So much for the backup quarterback being the most popular player on the team.
With just more than seven minutes to play in the first quarter of Saturday’s game, after Jarrett Lee led the LSU offense 67 yards to the Kentucky 1-yard line, coach Les Miles sent Jordan Jefferson jogging onto the Tiger Stadium turf for the first time this season.
Many in the otherwise sleepy crowd of 92,660 booed.
“I can’t imagine that,” Miles said afterward. “I can’t imagine anybody would take the field for the Tigers and give them everything they got and be treated poorly.”
Jefferson promptly scored on a simple 1-yard keep, ending questions early in the 35-7 rout about whether the senior would play and how he would be received.
“I understand that people sit in there and have the opportunity to make their feelings known,” Miles said. “I’ve never done that. It’s amazing, as many years as I’ve been in athletics, I’ve never booed.”
Eight days before LSU’s opener against Oregon, Jefferson and reserve linebacker Josh Johns were charged with second-degree battery for their alleged role in an Aug. 19 brawl, leading Miles to suspend them indefinitely.
Wednesday, after an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury reduced the charge against Jefferson to misdemeanor simple battery and issued a “no true bill” for Johns resulting in dropped charges, Miles immediately reinstated both players.
Jefferson’s absence opened the door for Lee, who threw 16 interceptions while starting eight games in 2008 as a redshirt freshman, to win back the same fan base that once booed him.
Expected to play the backup role, Lee instead led the Tigers to a 4-0 start and a No. 1 ranking in the AP poll, helping LSU beat three ranked opponents away from home.
Would the presence of Jefferson test Lee’s confidence or alter the identity of the LSU offense? Should the Tigers redshirt Jefferson and bring him back in 2012 as a fifth-year senior?
Miles reiterated Saturday that Lee will remain the starter but said he plans to use Jefferson as a change-of-pace option.
LSU did not make Jefferson available for postgame interviews.
“This is a long season,” Miles said. “We just won our fifth game. The opportunity to win them all, the opportunity to be an improved team at different times in the season, will need every skill and every collective ability and attribute of our team. Obviously, we’re ambitious.”
Jefferson’s teammates said they were happy to see him get in the end zone and look forward to seeing more of the same in future games.
“All it does is add another dimension to our offense — an extra weapon,” junior receiver Russell Shepard said. “We’ll just keep building off that.”
But for now, it remains Lee’s offense.
Lee continued his solid start in LSU’s fifth game, passing for 169 yards against the Wildcats and committing no turnovers. He has now thrown seven touchdown passes with only one interception.
Coming out of the game at the 1 on LSU’s second possession? Lee said he didn’t mind.
“I’m not selfish at all,” Lee said. “Whatever helps us score, whatever helps us win, is fine with me.”
Jefferson returned only once after scoring on the 1-yard keeper.
With the Tigers up 28-0 late in the third quarter, the Destrehan High graduate took six snaps — all running plays. He carried three times himself for 28 yards but came up 6 yards short on a second-and-10 from the Kentucky 46.
When Lee returned for the third-down try, the fans cheered.
That kind of reception is generally reserved for the backup quarterback. The roles were reversed in Saturday’s game.
“I’ve been in that position before,” Lee said. “We have dedicated fans, but sometimes that happens. We’ve both been through our ups and downs. That’s part of it. You’ve just got to shake it off and go out there and make the plays.”
Miles made it clear: Jefferson will have plenty of chances to do just that.
“He’s taken defensive ends on. He’s taken linebackers on. I suspect that he can handle 2,500 fans that are just a little disposed to bemoan a guy who’s busted his tail to do everything he can do for LSU,” Miles said.