On Monday night, in the same building where he helped undefeated Destrehan to a Class 5A state championship in 2007, Jefferson will take the field as the starter for the Tigers – and more than likely stay under center until one team hoists the crystal ball.
Despite an SEC Championship Game when Jefferson was 5-of-13 passing for 30 yards and a touchdown, the Tigers were able to secure a 42-10 victory over Georgia.
Jefferson was bad, but it was evident that he wasn’t going to be sitting on the sidelines anymore.
Fellow senior Jarrett Lee may have led the team to an 8-0 record as the starter, but after a two-interception first half against Alabama in the first battle of the country’s top two teams on Nov. 5, it was Jefferson’s team the rest of the way.
At the back end of a season filled with off-the-field turmoil for Jefferson, LSU coach Les Miles has never seemed more confident in which quarterback can keep this team on track for a 14-0 finish.
“I am responsible as the head coach to make the call as to who goes in the game,” Miles said. “It has always been my desire to make that call which gives us the best chance at victory. And I will always make those calls that way.”
What makes Jefferson the right choice?
The easiest ability to differentiate between Jefferson and Lee is mobility.
Jefferson can make things happen with his legs, whether in the option game or when the pocket breaks down and he’s forced to scramble.
In LSU’s 9-6 win in Tuscaloosa, it was the shift from Lee to Jefferson that helped spark the Tigers’ offense – which finished with 148 yards on the ground thanks in large part to the option efforts of Jefferson and Michael Ford.
But for first-year offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa, this rematch is going to be about much more than Jefferson’s legs and a stable of backs.
Sure, the Tigers have an identity that they will stick to, one that won’t ever ask Jefferson to air the ball out for four quarters.
“We are not going to be a wide-open spread attack,” Studrawa said. “Not with this offensive line and 280-pound fullbacks.
“Coach Miles believes in this league you need to run the football and play great run defense to be successful. Where we had to improve was in the efficiency of the pass game.”
That’s usually been easier said than done with Jefferson.
In his four years, it’s been a constant battle to find stability in the passing game, which is where Studrawa and first-year quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe enter the discussion.
When former offensive coordinator Gary Crowton left Baton Rouge last offseason, Miles told the media he was in search of an offensive coordinator that could be hands-on with his quarterbacks – earning them one-on-one tutelage that was apparently absent during Crowton’s four years in Baton Rouge.
Miles hired Kragthorpe, but a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis forced Kragthorpe to step down to quarterbacks coach and pushed Studrawa into the booth as the chief play caller.
Thirteen games into their marriage, Studrawa said his relationship with Kragthrope is effortless. More importantly, Jefferson has improved leaps and bounds, from his approach to his level of comfort on game day.
|Steve Kragthorpe has had a huge influence on Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson this season.|
An example: Jefferson became an understudy to Studrawa and Kragthorpe this season, offering to shadow them every Thursday night (separate from team meetings) as the two coaches finalized the offensive game plan before the weekend – even when Jefferson wasn’t the starter.
“Steve’s idea of getting that kid more involved in the passing game is ‘What do you like?’ ” Studrawa said. “We sit down and meet with (Jefferson) on Thursday nights, and we say, ‘Jordan, here is our plan. Which ones do you like?’
“If we think it’s a great route, he might not like it because he can’t throw it. Now as you have more time to prepare, he can get more comfortable with what he is doing. It may not matter what I think is a great call. What (Jefferson) has confidence in throwing, he is going to complete. That I have learned about him. His confidence level from being involved in that has helped tremendously.”
It’s now a staple every week.
Away from the grind of team gatherings and position meetings, with game film on the screen and playbooks sprawled across the desk, Jefferson, Studrawa and Kragthorpe kick back and find out how to make No. 9 more efficient throwing the football.
“We sit down and go over all those passes and talk about them and watch them on tape,” Studrawa said. “We write those down, and those things I take to heart and take up to the box.”
When Jefferson was asked about the contrasting styles of Studrawa and Kragthorpe, the senior hesitated, then smiled and delivered the truth that has helped turn around an LSU offense that ranked amongst the worst in college football the past couple of seasons.
“They are different thinkers, but when they get together and talk about the talent on this team, they see the same things,” Jefferson said.
In essence, it boiled down to a simple understanding of personnel.
“We are not exactly the same person, but we had a plan after spring ball and through the summer, and we knew what these kids could do and we knew what we had done well in the past,” Studrawa said. “What we didn’t do well last year was throw the ball efficiently.
“A lot of Steve’s and my ideas were the same in terms of what Jordan and Jarrett could do. There wasn’t much difference. Would (Kragthorpe) have thrown it a little more? I don’t know. I like to rely on those big backs and a run game and play action, and Steve bought into that and Coach Miles, and that’s what we want to do.”
The hiring of Kragthorpe and promotion of Studrawa could equal a BCS championship on Monday night, but that’s likely only going to come to fruition if Jefferson – their most important student – plays up to the level of expectations set in those Thursday meetings.
With 37 days to prepare for Alabama, Studrawa is confident that Jefferson, who has a combined 4-1 record in season openers and bowl games, will be ready to lead the Tigers from start to finish.
“If you look back when he has had time to prepare for a team, when he’s had an offseason or preparation for a bowl, he’s really, really played well,” Studrawa said. “He’s had time to buy in.
“Right now I think he is as comfortable as he has been.”