BATON ROUGE, La. — Russell Gage Jr. remains unsure as to why anyone would slap him upside the head. But from a Florida perspective, the frustration induced by the senior LSU receiver last Saturday is somewhat understandable.
There was Gage drawing an audible “Whoa!” from the home crowd when he hurdled Gators cornerback Duke Dawson on the way to a first down. And then there was Gage blowing past the Florida defense for a 30-yard touchdown run.
The Gators couldn’t even shake Gage when they forced the Tigers to punt. There he was again, snuffing Florida punt returner Brandon Powell for a 1-yard loss on a punt return. Ever the effective irritant, Gage was even there to down a Zach Van Rosenberg punt inside the 5 to pin the Gators deep on their ill-fated final drive.
And yes, there was Gage getting whacked in the head by Dawson in a curious post-whistle moment that saw both players called for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“Duke’s a good player. We had been talking the whole game. I got slapped, and it hit the internet,” Gage said. “I’ve got no legit explanation [why he did it].”
Gage’s surprise at getting slapped was only surpassed by his shock that he also got penalized.
“I was clapping because I thought the penalty was just on him. That would have been a big point in the game because it was going to be fourth down,” Gage said. “When I found out the flag was also on me, I got confused. I was like ‘I got a flag for getting hit!’”
LSU defensive back Donte Jackson said that Gage isn’t the type of guy that seems like he would trigger such a reaction from an opponent.
“Russell is not a very talkative guy. When I saw that, I was surprised,” Jackson said. “It would have been a lot less surprising if someone smacked DJ Chark upside the head, because DJ talks a lot.”
Fellow LSU cornerback Kevin Toliver said that most of Gage’s talking induces laughter.
“He’s one of the funniest guys I know,” Toliver said. “He’s a top-3 funniest person on the team.”
Stepping up when needed
For LSU teammates, the proper way to greet Gage following his performance against Florida was with a pat on the side of the helmet.
When Derrick Dillon was ejecting for a targeting foul, Gage had to step into his shoes as LSU’s primary option on the jet sweep. As it turned out, that play was the backbone of offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s game plan against the Gators.
“He had an excellent game,” said LSU coach Ed Orgeron. “[He demonstrates] all-around leadership. The things he’s saying in the locker room, the things he’s doing at practice and showing on the field.”
Gage led the Tigers with 6 carries for 52 yards, making him the first LSU receiver to lead the team in rushing since 1999.
The play everyone is talking about — a somewhat remarkable feat when one considers that he also scored a 30-yard touchdown — is his hurdle.
Gage said the play has been in his repertoire since high school.
“The first time I did it, the guy went low and I just jumped,” he said. “When I looked at it on film, I thought, ‘That was pretty cool.’ So I kind of implemented it into my game.”
His fellow wideouts think it’s crazy.
“DJ tells me all the time, ‘You’re going to get yourself killed doing that,'” Gage said. “But they respect it. I’m just trying to make a play for my team.”
Making it count on special teams
With Dillon returning against Auburn, it may be awhile before Gage gets another chance to hurdle anyone. But that doesn’t mean his impact will lessen.
Gage talked his way into being one of LSU’s gunners on the punt and kickoff coverage units against the Gators, and his impact was felt immediately.
“I’ve been trying to talk to the special teams coach and analyst for weeks that we need a little spark on special teams,” Gage said. “Last year I played a big role on special teams, and felt I could help out in that area as a gunner.”
He ranks downing Von Rosenberg’s punt at the Florida 4 with 4:01 left in the game on equal footing with scoring the touchdown. Considering that the touchdown was only his third in four years at LSU, that says a lot about how much Gage values being a special teamer.
“It means just as much as a touchdown,” Gage said. “We preach all the time that there’s five plays that determine the outcome of a game. Whether it’s downing a punt, going down and making a tackle, scoring a touchdown. All of it is important.”
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