73rd Annual Allstate Sugar Bowl ~ January 3, 2007
If this was to be a head-to-head comparison between two of the better quarterbacks in college football, LSU's JaMarcus Russell and Notre Dame's Brady Quinn, it was Russell who made the most of it.
The strong-armed Tiger threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns, ran for 16 more yards and another touchdown. Quinn wasn't bad, somehow keeping his team in it for half. But there was no real comparison between the two quarterbacks.
Or the two teams.
Tiger dominance was illustrated in the second half when Notre Dame was outgained by the astonishing margin of 333-30. For the night, the Bayou Bengals gained an eye-rolling 577 yards and scored 41 points - the most ever surrendered by Notre Dame in a bowl game.
"They came to play," Irish safety Chinedum Ndukwe said simply, "and we didn't."
LSU certainly did come to play - right from the start.
The Irish opened the gates wide for LSU when they went for it on fourth down at their own 34 on their first possession. The fake punt failed, and the Tigers turned that into an easy touchdown that gave LSU early momentum. Russell immediately lofted a ball to a leaping Early Doucet, who made the catch 31 yards downfield, at the 3. The next play freshman Keiland Williams went in for the first points of the night. Then the Tigers went 80 yards on eight plays - with Russell rumbling for 21 yards to the Irish 15 on a quarterback draw. The drive ended with Dwayne Bowe latching onto an 11-yard Russell throw.
Twice the Tigers had the ball and twice they scored. Just nine minutes into the game LSU had a 14-0 lead.
To their credit, though, the Irish fought their way back. On two 80-yard drives, with 2:25 remaining until halftime, Notre Dame surprisingly tied the score with two short Quinn touchdown passes, to David Grimes and to Jeff Samardzija. The last came against a tiring LSU defense, which because of the Tigers' quick scores, had spent much of the first half on the field.
The upshot though, was that Notre Dame had actually pulled even against a clearly superior opponent. But that didn't last long, 70 seconds to be exact.
As if someone flipped a light switch, LSU cruised easily 82 yards downfield with Russell hitting Doucet with a 58-yard on-the-money bomb that carried to the 5. On the fifth play of the drive, Russell took it in himself on a quarterback draw. It was his first rushing TD of the season.
"That one right before the half got our morale down," cornerback Mike Richardson sighed.
Notre Dame had been hanging in by keeping the ball away from the Tigers. At halftime the Irish had run 50 plays to LSU's 26; controlled the ball for 19:31 of 30 minutes; had rushed for 137 yards to LSU's 74; and had 15 first downs to LSU's 12. Furthermore, Darius Walker had 125 yards rushing against the vaunted Bayou Bengal defense, and the Irish caused the only turnover of the half.
Yet, LSU was ahead 21-14.
"We gave up that big play before the half, which is never good," Weis agreed. "And then they really laid the wood to us in the second half."
Yes. The worst for Notre Dame, on its way to losing an NCAA-record ninth straight bowl game, was still to come.
Distancing themselves from the Irish in every conceivable way, the Tigers scored on their first four drives of the second half to end early any suspense about the outcome. In the third quarter, in which LSU scored on two Colt David field goals and another 58-yard pass from Russell to freshman Brandon LaFell, the Tigers out-gained the Irish 205 yards to 26; rolled up 11 first downs to 1; 25 to 7 in offensive plays and had the advantage in time of possession, 12:13 to 2:47.
A couple of unit tweaks by defensive coordinator Bo Pelini had allowed the Tigers to overwhelm the Irish offense, yielding one first down and a total of 30 yards in the entire second half. Walker didn't gain a single yard in the final 30 minutes and Quinn completed just 15 of his 35 passes for the game, good for a season-low 148 yards and two touchdowns along with two interceptions.
"Our defense was stingy all day," LSU Coach Les Miles said afterward. "It was dominant in the second half."
So was Russell, who was not only the game's MVP, but his eye-catching performance played a role in his selection as the No. 1 player in the NFL draft. Quinn went 22nd.
Miles couldn't have scripted things any better.
Recap excerpted from the book "Sugar Bowl Classic: A History" by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.