ARLINGTON, Texas - Eight days before beginning a senior season he figured to spend as Jordan Jefferson’s backup, LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee learned he’d start Saturday night’s opener against Oregon, the team that lost to Auburn in last year’s BCS Championship game.
Maybe the assignment wasn’t as tough as it seemed.
With the combination of Spencer Ware and Michael Ford pounding the ball behind a veteran offense line, Lee needed to do little damage against the Ducks in the passing game.
Lee, a Brenham, Texas, native, put up modest stats - completing 10 of 22 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown - in his first start since the 2009 season, but it was enough for the fourth-ranked Tigers in a 40-27 victory over No. 3 Oregon at majestic Cowboys Stadium.
“I think he was ready,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think he realized it was not about coming back to Texas and ￔreliving my past.’
“It’s about this game and these plays.”
Lee’s path to Saturday’s start included more dips and twists than the Texas Giant at nearby Six Flags.
As a redshirt freshman in 2008, he was thrust into a starting role after Ryan Perrilloux, in line to enter his junior season as LSU’s quarterback, was dismissed from the team for off-field conduct.
It was a wild ride. Lee had his moments in leading the Tigers to a couple of comeback victories, but he was most remembered for throwing 16 interceptions and having seven returned for touchdowns.
After two seasons as Jefferson’s backup, Lee again got the call when Jefferson himself ran into off-field trouble.
Jefferson and reserve linebacker Josh Johns were suspended by Miles indefinitely after being arrested Aug. 26 for their alleged roles in an off-campus bar fight.
No matter the signal-caller, Ware said LSU’s game plan would have been the same.
Run at will. Throw when necessary.
“From the get-go, we were going to run it down their throat anyway,” Ware said.
Lee had his moments after a shaky start, providing LSU just enough of a passing game to keep Oregon honest.
He gave LSU the lead for good when he found Rueben Randle on a back-shoulder fade route late in the first half. He lofted a picture-perfect pass over the shoulder of tight end Deangelo Peterson for a 29-yard strike in the third quarter, helping set up Ware’s 1-yard touchdown run for a 30-13 edge.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Lee connected with Odell Beckham on a long pass down the sideline, but a holding penalty negated the completion.
That was enough.
The defense shut down Oregon’s fast-paced running game and forced turnovers.
Ware ran for 99 yards on 26 carries.
Ford added 96 yards and two scores on 14 carries, giving LSU a lethal one-two punch in the rushing game.
“Our running backs ... we’ve got a stable of them,” Lee said. “We’ve got great players back there.”
In front of the running backs, LSU has a seasoned offensive line that - even without senior guard Josh Dworazcyk, who is out with a knee injury - featured two seniors and two juniors with starter’s experience.
“We knew we could keep pushing it. Keep grinding it,” senior guard Will Blackwell said.
At some point this season, if he continues to run the LSU offense, Lee will surely be in a position where he has to make key throws with the game on the line.
At some point, he may need to pass for significant yardage.
But the Tigers say they’re content leaning on their veteran offensive line and their punishing running backs as long as they can.
They’re going to make Lee’s job as easy as they can.
“Our role is to carry the team,” Ware said. “That’s always been our role. It’s a tradition at LSU. We’re going to eat up the clock and pound our opponent.”