EAST: LSU QB Lee deserves curtain call

As the final act of LSU’s storybook season is about to play out, one of the key players has faded into the background.

While the top-ranked Tigers were putting the final touches on their 42-10 trouncing of Georgia in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game on Saturday in the Georgia Dome, television cameras focused on Jarrett Lee, all dressed out but seemingly with nowhere to go.

Finally, Lee was sent into the game to ignominiously take one snap and kneel down to run out the clock in LSU’s 13th victory in as many games. It’s a bit role Lee has been assigned during the final month of the Tigers’ charge to the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 9 in New Orleans.

After the game, LSU’s newest born-again quarterback, Jordan Jefferson, and a few teammates were ushered in front of LSU banners to be interviewed by crowds of reporters.

Lee, meanwhile, got dressed quietly at his locker, far from the center stage he occupied for the first two months of his senior season. When Lee did attract questions, they dealt with speculation about his academic standing and his diminished role in the offense. Speaking to reporters for the first time in a month, Lee handled sensitive questions as well as he had since August when he was unexpectedly thrust into the starter’s position after Jefferson was arrested and suspended.

He was happy to be part of such a special team, willing to accept whatever role the coaches assigned him, supportive of Jefferson. Lee said he was confident he would remain academically eligible for the championship game, but that is almost a moot point because Jefferson has reassumed the leadership role on this offense, and barring something unforeseen, Lee’s role will be no more than it has been since Jefferson reclaimed the job in the third quarter of LSU’s 9-6 overtime victory against No. 2 Alabama on Nov. 5.

In the weeks leading up to the national title game, much will be said and written about Jefferson redeeming himself, and rightfully so. It’s a good story, one that is central to the Tigers’ historic run. So, too, is Lee’s own story of redemption, and it shouldn’t be forgotten.

Lee, who stepped in eight days before the season opener and took the reins of an offense that was missing its incumbent quarterback, its second-leading receiver (Russell Shepard, who was ineligible), one of its top offensive linemen (injured Josh Dworaczyk), and was about to play its first game under a hurriedly revamped coaching staff in the wake of offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe’s illness.

He helped lead LSU to four wins, three against ranked teams away from home, while Jefferson was gone. Lee started the next five wins, with Jefferson in reserve, before the inevitable change occurred.

As this final act plays out, Lee deserves a curtain call.

“We’re 13-0 because of Jordan,” Shepard said, “and Jarrett Lee.”