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Saturday Rewind

For Miles, LSU, quarterback no longer a question

Posted: Sunday September 11, 2005 5:25PM; Updated: Wednesday September 14, 2005 6:44PM
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JaMarcus Russell
Was JaMarcus Russell's status as the Tigers' No. 1 QB in 2005 ever in doubt?
Robert Laberge/Getty Images
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Ha, ha, Les Miles. Very funny. That was a nice little game you played with us all summer long, dragging out your secretive quarterback competition right up to the opening kickoff of Saturday night's Arizona State game. After JaMarcus Russell's heroic performance against the Sun Devils, you'd have a hard time convincing anyone the job wasn't his all along.

Russell not only played the whole game, he played like a guy who's the undisputed leader of his team. With LSU down 31-28 with 4:04 to play, Russell drove the Tigers 91 yards, converting one third down with a 20-yard crossing pass to Joseph Addai, then, on fourth-and-10 with only 1:23 remaining, connecting with Early Doucet on a 39-yard touchdown that was even more impressive than Vince Young's game-winner against Ohio State.

If not for a rash of drops by Doucet early in the game, Russell would have finished with far flashier numbers than his 16-of-29, 232-yard stat line. That doesn't matter. In one night -- one particularly arduous, emotionally challenging night -- the Tigers answered their biggest question mark. They have themselves a quarterback. Not just any quarterback, either. One who is clearly transformed from the tentative, redshirt freshman substitute a year ago to a confident sophomore starter. He's still in the early stages of his development, but with that 6-foot-6 frame and a cannon for an arm, one can only imagine what the finished product might look like.

• After months of skepticism, I'm ready to jump right to the head of the Charlie Weis bandwagon. But is Notre Dame this good, or are its opponents that bad? I was pretty darn impressed after the Irish whipped Pittsburgh in their opener, especially the way they shut down Panthers QB Tyler Palko -- but then Palko went out and stunk up the joint against Ohio on Friday. Then the Irish go to the Big House and hold Michigan's high-powered offense to 10 points. An unbelievable performance, right? But then there's the facts that the Wolverines were without star tailback Michael Hart and tight end Tim Massaquoi most of the game, and that Chad Henne doesn't look quite so sensational without his old standby Braylon Edwards.

Results are results, though, and the Irish are playing better than they did last year in nearly every aspect of the game. You didn't necessarily have me at hello, Charlie, but you had me at 17-10.

Jim Tressel has a dilemma. He needs to pick one quarterback and stick with him. Surely he realizes by now that Troy Smith is the more dangerous option. Every fan in the Horseshoe Saturday night could see that. Not only can Smith run, he made the best throw of the night when he hooked up with Santonio Holmes on a beautiful fade route for six. But Smith is a risk. He takes chances, he forces throws sometimes (he was lucky to avoid getting an interception returned for a touchdown that would have put Texas up 17-3), and Tressel is not a big fan of risks. Then again, his Mr. Reliable, Justin Zwick, coughed it up on the Buckeyes' last real chance to win Saturday night, so what's the difference?

• Welcome back to stardom, Adrian Peterson. Unfortunately, if your Oklahoma teammates don't develop some semblance of a passing game very soon, all the 222-yard rushing days in the world aren't going to matter.

• It's that time of year again, when Iowa loses an early season game and looks absolutely awful doing it, and those of us who cover the sport nationally write off the Hawkeyes as frauds. This event is traditionally followed by a long, improbable winning streak that ends with Iowa back in the top 10 at the end of the season. So stay tuned.

• The interception-prone Charlie Whitehurst of 2004 has officially been retired. The '05 version hasn't necessarily put up big passing yards, but he's completed 78 percent of his passes (32-of-41), and his team has pulled off consecutive last-minute rallies against two decent opponents (Texas A&M and Maryland).

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