Russell sparks LSU offense, defense does rest vs. Bama
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- With a shake of one of his tree-trunk legs, JaMarcus Russell left an Alabama pass rusher flat on his face, turning a would-be sack into another chance to showcase his powerful right arm.
If JaMarcus Russell played all of his games in Baton Rouge, he would win the Heisman. By a landslide. With a completion percentage nearing 80 and a TD-INT ratio that would make Montana jealous, it's a tough point to argue against. May we be the first to say, "Good luck, Ole Miss!"
The 6-foot-6, 257-pound Russell foiled the upset-minded Crimson Tide all night with his fancy footwork and three TD passes, helping No. 12 LSU keep its slim hopes for an SEC West title alive with a 28-14 victory Saturday night.
"He's incredible. He's the best quarterback I've faced and this team has faced all year," Alabama defensive end Wallace Gilberry said. "He makes perfect throws. He's big. ... On film he looks slow, but he's very deceiving. He gets those long strides and he's moving."
Russell was an efficient 18-of-21 passing for 207 yards, took only one sack and ran for 36 yards. He connected with Early Doucet, Dwyane Bowe and Jacob Hester for scores. Freshman running back Keiland Williams gave the Tigers an early lead on a 38-yard touchdown run.
LSU (8-2, 4-2, SEC) also did not turn the ball over, unlike an Alabama squad that might have pulled off an upset if not for missed opportunities.
Alabama (6-5, 2-5) held a 2:16 advantage in time of possession and nearly matched the Tigers in total yards, but came away from four promising drives with no points because of two turnovers and two missed field goals.
LSU's defense had a lot to do with that. The Tigers preserved a 21-14 lead at the half when Daniel Francis stripped John Parker Wilson on a sack and defensive end Chase Pittman recovered with 19 seconds left in the second quarter.
In the third quarter, LaRon Landry intercepted Wilson's tipped pass at the LSU 12.
In the fourth quarter, Ricky Jean-Francois' sack, LSU's fourth, forced Alabama to settle for Jamie Christensen's 40-yard field goal attempt that went wide. Christensen also missed wide on a 49-yarder on Alabama's first drive.
"This defense has got a lot of character. We're real physical," Pittman said. "We don't like anybody being in the red zone. We take it real personal. When teams get down there it's kind of like a light goes off in our heads. Do not let them put it in the end zone."
Wilson was 22-of-35 for 291 yards and one interception. He kept Alabama in the game early with 29-yard touchdown pass to Kenneth Darby and a 6-yard TD fade to Nikita Stover. However, Wilson lost one of his favorite targets in the second half when Keith Brown hurt his knee.
Alabama also struggled to run, gaining only 78 yards on the ground.
LSU rushed for 211 yards, led by Williams with 79 and Hester with 64. Doucet had seven catches for 101 yards.
Alabama tried to pressure Russell, but that often backfired. The first time the Crimson Tide brought heavy pressure, the quarterback shook a tackler, rolled left and unloaded a 27-yard bullet to Doucet coming across the field. Several plays later, Russell read an all-out blitz and dumped the ball off to Doucet, who took off into the open field for a 30-yard touchdown that made it 14-0 in the first quarter.
Later in the first half, two Alabama rushers appeared to have Russell in trouble nearly 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Russell escaped both, keeping his balance as he was nearly tripped up and scrambling for a 5-yard gain. That same drive, Russell escaped the rush again by rolling left and drilled a 19-yard strike to Bowe in the end zone to give LSU a 21-7 lead.
Alabama's adjustments in pass coverage slowed down the LSU air attack for much of the second quarter. So Russell, who scrambled for 71 yards a week earlier at Tennessee, started using his feet to make big plays again.
"It was just instincts," Russell said. "When things open up that wide, when the downfield coverage is pretty good, they're giving me somewhere to run so why not do it. I'm just trying to get my team in position to make plays."
On LSU's opening drive of the second half, Russell scrambled for first downs with a 25-yard gain on third-and-19 and a 9-yard gain on third-and-4.
That led to Hester's 17-yard touchdown on a catch coming out of the backfield to give LSU a 28-14 lead.
2022 Southeastern Conference Standings