LSU's Bayou Malaise: The Trouble With Jordan Jefferson and the Tigers
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LSU has the talent to win at least 11 games, possibly more, and contend in the SEC. However, they look like a team that will struggle to reach 8 wins and bowl eligibility. The problem is not the defense, which is very good if not great. It is not special teams, which arguably won the game for the Tigers against undermanned North Carolina on Saturday. And as stated earlier, it isn't the talent. A lot of fans are blaming offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, but Crowton is an accomplished, proven coordinator and former head coach. The problem is at QB, and the QB is one Jordan Jefferson.
It is not that Jefferson lacks ability. Quite the contrary, the fellow has the potential to be a backup NFL QB. Instead, it is that Jefferson is a poor fit for LSU's offense. The more I see Jefferson play, I am convinced that the guy is a classic, prototypical dropback vertical-game passer (albeit with good scrambling ability). He has a game similar to that of some of the "good but not great" QBs that you see in the NFL's NFC East, like Eli Manning or Mark Rypien, or perhaps like Shreveport, Louisiana's own Stan Humphries, who played for the Redskins and San Diego.
The problem is that Gary Crowton's offense has no use for a Stan Humphries. Instead, it needs, well, an Alex Smith (the college version), or maybe LSU's national title QBs Matt Mauck and Matt Flynn. Crowton's offense needs a guy who can run some option and more important is more accurate and is much quicker with his reads and release on the short and intermediate routes. Bottom line, you couldn't ask for a worse match between QB and offense than Jordan Jefferson.
But wasn't JaMarcus Russell a dropback QB too, you ask? Well, Russell had an amazing arm that made up for his, well, deficiencies. Also, Russell didn't really take off until his redshirt junior season (and even in that one he played horribly against Florida and Auburn). While Jefferson has an NFL arm, he can't cover up for late reads by firing lasers like Russell could, and is only entering his third season.
So, without that quick short to intermediate passing game, the spread offense - including Crowton's version of it - simply doesn't work, because, well, the quick short to intermediate passing game is what spreads the field. Without it, the blocking scheme doesn't work (which is why LSU can't run the ball or get consistently good pass protection despite all those 4 and 5 star recruits on the OL and at RB) and even the downfield passing game - the thing that Jefferson does best - is inconsistent. Bottom line: until the QB changes or the offense changes, LSU will be mediocre, pedestrian.
So why not change the QB? A combination of two reasons. One: Jefferson hasn't really done anything to merit losing it (he hasn't been HORRIBLE or cost the team games with blaring gaffes, he is just good enough to keep the team competitive and will even occasionally make a play or two to help win a game) and two: no one else has been good enough to step up and take it from him.
So why not change the offense? A good question. While LSU lacks the true TEs and FBs required to run what, say, the Cowboys and Giants did in the 1980s and 1990s, LSU does have the personnel to run a more vertical-based offense. LSU fans should recall how their prior offensive coordinator, current FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher, ran a downfield passing offense for Rohan Davey but modified it to suit Matt Mauck's skills. Truthfully, it would require more of a change in play-calling and strategy than a wholesale change in offense. But it is a change that has to be made.
Jefferson only threw 21 passes against UNC (completing 15) and particularly didn't throw much in the second half. It is obvious that Crowton and Les Miles lack confidence in his ability to run LSU's current offense. They are basically playing not to lose on offense while hoping for the occasional big play and trying their best to get the running game going. That isn't going to work, especially against good defenses. Miles and Crowton either need to give Jefferson a gameplan that gives him and the LSU offense a chance, or they need to put another QB in there and see what happens.
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