Time for LSU, Lee to press forward

LSU coach Les Miles had no choice, and he’s probably known that in the back of his mind for several days now.

Friday, he indefinitely suspended his senior quarterback, Jordan Jefferson, along with reserve linebacker Josh Johns after the two players were issued arrest warrants on felony second-degree battery charges. They turned themselves in to police, posted a $5,000 bond and were released.

No matter what happens from here, the damage has been done in a lot of ways.

You can hear it in Miles’ voice every time he talks about it.

“This has weighed on all of us,” Miles said Friday in announcing the suspensions. “It’s time for us to come together as a team and focus on what we’re here to do.”

Senior safety Brandon Taylor said the Tigers have invested too much and worked too hard to let something like this derail them.

“We haven’t lost our focus, and we’re not going to,” Taylor said.

That’s easier said than done.

The true test comes a week from now in Arlington, Texas, when LSU takes on No. 3-ranked Oregon in a game that will, one way or the other, figure prominently into the 2011 national championship race.

The cruel truth for LSU is that just about everybody in and around the program agreed the Tigers’ chances of winning a second national title in five years would hinge largely on Jefferson and how well he played during his senior season.

The offseason reports had been glowing, and everybody raved about how much he had improved.

Now, it looks as if we won’t get a chance to see for ourselves, at least anytime soon.

As nauseating as all the bad publicity has been, the thing LSU fans shouldn’t lose sight of is that the Tigers won 11 games last season with Jefferson throwing seven touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. He went a seven-game stretch in which he didn’t throw a single touchdown pass and was intercepted seven times.

In fact, when the Tigers needed somebody to throw the ball last season, they usually called on Jarrett Lee.

Lee threw the game-winning touchdown pass at Florida. He led the game-winning drive against Tennessee, completing a pair of key third-down passes, not to mention converting a fourth-and-14 play to keep the drive alive.

And remember that 47-yard strike to Rueben Randle on third-and-13 from LSU’s 20 to seal the win over Alabama? That was Lee pulling the trigger.

Like Jefferson, Lee’s a senior. He has played in a lot of big games and persevered through his share of disappointment.

He was forced into action as a redshirt freshman in 2008 and threw 16 interceptions, including seven that were returned for touchdowns.

Jefferson was a true freshman that season and took over the starting duties in late November. The Tigers also brought in Russell Shepard that next season, and Shepard at the time was the highest-rated dual-threat quarterback prospect in the country.

Most people thought Lee would transfer, but he stayed. He did so even after the Tigers kept bringing in heralded quarterbacks, including Zach Lee, who opted for baseball, and most recently Zach Mettenberger, who was the country’s top junior college quarterback out of Butler C.C. after starting his career at Georgia.

It’s a good thing for the Tigers that Lee did stay, because they have the kind of options at quarterback that a lot of teams don’t.

Lee has a wealth of experience, and Mettenberger has a wealth of talent.

It’s probably fitting that Lee gets another chance to lead this team, too, given the classy manner in which he has gone about his business since that nightmarish redshirt freshman season.

You know this isn’t the way he wanted it to come about. But as coaches love to say, it is what it is.

What it is now for these Tigers is time to find out what they’re really made of.

All championship teams have to navigate their way through storms. LSU is faced with having to make it through one hell of a squall just to get to the season opener.

Without a doubt, there will be immense pressure on Lee this season, but this is a good enough football team that he’s not going to have to go out there and try to win games by himself, especially with the caliber of defense that John Chavis is going to put on the field.

The best news for the Tigers is that Lee’s mature enough and seasoned enough to realize that.

I’m not sure that was the case three years ago.