Jan. 4, 2007
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — JaMarcus Russell cocked his head, glanced toward the towering Superdome stands and soaked up the pleas of the LSU faithful.
“One more year! One more year!” they screamed.
The way the mammoth quarterback played against Notre Dame, there seems little reason for him to spend any more time in college.
Russell led No. 4 LSU to a 41-14 rout of college football’s most storied program Wednesday night.
The Sugar Bowl returned to New Orleans with a Cajun-style party, with left the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish with a most unwanted spot in the record book. They lost their ninth straight bowl game, more than any other school.
“I just think,” LSU coach Les Miles said, “I’ve got the best quarterback in the country.”
Certainly he had the best on this night. The 6-foot-6, 257-pound Russell completed 21-of-34 for 332 yards and two touchdowns. He also had his first rushing score of the season and set up another TD with a 31-yard pass.
Russell and LSU’s feared defense took control after halftime, turning a tenuous 21-14 game into a laugher. The Tigers (11-2) outgained Notre Dame by a staggering 333 yards to 30 over the final two quarters.
After a brilliant junior season, Russell hasn’t decided whether he will return to LSU (11-2) for his senior year. But he would likely be one of the top quarterbacks taken in the draft.
“I really do think I’m one of the best in college football,” Russell said. “You can’t take that opinion away from me.”
And what about the NFL?
“I’m not really thinking about leaving early right now,” Russell insisted. “I’ve got a lot of time to sit down with my family and coaches and talk about that. I’m just happy we got the victory.”
The school of Touchdown Jesus and Knute Rockne snapped a tie with South Carolina and West Virginia for most consecutive bowl losses in NCAA history. And this was like most of the others, a double-digit blowout that showed Notre Dame still has work to do if it wants to compete with the nation’s best.
“We’ve got to turn the corner,” coach Charlie Weis said. “Right now, we’re just a nice, solid team. That won’t cut it. We want to be an upper-echelon team.”
Brady Quinn doesn’t have a decision to make about his pro future, but the senior’s hopes of being the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft may have taken a blow. He struggled to cope with the speed and size of LSU’s defense, completing just 15-of-35 for 148 yards, his two TD passes offset by two interceptions.
“They took it from us in the third quarter,” Quinn said. “I’m proud of my guys. … We laid the groundwork for these guys to do great things in the future.”
LSU romped after halftime. After a pair of field goals by Colt David, Russell blew it open with a 58-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell in the final minute of the third quarter.
Notre Dame (10-3) bounced back from an early 14-0 deficit and tied the game with 2 1/2 minutes left in the first half. But Russell’s took matters in his own hands – and legs – to put the Tigers ahead to stay before the teams went to the locker room.
First, Russell went deep to Early Doucet for a 58-yard completion. Then, Russell scored himself on a 5-yard keeper up the middle.
Russell said his matchup with Quinn wasn’t personal.
“My main thing was to play a good game against Brady Quinn’s defense,” Russell said. “I wasn’t playing against him.”
Notre Dame hasn’t won a postseason game since its 24-21 victory over Texas A&M in the 1994 Cotton Bowl. “O-ver-ra-ted!” the Tiger-dominated crowd roared after freshman Keiland Williams ripped off his second touchdown of the game, a 20-yard run with just under 7 1/2 minutes remaining.
But the biggest cheers came on LSU’s next possession. Russell made one handoff, then came out of the game to standing ovation.
Notre Dame was determined to get off to a strong start, but it sure didn’t work out that way. Weis called a fake punt that backfired, and the Irish looked just as tight and nervous as they did at the beginning of blowout losses to Michigan and Southern Cal.
At least they didn’t fold until the second half, fighting back to tie the game at 14.
The offenses had their way, with three 80-yard scoring drives and another covering 82. The only exception followed the fake punt on Notre Dame’s opening possession. With the Irish facing fourth-and-3 at their own 34, the coach called for a direct snap to up-back Travis Thomas, but he was stuffed for no gain.
Two plays later, LSU had the lead. Russell hooked up with Doucet on a 31-yard pass and Williams powered over from the 3.
The Tigers made it 14-0 on their next possession. Russell broke off a 21-yard run on a draw to get deep into Notre Dame territory, and finished off the drive with an 11-yard scoring pass to Dwayne Bowe.
Notre Dame’s next possession started ominously – Quinn was sacked for a 10-yard loss. But Darius Walker ran for 11 yards and turned a short pass into a 21-yard gain. Quinn finished it off with 24-yard TD pass to David Grimes.
Walker rushed for all but 3 of his 128 yards in the first half.
David missed a 31-yard field goal try, and Notre Dame responded to that momentum-changer with the tying touchdown as Quinn went to his favorite receiver, Jeff Samardzija, on a 10-yard TD pass.
The game marked another step in New Orleans’ rebuilding effort from Hurricane Katrina. The Sugar Bowl was played last year in Atlanta because of massive damage to the Superdome, but a $185 million renovation got the stadium up and running in late September.
Thousands of Notre Dame and LSU fans descended on the Big Easy, which still has areas that look like a war zone from the flooding caused by Katrina more than 16 months ago.
But Bourbon Street sure was hoppin’ with purple and gold.