Though Russell struggled at times, including losing a fumble inside the Arizona State 10 yard line, he redeemed himself with the game winning touchdown pass to Early Doucet.
On a play that looked like it was drawn up in the dirt during a sandlot football game, Russell didn't appear to panic. Instead he rolled left and threw a strike across his body to Doucet, who came down with the score that put the Tigers up for good at 35-31.
"We were going for another play and by the grace of God we scored a touchdown," said Russell of the team's final offensive triumph. "The offensive line gave me enough time to get the job done."
When asked if he had trouble with what was not exactly his forte (throwing on the run) Russell responded with, "I wouldn't say that, it was a great throw I think, and as far as what you said, (not throwing on the run well) I think I'm gonna go work on that in practice", getting a chuckle out of several reporters.
The play showcased Russell's ability to make plays outside the pocket, and let his natural athletic ability take over, something that made him one of the most hotly recruited players in the country coming out of high school in 2003.
After a long delay to start the season, Russell and his teammates were ready for a real game, after what Coach Miles called, "the longest camp in the history of camps."
"This was our first game, and we came out expecting to win. Not to take anything away from the other guys but we just had it in our hearts that we were winning," remarked the 6'6" product of Williamson HS when asked about needing extra motivation for the game.
Russell's final numbers of 16-for-29, for 232 yards, and 1 TD pass didn't manage to tell the whole story of his night however.
Many of his teammates dropped balls in the early going that might have resulted in big plays, most notably Early Doucet himself. By continuing to have faith in his teammates who had failed him previously, Russell showed the kind of leadership that coaches, fans, and most importantly, other players look for. Most notably mentioned in the locker room was when Early Doucet spoke of his elder teammates encouragement, as JaMarcus continued to uplift Doucet throughout the first half despite his struggles catching the football.
"Through tough times and a family atmosphere you're gonna prevail. They just had confidence in me and it paid off," Doucet said of the game's last play.
Though many players faced distractions this past week with the on-goings in Baton Rouge, Russell's case may have been the most highly publicized as he welcomed in family members and friends, including legendary jazz singer Fats Domino.
Despite the distractions and the pressure of leading the 5th ranked team in the country into a hostile environment, Russell and the Tigers prevailed. In preparation, it was the coaches' responsibility to keep players focused. On the field, that role is often turned over to the quarterback.
"When I was in high school, my coach always said to never give up. So that's what I had in my mind to tell my guys, was to never give up."
That the Tigers were able to come away with victory not only for themselves, but the entire gulf-coast region, is a testament to the character of their leadership, starting with Russell himself.
"A few times, a lot of people sleeping in somebody's apartment and in practice you could really tell," Russell said of the past week in practice. "Seeing the looks on those guy's faces and what they were going through away from practice. You can tell when someone's down, you can really tell and I thank God for getting them through."
In his third-year on campus, and second year playing for the purple and gold, Tiger faithful have a potential superstar in the making on their hands.
Asked what his roommate Fats would say about his game, Russell responded with a laugh, "He'd probably just say ‘good game'."
As all Tiger fans would say if given the chance.
Standing just below Russell on the Tiger podium is senior running back Joseph Addai, who emerged from a crowded backfield as the go-to-guy in critical situations down the stretch. Finishing with 109 yards on 16 carries, Addai showed good bursts of speed while outrunning several Arizona State defenders late in the game. He also displayed versatility with 3 catches out of the backfield that totaled 34 yards. Addai seemingly played well enough against a tough ASU defense to warrant a start in the Tigers' next game against 6th ranked Tennessee in 2 weeks in Baton Rouge.
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