LSU entered National Signing Day with a plan and was determined to stick to it.
That plan, as LSU coach Ed Orgeron laid it out Wednesday afternoon, was to extend scholarships to four players to fill four open spots: cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr., safety Kelvin Joseph, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and quarterback James Foster.
There was only one contingency plan, according to the coach: cornerback Mario Goodrich, who LSU would target in the event Surtain spurned the Tigers in favor of Alabama. He said that was the only way LSU would consider signing someone other than the four aforementioned targets.
That, in essence, is the story of how LSU found itself only landing two signatures on National Signing Day and why the Tigers will only sign 23 — two below the NCAA-allotted 25 — players in the class of 2018.
“First of all, we had a draft and put the four guys up we were going to give scholarships to,” Orgeron explained. “We had several guys that wanted to commit. I didn’t have a scholarship for them. I wasn’t going to tell them I could take their commitment. I wasn’t going to lie to them. Now, some people may do that and feel good about it. I wasn’t going to do that.”
The unforeseen complication was an 11 p.m. phone call Tuesday informing Orgeron that Surtain was Bama bound. He instantly pivoted to Goodrich, but the Missouri product had already made his own pivot and decided to take his talents to Clemson.
Beyond that the day went about as LSU expected it would, Orgeron said. The Tigers landed Chase and Joseph, two top in-state targets, but lost out on Foster to Texas A&M. It was Foster or bust as far as signing a quarterback, even with only three scholarship signal callers on the roster.
“Obviously, we were going after Foster,” Orgeron said. “We didn’t have another guy we wanted, but we also know there’s some graduate transfers out there. We feel like we have three outstanding quarterbacks on our team. Obviously, if something happens to one, we’ll be very thin. That was the concern. We feel like in the Year 2019, we’re on a lot of great quarterbacks and are ahead in that recruiting.”
No one else held a committable offer to LSU, Orgeron said, and if the four vacant spots weren’t filled by a combination of those five players, they’d be left open for either transfers down the road or rolled over as LSU looks to harvest a supposedly loaded crop of in-state talent in 2019.
“That was the plan,” Orgeron said. “We knew we wanted to save (the scholarships), and that’s the reason why we didn’t sign 25. That’s the plan, and that has always been the plan.”
The coach pointed to the scholarships used last year to add three transfers in defensive lineman Breiden Fehoko, receiver Jonathan Giles and tight end Thad Moss. Orgeron said Fehoko and Giles are projected to start next season. LSU could also be in the graduate transfer market for either a quarterback or cornerback.
Signing Chase, a five-star prospect out of Archbishop Rummel, was undoubtedly the highlight of what was a down-and-up signing day in Baton Rouge.
Chase and fellow five-star pass catcher Terrace Marshall, who is already on campus, are the twin pillars of a four-receiver haul that stands up as one the definite strengths of LSU’s 2018 class as a whole. LSU also signed Jeray Jenkins and Kenan Jones, two more Louisiana receivers, during the Early Signing Period.
“(Chase) and Terrace Marshall remind me of Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham when we signed them back in the day,” Orgeron said. “I wasn’t here, but I remember when we signed them. We expect that tandem to be great.”
He’s not the only one who came away impressed.
Steve Wiltfong, the National Director of Recruiting for 247Sports, wrote in his National Signing Day Superlatives column that LSU came away with the best crop of receivers in the country for the 2018 cycle.
“It’s a tough competition this year for best receiver class,” Wiltfong wrote. “It’s hard not to love what USC is bringing in in Amon-Ra St. Brown and Devon Williams, or what Clemson’s got going for it with Derion Kendrick and Justyn Ross. I think Chase is one of the safest bets in the 2018 class, while Marshall is a prototype and we shouldn’t sleep on Kenan Jones who could be big-time as well.”
“I TRUST MY RANKINGS”
LSU’s 2018 class finished outside the top 10 in the rankings according to every major recruiting service, ending a five-year run of elite finishes.
The 23-man class graded out at No. 15 according to 247Sports, No. 13 according to Rivals and No. 14 according to ESPN. Marshall and Chase are considered the only five-star signees of the bunch. Those are the lowest rankings for an LSU class since 2005.
Of course recruiting rankings aren’t everything, and when asked directly about the perceived dip, Orgeron acknowledged that missing out of Surtain, Goodrich and Foster hurt, but pushed back on the idea that the class as a whole was disappointing.
“Let’s see what happens with this class,” the coach said. “We have some defensive linemen and offensive linemen that are very good. I trust my rankings, and I chose this class. So I trust my ability to evaluate and develop better than anybody else. So I’m not going to trust anybody else’s evaluation.”
He continued: “Now we could have had a higher class. I understand that. We missed on some so-called guys, but to get two of the best receivers in the country, that’s something we wanted to do. Getting five defensive tackles; signing eight of the top-10 guys in Louisiana, we’re proud of it.”
TENTH ASSISTANT COMING “SOON”
The period between National Signing Day and the start of spring football tends to be the last gasp of the coaching change calendar. Last season LSU sent running backs coach Jabbar Juluke and receivers coach Dameyune Craig packing soon after the first Wednesday in February.
Orgeron didn’t hint at any imminent staffing changes when asked Wednesday, but the coach did say LSU would be adding a 10th assistant coach sometime in the near future. The NCAA approved the addition of a 10th full-time assistant back in January.
“We’re going to add the 10th coach, add a guy that fits our staff the best,” Orgeron said. “We have some ideas in mind. It should be happening soon.”
It’s already been a busy offseason in terms of staff changes. LSU parted ways with Matt Canada and promoted Steve Ensminger to replace him as offensive coordinator. LSU has also hired Jerry Sullivan as a senior offensive assistant, James Cregg as offensive line coach and Greg McMahon as special teams coordinator.