Jefferson lights up the Atlanta night

ATLANTA, GA. - The 2008 LSU football season took an unexpected turn before it ever started, seeing sophomore quarterback Ryan Perrilloux dismissed from the team prior to camp.

Last year's National Champions looked to defend their title, hoping to navigate through the rough waters of the Southeastern Conference along the way, all with a quarterback to be named at a later date.


The three candidates for the position were inexperienced to say the least, with zero starts and only a handful of live game snaps between them.


Redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee and sophomore Andrew Hatch jumped out as the early leaders for the starting spot, eventually seeing Hatch take the reigns in the season opener against Appalachian State.


A few weeks later, the Tigers opened SEC play on the road against Auburn. After Hatch went down with a concussion, Lee entered the game and pulled the Tigers back ahead to victory.


Lee had become the hot hand, but the fanfare would be short lived. The Brenham, Texas-native went on to have one of the worst seasons that a rookie quarterback could imagine, completing on 143-of-269 passes for 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in just eight games started. Of course, the performance did not help the Tigers cause, dropping five games and only putting together three conference wins on the year.


The calls for true freshman Jordan Jefferson to take over were coming more frequently with each passing week … and each Tiger loss.


Yet, Miles remained reserved in playing the Destrehan-native too soon. Though Jefferson had shown signs of big play abilities in pre season camp, the story remained that the newcomer did not have a firm grip on the playbook. His maturation process would surely be thrown for a loop if he was tossed into the fire at this point in the season.


Yet, after Lee's downward spiral refused to let up, Miles turned the ball over to his third choice on the season. Now, a lanky, 6-foot-4, 209-pound freshman, whom Miles had recruited to redshirt at LSU, hoping he would never take a snap in 2008, was taking over the Tiger offense.


Though Jefferson's first start did not come until the regular season's final game against Arkansas, he did get his feet wet a bit before the big date.


Against Troy, Jefferson completed on 1-of-6 passes for 5 yards and seven carries for 17 yards and a touchdown, helping to spark the comeback win.


Against Ole Miss, Jefferson relieved Lee midway through the contest, hitting on 10-of-20 passes for 129 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also rushed 10 ten times for 51 yards.


Then, against the Razorbacks in his first start, Jefferson completed 9-of-21 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns while rushing 19 times for 83 yards.


Though it was a loss for the Tigers, there was a bit of hope in what the first-time starter accomplished on the road in the SEC. Jefferson was able to manage the Tigers to the lead late in the fourth quarter without turning the ball over the entire game, seeing the defense give up a touchdown in the final minute to give the Razorbacks the win.


With a 7-5 finish in the books, the Tigers turned their attention to bowl season. When the date was drawn for a date with Georgia Tech in Atlanta for the Jan. 31 Chick-fil-A Bowl, all focus turned to stopping the triple-option offense.


First year head coach Paul Johnson had brought the top ranked rushing offense in the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Yellow Jackets, and the focus of Tiger nation turned to whether or not the Bayou Bengal defense could bottle up the high powered attack.


And so it was, as in the beginning of the season, that people forgot about what Jefferson was up to. And, all the while, the freshman signal caller was putting together a game plan for leading the Tigers as far his arms and legs could take them.


After getting the nod to start from his head coach, Jefferson looked for a way to tell the team that he was ready to carry the team on his shoulders. And at a meeting between the coaches and players on the eve of the game, he found that chance.


Stepping up in front of the Tiger team, a majority of the starters being upperclassman, the freshman spoke from his heart. And, in doing so, took what he saw as the first steps to becoming the leader that his team needs.


"From day one I had to become a leader in order to be on the field," Jefferson said. "Even though the guys are a lot older than me I had to find a way to become a leader."


The following night, Jefferson took to the field for the second start of his career. Though the timing was later in the year than he would have wished, Jefferson was getting to carry his home state's team out onto the field.


Miles points out that while the path was ever changing for the freshman, Jefferson never lost his composure.


"There were several times in this season that were different for Jordan," Miles said. "When we lost a quarterback … he really responded. The best thing is that he's a cool customer."


Of course, despite watching the Tigers first nine games of the season from the sideline, the "cool customer" never saw any sweat come off of his brow.


"I respect Coach Miles and the coordinators and their decisions," he said. "When my opportunity came I had to do what I had to do. It felt good that the players and coaches felt confident in me and that the team played well enough to win the way we did."


Of course, the definition of "winning the way we did" has already spread across the college football landscape by the morning of the New Year. The Tigers routed the Yellow Jackets 38-3 in the team's most impressive outing on the season.


Though the freshman finished with just 142 yards on the evening, a closer look will reveal that the rookie looked more like a seasoned vet for the Bayou Bengals.


Jefferson opened the game with nine straight completions, wrapping the half up by completing on 11-of-12 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown. One better, the freshman wide out was working the ball to nearly anyone who stepped onto the field, getting the ball to seven different Tigers in the first half alone.


"It is the role of the quarterback to be cool in the pocket," Jefferson said. "I trust my line to give me the time and I trust my receivers to catch the ball."


By the end of the game, Jefferson had hit on 16-of-25 of his passes. The second-half saw the young gun slinger take to the air vertically for the first time, with the highlight toss coming on a touchdown that came off the scoreboard, seeing Jefferson hit Brandon LaFell in stride on a deep route before having the play called back on offsetting penalties. He also rushed the ball ten times on the night for 41 yards.


"Georgia Tech is a really good team, so as an offense we knew we were going to have to execute and put some points up on the board," Jefferson said. "I felt more prepared to execute the offense. I am proud of my performance and the team's performance as well. It was very exciting. My adrenaline was pumping. I just wanted to put points up on the board."


Putting up the points came easy for the Tigers on the night; and, for the first time on the season, were able to close the book on a game confident that they had a quarterback in the huddle that was with them for the long run.


"[Jordan] played like a veteran," said LSU wide receiver Trindon Holliday. "He is young, but he didn't play like it. I think that we found ourselves a quarterback."


After earning the Offensive Most Valuable Player award, Jefferson celebrated with the team, family and fans on the field after the game, underneath the confetti falling from the rafters of the dome.


As the team made their way to the locker room, hoping to get out of the stadium in time to ring in the New Year out on the town, Jefferson stayed behind, hugging strangers and signing autographs for children decked in purple and gold.


The last player to leave the field after the game, Jefferson sprinted into the tunnel, throwing his arms around offensive lineman Joseph Barksdale.


"Couldn't have done any of this without you," he told his lineman. "You guys make it too easy for me."


After winning two state Championships at Destrahan, including a pair of undefeated seasons, Jefferson signed on with the Tigers last February with the foresight that this would be his first season back on the bench in some time, where he would learn with a headset on and a clipboard in hand.


Yet, 13 games later, Jefferson was jogging back out of the tunnel of a dome … with a trophy in his hand and smile on his face.


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