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by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
A week following the Auburn game, I was told by my best source "someone big from LSU is opting out, maybe two top players". We were stunned but we needed names, we could only proceed with more information...there was only my best source's word on the findings...
This experience has taught me to fully trust those I've been listening to during my time covering LSU....they've never stirred me wrong, least of all this specific character and their continuous pushing about an impending opt out made me wonder who they could be referencing.
As we sit here now, I realize just how good the info has been...this person (upon their request will remain nameless despite my attempts to give them credit) saw this coming while they didn't have names, they knew what was on the other side of the pipeline before anyone....which leads us to:
Last week, rumors came down the wire saying Texas A&M would be #1 LSU receiver Terrace Marshall's last ever opponent wearing purple and gold: Tiger Droppings forum posters revealed the iconic Tigers receiver would "opt out of the last three games (#1 Alabama, top ten Florida and Ole Miss)."
We usually don't move on straight up conjecture unless the rumor has a spine made up of strong sources, a preponderance of evidence with the dots connecting and good ol' fashioned instincts....
Knowing what I knew, I had the spine to run with the rumor: there were mounds of evidence pointing to Marshall's opt out being reality....yet..it didn't seem true.
While in the process of moving out, I still touched base with all my usual contacts and they knew little, only rumblings and stirrings....so we sat on it:
Then, Saturday evening we heard from a close friend of the receiver, one who's as good of a source on Marshall as could be possible (without being in his family) and the word was "he's made up his mind...he's gone."
A quiet, religious young man, Marshall's selflessness and lack of ego made any "public push for his own well-being over LSU's camaraderie" seem fraudulent...
Although I may have been right about his surface qualities, Terrace is a family man at his core....and his decision came from that love for his people....
Some would see Terrace's announcement Monday as yet another indication of Orgeron "losing his grip on his program", yet more proof that LSU is "fractured"...or given the bloodlusting nature of the wanna-be media's overreaction ambition, they may just say this was "the final nail in his coffin."
However, the truth is actually far less alluring from a headline standpoint, but it sure makes LSU look good:
Yes....it's becoming a problem when the Tigers cannot keep their best players past 3 seasons...
But it's also a great thing when your players aren't running to the NFL...the NFL is running to them...
Ed Orgeron has harvested, developed and encouraged the talents of so many different young men at LSU that NFL GMs are currently losing their pants on the way to the phone as they demand these priceless, NFL-ready specimen using any pick, paying any price....especially after these 2019 Tigers.
Under his command in Baton Rouge, Orgeron continues to churn out premium pro-ready talent faster than anyone in college football, with Terrace Marshall's 5 star brilliance becoming a new standard bearer for the next wave of Tiger receivers to emulate (2021's Earle, Hilton, Smith, Bech and potentially Walker High's Brian Thomas...that is if he's down with winning titles).
Still, the thought of Marshall calling curtains the week of the Alabama game while also opting out of playing vs Florida, an opponent he missed last year due to injury, makes me sad...
Alabama and Florida are LSU's two real big rivals above all others....on the flip side, those games would also be the most likely stages for Terrace to pick up a 10-30 million dollar injury.
These opt outs aren't due to Orgeron "losing the locker room"....this wasn't about Orgeron "alienating" players or any other kind of negative recruiting lies Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State or Clemson may try to spin...
The opt-outs occurred due to the pandemic, coupled with Orgeron's own encouragement...nothing more, nothing less.
But make no mistake, as Marshall walks out the door, LSU lose their biggest team leader as well...an untouchable sphinx from 2019 who constantly raised the LSU standard of performance rather than simply maintaining that high level....not all players are built that way.
The week of the Arkansas game, Terrace Marshall led a player's only meeting, the first since Jacoby Stevens' after week 1 vs Miss State.
In that meeting, Marshall lit into his teammates, demanding their energy and their everything, stating "I'm here....I don't have to be, but I want to be...I have unfinished business and so do you. Our only choice is to finish this season strong....finish it right."
Now, many will say "why would he do that and then opt out only two games later?" and I understand the questions, I realize why Tiger fans all over are despondent about their guys "leaving"...or "quitting" as some have alleged.
Though when you dissect exactly what Terrace Marshall accomplished in his 3 seasons at LSU, you could never call him a quitter... and you definitely wouldn't dare say that to his face:
In 2018 he was a bit part player and still caught 12 passes for 192 yards, 2019 he rode through injuries to become Joe Burrow's red zone closer...then, at the outset of 2020, LSU Odyssey believed the sky was the limit for the Bossier City native.
We knew he'd be even more dangerous as the #2 guy alongside Ja'Marr Chase, expecting touchdowns and big plays galore from the red zone assassin.
In August, Chase opted out and Marshall became the undisputed, unquestioned #1 receiver for Ensminger's offense: the perfect trial for NFL scouts.
We've all seen Marshall working perfectly as the complimentary wideout, the speedy high octane towerhouse who takes the safety off the top for Chase or Jefferson, the willing / violent blocker on the edges....yet in 2020, we witnessed Terrace transcend his previous abilities and grow into an unstoppable offensive force...even while everyone and their dog knew the ball was coming #6's way.
Over the course of his heroic 7 games, Terrace Marshall put up the best tape any receiver could produce during this pandemic-shortened / disrupted season...we'll compare:
Throughout 2019's 12 games, Marshall had 671 yards from 46 catches and 13 TDs, all in the red zone while playing alongside the two greatest LSU receivers and Joe Burrow...
