LSU's confidence in Russell unshaken
Friday, September 30, 2005
By William Kalec
STARKVILLE, Miss. --- No need to read between the lines.
LSU sophomore quarterback JaMarcus Russell’s license to steer the Tigers’ offense isn’t issued on a weekly, renewable basis. It’s permanent, coaches and teammates tried to stress in an abbreviated week full of it, and can’t be revoked by the Court of Public Opinion.
“He’s the person we’re going to follow,” center Rudy Niswanger said sternly.
Though not primarily responsible for last Monday’s Chernobyl on the Bayou, Russell hasn’t been spared in the constant verbal onslaught from Tigerland, but the talk might finally subside Saturday at 1:30 p.m. when approximately 40,000 cowbells welcome No. 4 LSU (1-1) to Mississippi State (2-2).
For a team that spent September underneath a national media microscope following Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, playing in pay-per-view anonymity might be the ideal scenario for a return to routine - especially for Russell, whose ESPN vitals graphic included “Housed musician Fats Domino.”
In sixteen days, Russell went from untouchable savior who uplifted a hurricane-ravaged state with a single, miracle flick of his blessed right wrist to nothing more than a shaky.500 quarterback heavily criticized for picking a terrible time to throw his first interception of 2005 -- midway through a 17-point, 4th quarter teeter.
The adequate but unspectacular performance against Tennessee (14 of 28, 158 yards) already has fans hollering for Matt Flynn and true freshman Ryan Perrilloux, even though all indications from inside the program suggest Russell has little left to prove.
“If he just goes out there, relaxes and plays ball, you know, we count on him to make some big plays,” Coach Les Miles said. “If he just goes out there and plays like he’s capable, that’s all we ask.”
In fact, if any interior squabbles and dissention exists, it went unspoken this week. Indifference was as juicy as it got.
“We feel like any quarterback that goes under center can get the job done,” running back Joseph Addai said. “All three -- Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux -- work real hard, so we’re confident in everybody. …I feel like it doesn’t really matter who starts. We all got confidence in whoever gets under center.”
“You can see it in his eyes,” wide receiver Dwayne Bowe said about Russell’s confidence. “When he lines up and says, ‘Let’s move down the field, we’re not going to get stopped.’ I can see it in his eyes.”
Class obligations prevented Russell from speaking for himself this week and unintentionally reminded a rabid fan base that this still is a 20-year-old playing in exchange for room-and-board. His late heroics against Arizona State covered up many green mistakes and possibly inflated expectations for a quarterback without a surplus of experience.
“Like a lot of guys have said, this is only JaMarcus’ seventh, really, game playing,” Skyler Green said. “He still has some learning to do, still has some maturing to do, and he’s doing it. He’s learning on the run. Hats off to JaMarcus. It’s a tough offense to learn.”
Russell’s issues with ball security have been not only cause for concern but fuel for naysayers touting a switch. In both games this season, Russell has lost a fumble with LSU driving inside the opponents’ 30-yard-line. Very blunt and stone-faced about the subject, Miles simply said, “We’d only hope he’d get it fixed.”
“He’s still a young quarterback and I think he played great,” Niswanger said. “Did he have a perfect game? No. But I don’t any of us did. I don’t think anyone in the history of football has ever had a perfect game. I think people need to relax a little bit.”
Of course, that’ll never happen. Catastrophe Theory -- a Nick Saban-coined term -- has saturated the city following the Tennessee gaff. When asked about the phrase, Miles was unsure what it referred to and pleaded for the media not to divulge the definition.
“I’ve been through these before,” Miles said. “I understand what it takes. I understand how hard it is. So it’s my job to corral the guys and get it pointed North and South.”
Bo Pelini’s defensive tendency to lean on soft zone coverage continues to be a subject of substantial local angst, particularly since LSU is facing its first dual-threat quarterback in Mississippi State’s Omarr Connor. Oklahoma --Pelini’s previous employer -- allowed the teams of dual threats Reggie McNeal of Texas A&M, Omar Jacobs of Bowling Green and Donovan Woods of Oklahoma State to average 31.3 points per game versus the Sooners in 2004.
Sylvester Croom also hinted nothing Pelini shows should be foreign, considering the two served as assistant coaches on Mike Sherman’s staff with the Green Bay Packers from 2001-2002.
“He is not going to play any tricks during the game,” Croom said. “He pretty much knows my philosophy, and I know his. So really, it is going to come down to the players executing and playing good football.”