Jefferson, Lee leading LSU into BCS title game
NEW ORLEANS (AP)
An insecure player would have found the moment embarrassing, or flatly refused to head out onto the field. He would have thrown a temper tantrum or uttered something divisive under his breath, the kind of comment that tears teams apart.
Jarrett Lee was asked to take one snap at the end of the SEC title game. The final one.
He called for the ball and took a knee.
In doing so, Lee sent the top-ranked Tigers to the BCS title game, where they'll face Alabama on Monday night. But it was Jordan Jefferson who made the plays that counted, just as he did the final four games of the season, while Lee had been relegated to little more than a spectator.
''I just went in there and took a knee,'' Lee recalled, ''and took the best knee I could.''
Lee chuckled as he recalled that night in the Georgia Dome, though it's hard to believe he finds it genuinely funny. The senior kept the Tigers' championship hopes alive after Jefferson was suspended earlier in the season, and then watched as the team he guided to wins over the likes of Oregon and Auburn rallied around someone else down the stretch.
It was awkward. It was difficult.
''We can understand how he's feeling right now,'' wide receiver Rueben Randle said. ''But Jarrett really stays up about everything. He stays positive - he really doesn't get down. You can't even tell anything's wrong with him. It's great to be around a guy like that.''
His attitude, as much as his performance, is a big reason LSU is playing for the title.
''He kept the season alive as a starter,'' Jefferson said, ''and I kept the season alive. Both of us have been through a lot of adversity. He knows what it feels like to be in the type of situation I've been in, and I know what it's like to be in the type of situation he's been in.''
Not exactly, but close enough.
The tumult that formed the backdrop to Jefferson's season began in August, when a bystander pointed a finger at the quarterback and teammate Josh Johns during a bar fight in Baton Rouge.
The two were initially booked on felony second-degree battery charges, but a grand jury decided that the evidence was so flimsy against the two that they didn't even bring a charge against Johns and reduced those against Jefferson to misdemeanors.
Jefferson had been suspended indefinitely while the case worked its way through the legal system, and was welcomed back when the ruling came down. But while he'd been away, Lee led the Tigers to four straight blowout wins, including over 40-27 over Oregon and 47-21 at West Virginia.
''It was a chance for Jordan to mature,'' said his father, John Jefferson. ''What he went through at the beginning of the season, I don't think it's something he ever thought he'd have to endure.''
Jefferson bided his time while Lee continued to press on, leading the Tigers to eight straight wins. It was during the first meeting with Alabama that everything changed.
Lee threw the second of back-to-back interceptions in the third quarter, and it turned out to be his last pass as the starter. Jefferson was summoned into the game and led the Tigers to a tying field goal in the fourth quarter, and another in overtime that kept their perfect season intact. Now LSU is 13-0 and SEC champs.
''It was a big accomplishment for this team,'' Jefferson said. ''but it was a big accomplishment for me to come back on the field and keep winning games.''
They've both spent time on the sideline, watching the other guy take snaps. They both know what it feels like to celebrate success, but know in the back of their minds that they hardly contributed to it. More than anything, they know what it's like to have people whispering about them.
''We've never really talked about it,'' Lee said, ''but I don't think we really have to. We kind of understand that we've both been through it.''
Things haven't gone perfectly, though the record has remained that way.
Jefferson managed to coax LSU to a 14-7 halftime lead against Western Kentucky before finally hitting his stride, and the Tigers trailed Arkansas 14-0 early on before going on a 41-3 burst. In the SEC championship game against Georgia, the offense was so stagnant that many wondered whether Lee would finally get his chance to step back on the field and play the part of the hero.
Of course, Jefferson wound up playing nearly the entire game, despite going 5 of 12 for 30 yards through the air. LSU's defense and ground game took care of the rest in a 42-10 rout.
One that Lee finished off with a kneel.
LSU coach Les Miles said he was trying to honor Lee, not dishonor him, by sending him out onto the field that night. That stopped fans from ripping into the coach during an otherwise sublime season. When Lee was introduced on senior day, he may have received the biggest roar of anybody.
''Both quarterbacks have been tremendous contributors. Both are great teammates,'' Miles said. ''I would not be surprised to see Jarrett Lee in this game early on make significant plays, and Jordan Jefferson step back in and do the things he's capable of doing.
''I think teammates - and team - is the key thing,'' he said. ''Both those guys are team guys.''
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel contributed to this report.