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SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
10/05/2006 11:24:00 AM

Jumping on the JaMarcus Bandwagon

JaMarcus Russell
JaMarcus Russell is 18-3 as a starter and has led six fourth-quarter or overtime comebacks.
Al Tielemans/SI
I was speaking with a fellow reporter last weekend in Iowa City about the upcoming LSU-Florida game, and we both agreed the Tigers' phenomenal defense gave them a decent chance of winning at The Swamp. "But watch," he said. "JaMarcus Russell will find a way to screw it up."

From talking to people around college football -- including quite a few LSU fans -- I've found this is not an uncommon opinion of the Tigers' junior quarterback. My question is: Why? How can a quarterback who's gone 18-3 as a starter, led six fourth-quarter or overtime comebacks and currently ranks second in the country in pass efficiency have a negative reputation? Doesn't anyone remember that last-minute bomb to beat Arizona State? The overtime touchdown pass to beat 9-0 Alabama? It boggles the mind.

I have a few theories. With quarterbacks, I've found that first impressions are hard to overcome (it took some people until last year's Rose Bowl to actually believe Vince Young had evolved) and Russell definitely struggled at times as a redshirt freshman in 2004. There's also the fact that in LSU's run-first offense, Russell generally doesn't throw for a ton of yards (last week's Mississippi State game marked his first career 300-yard performance) and had a shabby TD-to-INT ratio last season (15 to 9).

And then there's his somewhat awkward playing style. Because the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Russell has such a cannon arm (LSU claims he can throw a football the length of the field), it often looks like he's lolly-gagging it when he throws the standard short stuff. No -- that's just his version of "touch."

Headed into Saturday's game, Russell has completed 70.4 percent of his throws this season for 1,246 yards, 10 touchdowns and one pick. He's coming off arguably the finest performance of his career, an 18-of-20, 330-yard, three-TD day against Mississippi State. Admittedly, he did not have his best day in LSU's 7-3 loss to No. 3 Auburn, missing several open receivers in the first half, but he still wound up with a decent day statistically (20-of-35, 269 yards) and nearly led another game-winning drive at the end. "I think he's playing as well as any quarterback in the country right now," said Florida coach Urban Meyer.

Russell has no choice but to put up big numbers if the Tigers hope to have a chance against the Gators. LSU is struggling in the running game and is unlikely to fare much better against Florida's fourth-ranked rushing defense. The Tigers' clear strength on offense is their passing game, what with Russell and a veteran cast of receivers in Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis and Early Doucet.

"There's a lot of chemistry on our team right now, and I think [Russell] is starting to show a lot of leadership," said LSU head coach Les Miles. " Anytime you go into a key match-up, it's good to have a heady signal caller. He knows what it's like to play in a big game, and he's got the confidence to go out there and win."

As you may recall, Russell and Florida counterpart Chris Leak were two of the three highest-rated quarterbacks (the other: Miami's Kyle Wright) to sign with colleges in February 2003. While Leak was thrown into the fire much sooner, I see a lot of parallels between them. Both remain highly underappreciated despite having improved by leaps and bounds from earlier in their careers. Whoever wins Saturday's showdown can put the critics to rest for good.
posted by Stewart Mandel | View comments |


