Miles was right….LSU needed both quarterbacks all along
LSU fans rolled their eyes every time they heard it. They moaned and groaned over their coaches' perceived, blatant stubbornness. Yet Les Miles continued to say it again and again.
"We need both quarterbacks. We need both skill sets. We will continue to play both."
Midway through October few people agreed with those sentiments. Simply put, Jarrett Lee seemed to be the quarterback driving the Tigers to touchdowns while Jordan Jefferson's possessions appeared to be ending in punts or turnovers. Critics made the parallel between Miles and Jefferson to former New Orleans Saints head coach, Jim Haslett, and his QB, Aaron Brooks. Like Haslett to Brooks, many followers felt that Miles was overly loyal to Jefferson. The results delivered on the field simply did not justify the playing time. And eventually, that blind loyalty would cost LSU just as it did the Saints during their epic late-season crash of 2002.
"Hey coach, don't worry," a caller told Miles on his weekly radio show, "I stole those naked pictures Jordan Jefferson had of you. You don't have to play him anymore."
Nervous, yet hearty laughter erupted at TJ Ribs and across Baton Rouge. Miles actually laughed himself and referred to the phone call as "pretty humorous." However Jefferson's passing numbers were hardly amusing. They were downright depressing.
- September 11: 8-20, 96 yards, no touchdowns and an interception in 27-3 win vs. Vanderbilt
- September 18: 10-16, 97 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions in 29-7 win vs. Mississippi State.
- September 25: 10-22, 75 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions in 20-14 win vs. West Virginia.
- October 2 (rock bottom against Rocky Top): 3-10, 30 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions in 16-14 win vs. Tennessee.
The totals during that rough stretch: 31-68 passing, 298 yards (a woeful 75 yards per game), 0 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Few could remember an LSU passing attack being so inept. To his credit, Jefferson was proving his worth as a dangerous runner, scoring on an 83-yard sprint on the game's first play against Tennessee and then finishing off two Lee-directed drives with TD runs the next week during a thrilling win over Florida in "The Swamp." And although he had a decent passing effort against the Gators, fans had seen enough of Jefferson throwing the football. Jarrett Lee was a sparkling 9-11 in Gainesville for 124 yards, including the game-winning score to Terrance Toliver in the final moments. Lee had also passed for 185 yards the week before in roughly two quarters of play against the Vols. It was time for #12 to take over full-time and send #9 to the bench. Enough was enough.
"We need both quarterbacks. We need both skill sets. We will continue to play both," Miles reiterated to the media the following Monday.
Miles was right. Sure enough, LSU has indeed needed them both. They've needed them both to enjoy (I'm channeling Les) their program's biggest win in three seasons, to be sitting at 10-1 with one regular season game left to play and to also be on the cusp of a BCS bowl.
Oh, by the way, Jefferson is enjoying a Betty White like comeback. The turning point?
Jefferson and the LSU offense were stuck in their usual rut against Nick Saban and his Alabama Crimson Tide. The Tiger defense was bending over backwards to keep them in the game and it seemed LSU was on their way to another disappointing outcome in a "big game." 8-4 season here we come.
But then it happened. Midway through the third quarter, Jefferson hung in a quickly collapsing pocket on a third and long then stepped up and fired a laser into the hands of Reuben Randle. The Tiger Stadium crowd erupted in as much shocking disbelief as delight. Randle gracefully sprinted away from and left the Alabama defenders in the dust for a 75-yard scoring strike.
"Ever since then he's been on fire," Senior linebacker, Kelvin Sheppard, says. "He's gone out and done things we knew he could. It just was a matter of time."
Well, going seven games without a touchdown pass might have been a little long to wait. However, at least Jefferson is beginning to resemble the sophomore quarterback that threw for 2,166 yards and 17 TDs against just 7 picks a year ago.
"It's not how you start, it's how you finish," LSU junior running back, Stevan Ridley, says. "Jordan is leading this team. He's even yelling and stuff. That kind of shocked us."
In his last two SEC games, Jefferson is a surgical 23-30, for 395 yards. His 254 yards in Saturday's 43-36 win over Ole Miss is a career high.
"I was as confident as I have been. I was completing all of my passes," Jefferson says of Saturday's win against the Rebels. "My offensive line did a great job of keeping comfortable back there."
Speaking of being comfortable….The Louisiana Superdome for The Sugar Bowl or Miami for the Orange Bowl are both nice, cozy destinations for early January.
Just don't be surprised if Jarrett Lee becomes "the man" again before then. Yes, even that quickly. This has been one humorous rollercoaster ride for nearly three years. You don't think it's over, do you?
"People ask me all the time who I prefer, Jordan or Jarrett," laughs Ridley. "Some days I'm all about Jordan, some days I'm all about Jarrett. I just say I like them both."