LSU’s best player this season – wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. – has certainly been seen, but not often heard.
In a turbulent year made more uncertain because of the coronavirus pandemic, elite players with Marshall’s talent level have opted out of the remainder of their seasons, in part to get a jump on preparations on the 2021 NFL draft.
Marshall let his teammates know, under no uncertain terms, that he’s still all in on the remainder of the 2020 season which has produced a 2-3 record heading into Saturday’s Southeastern Conference 11 a.m. game at Arkansas (3-4).
Marshall received permission from LSU head coach Ed Orgeron to address the team prior to Monday’s practice, the portion that didn’t have to quarantine following an outbreak the previous week that resulted in the Nov. 14 home game with Alabama being postponed.
“I just wanted to get in front of the team to try and motivate the young guys to the older guys,” Marshall said. “Just remind them we still have a mission ahead of us. That we’ve got to keep playing and keep rolling.”
The gist of Marshall’s message?
LSU has five scheduled games remaining and if the Tigers are to avoid the program’s first losing season since 1999, they’ll have plenty of work ahead them in order to keep the program on the positive side of the win-lost ledger.
However, it also may face the distinct possibility of having to endure the season’s most challenging stretch of games where after Saturday, LSU visits No. 5 Texas A&M on Nov. 28, may host No. 1 Alabama in a rescheduled game Dec. 5 before heading to No. 6 Florida in another reschedule game Dec. 12 in Gainesville.
“Even through all of the hard times this year, through all of this COVID stuff, we’ve got to keep our eyes focused on the prize,” Marshall said. “That’s to finish this season out the best way we could.”
LSU begins that swing Saturday in the ‘Battle For the Golden Boot’ – which weighs 175 pounds – against Arkansas at Reynolds Stadium where the Razorbacks have orchestrated one of the nation’s biggest turnarounds this season under first-year head coach Sam Pittman.
Following back-to-back 2-10 seasons and a stretch of 20 consecutive losses in SEC competition, the Razorbacks feature one of the league’s top offenses (4th in total offense at 388.2 yards per game) behind Florida graduate transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks and an opportunistic defense that ranks first nationally with 13 interceptions.
“He’s a great athlete, he’s one of those guys that’s not scared to pull it down and run and he also has a great arm,” LSU linebacker Jabril Cox said of Franks. “You can see what he did at Florida and he’s brought his game over to Arkansas. He’s a great athlete. He’s got good weapons around him, pretty good running backs and receiver corps.”
Franks ranks fourth in the SEC in passing, having completed 68 percent of his throws (138 of 202) for 1,678 yards and 16 touchdowns against only three interceptions.
Arkansas’ offensive line has allowed 21 sacks, a category LSU’s defense has fared well in this season, ranking 32nd nationally with 14 sacks.
The Razorback have one of the SEC’s top 10 running backs in Trelon Smith (78-441, TD) and wide receivers Treylon Burks (34-508, 5 TDs).
LSU counters with a defense that ranks 111th in total defense (378.6) and has allowed 7.19 yards per play.
“It can be difficult if you’re not aligned properly,” Cox said of Arkansas’ up-tempo offense. “They go fast. They’re one of fastest teams to get on the ball and set in the SEC.”
LSU is expected to give true freshman quarterback TJ Finley his third start after mixed results in a 52-24 home win over South Carolina and a 48-11 loss at Auburn.
Finley was the lone scholarship quarterback available during the team’s practices last week and with fellow true freshman Max Johnson not returning from quarantine until Tuesday, is expected to start against Arkansas.
Finley has completed 30 of 45 passes for 408 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He could benefit, much like he did in the win over South Carolina, from a productive ground game that is next-to-last in the SEC (119.6).
“He’s been TJ Finley, he’s a great quarterback,” LSU left guard Ed Ingram on Finley’s role during the bye week. “He hasn’t skipped a beat. He took on the burden of being the only quarterback at practice and just did his thing. He’s a great guy. In the huddle he tells us to do this, to do that.”
The one constant in LSU’s offense, though, has been Marshall with team highs in receptions (31) yards (540) and touchdowns (9).
He ranks among the nation’s top receivers in six separate categories with a high of being tied for second in touchdowns scored.
“It’s definitely a challenge to stay focused with all of this outside stuff going on with people’s families being in danger,” Marshall said. “Keep your eyes straight and focused on the main thing and that’s to win this season out.”