Posted: 12:19 PM   by Anonymous
I'm sorry, Stewart, did you see the end of the LSU-Auburn game this year? Not where they went down the field; that was because Auburn didn't bother to cover anybody. I mean the part where they got close, then Auburn resumed playing defense, and Russell (a) made bad throws and (b) took a TERRIBLE sack. He's simply not consistent enough against good teams to be considered an elite quarterback.
Posted: 12:39 PM   by Anonymous
You think that Auburn had a bad game! HA! I have been to every LSU game this year, and that was by far the worst that they have played. Come Saturday, you will see what kind of team LSU really is...hopefully, Auburn will be losing soon, too! GEAUX TIGERS!
...and South Carolina is almost undefeated. I couldn't agree more with the first comment. When you play in the SEC it's not enough to play really well against the also rans and play decent against the best squads, those are the precise occasions within which you must shine, and JaMarcus hasn't. He threw three or four balls in the dirt in the 4th versus Auburn and couldn't close the deal. I think, despite your vast college football knowledge, you will be surprised by his inability to close in the clutch at the Swamp.
Posted: 12:49 PM   by Anonymous
If LSU beats Florida, no one will care if he throws 5 picks
Posted: 12:51 PM   by Augustus
I strongly disagree with the previous comment. True, JaMarcus did not win the game against Auburn as he threw no touchddowns. But he did not lose it either as he threw no interceptions. Bascially, if the throw was not there then JaMarcus made the mature decision not to force it. More definitively, JIMBO FISHER lost the game by calling that funky formation during the last drive which drew an illegal formation penalty after the shotgun had got us into the red zone. Had we stayed with the 'gun JaMarcus would have obviously thrown the ball into the end zone twice, perhaps three times with 14 seconds left on the clock. And what about all those outside running plays Jimbo called against Auburn's small, but speedy linebackers. Jimbo called a bad game, JaMarcus played the hand he was dealt, he didn't call that funky formation which knocked us out of the red zone and cost us the game.
Posted: 12:58 PM   by Anonymous
Did you see the end of the game and the obvious pass interference call that was reversed? Or the pass interference call that wasn't called at all in the end zone? Or what the pass completion to Hester that was call incomplete? Can't blame that game on Russell!
Posted: 1:00 PM   by Matt H.
Dear Anonymous....

ST*U; ever college would kill for him as QB.

Thanks... 99.9% of the LSU fans.
Posted: 1:04 PM   by JW
Any QB with amazing talent or physical skills will face intense pressure unless he wins every game and never makes a mistake. Just ask Chris Leak. Maybe top flight QBs should just go to the PAC 10 where they can run up a billion yards, and avoid the SEC where tough defense is a given. Fans are fickle, even when you win 9 or 10 games a year.
Posted: 1:06 PM   by Hayesmill
I disargee. Jimbo Fisher called a bad game, JaMarcus just played the hand he was dealt. Who called that funky formation which drew a penalty to knock us out of the red zone. Not JaMarcus, he was about to orchestrate another 4th quater comeback from the shotgun formation with 14 seconds left. He had plenty of time to throw the ball into the endzone despite the new clock rules, maybe even three times. And who called all those outside running plays against Auburn's undersized and ultraquick linebackers, not JaMarcus. Where was the counter from the I-formation. JIMBO FISHER called a bad game, JaMarcus just played the hand he was dealt.
Posted: 1:14 PM   by Anonymous
Stewart, I agree and it is somewhat embarrassing being an LSU fan with some idiots saying he is not a great QB. I’ll tell you what, show me a perfect QB and I’ll give you $1000. He has made mistakes, but he has made so many great plays to counter them. Nobody is perfect, but Russell is almost as close as you can get. He will prove all critics wrong the rest of this year.
