Russell, Tigers overwhelm Irish
Published: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
NEW ORLEANS — JaMarcus Russell thoroughly outplayed Brady Quinn and made a compelling case that the mammoth quarterback's next pass should come in the NFL.
As for Notre Dame, it was a familiar meltdown at bowl time.
The Sugar Bowl returned to New Orleans with a Cajun-style party put on by No. 4 LSU, which dominated college football's most storied program in a 41-14 rout Wednesday night that had the Superdome rockin'.
It also gave the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish a most unwanted spot in the record book.
The school of Touchdown Jesus and Knute Rockne now has a more ignominious distinction: nine straight bowl losses, breaking a tie with South Carolina and West Virginia for the most 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.
Russell and LSU's feared defense took control after halftime, turning a tenuous 21-14 game into a laugher. The 6-foot-6, 257-pound quarterback, who is bigger than many players on Notre Dame's defense, threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns. He also had his first rushing score of the season and set up LSU's other TD with a 31-yard pass.
After brilliant junior season, Russell hasn't decided — or at least announced — 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 with his linebacker-like size, stunningly strong arm and the ability to run when needed.
"One more year," the LSU fans pleaded to their quarterback.
In what was expected to be his last game for LSU, junior quarterback JaMarcus Russell showed off his cannon arm in the Sugar Bowl and gave the No. 4 Tigers a big lead in the process.
Russell's 58-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Lafell put LSU ahead 34-14 through three quarters on Wednesday night.
And that was Russell's second 58-yarder of the night.
The first one to Early Doucet set up Russell's 5-yard touchdown run that put the No. 4 Tigers up 21-14 late in the first half.
The 6-foot-6, 257-pound quarterback also hit Doucet for 31 yards on LSU's first play from scrimmage after a failed Notre Dame fake punt. That play set up a short touchdown run by Keiland Williams.
Heading into the final quarter, Russell was 20-of-29 passing for 320 yards and had not been intercepted. He was 11-of-14 for 150 yards in the third quarter alone. Had had two touchdown passes, the first an 11-yarder over the middle to Dwayne Bowe, who set a school record by recording his 12th TD catch in a single season.
Michael Clayton had 11 in 2003 for the Tigers, as did Wendell Davis in 1986.
While Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis' early risk-taking backfired on the fake punt, a more conservative approach — handing off to Darius Walker — helped No. 11 Notre Dame briefly pull even late in the second quarter.
Walker rushed for 125 yards on 18 carries in the first half alone. His back-to-back runs of 35 and 15 yards set up Brady Quinn's 10-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Samardzija that tied the game at 14 and gave Quinn his 95th career TD throw.
However, LSU's defense adjusted and Walker was not a factor in the third quarter.
LSU starting safety Jesse Daniels spent the first three quarters on the bench, an apparent punishment for missing a curfew during the Tigers' stay in New Orleans this past week. Craig Steltz filled in as LSU prevented the Irish from crossing midfield on their first two drives.
Notre Dame showed an early ability to move the ball, but Samardzija drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by tossing the ball at a LSU defender after a 12-yard first-down catch.
The failed fake punt came shortly afterward, on a fourth-and-3 from the Notre Dame 33.
Notre Dame went with a conventional punt after its second drive stalled, but it hardly mattered.
Russell shredded the Notre Dame secondary, completing four of five passes on an 80-yard scoring drive that also included his 21-yard scramble.
Quinn began to find his rhythm on his third drive, leading the Irish on an 80-yard scoring march that ended with a 24-yard TD pass to David Grimes.
Notre Dame's defense quickly put the Irish in position to score again after sacking Russell and recovering a fumble at the LSU 21. But the Tigers' defense stiffened, forcing Carl Gioia's missed 34-yard field goal attempt.
Another promising Notre Dame drive into LSU territory stalled when Quinn, trying to escape a blitz, floated a pass that was intercepted by cornerback Jonathan Zenon along the sideline.
LSU failed to cash in, however, as Colt David pushed a 31-yard field goal attempt wide right.
LSU drove deep into Notre Dame territory twice in the third quarter, even converting a fake field goal when holder Matt Flynn ran an option-type play and pitched to kicker Chris Jackson for a 7-yard gain on fourth-and-five. But both drives ended with field goals, with Colt David hitting from 25 and 37 yards.
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