By Michael Felder
Wednesday evening the news hit the web that LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson and linebacker Josh Johns had their sentences reduced following their August arrest for the role they played in a Baton Rouge "bar fight." The question as to whether the players would be subject to "more" suspension was answered by Les Miles and athletic director Joe Alleva later as they reinstated both players, affective immediately.
So with that reinstatement in mind we're operating under the assumption that Johns with charges dropped and Jefferson with charges reduced will be "available" to play as early as Saturday against Kentucky. Now, I'm going to give the kids the benefit of the doubt here. I expect, as elite athletes that they have maintained their workouts, possibly worked with film in some capacity to not be walking into practice totally blind. They have both been in the system long enough to understand what is expected of them physically.
Before we tackle the Jarrett Lee-Jordan Jefferson issue we'll hit on Johns. The Tigers' defense has been playing lights out, suffocating opponents and honestly does not look to actually "need" the reserve linebacker. That said bodies always are nice and getting Josh Johns back for special teams, rotational or situational play and practice is going to help the squad out. His transition will be smooth, he'll fit wherever the Bayou Bengals need him and when his number gets called he'll be yet another Tiger on special teams and defense that adds to the cause.
Jordan Jefferson doesn't exactly have that same luxury.
There is already a lot of talk swirling as conflicting schools of thought debate how to best handle the Jordan Jefferson addition to the LSU quarterback pie. A pie that Jarrett Lee has essentially not had to share for the first third of the season. Through that first third, without Jordan Jefferson, the Tigers are 4-0, they've beaten three Top 25 teams and Lee sits at 56 for 87, 64% completion rate for 624 yards, a 6:1 touchdown to interception ratio for 156 yards per game and a 145 passer rating.
Now the kid ain't setting the world on fire but that ain't half bad. Especially compared to what so many folks expected to be some sort of a 2008-ish level of disaster that was Jarrett "Pick Six" Lee.
Lee's been efficient. He has not turned the ball over and LSU has won ball games without the senior ever breaking 215 yards passing, so now that Jefferson is introduced into the equation what do the Bayou Bengals do next?
First let's talk about Jordan Jefferson. We've watched the kid grow up from LSU's 2009, 9-4 campaign that saw Jefferson throw for 61.5% and have a 17 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio. During his junior season it seemed that Jordan, now the clear starter, took a tremendous step back during the first half of the season. Games like his 8-20 for 96 yards at Vanderbilt and 10-22 for 75 yards against West Virginia led to Les Miles and Gary Crowton using a two quarterback system starting with Tennessee game where Jefferson was 3-10 for 30 yards.
Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson became a whole quarterback as Lee came into the game for a few plays to get the Tigers some positive passing yards and stretch the field while Jefferson ran the show for the most part. Then things finally started to align for Jefferson after a putrid 4-10 for 51 yard day against Louisiana-Monroe.
His next three games were the best he had all season; 13-17 for 254 yards against Ole Miss, 16-27 for 184 yards at Arkansas and his dynamic Cotton Bowl performance that saw him post 10-19 passing for 158 yards.
It seemed things finally lined up for the kid. He went into the spring and fought off not just Jarrett Lee but new comer Zach Mettenberger to claim the starting quarterback position out of the spring.
Here is where it gets interesting because not only did Jordan Jefferson ascend to the top spot but Les Miles and LSU took steps to make sure Jefferson was comfortable and clearly their leader on the offensive side of the football. They sent the kid up to Bristol over the summer, I'm sure you all remember the "Guess the Jefferson" game he bungled. The Tigers sent Jefferson to SEC Media Days as one of "their" guys.
He was "the guy" until the "incident."
Now the Tigers have less of a dilemma and more of a "which option do we take" or a "choose your own adventure" scenario. One that, given his odd decision making path, fits Coach Miles pretty well actually. They have four options really for a kid that has not played real football since late August:
1-Give Jordan Jefferson his job back
Highly unlikely. The kid hasn't played in awhile and given the fact that he only gets one day at a walk-thru it is pretty clear he won't "just get to make" his debut this week or next week against a solid Florida team.
2-Phase Jefferson in slowly
He has got to get up to game speed and in a hurry. That means he needs reps, not just in practice but also in live game situations. Get used to being tackled, to how fast he must diagnose plays and how quickly he must make decisions with the football. Jefferson can only get that in the game and unlike Josh Johns you can't hide the kid on special teams to get him re-acclimated.
3-The Return of the 2 Quarterback System
Two ways to handle this situation. A return to last years system that was actually wildly successful for the six games LSU used it heavily. They beat Alabama with dual quarterback look and they played Auburn tight until the Cam Newton show took over. Or the Tigers can do the total opposite of last season. Leave Jarrett Lee in the ball game as their every down quarterback, let Jefferson become their off the bench situational guy.
4-Just Play Jarrett Lee
Bench Jordan Jefferson. Keep the kid off the field, don't give him a chance to show any of the reasons he won the starting job and do your best to make sure Lee is comfortable and not looking over his shoulder. Ride this wave that you have right now and hope it carries you to another LSU BCS Championship.
Four different ways to handle this ordeal and as much as it goes against the wisdom of conventional football the one I like the best is the reversal of the situation they ran well a year ago. Keep playing Lee. Let the senior protect the football, make smart decisions, know he is the starter and they can keep the ability to stretch the field on any given down and allow the wide receivers to make plays as they have up to this point. Then you use Jefferson in your special packages. Let him run the read option, have him use the threat of the read option to open up some easy play action looks or get other players to edge.
The fact is, for everyone screaming "JUST KEEP PLAYING LEE!" Jordan Jefferson brings a lot to the table that LSU can most definitely use as they get into the meat of their schedule. Not including Kentucky (because a Thursday practice isn't near enough time) this football team has six SEC games left, four against their division and three against teams that are ranked in the Top 25. Jefferson has a skill set that makes him dangerous, he can tax defenses in a way that Jarrett Lee can never imagine and while the kid is not a Cam Newton or Denard Robinson like rushing threat he does force your defense to pay attention to his wheels.
There is going to come a time when the LSU quarterback has to do more than "just not turn it over" for this ball club to win. When that time comes I like and I trust Jordan Jefferson more than I do Jarrett Lee. He has more physical tools and there is a reason Jefferson was the clear cut guy coming into the 2011 season.
Les Miles has got some experience in winning big with a two quarterback system. Not just last years 11-2 season with Lee and Jefferson but his 2007 campaign that saw Ryan Perrilloux factor in quite heavily, both due to injury and as a spark, even though Matt Flynn was the starter. This year's LSU football team is that good. They are BCS Championship good. Whatever happens with this quarterback situation, and I'm guessing we'll see both guys play down the road, LSU's defense is good enough to put them in a position to win and Les is coach you want handling a weird, awkward controversy of this nature.
Get more great college football analysis over at In The Bleachers.