April 12, 2011
The equation describing the relationship between most fan bases and their starting quarterback is pretty straightforward: Winning = Love. Or, if not love, at least forgiveness. Then there's the relationship between Jordan Jefferson, who's won 20 games as a starter for LSU since taking over in late 2008 — including last year's triumphs over Florida, Alabama and Texas A&M en route to a top-10 finish — and Tiger fans, who showed up to Saturday's spring game largely hoping to see Jefferson ousted from his perch on the depth chart by junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger. That, despite an impressive touchdown bomb by Mettenberger and an uneven, three-turnover afternoon by Jefferson, did not happen.
In fact, it so emphatically did not happen that a beat writer who accurately conveyed the coaches' clear preference for Jefferson after the game felt compelled to defend himself from attacks that he was stumping for the incumbent. Fans didn't see anything new over the weekend, but Les Miles and new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe left no doubt: Jefferson was awarded the team's "comprehensive Spring Award for Outstanding Leadership, Effort and Performance," and Kragthorpe said emphatically after watching his Outstanding Leader complete four of 14 passes with an interception, no touchdowns and two fumbles, "Jordan is our starter."
OK then: So LSU is a serious national championship contender with a quarterback who, after 27 career starts, whose fans still do not trust. (And whose coaches are probably only saying they do.) That's a far cry from the momentum the Tigers seemed to carry into the spring after the offense came to life in the 41-24 Cotton Bowl win over Texas A&M, Miles spurned a pay raise from his alma mater and maligned offensive coordinator Gary Crowton was kicked to the curb after overseeing attacks that stumbled in at or near the bottom of the SEC two years in a row. Even Jefferson rode in on relatively good vibes: The Cotton Bowl was one of the most efficient efforts of his career, good for almost as many touchdown passes in one night (three) as he managed to hit over the entire regular season (four). Jefferson was a well-regarded recruit and has the body of a big (6-foot-4, 225 pounds), athletic, NFL-bound slinger, and the two long touchdown throws he uncorked to senior Terrance Toliver gave a rare, tantalizing glimpse of the potential that had been bottled up in (statistically, anyway) the least threatening assault in the conference. It was the first time since 2007 an LSU offense put more than 40 points on the board against a defense that didn't finish in the bottom 25 nationally in points allowed.
Any flicker of that Saturday, and the biggest cheer of the afternoon may not have been for Mettenberger's entry to the game. Instead, Jefferson was back to looking like a within-the-offense manager whose coaches are reluctant to cut the apron strings, and Tiger fans went back to imagining all the ways their mediocre QB is going to undermine their title shot. Yes, it was a spring game, where "boring" is fine. But Jefferson has never been anything but boring, and there's still no reason to think he's ever going to be.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.