By Michael Casagrande
TUSCALOOSA -- Greg McElroy got three years to learn the Alabama offense before taking over the starting quarterback job.
His LSU counterpart, on the other hand, got less than three months.
Nearly a year after taking the reins of the Tiger offense late in his true freshman season, Jordan Jefferson is finding a groove as he leads his team into the SEC West showdown at 2:30 p.m. CST Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Jefferson's crash course in SEC quarterbacking wasn't always produced big numbers, but has not hurt the No. 9 Tigers with major mistakes. After starting the final two games of the 2008 season and each of the eight this fall, the game is slowing down for the former top high school prospect.
"Snaps in the games, the experience, the time on the field, there is no substitute for it and you have to have it," Tiger coach Les Miles said. "He's expecting the breaks, anticipating the throws, understanding where his responsibilities are more regularly and more routinely. He's still developing, but he's making progress."
Statistically, LSU has not overwhelmed the opposition. It ranks 103rd nationally and last in the SEC in total offense with 325.1 yards a game. Broken down by category, its and in the bottom third of the SEC in rushing (141.5 per game) and passing offense (183.6 per game).
For Alabama senior cornerback Javier Arenas, the low numbers come as a surprise.
"They're LSU so that always surprises you," Arenas said. "I always expect a spectacular football team, which they are. But statistically, you'd expect something spectacular."
Recent production has risen, though, as the experience has taken hold. Coming out of a bye-week Oct. 24 against Auburn, Jefferson recorded career highs with 21 completions and 242 passing yards. Last week, outside of an underthrown first-quarter pass that was intercepted, Jefferson's 11-for-17 performance against Tulane in a 42-0 tune-up win after missing a few practices earlier in the week with a repertory illness.
His arm is just one of the weapons that led Miles to a hasty promotion last season. Jefferson's ability to escape pressure when the pocket collapses make him a particular threat against Alabama's second-ranked defense that will present a much greater challenge than the last two. Auburn's defense is ranked 11th in the SEC and Tulane is seventh in the 12-team Conference USA.
"That's part of it," Tide linebacker Cory Reamer said. "That's what you've got to expect. Guys are going to be shifting tight ends, motioning, moving anybody they can to just to get us moving a second slower. We bring so much pressure and they're going to be hard-counting it to see what our blitzes are and making calls and we've got checks for everything, too."
The last three quarterbacks that faced the Tide were far more successful when working outside of the pocket where the Alabama pass rushers have feasted on passers. Jefferson's first touchdown pass in the Tulane win came on a 39-yard toss to Brandon LaFell after escaping pressure. He threw the ball on the move instead of tucking and running as was his tendency earlier in his Tiger career.
Charles Scott has handled most of the rushing duties for the Tigers as he averages 4.5 yards per run coming off a season-high 112-yard night against the Green Wave.
With the SEC West title on the line, Jefferson enters his first LSU/Alabama game as a starter by not attempting to downplay the meaning of the game. Following the Tulane game, he told reporters he is treating Saturday's game "like it's our national championship game."