LSU freshman Lee first among equals

BATON ROUGE, La. – The week of the Mississippi State game, no one gave Jarrett Lee the word he would be making his first collegiate start against the Bulldogs. The absence at practice of his partner in the pocket, Andrew Hatch, told Lee all he needed to know.

By Scott Rabalais,

Gator Country and will be exchanging stories this week as the Florida Gators prepare to square off with the LSU Tigers at The Swamp Saturday night (8 p.m., CBS-TV). Today, Scott Rabalais writes about LSU’s quarterback position where freshman Jarrett Lee will get the start over sophomore Andrew Hatch.

One successful start and a couple of weeks of practice later there’s no reason for speculation on the media’s part or stealth on LSU’s part. Lee, the redshirt freshman, will make his first college road start Saturday when No. 2-ranked LSU plays at No. 11 Florida (7 p.m. CST, CBS).

Hatch, the sophomore, will come in and provide the change of pace that was Lee’s role in LSU’s first 2½ games.

“It really kind of depends on the feel of the game,” LSU coach Les Miles said Monday, “but yes, I think that Lee will get a first look and (we will) bring in Andrew on the second or third series, maybe later. Who knows?”

Lee and Hatch’s fortunes sailed past each other midway through the third quarter at Auburn on Sept. 20, with LSU trailing 14-3.

Hatch went out with a concussion, forcing Lee into the game after he went 0-for-5 in the first half with an interception returned for a touchdown. He quickly found Chris Mitchell on a 39-yard touchdown pass and hit Brandon LaFell with the game-winning 18-yard toss with just over a minute remaining.

Lee was 11 of 17 for 182 yards in the second half of that 26-21 win over Auburn. In a 34-24 win against Mississippi State a week later, Lee was 18 of 27 for 261 yards with two TDs and an interception.

That makes him 29 of 44 for 443 yards over the last six quarters. For the season Lee is 45 of 77 for 643 yards with six TDs and three interceptions. His quarterback efficiency rating of 146.5 is second in the SEC only to that of Florida’s Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow (148.0).

“I think he’s continuing to come,” Miles said of Lee. “He’s had practices like he had games, and he’s had some really strong practices in the last week. We expect that to continue.

“As we get into game plans, his ability to master the game plan is, in my opinion, a weekly event, and it’s one in which he’s doing a really good job, in my opinion, to (allow him to) start this game.”

Lee said with the talent around him like LaFell, Mitchell, Demetrius Byrd and SEC-leading rusher Charles Scott, he doesn’t feel he has to do anything special to propel the Tigers’ offense.

“I’m very fortunate to be in the situation I’m in,” Lee said. “I know they (his teammates) are going to run, they’re going to block and they’re going to get open. I’ve just got to put the ball in their hands.”

Hatch said he’s feeling healthy and fresh after two weeks off, and sounded as though he were taking his new role in the LSU quarterback dynamic in stride.

“I’m ready to do whatever the coaches ask me,” Hatch said. “We just care about the team and winning games. That’s the focus. Jarrett and I will be prepared for however it’s going to go.”

Asked if he felt he’d been dealt a bad break – Hatch’s concussion came from a knee to the back of his helmet by center Brett Helms as he was tackled on an option run – he sounded philosophical.

“I feel like it’s unfortunate,” Hatch said. “Getting hit like that is not fun, and I didn’t want to come out of the game. It was tough missing a game (vs. Mississippi State), but we’ve done well.

“You have to overcome those things, get back out there and help the team.”

For his part, Lee sounded sorry for his teammate.

“It’s unfortunate what happened to him,” Lee said. “He was having a great year until then.

“But I know he’s behind me all the way and is there to answer any questions I have. I’m excited to have him as a partner.”

They may be partners, but right now, Lee is first among equals.