The state of Louisiana still has no official version of what exactly happened outside of a Baton Rouge bar on Aug. 19, where four people were injured badly enough to send them to the hospital with assorted, frightening injuries. But it has decided that LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson's role in the melee didn't rise to the level of a felony: A grand jury decided Wednesday to downgrade second-degree battery charges against Jefferson to simple battery, a misdemeanor. (Charges against teammate Josh Johns, also initially accused of second-degree battery, were dropped altogether.) With that — and with a four-game suspension already in the bank — Jefferson has been officially reinstated to the team, just in time for the arrival of the conference season this Saturday against Kentucky.
Initially, at least, a warm spot on the bench awaits. Jefferson had started 27 of the Tigers' last 28 games coming into the season, and won 20 of them. Still, for all the angst over his arrest and suspension, a significant segment of LSU fans spent the spring and summer not-so-quietly hoping Jefferson would be supplanted from the top of the depth chart, and in a roundabout way their best-case scenario on the field has come true: After four games under fifth-year senior Jarrett Lee, they're averaging almost 40 points per game, have scored more touchdowns and committed fewer turnovers than any other team in the SEC and have already leapt over two other unbeaten frontrunners since the start of the season to the top of the latest Associated Press poll.
If the offense hasn't been any more explosive in Jefferson's absence — LSU still ranks near the bottom of the conference in total offense, as it has each of the last two years — it has been ruthlessly efficient: In three games against ranked teams (Oregon, Mississippi State and West Virginia), the Tigers have scored touchdowns on five of six drives beginning in opposing territory, and on 10 of 13 trips into the red zone. That's a long way from the standard assumption on Jefferson's watch that the offense was a burden on the defense and special teams that had to be continually overcome.
Still, coach Les Miles refused Wednesday night to relegate Jefferson to the status of forgotten man. Instead, he hinted that Jefferson's athleticism — his one remaining advantage over the pedestrian Lee — could be an asset in certain packages, a la former second-stringer Ryan Perrilloux's turn as the "change of pace" option during the Tigers' last BCS championship run in 2007. The comparison is at least as ironic as Lee's reemergence as the starter for a championship frontrunner after being benched in favor of Jefferson at the end of a pitiless freshman debut in 2008: If there's any name Tiger fans don't want to reminded of when it comes to legally embattled quarterbacks, it's Ryan Perrilloux. But on a team almost entirely devoid of individual stars, even the castoffs are going to have to find their place to bring the whole puzzle together.