During a mere 7 games amidst 2020's hellish season, Marshall caught 48 passes for 731 yards, scoring 10 TDs from the passes of 3 different quarterbacks (two being freshmen);
He caught 4 multi-touchdown games (the first four consecutive contests on the schedule), half of his TDs' came from 50/50 balls inside the red zone (aka "Terrace's Easy MacDaddy 100s") , the others showed off his disgusting versatility (his one left handed grab on the bomb vs Missouri, his speed after the catch through the middle vs Missouri, Vanderbilt and South Carolina) catching 10 passes for 154 yards and a TD with unpredictably alternating freshmen quarterbacks against the SEC's #1 defense....and when he knew his stock wasn't rising any higher, he walked away as one of the greatest receivers to ever catch a pass for Louisiana State University.... certified as a pure class act, a great teammate and an LSU legend.
As far as touchdowns, his record may be unmatched, even by Ja'Marr Chase or Justin Jefferson when you look at the finer details:
Within his 3 seasons on roster he made 28 appearances with 19 starts: playing 9 games in 2018 as a rarely used backup, 12 across 2019's title winning escapade as a starter and 7 throughout 2020's voyage into the abyss as LSU's best player thus far).
During that time, Marshall produced 9 touchdowns vs 7 ranked opponents (Chase caught 7 TDs in 11 appearances vs ranked teams, Jefferson had 12 vs 15 top 25 units), he was on pace to beat both Chase and Jefferson's TD marks had he played his final 3 games and would've had a big chance to overtake Dwayne Bowe's 26 TDs for the WR record at LSU....although in reality, Marshall Jr could give a damn about records.
Terrace leaves tied at 23 with Ja'Marr Chase, the pair only just behind Justin Jefferson's 24.
Marshall Jr's legacy in the eyes of Tiger fans will be intriguing as he plays in the NFL:
Here was a guy who didn't need 10+ targets a game to do his damage, this was a receiver who scored a touchdown on every 3rd catch during 2019 and in 2020 behind three different quarterbacks, an inconsistent offensive line and EVERY defender fully aware he was getting the ball, Marshall averaged a touchdown every 4.8 catches in 2020... a fact which should see his stock skyrocket for the 2021 NFL Draft.
We back him 150% and we believe he'll be drafted in the top 20 picks of the 1st Round, maybe by my Washington McWashintonsnyders OR....considering the Bengals' high 1st Round picks, will Joe Burrow have a hard time picking between Ja'Marr or Terrace next spring??? ....
The future for Terrace is exciting, but the program he leaves behind (at its most vulnerable) remains in a disillusioned state, at or closely approaching rock bottom....with #1 Alabama sieging like raging orcs on Saruman's orders to destroy us.
After losing twice against bitter rivals, scoring only once in both games, these defeats were mostly due to one unexpected departure after another....it's true...after spending all off-season working on their game-plans, schemes which were formulated around guys like Chase, Vincent, Shelvin and Marshall, LSU's coaching staff were forced to continuously throw out their entire repertoire and start from scratch...and then after a week, do it again after their plan B left.
Yes they should have done better rolling with the punches...but each blow absorbed was equal to a knockout in regards to scheme, options and less focused on and yet most important, team morale.
Following the most tumultuous summer and regular season in college football history for any single school, one distraction after another, blindside news (egged on by the same frenzied media circus which had crowned LSU only months before) coming from every corner....add on top of it all, the pressure of being reigning National Champions, how could we expect LSU's players or coaching staff to be capable of anything more than a compromised, jumbled mess when it came time for execution on the field?
It's why the defensive / offensive lines have either been scorching hot or terribly cold game to game, losing key cogs such as Tyler Shelvin and four of last year's five OL starters was never going to be an easy fix: add losing Dare Rosenthal for a game or two or Ed Ingram vs Missouri and you have a recipe for disaster.
It was only because Terrace Marshall gave LSU seven more games that Mickey Joseph's WR corps didn't fall into the same trap.
It's not like every team must be invincible and can survive the consistent bludgeoning absences of great players, coaches, some even during or right (even the night) before the first game... if Alabama lost Mac Jones to a season ending injury, while backup QB Bryce Young played recklessly leading to a 48-11 desecration by Auburn, then Patrick Surtain, DeVonta Smith, as well as their starting left tackle and guard plus around 7 other players all left, Saban would be conducting a howling seance with Ted Koppel, Lance Armstrong and "personal envoy" Rudy Giuliani in the dark of night, drinking the blood of Gary Busey....taking steroid shots made up of the chromosomes of General Patton... anything to free himself from moral attachment through scorched earth Darwinism.
Here we are...Coach O taking so many punches he's more bruised than Rocky Balboa....although just like Rocky, he's still standing.
It's sad what 2020 has done to LSU: losing Clyde, Chase, Jefferson, Marshall, Moss, Chaisson, Vincent, Shelvin, Joe Brady, Cushenberry, Damien Lewis, Munoz...an exodus of biblical proportions...
Such is the price of excellence....such is the cost of winning...
Look at history though...true champions have a way of reinventing the wheel...flipping the script...Coach O did that at USC when he recruited Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart...he went one further as head coach when he assembled the 2019 G.O.A.T unit behind his recruitment of Heisman-Winning #1 overall pick Joe Burrow..
I know he's going to do it again.
BLACK LIVES MATTER
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2020 Uninterrupted Writings Inc LLC
SHOUTOUTS: Chelsea, you are amazing my love. This move would've been impossible without you. Soon my love...