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No debate

Miles wise to stick with Russell as LSU's quarterback

Posted: Saturday July 29, 2006 12:41AM; Updated: Wednesday August 9, 2006 11:52AM
JaMarcus Russell will open the season as LSU's starting quarterback, but Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux are waiting in the wings.
JaMarcus Russell will open the season as LSU's starting quarterback, but Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux are waiting in the wings.
Damian Strohmeyer/SI
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HOOVER, Ala. -- Les Miles can't escape the one thing that everyone wants to know.

It's the first thing he's asked in any interview: Who is LSU's starting quarterback, Matt Flynn or JaMarcus Russell? The question followed him all the way to Baghdad, and even into his own bedroom.

The Tigers coach went to Iraq in June as part of a USO tour with former South Carolina coach Lou Holtz and former Tampa Bay Devil Rays majority owner Vincent Naimoli, and after riding in a C-130 and touring bunkers that had been hit by 1,500-pound bombs, they took part in a meet-and-greet with troops. The last soldier he met asked the question Miles thought he would avoid being 9,000 miles from Baton Rouge.

"I had a young man from Louisiana come in and say, as the last thing I did that evening, 'OK Coach, tell me who's starting at quarterback,'" Miles recounted during Friday's SEC Media Day. "It certainly shocked me [that] I had to drive all the way to Baghdad to get that question again."

That wouldn't be the end of it. Miles flew home, and because of the nine-hour time difference, was unable to sleep. Lying in bed with his wife, Kathy, he caught an urge.

"Heck, I'd been in Iraq for a week, eight days, so you miss your wife," he said, smiling. "I kind of wanted her to wake up. You know, I'm psst, I kind of scooch over by her and nudge her a bit. 'What are you doing? Maybe you'll want to wake up and talk.'"

So in the most unlikely of venues, Coach was faced with the same old quandary: "So tell me," Kathy said. "Who you going to play [at] quarterback?"

For the record, Miles says that Russell, a junior who started the first 12 games last year before being sidelined by a wrist and shoulder injury, will take the snaps in the season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette. He gets the nod over fellow junior Flynn, who directed the Tigers to a 40-3 shellacking of Miami in the Peach Bowl, and Ryan Perrilloux, who was touted as a can't-miss star but has yet to take a snap for the Tigers.

"JaMarcus Russell is very talented," Miles said. "He's bigger and stronger than he's been. He's in better shape, better condition. He's completely healed from the hand and the shoulder. He won 10 games for us a year ago.... We're going to look to him first."

Flynn's performance in the Peach Bowl had many whispering that he should be at the helm of the Tigers' offense, not Russell, who has been erratic. While Russell's abilities may be better suited for a spread- or shotgun-style offense, Miles says, "He's a guy who will run whether we decide to use that or not."

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