Welcome to SEC Country’s weekly mailbag, a question-and-answer forum between readers and LSU team and recruiting reporter Sam Spiegelman. In this edition, we touch on the two quarterbacks LSU is eyeing for its 2018 recruiting class, whether the nation’s top cornerback is lock to land in Baton Rouge, and recruits’ early reaction to the Tigers’ 2-0 start.
Who's more liable to have a breakout season? Drake Davis? Russell Gage? Or Stephen Sullivan?
— Ryan Micklin (@RyanMicklin61) September 12, 2017
We’ve seen two games to draw conclusions from this season. In the opener against BYU, LSU relied heavily on its starters — D.J. Chark, Russell Gage and Derrick Dillon, with a heavy dose of sophomore Drake Davis. Last weekend against Chattanooga, David was the recipient of Danny Etling’s first touchdown pass and Stephen Sullivan got involved with an exceptional grab of a 50-50 ball downfield.
Through two contests, Gage is the Tigers’ second-leading receiver with 5 receptions for 56 yards. Davis, who has seen a good deal of action, has only a 36-yard touchdown reception thus far. Sullivan also has been held to 1catch.
While Gage is the starter and is the leader of the three from a statistics standpoint, I maintain that Davis is in line to have the biggest breakout campaign. Remember that Davis got the nod opposite Chark in the opener against BYU. Unlike Gage, Davis is a true outside receiver. His biggest challenge has been consistency, which he seemingly has attacked head-on to see so many snaps early this season.
Gage will continue to see a good deal of action as one of LSU’s slot receivers. He also is involved in the jet sweep attack, carrying the ball six times through two games. There’s a reason why Matt Canada wants Gage on the field, and the LSU coaches are trying to find ways to involve him in the offense.
Still, I prefer Davis’ upside compared to Gage — an all-purpose offensive threat — and Sullivan, who is a big-play receiver and ideal red-zone target. Davis can do a little bit of everything as LSU’s best option as a No. 2 wide receiver. We saw a glimpse of it when he beat a Chattanooga defensive back for the 36-yard touchdown last Saturday night.
Davis ultimately is the Tigers’ most athlete receiver and arguably the best athlete on the roster. He will continue to see targets in the passing game as Canada opens up the playbook and finds ways to get No. 14 involved. He was the talk inside of LSU’s building throughout the offseason. Now it’s a matter of seizing his opportunities when they present themselves this fall.
How did the official visit go with justin fields etc?
— Jacob (@jacoblsufan) September 12, 2017
Well, it didn’t yield a commitment, but Justin Fields‘ first visit to Baton Rouge went about as well as it could have.
The nation’s No. 1-ranked quarterback made the official visit to LSU as a result of an increased push from the coaching staff in recent weeks. Canada’s relationship with Fields dates back to his time as Pitt’s offensive coordinator. That bond has translated to put LSU in a strong position to get involved with Fields this fall.
Fields made the flight from Atlanta to LSU with his parents. He was the team’s lone official visitor of the weekend, spending Friday night with recent Texas Tech transfer Jonathan Giles, who chose LSU because of Canada’s offense and what is on its way to town over the next few months.
Fields and his family got a taste of game day in the Bayou, taking in the Tiger Walk and meeting with coach Ed Orgeron at midfield, the treatment that all of LSU’s top targets and commits have received since Coach O was named interim coach last year.
Fields watched LSU open up the playbook and dial up the offense alongside several of the team’s top targets and commits, including 4-star wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, top wide receiver commit Kenan Jones and tight end commit Zach Sheffer. Blue-chip commits such as Kelvin Joseph also were on hand.
It’s no coincidence that LSU’s offense — which produced 45 points and 454 yards of total offense on Saturday — looked the part with Fields on hand. More specifically, Canada’s offense yielded 232 passing yards and showcased Etling more than it did in the opener.
Fields was sold on the opportunities available to him in Baton Rouge compared to his leaders UGA and Florida State. Jake Fromm and James Blackman have taken over at quarterback at those schools in place of the injured Jacob Easton and Deondre Francois, respectively. That’s a major factor for Fields when examining the depth chart.
