LSU's Jefferson steps up to the challenge

This time a year ago, it was a hard sell for LSU coach Les Miles, even to his own coaches, that Jordan Jefferson was truly the Tigers’ best quarterback.

Jarrett Lee outplayed Jefferson for much of last spring despite what the depth chart said going into the season.

“Last spring, I didn’t push myself hard enough, and that sort of led into the season,” Jefferson said.

After throwing a pair of touchdowns in the season-opening win against North Carolina, Jefferson hit the kind of skid that usually leads to quarterback purgatory.

Over his next seven games, he didn’t throw a single touchdown pass, was intercepted seven times and passed for 100 yards or more only once.

Here’s the catch: Miraculously, the Tigers only lost one game during that stretch, which tells you how good they were on defense and special teams.

“I’d never played like that before, and my confidence took a hit, a big hit,” Jefferson said. “I just told myself to stay positive and everything happens for a reason.”

By the fifth game, Jefferson and Lee were sharing snaps, and even though Jefferson ended the season by playing his best football, the Tigers went out and signed coveted (and talented) junior college quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who started his career at Georgia.

The thinking coming into this spring was that the 6-5, 250-pound Mettenberger would come in and eventually take the reins at quarterback.

Obviously, somebody forgot to tell Jefferson, who’s responded this spring exactly the way you’d hope your returning senior quarterback would.

He’s soaked up everything first-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe has told him, kept his head down, worked hard and made the kind of strides that will make it difficult for anybody to unseat him.

After Jefferson tossed four touchdown passes in last Saturday’s scrimmage, Miles beamed that such performances were becoming routine for Jefferson.

Even Jefferson isn’t ready to go that far, but he says with conviction that his confidence is “out the roof,” and there’s no debate this year as the Tigers prepare for Saturday’s spring game who’s been their best quarterback.

“I need to feed off of that confidence, and I will feed off of it for this next season,” said Jefferson, who finished last season with 1,411 passing yards to go along with seven touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. “There’s a lot of momentum right now, for our entire offense, and we’re going to keep that going.”

The two biggest differences for Jefferson have been Kragthorpe and Mettenberger, probably in that order.

A proven commodity when it comes to developing quarterbacks, Kragthorpe immediately zeroed in on Jefferson’s fundamentals.

“He’s just more of a quarterbacks coach, and it’s the small things that he’s emphasized the most,” Jefferson said. “I’m taking advantage of those small things, like footwork and technique, and that’s helped me throw the ball as consistently as anything.

“These are things we emphasize on every rep in every practice. Your footwork is what defines your throws, and my footwork is so much better.

“I just feel 10 times better than I ever did last year.”

Jefferson said he also owes Mettenberger a debt of thanks.

All Jefferson heard all offseason was how Mettenberger was going to come in and take his job. The more he heard it, the harder Jefferson worked.

“Zach coming in motivated me to step up my game,” Jefferson said. “I needed that, somebody pushing me like that. It just made me go that much harder.”

Jefferson knows as well as anybody that nothing counts until the fall. Mettenberger isn’t going anywhere, either, and the Tigers will certainly be looking for spots to get him some snaps.

But unlike a year ago, Jefferson isn’t being handed the job on a platter. He’s earned it.

He’s dead set on keeping it, too.