SUGAR STORM - LSU routs Irish

NEW ORLEANS -- For the first 28 minutes of Wednesday night's Sugar Bowl, LSU and Notre Dame traded offensive punches and moved the ball seemingly at will in a 14-14 fight that seemed as if it might last to the 12th round.

For the last 32 minutes of the game, LSU pounded, beat and landed blows to the head and the heart of the Irish that Notre Dame could not return. The Tigers pounded the Irish unmercifully in the second half on their way to a 41-14 drubbing that left little doubt about which team was the fastest, quickest and obviously the most talented.

The Tigers were led by the strong-armed JaMarcus Russell who matched up against Notre Dame quarterback and Heisman Trophy Finalist Brady Quinn, and, frankly, cast a large shadow over the highly-touted Irish signal caller.

Russell completed 21-of-34 passes for 332 yards, two passing and one rushing touchdown and one meaningless interception on his way to being unanimously named the game's Most Outstanding Player. He was replaced by backup Matt Flynn late in the fourth quarter and left the field to a standing ovation from the partisan Superdome crowd.

Quinn ended the game with 15 completions on 35 attempts for 1438 yards and two touchdowns to go along with two interceptions after throwing just five interceptions all season.

"I've said it before, I think I have the best quarterback in the country," Miles said.

Russell said he appreciated the accolades he received after the game and the comparisons to Quinn and his abilities but he wanted to spread the credit around to as many Tiger players as possible.

"My main thing is playing for my teammates and my coaches," Russell said. "Everyone has their opinion about who they think is the best and you can't change that. I don't know why I wasn't considered for the Heisman. But, I really do think I'm one of the best in college football." 

In all, LSU outgained and stomped the highly regarded Notre Dame offense 577-291 after trailing the Irish in total yardage 261-244 at halftime. The yardage total was the highest of the season for the deep and fast Tiger offense that compiled 31 first downs, 19 of them in the second half. Notre Dame managed 17 first downs. 

Most of Notre Dame's first half production came from tailback Darius Walker who gained 125 yards on 18 carries before the break. After halftime, Walker gained three yards while LSU's Keiland Williams gashed the beaten Irish for 94 yards in the second half. In all, the Tigers out-rushed the Irish 245-143.

"When it becomes apparent that the game is going to become a passing game that is when our defense plays real well," Miles said. "Notre Dame got some good yards early in the game on crack back rushes and rushes on the outside. Fixing that was the adjustment made at halftime."

Early in the contest, it looked as if LSU receiver Early Doucet may claim the outstanding player award after catching five passes for 106 yards in the first half. But, Doucet's production tailed off in the second half as Russell spread passes to seniors Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis and also found freshman Brandon LaFell on a 58-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter.

"I felt like these two teams matched up very well and I thought it was going to be a competitive game," Miles said. "I have great respect for Notre Dame and Coach Weis, but we had a better team today."

Notre Dame took the opening possession and ran nine plays good for just 14 yards thanks to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty whistled against Jeff Samardzija after the lanky receiver reeled in a first down catch on the drive's sixth play. Samardzija led the Irish in catches with eight and receiving yards with 59. The Irish stumbled again on the drive's last play when backup tailback Travis Thomas took the snap on a fake punt attempt at his 31-yard line but picked up just one of the three yards needed for the first down before he was dragged to the turf by Doucet.

Just 49 seconds later, LSU scored the game's first points. Doucet's name was called again as he gathered in a 31-yard pass from Russell on the drive's first play setting up a 1st- and-goal at the Irish 3-yard line. Williams drove through the Notre Dame defense on the next play giving LSU a 7-0 lead with 11:16 remaining in the first quarter after the Colt David point after.

LSU's second touchdown of the first quarter took slightly longer as Russell used his rifle arm and his massive legs to carry his team down the field in eight plays to make the score 14-0. The Tiger quarterback completed 4-of-5 passes in the drive and also ran for 21 yards on a quarterback draw on the drive's sixth play setting LSU with a first down at the Irish 15. Two plays later, Russell beamed a laser pass to Bowe in the endzone giving the Tigers a two-touchdown advantage with 6:03 left in the quarter after the 3:31 march.

