Greg McElroy got three years to learn the Alabama offense before taking over the starting quarterback job.
His LSU counterpart, on the other hand, got less than three months.
Nearly a year after taking the reins of the Tiger offense late in his true freshman season, Jordan Jefferson is finding a groove as he leads his team into the SEC West showdown at 2:30 p.m. CST Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Jefferson’s crash course in SEC quarterbacking hasn’t always produced big numbers, but has not hurt the No. 9 Tigers with major mistakes. After starting the final two games of the 2008 season and each of the eight this fall, the game is slowing down for the former top high school prospect.
“Snaps in the games, the experience, the time on the field, there is no substitute for it and you have to have it,” Tiger coach Les Miles said. “He’s expecting the breaks, anticipating the throws, understanding where his responsibilities are more regularly and more routinely. He’s still developing, but he’s making progress.”
Statistically, LSU has not overwhelmed the opposition. It ranks 103rd nationally and last in the SEC in total offense with 325.1 yards a game.
Broken down by category, it’s in the bottom third of the SEC in rushing (141.5 per game) and passing offense (183.6 per game).
For Alabama senior cornerback Javier Arenas, the low numbers come as a surprise.
“They’re LSU, so that always surprises you,” Arenas said. “I always expect a spectacular football team, which they are. But statistically, you’d expect something spectacular.”
Recent production has risen, though, as the experience has taken hold. Coming out of a bye-week Oct. 24 against Auburn, Jefferson recorded career highs with 21 completions and 242 passing yards. Last week, outside of an underthrown first-quarter pass that was intercepted, Jefferson went 11-for-17 against Tulane in a 42-0 tune-up win after missing a few practices earlier in the week with a repertory illness.
His arm is just one of the weapons that led Miles to a hasty promotion last season. Jefferson’s ability to escape pressure when the pocket collapses makes him a particular threat against Alabama’s second-ranked defense that will present a much greater challenge than the last two. Auburn’s defense is ranked 11th in the SEC and Tulane is seventh in the 12-team Conference USA.
With the SEC West title on the line, Jefferson enters his first LSU/Alabama game as a starter by not attempting to downplay the meaning of the game.
Following the Tulane game, he told reporters he is treating Saturday’s game “like it’s our national championship game.”