Posted by Jerry Hinnen
No, Les Miles is not responsible for Jordan Jefferson's arrest Friday on felony battery charges. No, we do not believe there is anything Miles could have done to prevent his senior starting quarterback from visiting Shady's bar in the wee hours of the morning of Aug. 18 and -- allegedly -- kicking a man in the head. No, it is not Miles's fault that Jefferson will not start the season opener against Oregon, and may very well never put on an LSU uniform again.
But if Jefferson's absence plays a direct role in the Tigers losing that game against Oregon? If the quarterback position he leaves behind causes LSU to fall short of the SEC championship that has eluded them since 2007? That you can blame Miles for. And you should.
We won't disagree with our colleague Dennis Dodd that LSU doesn't need Jefferson or any other "difference-maker" at quarterback to have a successful season. They don't even need one to win championships. The Tigers hoisted crystal footballs with Matt Mauck under center in 2003 and Matt Flynn in 2007, quarterbacks no one would deny were "serviceable" but that no one mistook for the first coming of Andrew Luck, either.
Here's where Dodd and I differ: he files backup-crowned-new-starter Jarrett Lee into the same "serviceable" vein as Mauck and Flynn. For his career, Lee has thrown just as many interceptions (18) as touchdowns, including tossing a nation-leading 16 in 2008. His career yards-per-attempt mark is a mediocre 6.6 and his career completion percentage an even-worse 53.5 percent, numbers that would have ranked him third-from-last and next-to-last in the SEC last season. If Lee is indeed serviceable, even that will be a huge step up from his career-to-date.
If he isn't? There's the fans' choice, JUCO transfer (and former Georgia Bulldog) Zach Mettenberger, who some thought could have a Cam Newton-like impact for the Tigers. But given that even the entirety of spring practice and the bulk of fall camp wasn't enough for Mettenberger to unseat Lee as second-string -- much less challenge Jefferson as the starter -- it seems unlikely Mettenberger is the savior LSU fans have been hoping for, either.
And the lesson of LSU's past two seasons is that if neither Lee nor Mettenberger are up to serviceability, the Tigers aren't winning an SEC championship. Yes, the LSU defense should be lights-out, but John Chavis's units were already 11th in the nation in scoring defense each of the past two years; they can't get much more lights-out than they already are. But thanks to an offense that finished dead last in the SEC in total offense in 2009 and 11th in 2010, LSU finished a combined five games out of first in the West anyway.
So why has Miles waited so long to find a solution to his team's quarterbacking dilemma? In 2008, Lee so thoroughly submarined the season with his interceptions (and the pick-sixes that still define his career, for most SEC fans) that Jefferson -- a lightly regarded recruit by LSU standards -- was named the starter in November. The only insurance Miles took out against Jefferson's failed development that offseason was the signing Chris Garrett, a previous Mississippi State commitment who disappointed LSU's coaches and has since left the team.
In 2009, Jefferson was actually mildly efficient as a quarterback, but still: worst in the SEC in total offense is worst in the SEC in total offense. Miles responded by signing four-star quarterback Zach Lee out of Texas. Too bad Lee had his sights set elsewhere; he signed a professional baseball contract and never so much as stood on a gameday sideline.
Miles may have finally solved his 2012 quarterback issues with the addition of Mettenberger to the 2011 class, but where this season is concerned, it may be too late. Whether by choice or simple failure, Lee's known mediocrity meant he was gambling the future of his quarterback position -- and arguably his team's title chances -- on the development of Jordan Jefferson and two risky recruits.
Miles is known for riding his luck, of course, and it's still to early to say for certain he's come up snake eyes this time. But we also won't be surprised if this one portion of mismanagement forces his team to walk away from the championship table once again.