 11 TD catches this season. At 6-2, 220 pounds, Bowe is seen as one of the top five senior receivers in the draft and a likely second-round pick.
WR Craig Davis –- He isn't as physically impressive as Bowe but Davis is a tough player and a tireless worker who learns quickly and does whatever he needs to do to get the job done. That should help him go as high as the third or fourth round.
SS Jessie Daniels -– Like Landry, he's a four-year starter. Unlike Landry, he's something of a one-dimensional player. He's a hitter against the run but often struggles in coverage, a concern that could drop him to the later rounds.
DE Chase Pittman –- A big-time prep prospect who got off to a slow start in college and later transferred from Texas to LSU, Pittman's stock is on the rise again. At 6-4, 272 pounds with a 4.84 time in the 40, he's now seen as a potential fourth-round pick.
ROSTER REPORT: The Tigers spent most of the season without two would-be starters, OG Will Arnold (knee and ankle problems) and TE Keith Zinger (stomach ailment). Arnold isn't certain to participate in spring practice before his senior season while Zinger can only hope to regain his lost season with an NCAA waiver for an extra year of eligibility.
DT Ricky Jean-Francois, a first-team freshman All-American, did not make the trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl because of disciplinary reasons. Coach Les Miles said he expects to have Jean-Francois back in the spring.
Previous Report: 01/08/2007