Well ain't I smart for holding the last positional preview till after the Zachocalypse (copyright, Jrlz)? It's August. The football team is in fall camp. So naturally, it's time for some serious positional breakdowns. But you can read those anywhere, and of course we here at And The Valley Shook like to stand out. And occasionally break out into song. This means you, dear reader, get some musical accompaniment.
It's a position wrought with complaints, consternation and constant analysis. Over. And over. And over again. Fans, the media and the punditry have spent most of the last couple of months in a full-blown panic over who is going to play Quarterback for LSU in 2010, but it is time for people just except a very simple fact. That Jordan Jefferson...
That's right folks. Obviously, there's a lot to get to here, so I'm only going to say this one time, and I hope the Humanoids are paying attention. The 2009 offensive problems were not Jordan Jefferson's fault.
182 completions on 296 attempts (61.5 percent), for 2,166 yards (7.3 yards per attempt) with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Jefferson's stat line for the 2009 season, his first as a starter.
And now, a few comparisons with some quarterbacks who either a) received limited playing time as a true freshman like Jefferson, or b) served multiple years as a backup with little-to-no playing time before their first year starting:
- 198-325 (60.9 percent) for 2,508 yards (7.72 yards per attempt with 17 touchdowns and four interceptions
- 194-348 (55.7 percent) for 2,523 yards (7.25 yards per attempt) with 19 TDs and 10 picks
- 167-295 (56.6 percent) for 2,094 yards (7.1 yards per attempt) with 18 TDs and 11 picks
- 188-311 (60 percent) for 2,443 yards (7.0 yards per attempt) with 15 TDs and 9 picks
In reverse order, those stat lines belong to Jamarcus Russell, Terrelle Pryor, Matthew Stafford and Greg McElroy. That certainly doesn't mean I think Jefferson is going to be a first overall pick (or even a first-rounder like Pryor has a chance to become). He doesn't have that level of physical skill. But that doesn't mean he can't perform at that level.
Want to know a key difference between the 2009 LSU offense and the other's I just mentioned? 122 yards rushing per game and 15 touchdowns compared to:
- 2009 Alabama - 215 yards per game, 31 TDs
- 2007 Georgia - 177 yards per game, 32 TDs
- 2009 Ohio State - 199 yards per game, 20 TDs
- 2005 LSU - 150 yards per game, 21 TDs
These offenses, on average, rushed for 63 more yards per game than LSU last year and scored nine more touchdowns on the ground. For a point of reference on just how bad the running game was in 2009, the last time the Tigers averaged less than 150 rushing yards per game, Jordan Jefferson was 10 years old. Last season's yards per game was the lowest average since 1999, and the second lowest number since Gerry DiNardo's first team in 1995 (and the only reason I can't bring Curly Hallman's name into this is LSUsports.net's stat list cuts off at that season).
Basically, Jordan Jefferson was an average quarterback with a historically bad (by LSU standards) rushing offense. He was the most efficient quarterback in the SEC in losses (via cfbstats.com), with a run game that averaged half (HALF!) the yardage in losses that it did in wins (60 yards per game in LSU's losses, 150 in wins - and the latter was still the lowest figure in the conference).
"But maybe the running game would have been better if Jefferson could stretch a defense!"
This has been a common theme amongst the Humanoids - and it's the kind of meme that will get repeated because it generally sounds "right-ish." If you have an average quarterback, teams can stack the line of scrimmage and clog up your running game. Sounds like something that probably happened, right? Except it didn't. If you've been attending our little Sunday watch parties and reviewing the games, this is glaring. With a few exceptions (Ole Miss, Washington and ULL), 2009 opponents generally didn't even respect the Tiger running game enough to commit an extra man to stopping. Teams like Florida, Alabama, Penn State, Auburn and Arkansas spent most of the game in Cover-2, because they were much more worried about Brandon LaFell or Terrance Toliver getting behind their defensive backs than they were about LSU running the ball. Because if the offensive line can't even block a front-seven, why take the unnecessary risk of bringing extra players into the box and leaving your cornerbacks vulnerable?
