It was a photo finish for LSU’s starting quarterback job between two true freshmen that have developed a close relationship since both signing with the Tigers and enrolling in school in January.
LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron said after Thursday’s practice that TJ Finley of Ponchatoula edged out Max Johnson of Watkinsville, Ga. to replace injured started Myles Brennan in Saturday’s 6 p.m. home game with South Carolina.
“It was a very close battle, but we felt at the end that TJ nudged Max just a little. I wish I could start two,” Orgeron said during Thursday’s post-practice news conference. “TJ’s going to be the starter. We’ll give him time to get his work done. I told Max I want to play him, but it all depends on the flow of the game. Hopefully, we can play them the same amount of reps. I don’t know if that’s going to happen. It all depends on the flow of the game.”
Brennan, who passed for 1,112 yards and 11 touchdowns through three games, was injured late in the first quarter of LSU’s 45-41 setback at Missouri. The redshirt junior suffered what Orgeron termed a “lower body injury” which The Athletic reported was a torn abdomen.
Orgeron said that Brennan did some limited throwing at practice Wednesday and expects to have him possibly in uniform on Saturday but does not expect him to play.
Orgeron said one of the factors in Finley’s favor during the razor-thin competition this week was his ability to complete a few additional passes during third-down drills.
“It could have been a flip of a coin,” he said. “TJ may have had one or two better plays on third down than Max. That’s all that was. I want to give both a chance but it all depends on the flow of game. If TJ gets hot, I’m not going to take him out. We’re not going to be impatient with him either. I do want to play them both. I want to see what both can do.”
The 6-6 Finley, the No. 19 pro-style quarterback by 247Sports, has dropped nearly 20 pounds and weights in the 240-pound range which has improved his mobility, Orgeron said.
Finley was the state’s top-rated quarterback coming out of Ponchatoula where he was a three-star recruit. He totaled 7,357 yards during his three seasons where he played for legendary coach Hank Tierney.
Johnson, the son of former Super Bowl-winning QB Brad Johnson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was a four-star recruit and nation’s No. 15 pro-style QB out of Oconee County High School where he passed for 5,140 yards and 47 TDs during his career.
“He’s a very hard worker, very cerebral,” Orgeron said of Finley. “Always studying football. He’s always had a cannon for an arm. It was more or less adding a little touch and reading the defense. The accuracy, I think he’s come a long way. Now live bullets are going to be flying Saturday. They’re going to be coming after him. Let’s find out. I believe he’ll do well. Both of them will.”
Here’s what else Orgeron had to say:
On the improvements Finley’s made since his time on campus
“The offensive line’s going to have to block for him. Everybody’s got to pick up their game. We had some rush in practice. There’s going to be times I’m sure where he’s going to get sacked or he’s going to get hit. He’s prepared. He’s a big kid at 6-6. Steps up in the pocket well and can run. We ran him today a little bit around the edge and he did very well. I think he’ll do fine.”
On how Johnson responded that he wasn’t going to be the starter
“Max took it like a man. He was fine. He and TJ are friends. I told will disappoint one of you. I recruited both of them. I wish I could start both of them. It was a hard decision. It could have gone either way. I told him just because TJ starting that doesn’t mean Max won’t do a better job. If Max does a better job and Myles Brennan is hurt next week, he’s going to start. It’s all about competition.”
On how the team such as the offensive line and receivers rallying around Finley and Johnson
“Everybody’s stepped up their game. I told them everybody’s got to step up. One man falls down, everybody’s got to step up. I think they’ve become closer. The quarterbacks and receivers have done good things this week. The closeness of our football team has grown.”
On the team’s performance in practice week and how that may carry over into Saturday
“I think we’re going to play light’s out. I really think we’re going to play our best game. You could feel the energy at the office, you could feel the energy in the meetings. I saw the corrections being made. The defense was fired up, fitting the run. I thought our offense was clicking today. I feel good about the way our team practiced this week. Obviously, we’ve got to do it on Saturday night.”
On the outlook of Brennan’s recovery
“He threw the ball a little bit yesterday (Wednesday). He wasn’t full speed. He’s going to dress out for the game, but I don’t think he’s going to play. You just have to wait and see next week. The first week I thought he’d be ready and on the first Monday he wasn’t. We have to be patient and see when he’s going to be ready.”
Here’s a list of LSU true freshmen starting QBs:
Anthony Jennings, W vs. Iowa in 2014 Citrus Bowl, 7 of 19 for 82 yards, 0 TDs, 1 int, 2 sacks
Brandon Harris, L at Auburn 2014, 3 of 14 for 58 yards, 1 sack, 8 for 36 rush
Jordan Jefferson, L at Arkansas 2008, 9 of 21 for 143 yards, 2 TDs, 0 ints, 4 sacks, 19 for 50 rushing
Herb Tyler W vs. Ole Miss 1995, 13 of 23 for 190 yards, 2 TDs, 9 for 53 rush and 1 TD
Jamie Howard, L vs. Colorado State 1992, 7 of 17 for 86 yards, 1 interception
Steve Ensminger, 1976, no stats or opponent available