Posted: 1:18 PM   by Anonymous
to the dude who wrote the first comment...how can you not be an elite quarterback when you've gone 18-3 while playing in the toughest conference in the nation...JaMarcus is the man and you know this
Posted: 1:19 PM   by Anonymous
I like Russell, but I don't like Les Miles, which I think is the main reason that LSU can not beat the tough SEC teams. Russell has made several big plays in crucial games, but the LSU fans have selective memories when it comes to Russell. I think that LSU fans don't want to admit that Miles was a terrible replacement for Nick Sabin, so the QB is the easy scapegoat.
Posted: 1:23 PM   by Seth (Baton Rouge)
I agree with you Stewert....JR and Chris Leak have received a pretty hard time from both fan bases. I believe JaMarcus is a top five quarterback. I also believe that he may be the best pro-prospect in college. He will show up and shut up all the idiots who want to drag him down. GEAUX TIGERS!
Posted: 1:35 PM   by TroyFan
If I am an opposing coach and I have to gameplan LSU, obviously you firs try to figure out how to move the chains. But a gameplan against their offense (IMO) would be to shut down their run game 1st, force Russell into known throwing situations. If you let Les Miles determine the play calling they are going to eat up ythe clock, and Russell doesn't scare me enough to specificall gameplan him. Good, but nothing special, folds at times. Thats the point; put him in a position to fold, like Auburn did.
Posted: 1:44 PM   by Boomer
I hope the Nay Sayers and doubters are right. GO GATORS!
Posted: 1:49 PM   by Anonymous
As a Georgia Bulldogs fan I just don't get it. Chris Leak is a great quarterback and Florida fans should really appreciate that. As for Russell I will remember that play against Arizona State as long as I live. I was in a very crowded bar in Athens and most of the people in the bar were giddy with a potential LSU loss. And then Russell made that pass. At first there was this dead silence as we see the ball laser down the feel. Then there was a collective "O MY GOD!" by 200 toasty Bulldog fans as it was caught. The man is underappreciated. Give him some credit.
Posted: 1:51 PM   by Anonymous
Russell was 4-1 against ranked teams last year. And he played well in all of those games. He played pretty well in the loss to UT if memory serves. So I guess my question to the anon poster...how do you define consistency? Better yet, what is a 'good' team?
Posted: 1:58 PM   by Anonymous
LSU wins despite Russell, not because of him. They have the best defense in the country. Win they lose it is generally because of his poor play.
Posted: 2:01 PM   by Anonymous
Yeah, I'm going to have to agree with the previous post. He is obviously a very talented player but his decision making is suspect sometimes. That sack was unacceptable. If he gets rid of that ball there they have a lot more time left on the clock and could have punched it in eventually. If i were an LSU fan I would not be happy with him based on that. Fortunately, as a Buckeye I don't have to worry about that right now.
Posted: 2:29 PM   by Anonymous
As an LSU fan I find the criticism of Russell by LSU fans and others to be a bit mystifying. Russell has a great arm, is hard to bring down and shows good leadership. What he doesn't have is quickness - that first or second step. But neither to 80% of college QBs. Two things to note about both Russell and Miles - in the year and a half they have led the team LSU has only played 1 game where they didn't have a chance to win at the end - GA in the SEC championship last year. In every other game they have either 1) blown out weaker teams 2) beaten good/great teams in the clutch or 3) come up just short - Auburn game.