Fields’ camp is now considering LSU in its top group along with UGA, Florida State and Auburn. He’ll keep close tabs on what transpires on offense the rest of the season and will continue to take his official visits. LSU has put itself in a strong position with the 5-star quarterback and should quietly be considered among the favorite landing spots. The question is whether the opportunities available in Baton Rouge can push the Tigers past the in-state Bulldogs and ‘Noles.
What makes you think Rogers will flip from TCU to LSU?
— Chris (@doctor_4ster) September 13, 2017
Sticking with the quarterback theme, earlier this week I put in a Crystal Ball pick for Justin Rogers to flip to LSU. Since the beginning of Rogers’ recruitment, I have felt that he would wind up there. Of course, we had to modify that belief when he named TCU as his leading school, but after an in-depth interview with the 4-star quarterback ahead of his surgery on Monday, I believe that the LSU coaching staff is doing everything in its power to keep Rogers in the state — and he’s very, very open to listening.
Here are some factors in my Crystal Ball pick:
- LSU has always zeroed in on Rogers as its top quarterback option in the Class 0f 2018.
- The need for a quarterback multiplied after Lindsey Scott Jr. elected to transfer. We are still uncertain what the future holds for Justin McMillan, who has yet to suit up for the team the past two games.
- Once Rogers sustained the knee injury, Orgeron and Steve Ensminger were both on the phone with the quarterback’s parents. In the days leading up to his surgery, they reached out regularly. They have maintained consistent communication with Rogers dating back to the summer after his decision to verbally commit to TCU.
- Rogers maintains that his recruitment is not shut down. He will take all five of his allotted official visits, including one to LSU. Expect him to either stick with TCU after that official visit or decide to flip soon after.
- If LSU can reel in his best friend and teammate Terrace Marshall Jr., it would bode well for the chances of also landing Rogers. The two aspire to play together at the next level, but Marshall, a 5-star wide receiver, is no longer considering TCU. LSU is the lone school the two have in common.
The injury certainly put a damper on what would be a special senior season for Rogers, but it also opened the door a little further for LSU. He has always maintained an open line of communication with Orgeron, Canada and Ensminger, and they have dialed up their efforts with a major need to add a quarterback in their 2018 recruiting class.
Rogers is firm in his commitment to the Horned Frogs, for now, so do not expect a decision to be made anytime soon. This is a long-term scenario. I believe given LSU’s need at the position, the opportunities available on the depth chart, the new-look offense and the renewed push in light of Rogers’ knee injury, that he eventually winds up in the Tigers’ class.
Is Surtain a lock for this class?
— Bob (@lsuboi91) September 13, 2017
This is recruiting. There is no such thing as a lock.
Patrick Surtain Jr. is LSU’s top defensive priority in the Class of 2018 and there is an easy case to be made that the 5-star cornerback is the coaching staff’s most-coveted target overall. It feels like we’ve been discussing the prodigal defensive back from South Florida for three years, but now we’re finally diving into the final stretch of his very quietly kept recruitment.
In an SEC Country interview with Surtain at The Opening Finals in Oregon in 2016, Surtain named LSU as his leading school. He was a rising junior prospect at the time, but still the top-ranked cornerback in the 2018 class. Why did he name LSU? Corey Raymond’s push and the experience he had in Oregon with then-current Tigers players such as Jamal Adams and Leonard Fournette.
Surtain has never strayed away from that. He has maintained for 14 months that LSU is his top school. Once, I asked him — if that were the case — why hasn’t he committed already?
As expected, Surtain provided an education response. He may have a leader, but he remains interested in a handful of schools. They include Ohio State, Clemson, Alabama and Florida State, which has remained in the mix as long as the Tigers.
