College Football: Sugar Bowl

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 11, 2007

By Paul Newberry

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — 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 thoroughly outperformed Brady Quinn and sent Notre Dame to another postseason meltdown, leading 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, which 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 passes 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.”

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 21/2 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.”

“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 71/2 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.

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