Two weeks ago, before LSU's game against Arkansas, Terrace Marshall called a player's only meeting. The crux of Marshall's message to the team was sticking together and finishing the season on a positive note despite the 2-3 start to the season.
It was positively received by all players and LSU followed up with a win to get back to .500 on the season but fell the very next week to No. 5 Texas A&M despite the best performance of the season from the LSU defense. The loss was enough for Marshall to finally come to the conclusion that it was time for him to move on and focus on preparing for the 2021 NFL draft.
While the news was surprising because of the timing, it's also understandable because of what LSU isn't playing for and what Marshall, a player with a history of injuries, could potentially be risking by playing out the rest of the 2020 schedule. But that message that Marshall relayed to the team weeks ago now seems stale and coach Ed Orgeron said it's something the team and players will address this week.
"Obviously he had a change of heart. I thought when he said it, he meant it. The team believed him. Obviously he had a change of heart," Orgeron said. "You never can tell what goes on with guys when they talk with their families, people they need to talk to, and they make personal decisions. I think this was a strictly business decision for Terrace. I can't speak for him. Let him speak for it. Again, we support him. He's been a great LSU Tiger for us."
Dealing with a mid-season opt out is something new for the Tigers after seeing a number of prominent returners like Ja'Marr Chase and Tyler Shelvin elect to opt out weeks before the 2020 season started. It's a reality of living in a world dictated by uncertainty, which is why the NCAA adopted a rule that would allow players to opt out in the middle of the season.
"This is a year we've had to deal with a lot of stuff. You just got to be ready to go, stay positive with the football team," Orgeron said. "I think the team is going to look at it and say, Okay, Terrace is gone, next man up, we're fighting. I think the thing you saw against Texas A&M was fight in this football team, the will to win and compete. Our guys have that. I'm proud of them for that. "
It's not the most optimal situation to be dealing with No. 1 Alabama coming to town this week and also raises the question, will more LSU veterans follow Marshall and elect to opt out of the rest of 2020? Orgeron said as of Monday he hadn't heard of any other players considering to go the opt out route and that obviously could be subject to change.
The only thing Orgeron and the players can do is take it day by day but there are a few players who could theoretically elect to cut their season short. On the offensive side, guard Ed Ingram makes the most sense while on the defensive side of the ball, safety JaCoby Stevens, linebacker Jabril Cox and defensive tackle Glen Logan could all be draft eligible prospects.
With these types of decisions always looming, it comes down to building a culture, Orgeron says, a culture that makes players want to stick around. His goal has remained consistent, building a championship roster and that starts with better leadership.
He does believe there's a strong foundation that's been established in Baton Rouge but it'll be as important an offseason as he's faced in terms of the decisions and restructuring of the program he'll have to make.
"I think that we have some things to work on, we have some leadership things to work on. I have some things to work on to get better," Orgeron said. "Overall I think we built a great culture inside the building. This year has been a challenge obviously with COVID-19, other stuff going on, has kind of put a little spin on everything. You don't know when the next guy is going to opt out, who has opted out. I think overall we built a good culture here and we have a good, young foundation."