Russell has career-day against State

October 9, 2004 is one of those days LSU starting quarterback JaMarcus Russell reflects back on as a player; one of the days he recalls and instinctively thinks to himself, I can get better.

Nearly two years ago that October night, Russell was 6-of-10 passing for 56 yards with two interceptions and the stat sheet also shows two rushes for minus eight yards. This Saturday, almost two years to the day, Russell will be back in the same place, facing the same opponent he did that night – Florida.

 

"It's going to be a good one," Russell said of the impending SEC showdown. "And I promise you I'm a whole different person than from back then. It'll be a lot different, and I'm really looking forward to play."

 

Just how different of a person is Russell since then? If last Saturday's performance against Mississippi State is any indication, the change is indeed a drastic one.

 

Russell lit up the Bulldogs secondary early and often, ultimately completing 18-of-20 passes for 330 yards with three touchdowns. In the first quarter alone, Russell connected on 7-of-8 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns. By halftime, he had set the record for most passing yards in a first half by a Tiger quarterback with 272 yards.

 

Throwing early on Mississippi State was definitely part of LSU's strategy, according to Russell. From the start there was little question the Tigers were going to be able to dictate that phase of the game.

 

"You could tell," Russell said. "For the most part, all cylinders were kicking it on. We were trying to get it from every way possible."

 

Although it may be difficult to believe, Russell's 18th win as a starter marked the first time in his LSU career that he has thrown for over 300 yards in a game. His previous high had been 285 yards against Vanderbilt last year. For the season, Russell has now completed 81-of-115 passes (70%) for a total of 1,246 yards. Just one interception stands next to his 10 touchdown strikes.

 

By putting games out of reach early, LSU has managed to limit the amount of time Russell has had to be on the field this season. If not for that, and the Tigers' loss to Auburn, some believe Russell's name would be part of the conversation for Heisman Trophy consideration. LSU coach Les Miles doesn't believe that's really something Russell is dwelling on, however.

 

"I can only tell you JaMarcus is recognized by this football team as a tremendous player and a leader," Miles said. "I can tell you when we win he's had big games, and I would guess that if you asked him he would say that what he would love to have happen is win every game from this point forward and any recognition that might come his way he would put right back to team."

 

Miles is exactly right. And truthfully, even though he may not be getting too many nods from the national media with regard to a piece of hardware that, as of late, has become more of an ESPN driven popularity contest, Russell knows there are even more important people out there paying attention to him – namely NFL scouts.

 

"Doesn't bother me at all," Russell said. "As long as my teammates recognize (how I'm playing) and other things I'm doing to help them out. I have no problem with it…Somebody's watching, believe me."

 

Indeed Russell's teammates have recognized his talents and continue to be marveled by them, including Dwayne Bowe.

 

"He's amazing," Bowe said. "What can I say? He scrambles and we practice scramble drills in practice to get open when he's scrambling. He hit us on some of the plays, so everything's clicking for us right now."

 

Bowe was referring to Russell's inexplicable ability to step up in the pocket and avoid potential sacks from Mississippi State as though he had eyes in the back of his head. He was even taken aback at the final tally Russell put up against the Bulldogs when all the dust had settled.

 

"Whoo, I didn't know that," said Bowe. "Wow. You know, what can I say? He's amazing."

 

How amazing? Well after he was certain he was done for the day, Russell was called back into duty following a pick-six by backup Matt Flynn. By that point, Russell had already been taking his equipment off. All he did was return to lead the Tigers on another touchdown drive and firmly shut the door on any aspirations the Bulldogs may have had of a comeback.

 

Miles didn't expect anything less. Giving the responsibility to Russell to hammer the last nail in the coffin was putting the mission in the good hands of a great teammate.

 

"He's in it, and he's a team guy," Miles said. "When you turn and you ask him, ‘We need ya,' he says, ‘I'm coming.'"


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