A new chapter in LSU’s ongoing quarterback saga was written Saturday night when Jordan Jefferson started ahead of Jarrett Lee for the first time this season.
Coach Les Miles knows his team and those two players better than anyone, so presumably he had a good reason to start Jefferson and withhold Lee from play until 12 minutes remained and the Tigers had a 35-9 cushion.
But the rationale isn’t totally clear because Miles has gotten vague about his game plan for his quarterbacks, which is his prerogative.
He wouldn’t say last week which quarterback he planned to start against the Hilltoppers, though he said both would play. After the game, he said he had decided to start Jefferson at “the back end of the week,” but Lee was announced as the starter shortly before kickoff and wide receiver Rueben Randle said he didn’t know Jefferson was starting until he saw him run on the field after the opening kickoff.
Afterward, Miles said he liked the way Jefferson played in the 9-6 overtime victory at Alabama a week earlier and understandably so. But he also said it was a “one-game decision,” and Lee could well find himself starting again — or not.
It’s unknown what either quarterback thinks of this latest development because neither has been allowed to speak with reporters since the Alabama game, other than a couple of television reporters doing an end run on the LSU sports information staff to get some innocuous comments from Jefferson in the chaos on the field in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Other than that, Jefferson has spoken with reporters only once since his arrest in relation to a bar fight three months ago. Lee, who has been perhaps the most frequently interviewed Tiger and who has handled interviews as deftly as he handled the offense in the 8-0 start pre-Bama, has been off limits for the last two weeks.
The shroud of silence around the quarterbacks and the mystery surrounding the plans for them from week to week have added intrigue to a situation that has been handled almost flawlessly on the field.
After Miles chose to reinstate Jefferson after a four-game suspension because Jefferson had been charged with a misdemeanor rather than a felony, it made sense to immediately re-integrate into the offense the player who would have been the starting quarterback if he hadn’t been arrested eight days before the season opener.
The sharing of the position — with Lee being the starter and taking the lion’s share of snaps and Jefferson complementing his play with his running ability — worked quite well in victories against Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee and Auburn.
Then came the Crimson Tide and the No. 1-ranked defense in the country. Lee struggled, throwing two interceptions, and Jefferson relieved him for good in the third quarter.
Jefferson’s ability to run the ball — as well as throw it — was a key to the Tigers’ huge victory, as was Miles’ decision five weeks earlier to start getting Jefferson ready for that opportunity.
Then came Western Kentucky — a perfect opportunity for Lee to start, throw the ball against an outmanned opponent and regain some confidence before returning to SEC play.
But instead, Jefferson started and played three quarters, and Lee mopped up.
Perhaps it was Miles’ way of driving home the point that turnovers, such as the two interceptions Lee threw against Alabama after throwing just one in the first eight games, won’t be tolerated. Or perhaps not.