That isn't to say LSU had a great deep passing attack when those opportunities were there. The Tigers' total of 75 completions of 15 yards or longer ranked just eighth in the conference. But that number was still higher than three out of the five best rushing attacks in the league, which tells you that teams that are good at running the ball will find a way to do it regardless of how well they throw deep. (And for a prime example, Mississippi State, completed just 46 passes over 15 yards despite a rushing attack that averaged 224 ypg - 102 more yards than LSU.) LSU's lack of a running game had everything to do with its inability to run block.
Now, Jefferson is certainly not without blame. He has his issues, such as the 34 sacks he took. He struggled with timing - whether it was getting the ball out quickly on a screen pass or going through his progressions and making a decision under pressure. But while the sack total can't be discounted, it has to be mitigated. The offensive line woes factor in two ways, both with protection issues and in how secondaries were allowed to play the pass with almost constant zone coverage instead of man-to-man. It put Jefferson, a quarterback who was already slow to make decisions, in a position where he had less time to make those decisions while defenses were making those decisions more complicated. And despite all of this, he was still one of the top third-and-long passers in the league - converting 32-percent on third and seven or longer. Only Joe Cox and Stephen Garcia had higher numbers.
And all this still doesn't take into account Gary Crowton's scattered playcalling, which often refused to give help to that o-line with extra blockers, took unnecessary risks and forced a quarterback with almost no option experience to run it over and over again despite little success. As much as the consistency in Jefferson's decision making has to improve - so does the consistency out of the offensive staff. As I've said before, hopefully Billy Gonzales and Frank Wilson help in this regard.
Behind him is, of course, Jarrett Lee. He probably has a larger role to play this year post-Zachocalypse, but it won't be as a starter, barring injury.
What is there to like?
1. Billy Gonzales. By all accounts, the new receivers coach will be involved in much more than just coaching the receivers. And while he might never work nuts-and-bolts with Jefferson, his impact will still be felt.
2. Game management. The best term for Jefferson, though it is the most overused term for a quarterback, is "game manager."Lately people (especially the Humanoids) have come to use the term to describe any average-to-above-average passer. But Matt Mauck and Matt Flynn were not game managers. Game managers don't throw 28 touchdowns. They also don't throw 12 interceptions. Game managers are quarterbacks that are asked to do the bare minimum - hand the ball off, complete the occasional roll-out or playaction passes (with very few straight drops), convert third-downs and take as few risks as possible. Think Greg McElroy (or pretty much any other Alabama quarterack in the last 20 years). Think Craig Krenzel. Or, for an LSU comparison, think about this guy, who's best stats look shockingly similar to Jefferson's:
Rating Att-Cmp-Int Pct Yds TD Lg YPG YPA
147.16 250-153-7 61.2 2018 18 50 201.8 8.0
Herb Tyler. He was a solid runner, decent enough passer, but not a guy who was going to win a game for you. And yet, when paired with strong running games, Tyler's two offenses at LSU still managed to average over 30 points a game.
3. Mobility. Jordan Jefferson is not a running quarterback. He's not an option quarterback. But he is a mobile one and YES there is a difference. He may not be able to run the option, but he can scramble when he breaks containment and if you give him room on the zone read or other designed QB runs, he can make a play. Of course, post-Zachocalypse, you have to wonder how much he will actually run.
What is there to worry about?
1. Gary Crowton. Well, he's still the offensive coordinator, and last year I'm not sure any quarterback would have had much success with his playcalling. Crowton was so dedicated to trying to keep defenses guessing that his playcalling lacked any sort of unifying theme or rhythm. People call it predictable, but there isn't even enough of a pattern to really call it that. Will the new offensive assistants make an impact? Nobody really knows. But, in Crowton's defense, his offenses historically work better with veteran quarterbacks. But at the same time, those veteran quarterbacks have traditionally been inherited ones.
2. Depth. Do I need to rehash Monday? I really don't want to. Two scholarship quarterbacks. ‘Nuff said.
3. Streaks. The upside to starting off the season against one of the best defenses in the country is that it could be a great water mark for the offense and for the quarterbacks. The downside is that if things don't go well there will be a funk in this town and hopefully the passers don't get caught up in it. When I say Jefferson was inconsistent, that also means when he was on a hot streak he could do some really good things. Starting off the season on a high point like that is important.