LSU's troubled offense has lost its best player and top scorer.
Star wide receiver Terrace Marshall announced Sunday afternoon that he has decided to opt out the rest of the season, a decision made a day after LSU's offense was nearly shut out in a 20-7 loss at Texas A&M.
The NCAA ruled that any player could opt out of the season because of the coronavirus pandemic, and Marshall's decision signals the end of his career in Baton Rouge. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior said he will enter the NFL draft, where he is predicted to be selected in the early rounds.
Marshall will be in the same draft class as former teammate Ja'Marr Chase, LSU's 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner, who opted out before the season began.
"Since a kid, to play in the NFL and to retire my parents has been my #1 mission," Marshall announced on Twitter. "After careful consideration but with faith, I have decided to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft."
Marshall's departure, on the surface, is a surprising development, news that came less than two weeks after he gave a speech in a players-only meeting to bring the team together before its 27-24 win at Arkansas.
However, it's a decision that's been brewing for about a week, multiple sources told The Advocate, and it appeared Texas A&M would be Marshall's final game. Even Friday's news that the Alabama game had been rescheduled didn't deter his ultimate decision.
Before the Arkansas game, Orgeron used Marshall as an example in a weekly news conference as a player with high NFL draft stock who was in a position to help right the ship in a rocky season.
"They want to win," Orgeron said before the Arkansas game. "They want to go out and win, and they represent the purple and gold. And they don't like the results on the field either. But you know what? A lot of them got a lot of things to prove on the field to go into the NFL, and put it on tape."
LSU's offense was spotty against Arkansas and Texas A&M, but Marshall was at the center of the team's limited success. He led the team in receptions in both games and totaled 17 catches for 191 yards and a touchdown.
Marshall had earned respect with his work ethic in the offseason, and, upon his opting out, he was LSU's leading receiver with 48 catches, 731 yards and 10 touchdown receptions.
"I just wanted to play a part of my leadership role on the team," Marshall said of his speech before the Arkansas game. "I just feel like with me, I don't say too much. I feel like whenever I do say something, my point can get across. I just wanted to get in front of the team and try and motivate all the young guys to the old guys and just remind them that we still got a mission ahead of us and we've got to keep playing and keep rolling."
Marshall, a former five-star recruit from Parkway High, finished his career with 106 catches, 1,594 yards and 23 touchdowns. The touchdown total ties Marshall with Chase for fourth all-time in LSU history.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Marshall and Chase were expected to headline a potent LSU passing attack in the program's title defense this season. When Chase opted out in August, the brunt of the offensive firepower was focused on Marshall.
At first, there was plenty of chemistry between Marshall and starting quarterback Myles Brennan. In the three games before Brennan was lost for the season with an abdominal injury, Marshall caught 21 passes for 424 yards and seven touchdowns.
Even in true freshman TJ Finley's first start in place of Brennan, he completed six passes to Marshall for 88 yards and two touchdowns in a 52-24 win over South Carolina.
But as LSU entered the toughest portion of its schedule, the offensive struggles began, and Marshall's last-minute touchdown catch against Texas A&M ended what would have been a three-game scoring drought for him.
Now, LSU will likely have to face top-ranked Alabama without any of the starting receivers the program expected to have this season. No Chase. No Marshall. No Racey McMath, who was injured against Arkansas and sat out against Texas A&M.
LSU most often lines up with three receivers, plus tight end Arik Gilbert. It's likely LSU's three-man starting rotation will now include Jaray Jenkins, Kayshon Boutte and Jontre Kirklin. Each player has started at least two games this season.
Jenkins has started in four straight games, and he's LSU's third-leading receiver with 18 catches, 321 yards and a touchdown. Boutte, a true freshman, started in place of McMath against Texas A&M and has 18 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown. Kirklin had a breakout performance against Vanderbilt, and, since then, he's had more of a reserve role and has 10 catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns this season.
When Orgeron was asked last week how he expected to fill his lineup without McMath, he said: "We have a lot of choices."
The choices are becoming even more limited without Marshall, and, as the end of the season draws closer, it's unknown yet just how many other players will follow Marshall's decision.
Orgeron is now facing the challenge of holding onto the team's upperclassmen in a season in which LSU has long been out of the SEC championship hunt. Now, it will take wins over No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Florida to prevent LSU's first losing season since 1999.
There are no win total requirements for bowl games this season, but bowl game availabilities continue to shrink as bowls announce cancellations because of coronavirus concerns.
Even the promise of a bowl game hasn't kept NFL prospects interested in sticking around. Texas starting left tackle Sam Cosmi, a projected top linemen in the NFL draft, also announced Sunday that he will sit out the remainder of the season.
LSU's roster has been hit as hard as any team by opt-outs, losing starters Chase and nickel safety Kary Vincent and defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin before the season began. Now, with Marshall's departure, the question remains who might be next.