NEW ORLEANS — Boos rained down from a corner of the Superdome dominated by purple-and-gold clad fans as LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson trotted onto the field for a crucial third-quarter drive.
One more victory in the final game of his career could have made Jefferson the toast of Baton Rouge and completed a stirring story of personal vindication after an early season defined by trouble with the law and a four-game suspension.
Instead, his most memorable play was an unfathomable interception in a 21-0 loss to Alabama (12-1) in Monday night's BCS title game, marking the first time LSU (13-1) had been held scoreless since the Tide did it to them in 2002.
"It feels like a nightmare, but it's a learning experience," Jefferson said. "I'm facing reality. LSU finished second today. We all have to take the situation and learn from it, but still in all we still had a great season. I had a pretty good career at LSU. This last game really was something we wanted to win but we fell short.
"Everybody on this team is going to learn from it and I'm quite sure LSU will get back to the national championship once again."
There will be a lot to learn for the teammates Jefferson leaves behind.
LSU's offense was even more inept than it had been in 9-6 overtime victory in Tuscaloosa. Every first down — all five of them — seemed like an epic struggle. Series after series ended with Jefferson taking a frustrated walk to the sidelined while punter Brad Wing trotted past in the other direction to send the ball back to the Crimson Tide.
LSU was outgained 384-92. The Tigers' running game, which consists in part of Jefferson's option runs, managed a meager 39 yards.
The quarterback had to try to beat Bama with his arm, but struggled to find open receivers down field.
"I was seeing everything clearly. Making decisions wasn't an issue," Jefferson said. "We just didn't get it done on offense. Some defenses have your number and Alabama had our number."
Jefferson finished 11 of 17 for 53 yards and one interception that could have been far more costly than it was. Yet the play seemed to symbolize Jefferson's night.
Unable to find a receiver, he began to scramble, then changed his mind, flipping the ball forward toward Spencer Ware just as the running back had turned to block. There might have been room to run if Jefferson had kept the ball tucked away and followed Ware. Instead, the ball floated right over the head of the unsuspecting Ware and into the waiting arms of linebacker C.J. Mosley. Jefferson immediately made the tackle, which left Mosley injured and also gave the Tide the ball on the LSU 27-yard line.
Only a missed field goal try prevented even more damage. But that only allowed LSU to maintain a slim chance of a comeback — which was gone once Jefferson was sacked and fumbled on a critical fourth-and-long with a little over 6 minutes left and the Tide leading 15-0.
"It's hard making those plays when you don't have the protection up front," receiver Rueben Randle said. "They brought a lot of blitzes. We didn't pick it up and make the reads we needed to make. When we do that, our offense really can't get rolling. ... I don't think it would have mattered who was back there."
After that play, while the crimson colored sections of the stands went wild, the fans who had booed Jefferson quietly began to file out and many more were following after Trent Richardson's 34-yard touchdown run a few plays later.
Jefferson was suspended because of his alleged involvement in a bar fight in late August. He was initially arrested on a charge of second-degree battery and suspended a little more than a week before the season was set to begin.
He was reinstated when a grand jury reduced the charge to a misdemeanor, but did not start until the 10th game of the season.
He continued to struggle intermittently, but with LSU winning the Southeastern Conference title behind a dominant defense and running game, Jefferson was never forced to beat anyone throwing.
When LSU was 13-0 and ranked No. 1, Jefferson's 684 yards passing and six touchdowns looked more like the product of efficient and fittingly conservative quarterback play on a team that did not really need to throw much to win.
But when LSU's running game got bogged down in the biggest test of the season, there was no answer in the passing game.1 comment on this story
"He's been through a lot," Randle said. "You've got to give it to him. He kept pushing. He came back off the suspension and led us to the national championship (game). We just weren't quite as good as we needed to be to win this game."
Jefferson finished his career 24-8 as a starter, seven wins short of Tommy Hodson's LSU-high 31.
He had said just days earlier that if the Tigers beat Alabama on Monday, that his team would have to be considered the greatest ever fielded by LSU.
Instead, the Tigers' pursuit of perfection ended in a shutout.