Everyone driving by Tiger Stadium by now recognizes the dark and stormy cloud of turmoil that has clamped like a lid over the LSU football program over the past couple of weeks.
The loss of quarterback Jordan Jefferson and starting wide receiver Russell Shepard to unrelated suspensions has thrown a wrench into an LSU offensive machine that was already knocked off kilter earlier this month by the news that first-year offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe would have to relinquish those duties because he has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Still, even the darkest cloud has a silver lining - or two. The first is LSU’s quarterback situation. The Tigers will have had a full week of preparation for Saturday’s Oregon game since Jefferson was suspended after his arrest for his alleged role in a bar fight.
For most of a week before Jefferson’s suspension, through scrimmages and practices, Kragthorpe and new offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa were forced to split reps with the Tigers’ No. 1 offense between Jefferson and fellow senior Jarrett Lee. That was taxing enough, but add to that the fact that Jefferson and Lee are virtually polar opposites in terms of style.
Jefferson is/was the rangy, mobile, option-oriented signal caller. Lee is a pocket-oriented passer. Some would say pocket-shackled passer, but he has lost more than 20 pounds this offseason, and Lee vowed Monday that his mobility has increased upwardly.
The Tigers have to hope so, though one certainly doubts Studrawa will be calling nearly as many option plays (if any) for Lee as compared to what he would have called for Jefferson. Add to that the fact that LSU’s offensive line will be challenged without the benefit of its most-experienced starter - left guard Josh Dworaczyk, out for several weeks with knee surgery - and Lee’s ability to bob and weave could be vital to the Tigers’ hopes of keeping pace with Oregon’s fast-break offense.
If it can be said that LSU can be thankful regarding its recent scandals, the Tigers are fortunate that most of the hits have come on offense, while the defensive side of the ball has been relatively unscathed.
Josh Johns was charged and suspended the same as Jefferson, but his role as a backup linebacker against Oregon - he had two tackles in three games last year - was hardly expected to be game-changing.
LSU loses a bit of depth, but for a unit that is already breaking in some new starters at key roles - both defensive tackles, middle linebacker and cornerback - it is a stroke of good fortune that the Tigers aren’t juggling anything else right now.
How LSU’s defense performs will likely be the key to the Tigers’ chances at victory. The Lee-led, Shepard-less offense can’t be expected to put too many points up on the Ducks. The Tigers need to keep Oregon in the 20s. If they can, this dark start to the season may start looking a little brighter.