The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Often overlooked, Russell makes his mark

Ken Fowler | Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, a short-lived member of Charlie Weis’ coaching staff at Notre Dame, is the renowned quarterback guru of the Southeastern Conference (SEC).

But Louisiana State’s JaMarcus Russell is the cream of the crop when it comes to SEC signal-callers.

The junior, much maligned by LSU fans for taking too many sacks, not only enters as the top-rated passer in the Sugar Bowl, he also owns the highest passer efficiency rating of all Bowl Championship Series quarterbacks.

He is rated higher than Irish quarterback Brady Quinn, Louisville’s Brian Brohm and, yes, he’s even ahead of the Heisman Trophy winner, Ohio State’s Troy Smith.

Russell’s 68.5 completion percentage and 9.08 yards per attempt have him third in the nation in in the NCAA’s quarterback rating statistic. Russell has 211 completions on 308 attempts, compared to Smith’s 199-of-297 regular-season statistics.

After putting up those numbers against top-tier SEC defenses like Florida (No. 6 nationally in pass efficiency defense), Arkansas (No. 21), Auburn (No. 38) and Alabama (No. 44), Russell will face an Irish defense that ranks No. 86 out of 119 Division I-A schools in pass efficiency defense.

“It should be fun,” Russell told the Louisiana Gannett News. “But it’s not about numbers. It’s about me putting my teammates in position to make plays and winning the game. Notre Dame is a great team.”

Meanwhile, Quinn will take on the No. 3 defense in pass efficiency in the country.

“It’ll be interesting to see,” Tigers coach Les Miles said of the matchup between both the Irish air attack and LSU’s secondary, and Quinn and Russell. “Quinn is a tremendous quarterback, and we’re awful proud of our quarterback. It’s going to be a great game.”

While Miles is proud of his quarterback, who is now 24-4 as a starter, fans in the Bayou have had some reservations. The complaints, primarily about his pocket presence, have stayed steady despite Russell’s performance – largely because of LSU’s 40-3 win over Miami in last season’s Peach Bowl. Russell didn’t make the trip to Atlanta for the game, and backup Matt Flynn went 13-of-22 for 196 yards and two touchdowns against one of the best defenses in the NCAA.

Questions about a quarterback controversy arose in the off-season, but Miles stuck with Russell. The junior threw for 2,979 yards and 26 touchdowns this regular season and earned All-SEC first-team honors from the Associated Press. Defenses only intercepted him seven times.

For Notre Dame, Quinn finished the regular season 274-of-432 for 3,278 yards, 35 touchdowns and only five interceptions.

“You’ve been hearing that name all year – Brady Quinn, Brady Quinn – and to get the opportunity to finally play against him and maybe get some licks on him, we’re going to be up and ready,” Tigers junior defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey said in the team’s news conference after the BCS selection show.

Quinn said he and the Irish will be aware of both the Tigers defense and the likely intense home-crowd advantage LSU will have.

Baton Rouge, home to Louisiana State, is less than two hours away from New Orleans by car, and Weis said he expected Tigers fans to scoop up most of the 40,000 tickets not assigned to either team.

“We know LSU home games are known for their loud crowds,” Quinn said. “But we travel pretty well, too. And we’ve played in some pretty hostile environments.”