For VU and LSU quarterbacks, the only difference Saturday may be who wins

Thursday, September 10, 2009 at 11:48pm
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VU quarterback Larry Smith / Mike Strasinger for The City Paper

Larry Smith does not know Jordan Jefferson. Even so, Vanderbilt’s starting quarterback has a pretty good understanding of his LSU counterpart.

“Me and him, I’d say, have pretty similar experiences,” Smith said. “We came in the last part of last year, and we both started the bowl games, as a matter of fact.”

He’s exactly right.

Although the history and reputation of their respective programs is dramatically different, Vanderbilt and LSU will be led by remarkably similar signal-callers when they meet Saturday in Baton Rouge (6 p.m., ESPNU).

Smith, a sophomore, made his college debut in the final regular season game of 2008, a loss at Wake Forest. His first start came in the Music City Bowl victory over Boston College, and his performance in that one firmly positioned him to earn the job full-time this fall.

Jefferson, also a sophomore, made his first start in the final regular season game of 2008, although he appeared in five prior contests. His play in a Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over Georgia Tech earned him Offensive MVP honors of that contest and established him as atop the list of the Tigers’ returning quarterbacks.

Each also had a dizzying level of success, personally and in terms of team performance, in high school. Smith was 39-2 and a two-time all-state selection at Prattville (Ala.) High School. Jefferson was undefeated (21-0) as a starting quarterback and an all-state honoree for Destrehan (La.) High School.

Each weighs 220 pounds, although at 6-foot-5, Jefferson is three inches taller. Both have the ability to run or throw.

“(They’re) pretty similar,” Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. “I’m really impressed with Jefferson. I think he’s really a good player. He is extremely dangerous running the ball. He threw the ball well in the bowl game and their first game (this season). He’s a big headache.”

Perhaps the most profound difference is that Smith redshirted as a true freshman and is in his third year of college football.

Jefferson did not, and when he took the field last week at Washington was the second-youngest quarterback (at 19 years, 11 days) ever to start a season for LSU. He completed 11 of 19 passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns in the Tigers’ victory. He also rushed for 42 yards.

“I thought Jordan Jefferson, early in his career, managed an opponent’s stadium crowd noise and really did a good job managing the game,” LSU coach Les Miles said.

Smith, who was 10-18 for 153 yards with one touchdown and 66 rushing yard last Saturday against Western Carolina, now will get the chance to do the same. Saturday’s start will be his first against an SEC opponent and first in a true road game.

“As far as opening up, getting game experience and getting my feet wet, I’d say opening up with my first conference game down at LSU will be pretty tough,” Smith said. “It’s exciting at the same time.”

Jefferson, no doubt, can relate.