Jefferson says refusing to give up paid off
Sometimes it was hard for Jordan Jefferson to appreciate LSU's home-field advantage at Tiger Stadium, especially when boos rained down as he trotted off the field after numerous fruitless drives.
Jefferson's proficiency in the passing game waned enough that coach Les Miles switched to a two-quarterback system after playing Jefferson almost exclusively during the Tigers' first four games this season.
In recent weeks, however, Jefferson has enlivened the Death Valley crowd with some of the most exciting football of his career, leading comeback wins over Alabama and Mississippi.
''Even though I was struggling throughout the year, I also had to stay positive,'' Jefferson said this week. ''I didn't want to turn my back to my coaches or my teammates because of my struggles. I had to find a way to overcome that and these past couple of weeks, that's what I've been doing. Coach has been giving me an opportunity to play well and I just have to make the best of it.''
The question now is whether Jefferson can keep it up on hostile ground in Little Rock, Ark., where the sixth-ranked Tigers (10-1, 6-1 SEC) will need a win Saturday over No. 12 Arkansas (9-2, 5-2) to stay in the hunt for an at-large bid to a BCS bowl.
''I've seen his confidence is up and he's more comfortable in the pocket,'' said Razorbacks safety Jerico Nelson, one of Jefferson's top receivers when they were teammates at Destrahan High School near New Orleans.
''As long as he's comfortable and his line is holding up, he's a very good athlete. But when he's rattled and he's thinking too much or looking down at the (defensive) linemen, he's kind of slower in his progressions and getting the ball to the receivers.''
Throughout the season, Jefferson's teammates and coaches said they saw his talent in practice and it was only a matter of time before it translated onto the field. It just took a while.
There was a four-game stretch early this season when Jefferson passed for fewer than 100 yards in each game. The last game in that streak came against Tennessee, when he was 3 of 10 for only 30 yards before Miles decided to give backup Jarrett Lee a chance.
Lee threw for 185 yards and led LSU into position for a comeback victory, with LSU having a first-and-goal after a pass interference call. Miles then put Jefferson back in with the hope of running for the winning score. Jefferson came up just short, and was on the field when the offense had a time-wasting meltdown and ran a botched play as time ran out.
Only a penalty against the Vols for too many men on the field allowed LSU the final play it needed to escape with the win.
Jefferson has been more composed and productive ever since his scintillating second half against Alabama in early November. His performance was highlighted by a 75-yard scoring strike to Rueben Randle. Jefferson also led an 11-play, 77-yard drive to put the Tigers ahead for good.
''The thing that you have to allow is for our guys to get better,'' Miles said. ''The observation of where they are at now and where they are going to be is always going to be different. ... He's improved and has a desire to get it right and be excellent - not just be the guy, but be an excellent quarterback.''
In a 43-36 victory over Ole Miss last Saturday, Jefferson had a career-high 254 yards passing and threw for a TD, along with 45 yards and a score rushing. He said his play that day reminded him of how Michael Vick dominated during Philadelphia's win over Washington on the previous Monday night.
''That's just kind of how I felt,'' Jefferson said. ''I was running the ball, throwing the ball, just doing a lot of things that he did.''
Jefferson also spread completions democratically among eight players, including a 40-yarder to tight end Deangelo Peterson, a 39-yarder to Randle and a 22-yarder to Russell Shepard.
''Jordan's really put in the extra effort,'' Shepard said. ''He definitely ignored all the criticism, ignored all the boos.
''These past couple games, Jordan has really showed the type of quarterback he is. I'm definitely proud of him. He's done a wonderful job and he's leading this team.''
AP Sports Writer Kurt Voigt in Fayetteville, Ark., contributed to this report.