When you're an LSU football fan, any season that doesn't produce a BCS bowl victory or an SEC championship is a letdown. While the Tigers produced 11 wins and an impressive 41-24 Cotton Bowl victory over Texas A&M, the Tigers left much to be desired in terms of success.
What if they had just been a little better against Auburn? What if they didn't have a complete defensive breakdown against Arkansas at the end of the first half? And of course, what if Jordan Jefferson had performed up to expectations?
There has been a large amount of finger-pointing in the direction of the young quarterback, and understandably so. Coming off a season that saw Jefferson throw 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions across 2,166 yards, everyone was expecting big things from the 6'5", 224-pounder.
How did he respond in his junior year?
His touchdowns decreased from 17 to seven, his interceptions jumped from seven to 10, and his passing yards decreased by a third. Some of his anti-highlights included passing for 96 yards against Vanderbilt, throwing for 46 yards against Auburn and achieving a 15.2 passer rating (30 yards, two INT) against Tennessee.
So how can one expect the LSU Tigers, a team expected to compete for a National Championship in 2011, to stand a chance with a quarterback who has struggled so badly?
There are actually quite a few things Les Miles and Co. can do to ensure a season that doesn't leave fans calling for the head of Jefferson.
Don't Feel Obligated to Consistently Pass the Ball
There were times last season where the running game would be working perfectly fine, but the team for some reason felt the need to force the establishment of a passing game. It's understandable to say that if you force a team to respect your passing game, the running game will be that much more effective, but they also say that if something is broken, don't fix it.
A nice strategy there would be to draw the defense in with all the running plays then take a shot deep down the field, but Crowton avoided that strategy, instead opting to run a mix of bubble screens, drag routes and quick hitters that most of the time gain around the same amount of yardage as a running play.
The problem? Jefferson struggled with the quick reads, accuracy, and confidence to pull off these throws. The fact that they ran such simple plays almost seemed to damage Jefferson's confidence even more.
Crowton might as well have gone up and said, "Jordan, we don't trust you as a quarterback so we're going to give you plays so simple that a 15-year-old could run them."
In 2011, if the running game is working, LSU needs to stick with it. If they do want to establish a passing game, they need to avoid calling an abundance of condescending plays. If Miles really commits to showing Jefferson he has the confidence in him to run a normal passing offense, you'll see an almost guaranteed rise in production.
When Passing the Ball, Get Some Air Under It
Once thing that has always impressed me about Jefferson is that he throws a very nice deep-ball. Statistics would prove the following statement wrong, but I've always felt that he is more accurate and far more comfortable throwing the ball 15-plus yards.
With LSU bringing to the table an impressive lineup of receivers, Miles and Kragthorpe must allow Jefferson to let the ball fly whenever they are passing it.
So I guess this ties in to the previous section: Stop with all the bubble screens!
Get It Through the Receivers' Heads: Catch First, Run Second
There were some games where the box score really didn't tell the whole story. LSU receivers dropped plenty of passes last season, some of which would've netted Jefferson about 30 or 40 more yards in the stat column.
While it must be understood that athletes aren't perfect and drops happen, some of the drops could have easily been avoided. The problem on most occasions were the receivers taking their eyes off the ball, looking up field and thinking of their next move before they actually had the ball in their grasp.
Come up with something creative Les, make the receivers do 100 up-downs for every ball they drop.
Let Him Know the Job is His to Lose
Some quarterbacks respond well when their job is about to be taken away from them. The competitive drive takes over and soon the athlete finds themselves tapping into a whole separate playing level everyone had been waiting to see.
Jordan Jefferson is not one of those guys. When Jarrett Lee stepped in last season, I thought it would light a fire within Jefferson and cause him to get his head straight, but all it did was crush the quarterback's confidence even more and leave him looking as bad as ever.
In his defense, Lee performed horribly in limited playing time as well, so perhaps Jefferson never legitimately felt like his job was in danger.
Regardless, he appears to be a quarterback that feeds off of the confidence of those around him. If Miles wants Jefferson at the top of his game, he really needs to show he is behind him. Announce the starting job is Jefferson's without having that tone that suggests you're thinking "for now."
These ideas aren't groundbreaking nor are they a guarantee to morph Jefferson into a Heisman candidate, but they would likely be a push in the right direction. The offense as a whole was unbearable to watch last season and a lot of that should be fixed by the simple insertion of Kragthorpe as the offensive coordinator.
As for Jordan Jefferson, however, only time will tell whether the quarterback has fixed whatever mental and mechanical problems hampered him in 2010.
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