No excuses about penalities etc - this is a team that knows how to put itself in position to win.

I'm much more worried about the running game than the passing game. And I'll be sad if Russell goes pro at the end of the year.
Posted: 2:31 PM   by Anonymous
Stewart's comments are right on. Last year I wouldn't say that Russell was great. His main problem was lack of touch. This year he has matured and has the "touch". I can't wait for the game this weekend.

LSU fans are the greatest, but most fickle. The perfect LSU season is: win every game; hold every opponent scoreless; get national championship; fire the coach.

Go Tigers!
Posted: 2:49 PM   by Anonymous
JaMarcus should be considered for the Heisman if he can beat Florida, Tennesse, Alabama and Arkansas. Both JaMarcus and Les Miles are very much under-rated. But would anyone really consider Chris Leak and Urban Meyer under-rated?
Posted: 2:52 PM   by Anonymous
I'm a LSU fan and have watched every game that Russel has played. I'm a beleiver. Great article. Dead on analysis. Win or loose saturday I wouldn't trade him for another player in the country.

And Stewart are ready to eat your words regarding LSU being a bust this year? Geaux Tigers!
Posted: 3:06 PM   by Anonymous
that florida kool-aid must have extra sugar. here's what you know if you watched the gators last week. if alabama doesn't have a team full of mainly freshmen and sophmores, florida loses. john parker wilson, a sophomore, threw three interceptions. of the three, two should have been caught by bama recievers and were intercepted off their tips, the last one was just a boneheaded throw. besides that, wilson, again a SOPHOMORE, threw all over the florida secondary for nearly 300 yards. lsu's only loss was at auburn, the 2nd ranked team in the nation. newsflash: florida ain't auburn. in fact, florida's second loss will come directly from those other tigers here in alabama. i only compare last week's florida/bama game to this week's lsu/florida game because the final score of that bama/florida game was so misleading. therefore, the upcoming result of the lsu/florida game is so obvious. lsu is more experienced than bama on both sides of the ball (especially at the qb position), has better recievers than bama, and oh by the way: the best TOTAL defense in the nation. you do the math. florida will be lucky just to stay within 10.
Posted: 3:14 PM   by Anonymous
Anonymous #2--I hate to say it but most of your SEC Fans are Caucaian and Jamarcus is not. However,he did make a bone headed play last year at the end of the First Half of the Tenn. game of letting the time expire w/out at least a field goal try and he did take that sack against Auburn this year. Qbs are usually so athletic that they tend to get out of the team concept and try to win it all by themselves in crunch time. Josh Booty sometimes did it at LSU. It also comes down to "charisma". Some guys can screw up and still be a fan favorite and some guys have to be perfect all the time for the fans to stick with them. In the SEC it's definately harder for a black Qb to do that. HE DOES HAVE GOOD TEaM chemistry with the whole team and coaches.
Posted: 3:28 PM   by Anonymous
Great football teams have balance. Rushing, passing and great defense.LSU's 1958 & 2003 Teams had it! To single out one player for teams winning/losing is stupid. In most games lost mistakes are made, deal with it!. Be patient, JaMarcus Russell is still learning, a Junior QB. We'll see Saturday afternoon who has the best football team, I mean team! Then all the so-call experts can judge who's the best quarterback in the country.
Posted: 3:29 PM   by Anonymous
Sure, he took a sack in the 4th vs Auburn, but he had a lot of catchable balls dropped, and the play calling was a joke. If they had thrown the ball 55 times they would have put 14pts on the board...and I'm an Auburn fan. He also had two TDs dropped in the endzone against Auburn last year in the OT win. He's a stud, be happy you don't have some hyped flop like FSU finds most years.
Posted: 3:59 PM   by Anonymous
LSU lost the game. Plain and simple. The interpretation of the rule on the "Pass interference" call was..."The ball was deflected, thereore became uncatchable." If a ball is uncatchable you could murder the receiver and it doesn't matter. The Hester catch in the first half. I'll give it to you but Auburn still won the game. As for Russell, he is extremely gifted but has a knack for gacking it up at the end of BIG games. Forget Arizona State. Two of his losses came against Auburn where he couldn't get the job done. It's one thing for a supposed "elite" team to beat a team that always chokes away a few games (ASU) versus beating an elite team by putting a team on your back. But Vince Young had a rap for not coming up big until the Rose Bowl his sophomore year. I think Russell will develop into the elite QB, just not this year.
Posted: 4:01 PM   by Anonymous
J - Rock is a good QB. Better than most, reminds me alot of Culpepper. hard to argue with 18-3

Would really love to see Perriloux get some more PT

Posted: 4:20 PM   by Anonymous
No one is going to mention race? Seriously? Look at all the comments that include some permutation of "great athlete but he makes bad decisions." Having lived my entire life in SEC land, I know one thing in which the conference doesn't lead the country.

