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LSU gets easy win over Irish

January 04, 2007|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS — Just Quinn, baby?

Not so fast.

While much of the early speculation has the Oakland Raiders using the No. 1 pick on Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, Louisiana State's JaMarcus Russell put on a show Wednesday in the Sugar Bowl that should give everyone second thoughts.

Russell threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third to upstage Quinn and lead the fourth-ranked Tigers to a 41-14 victory over No. 11 Notre Dame at the Superdome.

The crowd, decidedly in LSU's favor, taunted Notre Dame with a sing-song chant of "Over-rated!" then serenaded Russell with "One more year!" when he was relieved by his backup in garbage time. Russell, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound junior, has yet to announce whether he plans to leave school early. He has until Jan. 15 to notify the NFL of his intentions.

"In short order, he has to make a very difficult decision," LSU Coach Les Miles said. "It's going to be one where he will be offered a pile of money, and he'll have to make a very independent decision, a personal decision. But if he returns, he certainly will be a Heisman Trophy candidate."

Said Russell, named the game's outstanding player: "I'm not really thinking about leaving early right now ... I'm just thinking about the victory."

It was a forgettable performance by Quinn, who struggled with his accuracy throughout the game. He completed 15 of 35 passes for 148 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Asked if Quinn's performances in the Sugar Bowl and in a regular-season-ending loss at USC might damage his stock, Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis shook his head.

"It won't hurt his future when they look at his tape," Weis said. "A lot of guys told me the USC game upped his stock.... I think they know this kid is good."

Russell completed 21 of 34 passes for 322 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. LSU rolled up 577 yards to Notre Dame's 291.

"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 a 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."

It was the ninth consecutive bowl loss for the Irish (10-3), whose last postseason victory came in the 1993 Cotton Bowl. They were eight-point underdogs to LSU (11-2), which came into the game ranked third in defense and 18th in offense.

Falling behind early was a big concern for the Irish, who did so during the season in big losses to Michigan and USC and in a come-from-behind victory against Michigan State.

LSU had scored on its first possession eight times this season and had outscored opponents, 122-20, in the first quarter.

That trend continued in the first quarter Wednesday, when the Tigers opened with touchdowns on their first two drives, taking a 14-0 lead and looking as if they were going to cruise to an easy victory. The first score was set up by Notre Dame's failed fake punt.

But the Irish responded with a touchdown early in the second quarter, when Quinn connected on a 24-yard scoring pass to David Grimes. Later in the period -- after both teams missed short field goals -- Quinn forged a 14-14 tie with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Samardzija.

The Tigers scored again at the end of the second quarter, a touchdown set up by Russell's 58-yard pass to Early Doucet, and wound up outscoring the Irish, 27-0, in the final 32 minutes.

"Obviously giving up that score before halftime was a little bit of a downer," Weis said. "But I felt in the locker room at halftime things were calm and in control. I saw no signs that we'd play a complementary crummy second half."

The Irish generated only 30 yards of offense in the second half and were forced to abandon the run when they slipped too far behind. Running back Darrius Walker ran for 128 yards in 22 carries, yet all but three of those yards came in the first two quarters.

Keiland Williams led LSU in rushing with 108 yards in 14 carries with two touchdowns.

Weis said his players cannot be content with finishing 10-3, going to a bowl game and "getting their clocks cleaned."

Notre Dame's second-half drives ended punt, punt, interception, punt, punt, end of game.

"You want to be an upper echelon team, you don't want to be a nice, solid team," he said. "You want to be competing for a national championship ... and this just won't cut it."

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