Jefferson and Hyde

 

Chris Low wrote a nice fluff piece on Jordan Jefferson for ESPN.  Now, I tend to like fluff pieces on LSU players in the national media, for all of the obvious reasons.  I know they are rarely illuminating, but they are designed to get the fan base pumped up. 

How can you not be stoked after reading this?

"That's what we expect at LSU, to be playing for championships every year."

He also has a message for anybody who might think last season was the start of a slippery slope for the Tigers.

"We've got a chip on our shoulders," Jefferson said. "We've got a point to prove this year. We want to let everybody know that LSU hasn't gone anywhere. I know a lot of teams have us circled on their schedule.

"That's OK, because we've got a lot teams circled, too."

Awesome.  That's just red meat for the Tiger faithful and I love the confidence this kid exudes.  I like that his teammates are saying all the right things about him.  I was watching the rebroadcast of the Arkansas game last season and it's hard not get excited about his talent.  This guy really does have the potential to be the next Tiger great.

But this is an exercise in seeing what we want to see.  Jefferson saw significant playing time in three games, and in all three of those games, he hit a wall.  Jefferson looked like Tommy Hodson in the first part of the game, and then after the first position of the second half, he became Melvin Hill.  Believe or not, this is the same guy:

1st half + one possession:

28/39, 347 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT
24 rushes, 90 yards, 3 sacks
ATVSQPI: 8.206

After:

7/27, 67 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
15 rushes, 8 yards, 6 sacks 
ATVSQBPI: 1.071

8.206 to 1.071.  That's quite a drop.  And one that, frankly, should scare the hell out of Tiger fans.  It scares the hell out of me. 

Now, we can make excuses for each one of those games.  In the Ole Miss game, Jefferson was great for his first two series, and then he was down 28-13 by the time his third possession at the helm began.  And the team just went into the tank around him.  He even showed some life early in the fourth before the wheels came off.  And its not like the running game helped him at all.  Arkansas was more of a defensive meltdown, but the offense just went into way-too-conservative mode and then couldn't restart the engine once the insurmountable lead got surmounted.  Lost in the excuse that "this was Jefferson's first start" was the fact Jefferson tore Arkansas apart in the first half.  Georgia Tech?  Well, LSU tried to essentially kneel the ball for two quarters, so we can let that second half slide.

While taken individually, the games aren't that worrisome.  Taken as a group, it is one hell of a disturbing trend.  Look at those splits again.  7 for 27.  We're not big believers in "clutchiness" around these parts, but that's about as unclutch as a guy can get. 

Channeling my inner sportscaster, all Jefferson needs is consistency.  The ability, hell the production, is already there, but then he suddenly goes into the tank.  While we're trotting out hoary clichés, the biggest improvement a player will make is from freshman to sophomore year.  Is that true?  Possibly.  It makes sense that once a guy gets a feel for the college game and makes the lifestyle adjustments of being away from home, he will improve.  So it is certainly plausible. 

It's not guaranteed Jefferson will improve, but I think Tiger fans are being reasonable when they expect at least some improvement.  Hell, if he can just go from Melvin Hill to Chad Loup (showing my Hallman Era roots, here)* in the second half of games, that would be a huge improvement.  Jefferson doesn't have to be Snead or Tebow, but he does have to give us at the very least mediocre production in the second half of games.  Especially if he keeps his first half production on the same level.

*Ed Note - Richard has told me I need to stop making fun of Melvin Hill.  I'm sure Mr. Hill is a nice guy, but he really was a terrible quarterback.  There are no scarier words to an LSU fan than "Purple Pants Game".  Nothing personal, Melvin.

I think your view on Jefferson just depends on your general outlook.  If you're an optimist, these numbers are beyond encouraging.  Jefferson has already shown he can perform at a high level against quality teams.  He came off the bench against Ole Miss and immediately led the team to two scores in two possessions.  He guided the offense to huge leads over both Arkansas and Georgia Tech in his first two starts, neither with the benefit of the entire playbook.  He can throw from the pocket, but he is also a dangerous runner. 

However, if you're a pessimist, or an Ole Miss fan, there is plenty of reason to doubt Jefferson.  Even when Jefferson is on, he takes a lot of sacks.  When things go bad, he takes even more.  Jefferson has also wilted during the first signs of adversity.  He got LSU back in the Ole Miss game, and then promptly went 3/9 for 32 yards and a pick as soon as the Rebels responded with a touchdown of their own.  The less said about the second half of the Arkansas game, the better.  Sure, he had excuses, but you don't want excuses, you want results.  If you see think the real Jefferson is the production of the first half of games, then you have to admit that the lack of production during the second half is also the "real" Jefferson. 

So let's whistle past the graveyard together and not think about all of that bad stuff.  Let's focus on those cool quotes about leadership and how awesome Jefferson looked in the first half of games, before teams had a chance to adjust their schemes.  Just click your heels and think happy thoughts.  He was only as freshman.  He was only a freshman.  He was only...

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