Posted: 4:56 PM   by Anonymous
Russell's problem have never been throwing the ball. He has a cannon of an arm and the ability to see the field. His problem is he holds on to the ball too long. Against AU he took 2 sacks that he could have thrown it away. LSU needs to protect him and if they do that he is one of the best QB's in the country. If they dont he will hold the ball until hit.
Posted: 5:06 PM   by Anonymous
You are so right about Russell Stew. Everyone in America will see him exposed this Saturday when that defense that is being forgotten about whoops that ass. GO GATORS
Posted: 5:25 PM   by Anonymous
In reply to Georgia fan...I'm a LSU fan first and foremost. After LSU I'm and SEC fan, and have always been like that. I got no pleasure at all watching So. Cal. beating the crap out of Ark. the last 2 years. When there is an SEC game outside the conference, Im looking for a SEC win. This leads to the comment that you made about J. Russell's throw last year to beat ASU (great remark). The thing that I didn't understand is why were the Athen fans giddy about LSU losing to ASU in the beginning of last year's season...especially since it was this game we had to cancel at home in the wake of Katrina. Probaby because they're bulldogs,but I don't think that makes the SEC look any stronger when we can't beat a team from the PAC'em 10. If Western Kent. came in and beat ya'll by 40 points...that doesn't help LSU any. Was that bar in Athens full of bulldogs...or was it ASU alumni of New Orleans fans that were displaced from Katrina?
Posted: 5:38 PM   by Anonymous
Gator defense is better against the run that LSU's defense and the Gators have more playmakers on offense. LSU has the better pass defense and better special teams. I think Florida will win because the Swamp is a difficult place to play. Russell is a decent QB, but I don't think he will be much of a factor. Meyer will open up the offensive playbook and LSU will be playing catch up all day.
Posted: 5:41 PM   by Anonymous
If JaMarcus was white, he would be considered a hero by most. Down here in Louisiana, the cover for racism is the assertion that JaMarcus is not good at "making decisions."

Also remember LSU has had plenty of great quarterbacks who make bonehead plays. Tommy Hodson throwing it out of bounds against Ohio State. They are young men playing under tremendous pressure from people who wish they had a smidgen of their talent.

LSU will beat Florida by a great number, but only if Les Miles and Jimbo Fisher don't play scared.
Posted: 5:43 PM   by chrismoock
how can anyone knock JR. as a sophmore and first year starter, JR led lsu to the sec championship game after a very long and disrupted season which included hurricanes katrina and rita, supporting the community, housing a legend (fats domino), and taking on the usual and brutal sec schedule with an injured passing wrist which required surgery after said season. throughout his career, JR has carried himself with class and our future looks bright. lsu fans should be proud and supportive. geaux JR! and geaux TIGERS!
Posted: 5:46 PM   by steveoforau
Race? He's black and happens to be a great athlete but he DOES choke in big games. Jeff George had a ROCKET but he couldn't decide between paper or plastic
Posted: 6:05 PM   by Anonymous
First off, I am a UF Student, so many of the LSU fans proly have already stopped reading, but LSU should have won at Auburn. Regardless, UF's squad has not preformed to their full potential yet this year, but has done what it takes to win all of their games. I've seen glimpses of what the UF team is capable of and my speculation is that they will come out first half rather lax, and proly take a single digit deficit into the locker room, but second half get their act together and pull it out. and we can go on and on about UF's prior performances this year as compared to LSU's, but when it comes down to it, the only stat that really matters is the "W"
Posted: 6:21 PM   by Anonymous
I only read the first 6 or 7 comments, so if this has already been said, I apologize. Someone made a comment about how to gameplan on defense against LSU.

It's very simple. I said this the entire week before the Auburn game (I'm an Auburn man) and it proved to be true. Keep JR in the pocket and he's a 50% passer. Let him get out of the pocket and start running and you're dead. He's money when passing on the run. He proved that last year in the Auburn game and he's proved it time and time again. Jimbo should roll him out more often. I'm just glad he didn't do it enough on September 16th.
Posted: 6:48 PM   by Anonymous
everyone just needs to stop with this whole "race" issue. Its there but in a very small way. Russell is a solid qb, better than Leak? No, sorry its not really that close.

Look what leak has done with 3 different offenses.

Im tired of everyone saying how great LSU is, they are going to punish florida blahh blah blah.

LSU is a good team yes, really good? probably

but they have beaten Arizona,Louisiana Lafayette, Mississippi State and Tulane. Not exactly top competition and they didnt play very well against Auburn.

