Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Bringing Jordan Jefferson off the bench on Nov. 5 might have won Les Miles his first meeting with Alabama this season. But that same decision might also have lost him the meeting that mattered.
Jefferson's mobility and the option looks he opened up help rescue what had been a flailing offense in Tuscaloosa, with his final option pitch of the night -- a 15-yard gain by Michael Ford -- clinching the win in overtime. It was after that first Alabama game that Miles and the LSU staff went away from 9-0 starter Jarrett Lee and towards Jefferson for good, with Lee attempting just five passes total over the Tigers' final four games. And Jefferson appeared to have repaid that leap of faith, putting together effective showings against Ole Miss and Arkansas.
But Monday in New Orleans, it appeared Jefferson's earlier success against the Tide had been nothing more than purple-and-fool's gold. The same option plays went nowhere when they didn't go backwards. Jefferson was hopeless as a passer anywhere beyond the line-of-scrimmage, completing 11-of-his-17 passes but for a useless 3.1 yards an attempt. His legs rarely helped him against the vicious Tide pass rush, as he finished with 14 carries for 15 yards. And Jefferson capped his night with the game's only interception, a mind-bending on-the-run chest pass to a running back -- Spencer Ware -- who had already turned to block for him.
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It got so bad that Jefferson was booed by his own fans, in a national title game, in New Orleans. But still, even with the LSU offense looking more likely to put points on the board for the Tide than for their own team, Lee never entered the game. His final game as a collegian ended without his having taken a snap.
"I did feel like I'd get opportunity tonight," Lee said, "and I didn't."
Neither Lee nor the Tiger faithful were the only ones wondering if Miles had Jefferson a longer leash in the Superdome than he'd earned.
"Jarrett didn't get a shot. I felt like maybe he should have," said senior offensive lineman Will Blackwell. "He didn't, but that's not the reason we lost. Jarrett Lee not playing is not the reason we lost.
"Jarrett won nine games for us and we did very well in those nine games. He throws the ball a little bit better than Jordan, but Jordan runs it a little better. It's kind of a pick-your-poison kind of deal. Unfortunately, tonight we picked the wrong one."
Even Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart admitted he's expected to see Lee, saying he was "real shocked" Miles had never gone to the bullpen, before politely adding "They kind of rode the horse that brought them."
In his postgame press conference, Miles was asked multiple times about his decision to stick with Jefferson -- once by former New Orleans Saints quarterback and current radio host Bobby Hebert, father of LSU lineman T-Bob Hebert, in a rambling and confrontational "question" that has to be read to be believed -- and stated (in his own Milesian style) that he felt Jefferson was better-suite to handle the Tide pass rush.
"We did consider Jarrett Lee," Miles said. " But we felt like with the pass rush that we were getting that we needed a guy that could move the seat and not sustain that pass rush ... As much as I would have liked to have put Jarrett Lee in because the program owes him a lot, he really did a great job for us in the beginning of the year and really throughout his career, I felt like it would be unfair to him with the pass rush ... That was my call."
Certainly the threat of the Tide sack artists was a factor to consider. And Blackwell is right that the Crimson Tide would have won that game if Tom Brady was at the LSU controls. But between LSU's stubborn determination to make the option "work," Miles's refusal to bench Jefferson (even if only to get his head on straight) and the phasing out of Lee over the season's final weeks, it seems fair to ask if the much larger factor was simply that LSU's staff was convinced that Jefferson gave them the best chance to win--no matter the evidence mounting in front of their eyes.
Why would they be so certain? The only logical explanation is because that's how things had worked out for them the first time around, and after weeks of preparation, LSU simply wasn't prepared for them to not work out a second time. In switching to Jefferson in the Game of the Century, Miles won a huge battle. But after Monday, that same choice seems to have helped cost him the national championship war.
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