Rushing Russell

Tennessee expected LSU's talented receivers to make plays. It expected Tiger quarterback JaMarcus Russell to make a few big-time throws. It expected a rugged LSU front four to make running the ball difficult. The Big Orange allowed for these things and dealt with them.

It was something the Vols didn't expect that killed them in Saturday's 28-24 loss to LSU at Neyland Stadium: They didn't expect Russell to run around like a 6-6, 260-pound version of Michael Vick.

Prior to the game, Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis told me: "If he scrambles, he's going to scramble and throw the football. He doesn't really want to run it and, with his arm, I can understand why."

Tennessee's pass rush reflected its belief that Russell was no threat to run. The Vols routinely rushed to the outside, leaving the middle of the field deserted. Russell may not have wanted to run it but, once the opportunity presented itself, he took full advantage.

On a third-and-eight at his own 22-yard line in the second quarter, he found a gaping hole between the tackles and cruised 34 yards to the Vol 44. Then, on a third-and-10 at Tennessee's 29-yard line in the third quarter, he rambled 23 yards to set up LSU's second TD.

Russell also registered a pair of 11-yard scrambles in the fourth quarter, the second one turning a second-and-10 into a crucial first down at LSU's 42-yard line on the game-winning touchdown drive.

The Tiger QB wound up leading all rushers with 71 net yards on seven carries, a whopping average of 10.1 yards per carry. By comparison, LSU tailbacks Keiland Williams (17 rushes, 53 yards) and Alley Broussard (7 rushes, 12 yards), averaged just 3.1 and 1.7 yards per carry, respectively.

Russell's reputation for being mistake-prone in big games proved accurate. He threw three interceptions - one returned for a TD - and fumbled twice. LSU recovered the first fumble, however, and a quick whistle nullified the second one.

Still, it was Russell's heft and athleticism that probably won the game for LSU. In addition to his success scrambling, his size and strength enabled him to complete passes that few college quarterbacks could've thrown.

He was leveled by Vol defensive end Xavier Mitchell late in the first quarter but still unloaded a 25-yard completion to Dwayne Bowe on a third-and-20 play that sustained LSU's first touchdown drive. Three plays later he was again hit as he threw but still hooked up with Early Doucet for 14½ yards on a third-and-15.

Vol defensive tackle Turk McBride said Russell's toughness, like his frame, was "huge," adding: "As everyone saw, you can have one or two people on him and he can still throw the ball 40, 50, maybe even 60 yards down the field.

"It was a major benefit for them having a quarterback who can take hits like that and still throw the ball as well as he did."


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