The last time LSU true freshman quarterback TJ Finley threw a pass in a game, he got an earful from his head coach for an errant throw under duress that resulted in a Pick 6 in last Saturday’s 20-6 loss at No. 5 Texas A&M.
LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron wanted the ill-advised pass to serve as a teaching moment, from improved pass protection from the offensive line to having his quarterback take a sack if the situation arises again.
Orgeron gave Finley a vote of confidence with his selection to be LSU’s starting quarterback when the Tigers (3-4 overall) host top-ranked Alabama (8-0) in a Southeastern Conference Western Division clash at 7 p.m. Saturday at Tiger Stadium which will be televised by CBS.
“It was really close,” Orgeron said after practice Thursday of the choice between Finley and fellow true freshman Max Johnson. “We’re going to have to throw the ball. TJ’s done a good job for us, so has Max. It was very close, but we felt TJ had a slight edge.
“We’re going to have to protect him. The games he played well in, we protected, and we caught the ball. When we didn’t play well, he got sacked and we turned the ball over, and we didn’t catch the ball. Those young quarterbacks can’t put the game on their back. We have to support him; guys have to make plays and we have to support them.”
Finley will make his fifth consecutive start in place of injured starter Myles Brennan, a stretch in which the native of Ponchatoula has led the Tigers to a 2-2 record.
Finley has completed 66 of 112 passes for 797 yards with five interceptions and four touchdowns. Johnson, who took over after the interception return for a score last week, is 29 of 46 for 285 yards and two touchdowns.
This marks the first game that either of LSU’s quarterbacks won’t have the luxury of throwing to junior wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. who opted out earlier this week for the remainder of the season. He was the team’s top receiver with 48 catches for 731 yards and had 10 of the Tigers’ 17 touchdowns receiving.
“I think they’ll be fine, it’s next man up,” Orgeron said of his receiving corps sans Marshall. “We need to get the ball to (tight end) Arik Gilbert and you’re going to see that. We need to find ways to get him the ball. Koy Moore, (Kayshon) Boutte, Jontre’ (Kirklin). . .next man up. Those guys have done a tremendous job for us and I think they’re going to play well.”
Here’s what else Orgeron had to say:
“We had a great week of practice. A spirited week of practice. Our guys are excited. It’s a tremendous challenge. The No. 1 team in the country’s coming to LSU’s stadium Saturday night Death Valley at 7 o’clock. We’re looking forward to playing the game.”
On the improvements cornerback Cordale Flott
“He had several injuries. There were minor injuries. He had a great camp and then he had to sit out a bit. There were a couple of times he was in quarantine; I don’t exactly remember and missed some practices. I think he’s finally healthy and understands the scheme. That’s the Cordale Flott we saw in camp.”
On whether players that have opted out still workout in LSU’s facilities
“They can work out, but I haven’t seen any of them. Most of them decided to go away. I haven’t seen any of them that opted out to come back except Neil Ferrell. We welcomed him back.”
On whether you believe players may start opting out during sub-pars seasons
“This is an assumption of mine that usually the season’s over with right now and that’s when most of the seniors start training for the (NFL) combine. Maybe that’s the reason why you see a lot of guys opt out at that this time. This season’s a lot later than a regular season.”
On what you’ve seen this week in practice from the offensive line
“I’m encouraged by the scheme and the protection. We worked very hard on eliminating free blitzers coming through. Obviously, Alabama always does a good job of blitzing your protection. They’re very good at it. We’re going to have to make adjustments throughout the game. Our quarterbacks are going to have to see it. Our center, Liam (Shanahan), will have to see it and we’ll have to change the point – whatever we need to do – to protect the quarterback.”
On the importance of getting out to a quick start in the game
“I think they’re going to be as fired up as they’ve ever been and so will I. We have to start fast. If Alabama starts making plays and we’re struggling a little bit, we’ll still have to fight. I believe we have to start fast to be able to compete.”
On who gets starting nod at punter returner
“We’ll stay with Koy (Moore) right now. We haven’t gotten much out of the return game and I don’t want to take the chance of Derek (Stingley) getting hurt back there. That’s one of the reasons, but Koy’s done a good job. Let’s see if we can get some production out of it.”
On what will the rotation be like at safety
“Maurice (Hampton) and JaCoby (Stevens) and 4 (Todd Harris). I think those three guys will do a good job for us.”
On recruiting priorities going into early signing period Dec. 18
“We want to get the best players available. I think we have an excellent recruiting class and at some positions we had too many people. We had to make room for some people. We’re talking to some people that are coming. You never can tell. We have to save some scholarships for February and we’re going to have to save some scholarships for graduate transfers. We have a roster management meeting every Monday morning. We made a priority list of the graduate transfer or junior college players at the positions of need we need, so we’re going to have to save some scholarships for them.”