LSU Auburn Football

LSU wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. (6) is tacked by Auburn defensive back Smoke Monday (21) after a reception during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Maybe it’s another sign of the pandemic effect on college football.

But I would have expected this latest development to the LSU season to have happened a few weeks ago.

The immediate days after the shocking season-opening loss to Mississippi State would not have been too soon, especially for a defending national champion.

But you can’t have a disappointing season and have to deal with grumbling amongst the fan base without eventually calling for — wait for it — the Players Only Meeting.

No coaches. No trainers. No moderators. Not even any analysts.

Just the tight-knit, fed-up players ready to macho-vent and scream and maybe toss some furniture around the joint like it was a presidential debate or something.

Coaches seem to enjoy the notion, relish the thought that maybe a few different voices will awaken a listless team from its slumber (and, anyway, they’ll likely get a full report from a snitch on the team).

It’s not a cure-all.

These meetings generally produce mixed results. Sometimes they work, sometimes not so much. But, if not foolproof, they are fairly harmless.

At any rate, the LSU Tigers, at 2-3 one of the biggest disappointments nationally of this strange, nutsy season, called and had themselves one Monday.

Apparently the thought of losing to Arkansas this Saturday was the final straw.

Or maybe it was this late in the season because a week ago the Tigers would have had trouble getting an on-site quorum, what with all the quarantines and social distancing from their COVID-19 outbreak.

Wouldn’t have been the same.

The shock value of a good old-fashioned ultimatum probably loses something, mostly its immediacy, when relegated to a group Zoom call.

And although wide receiver Terrace Marshall has easily been the Tigers’ best player amidst the struggles, he was somewhat of a shocker choice as the event’s keynote speaker.

It surprised head coach Ed Orgeron.

Maybe it surprised Marshall.

He’s normally one of those classic lead-by-example guys, keeping to himself and rarely uttering three words when two will suffice.

“I don’t say too much,” Marshall said Tuesday on a virtual video call with reporters, “but whenever I do say something the point maybe could get across.

“I just wanted to try to help motivate the young to the old guys. We still have a mission ahead of us. We have to keep playing.”

Marshall went back into silent mode when pressed for details about what this Marshall Plan might entail.

But there you have it.

We shall see if these were words to turn around an underachieving team or an act of desperation

It’s not quite rock bottom.

There is another, lower step down the ladder, one teams often stumble onto with a season slipping away.

You’ll know LSU is there when the party line turns to the dreaded “Playing for Pride” mantra.

It’s worn-out bluster of the worst and most grasping-for-straws sort and there is scant evidence that the cliché ever turned a lost season around.

But the pride really doesn’t matter much this year anyway.

This is the Pandemic Season, after all, and not only does everybody get a participation trophy, anybody — anybody, whether they win a game or not — can go to a bowl game.

The same prognosticators who are having trouble finding a reliable third victory on LSU’s remaining schedule will put the Tigers in a bowl.

The first (way too early) postseason projection I’ve seen has LSU playing in the Birmingham Bowl, which features very few palm trees on Jan. 1, but is conveniently located a stone’s throw from the SEC office.

This projection would match the Tigers against Tulsa, which should really get their dander up.

But Orgeron did wish to clear up one question mark.

The Tigers, he said, are not throwing in the towel to start playing younger players with an early eye on next year.

There’s plenty enough of them already on the field because they’re the best option after the NFL gutted last year’s champions.

“It works out both ways,” Orgeron said. “But I’m not going to take an older guy out just to play a younger guy just to give him reps. This is about winning the game, giving our guys the best chance to win.”

Rare for LSU, Marshall could be the lone underclassman to leave early for the draft after the season — and at least he’s not bolting in midseason of a frustrating year like many others throughout the country.

LSU should be spared that during this season’s travails.

“They don’t like the results on the field either,” Orgeron said. “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.”

Whatever they’re playing for, it better start Saturday at Arkansas.

Otherwise the Tigers might be just playing for pride.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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