Lee should start even if Jefferson returns

If, or when, QB Jordan Jefferson returns to LSU’s football team, coach Les Miles will have a big decision to make.

Or will he?

Let’s face it, the Tigers are good, and they’re good with Jarrett Lee as their quarterback. His past struggles are well-documented, but this season, he’s been nearly mistake-free. He’s running the offense exactly like Miles and offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa want him to.

Lee isn’t very exciting. He won’t beat anyone with his legs. But efficiency has been the key to his game. He isn’t rushing throws or going for the big play when he doesn’t need to. Lee should keep his starting job if Jefferson returns; the latter was suspended indefinitely for his role in an off-campus bar fight.

Through three games, Lee, who had awful interception problems in the past, has a quarterback rating of 144.4, is averaging 148 yards a game and has three touchdowns to one interception. Against Mississippi State, he had a season-high 213 yards and a touchdown on 21-of-27 passing. His 19-yard touchdown pass to Rueben Randle early in the fourth quarter ended all hopes of a Bulldogs comeback.

"I think he did the things he needed to do to win," Miles said of Lee after LSU’s 19-6 win at Mississippi State.

With Lee directing LSU’s offense, the Tigers are No. 2 in the country and are looked at as a definite national title contender while consistently moving the ball up and down the field. Of course, there have been hiccups here and there, but LSU is putting up 36 points a game, is third in the SEC in third-down conversions (19-of-40, 47.5 percent), is eating up nearly 34 minutes of clock a game, and is first in the league in red zone offense, scoring on all 15 tries (12 touchdowns). LSU has turned it over just three times.

Meanwhile, teammates and coaches had raved about Jefferson this year for completely transforming his game under the direction of Steve Kragthorpe. How would he do as the Tigers’ starter?

Who knows? But what we do know is that with Jefferson out of the lineup, LSU is every bit the national championship contender it wanted to be coming into the season.

Jefferson has been no saint under center during his career. He has thrown 28 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, while completing around 58 percent of his passes in three seasons.

Obviously, we can’t determine what Jefferson’s numbers would be this season, especially if he really has changed because of Kragthorpe, who started as offensive coordinator before moving to quarterbacks coach after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. But would the Tigers really be better off? And if Jefferson returns, will the Tigers be that much better off?

How do you expect a team to respond to someone who talked a big game about being more of a leader and wanting to take this team to the top of the SEC, after he got involved in a fight that leaves him watching instead of actually leading?

Would the offense have the same sort of rhythm it has with Lee under center? Would Jefferson even have the right football mindset to be effective after missing so much time?

And what happens at the first sign of trouble? Would you immediately yank Jefferson for Lee, or would you let Jefferson find his bearings again? The latter could take time and could be the difference between a championship and just another bowl game.

It’s not like Jefferson’s arrival would suddenly make LSU’s offense that much more flashy. Besides, this team has proven this year that it doesn’t need offensive excitement to win games. The defense will be the backbone of this squad.

You never mess with a good thing; Lee is the answer now, and he’s the answer if Jefferson comes back to the team this season.

"I'm just trying to play smart, play confident," Lee told reporters Thursday.

Yes, he is, and for that, there’s no reason to make any sort of change until he stops doing so.