Again, LSU is a very good football team, but i think people need to give my Gators a little more credit going into this game

and its in THE SWAMP...
Posted: 8:16 PM   by Anonymous
to the florida kool-aid guy- we drink gatorade because we developed it. Who has LSU played this year anyway? Auburn and that's it, oh, they lost too. EVERY opponent the Gators have had went to a bowl last year except for the Vols who happened to be ranked this year and in Knoxville. We still are 5 and oh and have the 4th best rushing defense and 13th best total defense. Russell also bombs against us considering he had 5 turnovers against us last year. He didn't win that game, the defense did, but this year, our offense is not inept. Watch out and GO GATORS!
Posted: 8:41 PM   by Anonymous
lsu is overrated in my opinion... they've got inflated stats due to inferior competition. the only team they played this year held them to three points... i think russel is underated, but lsu is not as great as everybody says... neither is florida, but i bet they win at home... especially if they get marcus thomas back which is a big rumor in the sunshine state right now.
Posted: 9:24 PM   by Darrel
First, We lost to Auburn so get over it. It was not Pass Interference. It was Holding, but I am done with that. Focus on Florida. We still have a chance to do something great. JR has been winning games (18-3 first 2 years) while still learning the game while taking rediculous criticism from guys who cant get off of the couch long enough to look up the word talent. He is GREAT and we all should be in awe of this speciman.
Posted: 9:45 PM   by Anonymous
The one weak spot, if you can call it that, on LSU's team this year is the offensive line. Russell has done what he has done with very mediocre offensive line play. It makes it that much more appreciative.
Posted: 10:11 PM   by Roger
A very fair analysis of Russell; he has great tools and has developed into a very good QB; he has the potential to be a great QB -- there are not many NFL teams that wouldn't take him right now. An example of what I'm referring to is the one play that really stands out to me against Auburn.
The "completion" to Hester that was reversed. If Russell makes a good throw; Hester sets us up 1st and goal. He put way too much air under the ball and Hester had to slow down and wait on the ball; this allowed the defender who was totally faked out of the play to get back in it and "break" up the play. Anyway, that's my two cents. Here's hoping that we can have some fried gator tail on Saturday! Should be a tremendous game. COLLEGE FOOTBALL is the best game in the land.
Posted: 10:13 PM   by Anonymous
The man simplely has all the goods to be a P. Manning!!!!
Posted: 8:53 PM   by Anonymous
Please don't write anything positive about any LSU player ever again. AGGHHHHHH!!!!!
Posted: 9:55 PM   by Anonymous
I have the same feeling now about Russell that I had after the Auburn game--he's simply not that accurate and he makes too many bad decisions/mistakes. Great physical talents alone do not make a great quarterback--anyone from Lousiana should know that after watching Aaron Brooks for the past few years. Great quarterbacks are defined by three things--leadership, decisionmaking and accuracy. Joe Montana had far lesser physical skills than many of the quarterbacks he played against. He didn't need them because he had those three characteristics. JaMarcus is a very capable leader, but does continually makes inaccurate passes and bad decisions at crucial times.
Posted: 12:35 AM   by Anonymous
What we are all forgetting is that every year the SEC and the ACC beet each other up so bad that another team from the pac 10 comes in and look like heros. STREGTH OF SCHEDULE. You want to watch TRUE footballl, than you watch the SEC or the ACCC as anything can happen on any given Sunday! Gators #2 after their win over LSU. As long as they don't get over confident they will destroy Auborn also.
Posted: 1:51 AM   by Anonymous
Russell a GREAT QB? LOL! He's put 1 TD on the board against ranked teams, and even that one the back had to turn completely around to catch it.

JR looks good because he has phenomenal receivers. But that's not going to be the case at the end of the yaer. The way JR over- or underthrows, he's gonna get someone seriously hurt. Did you see several of the shots his receivers took from FLA trying to strdctch out for a poorly thrown ball. And whats this habit he's gotten into of constantly checking off to a run??

Many LSU fans are starting to grumble about Coach Miles, but I'm not quite ready to blame him, unless he plans on sticking with Russel for the rest of the year. He'll go 7-5 if he does.
Posted: 3:38 AM   by Anonymous
The "race" statement is completely ridiculous--LSU has had Herb Tyler, Rohan Davey, and Marcus Randall in the last 10 years lead them to many victories. To assume race is an issue with LSU fans shows that either they don't know LSU football or their fans or that they have their own unfair assumptions about Louisianians.
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