Jordan Jefferson spent much of his freshman season watching from the sideline as previous LSU starter Jarrett Lee threw a slew of interceptions, got blamed for losses and even got booed by the home fans.
When Jefferson took over under center, he brought the approach that the safe play was the best play _ and it usually worked. That is, until top-ranked Florida came into Death Valley last weekend and its savvy defensive backs cut under short routes, taking the safe play away en route to a 13-3 victory over the Tigers.
Jefferson was sacked five times and LSU wound up with its least productive offensive game since a 7-3 loss to Auburn in 2006.
"They had a great defensive game plan," Jefferson said, adding it was "hard to find a receiver."
Jefferson said Florida clearly noticed LSU's past success converting manageable third downs with quick, short throws, and the Gators decided they weren't going to allow that. They challenged Jefferson to beat them deep and LSU's sophomore quarterback, making his eighth career start, didn't respond well. His 26-yard connection with Brandon LaFell in the first half was his only completion longer than 20 yards.
"We didn't take that many shots deep, but it's going to change now," Jefferson said. "Florida ... left some opportunities deep. You just have to take those opportunities. You have to trust your receivers, throw the ball up and let them get it. That's what we're going to continue doing throughout the weeks _ and whenever we play Florida again, we're going to take some shots."
LSU, which fell from fourth to 10th in the rankings, won't play Florida again this season unless both teams wind up in the Southeastern Conference championship game in December. That remains possible, though not necessarily likely. Florida has the inside lane to win the SEC Eastern Division, but LSU will have to win some tough games _ including at No. 2 Alabama and at Mississippi _ to win the West.
LSU certainly has the athletes to play better.
Running back Charles Scott averaged more than 4 yards per carry against the Gators, but he only got 13 carries. The Tigers had trouble staying in running situations, in part because of sacks and drive-killing pre-snap penalties.
The Tigers have no shortage of tall, fast receivers capable of pressuring defensive backfields, such as LaFell, Terrance Toliver and emerging freshman Rueben Randle.
"If we do what we're capable of, it would be just wonderful to see that game again," LSU head coach Les Miles said.
Miles said Jefferson needs to have better pocket presence and make quicker decisions. There were times, Miles said, when Jefferson tried to scramble out of the pocket and took sacks when he should have thrown the ball away. Jefferson even acknowledged one play where a deep pass was called, but he couldn't make it because he rolled away from pressure instead of stepping up in the pocket and took his eyes off of his receivers.
Miles said LSU's receivers were able to get open in one-on-one coverage, but Jefferson couldn't find them. The coach added that LSU is taking a hard look at itself during its bye week and making changes.
"Some is strategy and some is personnel," Miles said. "It's an ongoing evaluation."
If Scott had his way, LSU would run more inside and use more play-action passes, two things he believes LSU's offense executes best right now.
"That should be the foundation," Scott said. "You always start with the things that you know is the bread and butter and you can hang your hat on."
Scott said he was "embarrassed" by LSU's performance on offense, especially when the defense held Florida to a relatively low 13 points, keeping LSU within one score for most of the game. Yet linebacker Perry Riley said Scott needn't feel that way.
"Every team in every sport goes through a slump at some time," Riley said. "We have faith in them and we know they can get it done."
LSU (5-1, 3-1 SEC) next plays on Oct. 24 at home against Auburn. Riley said the Tigers see that as the beginning of their chance to climb back into the national championship picture.
"We won the national championship with two losses two years ago and this is not the end for us," Riley said. "We still have a lot to play for. We have it all to play for. We definitely realize that."