GamecockCentral - LSU QB T.J. Finley to start vs. South Carolina, coach Ed Orgeron confirms
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LSU QB T.J. Finley to start vs. South Carolina, coach Ed Orgeron confirms

T.J. Finley will become the first LSU freshman quarterback to start a game in nearly six years.

Coach Ed Orgeron confirmed Thursday after practice that the Ponchatoula product would take the first snaps Saturday against South Carolina.

"It was a very close battle, but at the end we felt that T.J. nudged Max (Johnson) just a little," he said. "I wish I could start two. But T.J.'s gonna be the starter there, and we're gonna give him time to get his work done.

"I told Max I wanna play him. But it all depends on the flow of the game. But right now T.J. is gonna start, and Max is gonna go in the game when available and hopefully they can play the same amount of reps. I don't know if that's gonna happen. It all depends on the flow of the game."

Orgeron reiterated at multiple points that the Tigers still plan to play both freshmen.

Finley narrowly edged Johnson, the son of former NFL quarterback Brad Johnson, the coach said, and the staff would like to see what each player can do in live action against an opponent.

"It could've been the flip of a coin, honestly," Orgeron said. "That's how close it was. And T.J. may have had one or two more plays in third down than Max did — that's all that was. I just wanna give 'em both a chance. But it all depends on the flow of the game.

"Shoot, you might get in the game and T.J. gets hot. I'm not gonna take him out. And we're not gonna be impatient with him either. But I do wanna play both. I wanna see what both of 'em can do."

The duo steps in for fourth-year junior Myles Brennan, who continues to recover from a lingering injury suffered Oct. 10 at Missouri.

LSU initially hoped the fourth-year junior would be ready for a potential Oct. 17 date with Florida before that game was postponed due to the Gators' outbreak of COVID-19.

Now, even Brennan's status next week at Auburn remains uncertain.

"He threw the ball a little bit yesterday," Orgeron said. "He was out yesterday. Wasn't full-speed throwing it. He's gonna dress out for the game. I don't think he's gonna play. And we've just gotta wait and see next week. This is a wait-and-see thing. The first week I thought he was gonna be ready on Monday, and he wasn't. So we've become patient."

Brennan has completed 79 of 131 pass attempts (60.3 percent) for 1,112 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interception through three games as the Tigers' only passer thus far.

Finley will now become the program's first freshman starter since Brandon Harris in 2014 at Auburn.

"The offensive line's gonna have to block for (Finley)," Orgeron said. "Everybody's gotta pick up their game. But, you know, we're getting some rush in practice. There's gonna be some times I'm sure he's gonna get sack. I'm sure he's gonna get hit. I think he's prepared. He's a big kid. He's 6-6. He steps up in the pocket well. He can run. We ran him today a little bit, ran him around the edge. I think he's gonna do fine."

Finley completed a career-high 168 passes as a senior at Ponchatoula for 2,738 yards and 21 touchdowns, while rushing for another eight.

He finished his high school career with 7,357 yards and a combined 72 touchdowns — 58 passing and 14 rushing — in three years.

"He lost some weight," Orgeron said. "He must've lost about 20 pounds — maybe more. He's in great shape. T.J.'s a hard-worker. He's very cerebral. He's always studying football. He's always had a cannon for an arm. It was more or less putting a little touch and more or less reading the defense and the accuracy. And I think he's come a long way.

"Now, live bullets are gonna be flying Saturday. They're gonna be coming after him. Let's find out. But I do believe he'll do well. Both of 'em will."