The breakthrough, 24/7 media cycle being what it is in 2012, coaches and players alike have learned to take second-guessing as part of the normal life cycle of a loss. But even by the standards of Monday Morning Quarterbacking, few questions linger more perplexingly than the one that plagued LSU after its 21-0 whitewashing at the hands of Alabama in the BCS Championship Game: Why on earth didn't the Tigers pull overmatched quarterback Jordan Jefferson for their other senior starter, Jarrett Lee?
You wanted to know it. We wanted to know it. Exasperated LSU fans in the Superdome wanted to know it. Up in the broadcast booth, Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit wanted to know it. After the game, Bobby Hebert wanted to know it.
And, as he admitted Monday to the Baton Rouge Advocate, Jarrett Lee wanted to know it:
"I felt, if I was given the opportunity, I could have come in and done things to help," Lee said. "I don't know what happened. Obviously, the coaches had a reason for doing what they did. As a player, you have to respect that. But there were some players and plays that could have helped us win." […]
"I was involved in the game plan. I felt we had a great game plan going in, but it didn't work out for us."
Lee is the second outgoing starter to suggest the game the offense played on Jan. 9 looked nothing like the game plan it had practiced over the preceding month, which didn't exactly require expert analysis. The Tigers gained 91 yards and didn't cross midfield until the midway point of the fourth quarter. Jefferson was sacked four times, completed one pass that covered more than 10 yards, and none that covered 20. At one point in the third quarter, he "threw" one of the most stunning interceptions on record and was booed by his own fans when he returned to the lineup on the next series. At the half, the Tigers were 0 for 5 on third-down conversions with one total first down; they finished 2 of 12 on third down with five first downs. They never seriously threatened to score.
During the regular season, Lee started the first nine games after Jefferson was charged with battery in a preseason bar fight, including comfortable wins over Oregon, West Virginia, Florida, Auburn and, yes, Alabama, though he was benched for much of the Nov. 5 game in Tuscaloosa — the point that Jefferson regained the starting job for keeps — after throwing a pair of interceptions. For the season, though, Lee was virtually mistake-free, leading all SEC starters in pass efficiency at the helm of the highest-scoring offense in the league. Still, with a national championship and arguably the best season in LSU history slipping away, he was left to stand by watching as Jefferson grew increasingly impotent, flustered and self-destructive.
The snub made such little sense that LSU fans immediately began grasping for explanations other than "Our coaches just ignored our other competent, veteran quarterback," including unfounded rumors of a pregame rift — possibly over playing time, possibly along racial lines, depending on which thread you were reading — that somehow convinced coach Les Miles to leave Lee planted on the bench despite the ongoing meltdown. Lee (like every other player or coach on the record, including Miles) summarily dismissed the rumors — "All that stuff, the rumors about a confrontation before the game, all that's false. We were excited. We had a great game plan." — but didn't offer any alternative explanation for his absence, presumably because he doesn't have one. As it stands, the only "official" reasoning is Miles' insistence that he wanted a mobile quarterback against Alabama's pass rush.
Jefferson's night on that front: 14 carries for 15 yards, four sacks, three fumbles and two turnovers under pressure. If it required any discernible athleticism to deliver that kind of performance against a dominant Crimson Tide defense, maybe Lee should be grateful to his coaches for getting him out of the building in one piece.