Notre Dame responded with an eight-play drive of its own to make up the stagger and cut the Tiger lead to 14-7 despite a sack of Quinn on the first play of the possession that knocked the Irish back to their 10-yard line. Quinn and Walker combined to lead their team down the on a mix of runs and passes that included a 21-yard pass from Quinn to Walker. Quinn then found receiver David Grimes just inside the Tiger goal line on a 24-yard pass with 1:26 to play in the quarter capping the 4:37 drive.

The Tigers made the Irish eyes smile two plays later as Russell was sandwiched between two Irish defenders and fumbled at the LSU 21. Defensive end Travis Leitko recovered the loose ball setting up what seemed to be a sure scoring chance for the powerful Notre Dame offense. But, a third down pass into the endzone intended for Samardzija was broken up and place kicker Carl Gioia pushed a 33-yard field goal attempt wide right preserving the LSU 14-7 lead with 14:40 remaining in the half.

LSU cornerback Jonathan Zenon had the rare chance to intercept two passes on Notre Dame's next possession. The first came at the LSU 2-yard line on the eighth play of the drive when Quinn tried to find Zamardzija deep along the sidelines. Zenon appeared to come down with the interception but the play was overturned after review. Two plays later on 3rd-and-8 from the 36, Zenon stepped in front of a poorly thrown Quinn pass at the LSU 35 and returned it to the Notre Dame 42.

LSU gained 29 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive on a pass from Russell to Bowe and 12 more on a pass to Jacob Hester on the second play. But the drive stalled and David gave LSU a missed field goal from 31 yards to go match Notre Dame's earlier miss.

The Irish responded by running Walker around one end then the other on an eight-play drive that ended when Quinn finally connected with Samardzija in the right corner of the endzone on a 10-yard pass to tie the score 14-14 with 2:25 remaining in the half. Walker carried the ball three times for 54 yards during the scoring drive that consumed just 2:39.

LSU and Russell responded quickly though, and reclaimed the lead. Justin Vincent rushed for 19 yards on the ensuing drive's first play before Russell spotted and connected with Doucet 58 yards down the field setting up a 1st-and-goal at the Irish 5. Two plays later, Russell took a draw play across the goal line capping a blink-of-an-eye drive that lasted just five plays and 1:10 and gave the Tigers a 21-14 lead with 1:15 left in the half.

David redeemed himself from 26 yards out on the first drive of the second half as the Tigers drove 73 yards in 13 plays but were unable to cross the goal line when Russell misfired to Bowe from the Irish 8-yard line. The drive was extended on a fake field goal four plays before David's successful kick when Flynn pitched the snap to place kicker Chris Jackson who raced for seven yards extending the 5:26 drive. The field goal extended the lead to 24-14 with 9:34 remaining in the third quarter.

David extended the Tiger lead to 27-14 with 3:48 remaining in the third quarter after another methodical LSU drive bogged down deep in Notre Dame territory. This time, he connected from 37 yards out at the end of a nine-play, 59 yard drive that ate 3:57 off the clock.

The LSU third-quarter scoring parade continued as Russell, facing a 3rd-and-8 at his 42 launched a 58-yard rocket to the speedy LaFell who raced past the Irish defense and was all alone at the 10-yard line. LaFell sped into the endzone with 18 seconds remaining in the quarter capping a five-play, 73-yard drive that lasted just 1:38. The score extended the Tiger lead to 34-14 after the point after.

LSU stopped the Irish offense again on the ensuing drive when safety LaRon Landry intercepted a tipped pass at the LSU 35-yard line. But, two mysterious unsportsmanlike conduct calls against the Tigers held up the drive that ended when Russell tried to find Davis in the endzone between two defenders. Safety Mike Richardson intercepted the pass in the endzone and returned it to the Notre Dame 20 with 12:42 left in the game.

The Tigers salted the game away on their next possession by using its running attack to pound the Irish into a pile of mush. Williams carried the ball on six of the nine plays of the drive including its last, a 20-yard scamper straight through the beleaguered Notre Dame defense to advance the LSU lead to 41-14 with 7:27 left in the contest. Williams rushed for 59 yards during the drive.

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