Surtain will officially visit all of those schools over the next few months and make a decision between now and National Signing Day in February. I fully expect the 5-star cornerback to be the centerpiece of LSU’s 2018 recruiting class as a 6-foot-2, 190-pound freshman ready to step into a starting role next September. Credit Raymond for taking the right approach and Orgeron for doing his part since he was named LSU’s coach.
I believe Surtain could commit to LSU after his official visit, but there are outside forces that could compel the U.S. Army All-American to wait until February to make it official. Surtain-to-LSU is one of the bets I’m willing to make in this 2018 class.
Is LSU making a mistake by not starting the more talented QB in Brennan?
— Harold Woods (@Klutch6ene13) September 13, 2017
I don’t believe so, Harold.
The record speaks for itself. LSU is 2-0 under Etling and Myles Brennan looks like a freshman when he gets in the game. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.
Etling is the most experienced quarterback on the roster and has the best grasp of Canada’s playbook. Remember that Brennan has only been on campus in Baton Rouge since July 30, so even though he has been studying up on the plays, it’s a completely different experience having to execute them at game speed.
Brennan — or maybe Lowell Narcisse — is the most talented option under center, but Etling is the right man to be starting for LSU. While Brennan’s skill set was among the reasons he pushed Etling during fall camp and has now claimed the No. 2 job, it is no reason to sit a fifth-year senior. If you’re Orgeron and Canada and hoping to win big in your first full season at LSU, then you pick experience ahead of pure talent. In that case, Etling is the right choice.
I havent heard any feedback from any of the recruits that were at the home opener Sat. Any good quotes or info, or is it too early ? Thanks
— Loyal2LSU (@Loyal2_LSU) September 13, 2017
Well, this is a reminder that I will have to post more recaps after the games to see what the recruits think each Saturday. I’ll look to get back into my own mid-season form when LSU returns home to face Syracuse and Troy later this month.
While I don’t have quotes to give you, I can go over some of the common responses that I have received over the past two weeks.
- Playing 20 freshmen is catching everyone’s eyes. For one, it’s the highest mark in the nation. Offensive and defensive recruits alike are intrigued by this and it’s matching what Orgeron and the assistant coaches told prospects on the recruiting trail. Expect this to go a long way in the Class of 2018.
- The previous point pertains to offensive linemen Saahdiq Charles and Edward Ingram, and even players such as Brennan and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who have seen some action the first two weeks. It really speaks to the defensive starters such as K’Lavon Chaisson, Grant Delpit and Kary Vincent Jr., who are all starting at crucial spots that LSU is eyeing for reinforcements in 2018 and 2019.
- While a lot of eyes are on the passing game, the offensive balance is proving to be a noteworthy theme. Remember, LSU is still pushing for blue-chip running backs in the 2018 and 2019 classes, such as Harold Joiner, John Emery Jr. and Noah Cain. They can’t stray from their bread and butter on the ground to try and entice only quarterbacks and wide receivers. The balanced attack is captivating both.
- Speaking of quarterbacks and receivers, they have been amused by the new wrinkles in the LSU passing game. The amount of successful pass plays, the pre-snap motion and shifts are a huge plus for LSU thus far. Based on meetings with prospects and those who have seen glimpses of Canada’s offense, they are still waiting to see more of it. I believe LSU will need to continue what it is doing, but open some more downfield shots and unleash the two-minute attack. The Tigers didn’t have their hand forced against BYU or Chattanooga. Much of that will come when SEC play gets underway this weekend at Mississippi State.
- LSU’s No. 5-ranked total defense and No. 6-ranked scoring defense is naturally enticing to the defensive targets who remain on the board. The biggest needs are along the defensive line, edge rusher and defensive back, where freshmen are contributing and the results are speaking for themselves. The 1-2 punch of Donte Jackson and Greedy Williams has the attention of a lot of cornerbacks, while Delpit and Vincent’s play is intriguing for freshmen who believe they can make an impact right away in Baton Rouge. Chaisson’s early-season role playing in place of Arden Key has edge rushers’ attention, and that should only continue as Key returns to lineup against State and the two are rushing the passer together the remainder of the season.
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