It seems that controversy is destined to surround the quarterbacks at LSU as long as Les Miles is the coach. The initial debate was JaMarcus Russell vs. Matt Flynn, which was made more confusing when Ryan Perrilloux joined the fray. Even with Russell departed to the NFL, there were those calling for the top-ranked recruit to supplant the senior as the starter prior to the ’08 campaign.
Then, as everyone is all too well aware, just as it seemed Perrilloux would settle in as Miles’ starting signal-caller, the junior found himself getting the boot and heading off to Jacksonville State.
A Look Back
Unfortunately for Tiger fans, there isn’t much to discuss concerning Hatch or Lee’s 2007 season.
After transferring from Harvard in the summer of 2007, Hatch completed 1 of 2 passes against Middle Tennessee State for 9 yards and ran for another 27 on four carriers. After that game, Hatch injured his shoulder and did not play another down. He did, however, secure a medical redshirt and will enter 2008 in his sophomore season of eligibility.
Lee’s stat sheet is even thinner than that. After signing with LSU as the 15th-ranked quarterback in the 2007 class, Lee redshirted and saw no action in the Tigers’ national championship run.
Jefferson had an absolutely outstanding 2007 season for Destrehan High School. On the way to securing a scholarship from LSU the dual-threat quarterback led the Wildcats to a 15-0 record and the Louisiana 5A state championship. The 3-star signal caller threw for 2,846 yards and 24 touchdowns while throwing an amazingly low three interceptions.
With Perrilloux suspended for practice and eventually kicked off the team, the spring’s battle between Hatch and Lee quickly became the most prevalent topic on TSD.com and everywhere in Tiger Nation.
The media were only allowed glimpses of the young quarterbacks’ progress, and the burning question through March and April was who was gaining the upper hand.
While Richard Murphy ran away with the Purple and Gold Game, fans were finally given an idea of what they could expect in the fall. Both quarterbacks played nearly identical games, with Hatch completing 13-of-17 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns with an interception, and Lee going 7-of-13 for 181 and two scores.
Fans who saw the game will remember Hatch making play after play with his feet, avoiding certain sacks and scrambling for positive yardage. The transfer quarterback generally seemed to have a better grasp of the playbook and the offense, while Lee looked unsure of himself in the scrimmage’s early going.
Despite that it was Lee who recovered after halftime, throwing a 57-yard strike to open the third quarter, and Hatch who threw the game’s only interception, an ill-advised bomb that was picked by Curtis Taylor. As desperately as fans wanted a starter, both players proved themselves equally capable in spring ball and neither created any separation.
Meanwhile, Jefferson had a fairly productive spring although he was not yet part of the team. He made the short trip from Destrehan to Baton Rouge twice a month to look in on his teammates during scrimmages and work outs. He also began workouts using Coach Moffit’s routines well before arriving on campus. The last time TSD checked in with Jefferson, he had plans on rooming with fellow freshman Patrick Johnson in Baton Rouge and getting ready to join the wide-open quarterback race.
Things are going to get very interesting when two-a-days start. The general consensus among Tiger fans is that Hatch is the unofficial starter, largely due to his familiarity with offensive coordinator Gary Crowton and the offense. Lee and Hatch have the advantage of an entire spring’s worth of practice, but the bottom line is that LSU’s three quarterbacks have combined for two career collegiate passes. With three weeks of camp ahead, plus a week of preparation for Appalachian State, something’s got to give.
Not since the 1999 season, under Rohan Davey and Josh Booty, has LSU entered a season with such little experience at quarterback. The coaching staff has made it clear: they are looking for the guy that can minimize his mistakes and manage the offense while letting the hoard of talent around him do the bulk of the work.
It’s been established that the Tigers don’t need a superstar under center, as JaMarcus Russell was 0-1 in the SEC Championship Game and 1-1 in bowls, while Matt Mauck won two SEC title games and a national title, and Matt Flynn was a 2-0 starter in bowl games, not to mention the national championship game’s MVP. Maybe Hatch should just change his name to Matt?
All kidding aside, Hatch bears a striking resemblance to the former Tiger greats. He enters the 2008 season at 6’3, 228, which is just an inch taller and roughly ten pounds lighter than the two Matts. As I mentioned above, the former walk-on has the same useful athleticism that aided Mauck and Flynn. Lee seems to have the stronger arm, but Hatch’s pocket presence and scrambling ability just might be of more use against the athletic defensive lines of the SEC.
That being said, Miles said himself at SEC Media Days that both had made great strides in voluntary summer workouts. It would not surprise me to see the strong-armed Lee implemented to keep defenses honest against LSU’s vaunted running game.
And don’t for a second forget about Jordan Jefferson. Many people are discounting the new kid because he is too raw of a prospect to earn significant playing time, but if the coaching staff isn’t writing him off, I won’t either. Chris Leak won the starting job at Florida as a freshman in a very similar situation to Jefferson’s, and went on to become one of the SEC’s most successful quarterbacks of this decade. At the very least Jefferson could find himself being used as a change of pace, much like what Tim Tebow did as a freshman, or what I’m sure Terrelle Pryor will be doing for the Buckeyes this fall.
In all likelihood Miles will use the Tigers’ season-opening home stand as a series of auditions. I don’t expect there to be a concrete starter heading into the Appalachian State game, but someone will need to step up so that Crowton and Co. know whose talents they’ll be using to game plan against Auburn.