LOVE: After Further Review
Shoe has changed foot in Jefferson-Lee dynamic
By BEN LOVE
Tiger Rag Editor
You gotta love LSU fans.
At a recent speaking engagement, I was reminded of an old adage about Tiger faithful. It’s the one that goes: “A perfect season for LSU fans is one where the team goes undefeated, wins the national championship and the coach gets fired.”
It’s a pretty good joke. It’s also the truest thing I’ve ever heard.
No matter how high the program has climbed or how much things look to be on cruise control, there will always be a sizeable segment of the LSU fan base that thinks the sky is falling. They may even be small in number, but the outspoken voices of the partially paranoid few echo throughout the state, reminding all that at least for some, winning’s not enough.
The latest Chicken Little moment to hit the Bayou is Jordan Jefferson’s reinstatement to the undefeated top-ranked LSU football team.
And, right on cue, the malcontent militia has come dashing out of the woodwork, firing musket rounds of “He shouldn’t be back on the team” and “We’re gonna mess up all that team chemistry.”
I call baloney.
So much so that I’m going to take a blow-by-blow look at the three biggest complaints I’ve heard surrounding Jefferson’s return, and then I’ll systematically shoot them all down.
He disgraced the team. He shouldn’t be allowed back.
This is the weakest argument of them all. Les Miles has a track record of allowing players who have picked up misdemeanor charges to continue playing, with the latest example being Terrence Toliver’s altercation outside of Fred’s Bar in March 2010.
At that time, LSU’s wide receiver was cited for public intoxication, disturbing the peace and interfering with a police officer, all misdemeanor charges. Toliver was even tased for his behavior that night. Yet, one heartfelt apology in front of a podium later, and Toliver was right back on the squad that spring, practicing with the team despite a broken hand.
Couple this precedent with the fact that Jefferson has, in effect, already been suspended four games, and the LSU quarterback has more than paid the price for violating curfew and, subsequently, picking up a misdemeanor summons. After all, if violating curfew was that big of a crime, shouldn’t there be roughly half of the team that’s suspended?
Jarrett Lee’s playing too good. LSU doesn’t need Jefferson.
While I understand where this gripe comes from, I’m still not buying it. Jefferson has played in 32 games during his LSU career, starting 27 and winning 20 of those. So, in my mind, the question becomes: How could it possibly hurt to have the most experienced back-up in the country?
There’s no question Lee should remain the starter and take the vast majority, if not all, of the snaps, but it’s not exactly uncommon for quarterbacks to suffer injuries as seasons unfold. Lee himself already sustained an ankle sprain in the Northwestern State game. And imagine where LSU would’ve been in the second halfs of the Alabama, Florida and Tennessee games last year without having Lee as an alternative option. There’s nothing to be lost by adding a veteran presence under center, even if Jefferson’s role has changed (more on this in a bit).
Jefferson’s return is going to ruin the team’s chemistry and the offense’s identity.
This might be the one I’ve heard most, and I have one simple request for those who kneel at the altar of this theory. Consider that the changes we’ve seen thus far with the offense – a more dedicated commitment to the run, more continuity by formation and less multiple offenses, as well as better play-calling and timing on passing plays — are more a by-product of a coaching shuffle than a player shake-up.
What we’ve seen with the LSU offense through four games in 2011 is Miles and Greg Studrawa being on the same page. Studrawa has been on Miles’ staff for five years now, and the two clearly share a like-minded philosophy on how to win football games. It starts on the ground. That’s something Miles and former coordinator Gary Crowton never saw eye-to-eye on. There always had to be a passing flair or at least the ability to show they could pass for Crowton.
With this new regime orchestrating the offense, they could care less. The obvious motif has been “We’re gonna run it, and if you can’t stop it, we’re just gonna keep running it.” Plugging Jefferson into that new game plan, even if just on a spot-duty basis, won’t ruin the offense’s identity. He may not be able to accentuate the passing game the way Lee has, but that’s why Lee will remain the starter.
As for dividing the team, I can’t see that happening, either. Every game this season, cornerback Mo Claiborne (among others) has chalked up a big “9″ on his bicep, clearly a nod to Jefferson. Despite what much of the public may think about Jefferson, he’s well-liked and received by his teammates. I don’t believe that will change.
Now that I’ve taken the baton from Lewis Unglesby and played football lawyer for Jefferson post-Grand Jury, it’s a good time to take stock of just how much the situation at quarterback has changed for LSU in a year’s time.
After the West Virginia game last September, the Tigers were still searching for answers in the passing game. And that’s putting it mildly.
Jefferson had just submitted a foul performance, completing only 10 his 22 passes for 75 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions against the Mountaineers, and LSU needed a Patrick Peterson punt return for six just to float its boat in the scoring department.
The next two weeks, Lee, Jefferson’s backup, came in and delivered knock-out punches versus Tennessee and at Florida. Lee led last-ditch drives with LSU trailing in both contests, and his play, particularly in the passing game, pushed Miles to deploy a full-blown dual-quarterback system. Lee came in at the start of each game’s third series, and Miles went with the hot hand.
Still, while Lee became more prominently involved in the offense, he was still the clear No. 2. Jefferson started every game, and played almost exclusively under center in the team’s final three games versus Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M.
Fast-forward to late September 2011, and the shoe has definitely moved to the other foot.
Lee takes the field in Tiger Stadium Saturday as the unquestioned starter against Kentucky. He enters the game with six touchdowns against one interception to his credit this Fall. He has completed 64.4% of his passes (56 of 87) through four games. And he has thrown at least one touchdown in each game while also spreading the wealth, completing passes to 12 total receivers.
Jefferson, fresh off his recent big day on Wednesday, re-enters the fray fighting for second-team honors.
Now he’s the one who will start every game on the sideline. Now he has to compete each week in practice as if he’s the starter, all the while knowing he’s more of a reliever. Now he has to get accustomed to coming into games off the bench. Most importantly, now he’s the one who has the chance to show he’s as good of a teammate as Jarrett Lee has been the past few seasons.
My take is if Jefferson can do that than LSU’s chances of raising the crystal ball in January just went up.
Editor Ben Love covers LSU football and men’s basketball for Tiger Rag. Reach him at email@example.com.