Orgeron doesn’t know if Brennan is healthy enough to play at Auburn, but has confidence in Finley

Photo by: Chris Parent / LSU Athletics)

LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron commended the play of true freshman quarterback T.J. Finley, who in his collegiate debut passed for 265 yards and accounted for three touchdowns in the Tigers’ runaway 52-24 victory over South Carolina in Southeastern Conference play.

During his weekly news conference Monday, Orgeron also left the door open for a return of previous starting quarterback Myles Brennan who was expected to take part in the afternoon’s practice.

“Myles is going to practice a little bit today,” Orgeron said. “(LSU trainer) Jack (Marucci) is going to get him accelerated throughout the week. We’re going to see. I don’t know yet if he’s going to play. He may play. It all depends how practice goes this week. We’re only going to do about 25% with him today, see what he can do, feel it. Probably going to be sore.

“If he can’t play, obviously T.J. has done a great job for us. Max (Johnson) is going to do a great job. I’m not putting him in unless he’s 100% ready.”

Brennan suffered a torn abdomen while scrambling late in the first quarter of LSU’s 45-41 loss at Missouri. The redshirt junior never missed a play in the game and wound up throwing for a career-high 430 yards and four touchdowns without an interception.

Orgeron decided to split repetitions between Finley and Johnson with the first-team offense last week in preparation for South Carolina. He announced last Wednesday that Finley would start, and Johnson would see time but reserved the right time to play the quarterback having the most success.

Finley was 17 of 21 for 265 yards – the highest total for a LSU true freshman quarterback making his college debut – with two TD passes to Terrace Marshall Jr. He also added a 1-yard TD and rushed eight times for 24 yards and wasn’t sacked.

With the exception of running one play in Finley’s absence (after his helmet came off) during LSU’s opening scoring drive, Johnson led LSU’s offense on its final series of the game that ended at South Carolina’s 27-yard line.

“We’re going to go ahead and practice Myles today, see what he can do,” Orgeron said. “Him and TJ are going to share reps, and Max. We’re going to make a decision on a daily basis who runs the team. Depends on Myles’ health. If Myles is healthy, he’s our first team quarterback, but I’m not putting him in unless he’s 100%.”

Also, Orgeron announced offensive tackle Dare Rosenthal has been indefinitely suspended.

“I don’t know when he’s going to be back,” Orgeron said.

Here’s what else Orgeron had to say:

Opening remarks

“Overall best performance this year obviously. We give the players credit. I asked them last Monday to stick together in adverse times. They did. Our coaching staff did a tremendous job coaching. We’re not all the way there yet, but there was tremendous improvements.

On offense, 276 yards rushing. Tyrion Davis (Price) had his best game, 135, John Emery. I thought the offensive line was the MVP. No sacks. Did a great job. (Offensive guard) Cam Wire went in there, did another fantastic job. Give (Offensive line coach) James Cregg the credit. TJ Finley with an outstanding job of preparation by (LSU offensive coordinator) Coach (Steve) Ensminger and the staff. Any time you can walk in the office on the weekend, TJ during the off-season was studying his playbook, studying film. Tremendous young man. 17 of 21, 265, two TDs. I thought he played excellent. Terrace Marshall, six catches, two touchdowns. Having a great season. Eight of 10 on third down. We said we wanted improvement. We’re eight of 10. Improving on the goal line offense. I like the (indiscernible) play, one of my favorite plays. I wish we would have had that in a little sooner.

On defense, we scored another touchdown. Eli Ricks. Five sacks. Three by BJ Ojulari. Overall best performance on defense, but still not enough. We still have some work to do there, especially in the coverage aspect. Trey Palmer on the kickoff return, 93 yards. First one in a long time. So excited. No punts. Seven of eight field goals. Overall, all best performance.

Going on to Auburn, Auburn is a very good football team. As we know, Auburn and LSU is always a great matchup. Sometimes comes down to the last play, sometimes will come down to special teams play. Whatever it is, I have a lot of respect for Gus Malzahn, his offense. The things that he does can give us problems. Already give us problems this year. I know we’re going to have to have our best game on defense this year to be successful at Auburn. On the offense led by Bo Nix, a runner, dual-threat quarterback. Strong, powerful runner, No. 4. (Tank Bigsby) We recruited him. I love his mom and dad, great people. I’ve glad to see he’s having success. He’s a tremendous young man.

Seth Williams is big and tall. And Anthony Schwartz is a world class hundred-meter guy, always has speed. Defense, a lot of respect for Coach (Kevin) Steele. Worked together here. Excellent coach. Had an excellent game plan against us last year. In fact, Auburn played the best defense we saw all last year. Four-man front, 4-3. Owen Pappoe, recruited here. Outstanding linebacker. Zakoby McClain, outstanding linebacker. Going to be a challenge.

On the potential of a hurricane impacting preparations this week

“Always going to think about praying for the people of Louisiana first, no question. Then the safety of our young men, the safety of our coaching staff. We have an indoor practice facility. We can practice, we’re going to practice. If we can’t, we can’t. I’m going to listen to what they tell me. Hopefully we can prepare. I’m sure when the hurricane hits, we’re all going to be safe and sound. Hopefully it doesn’t affect our preparation. It’s all about safety first.”

On the matchups Auburn presents with QB Bo Nix and WR Seth Williams

“Yeah, notice that all the time, a big-time receiver. We have some big corners. That’s why you come to LSU. You can’t always double them. You have to win some one-on-one matchups. They’re going to win some. We’re going to win some.”

On the impact wide receiver Jaray Jenkins has had in complementing Terrace Marshall Jr.

“No question. He has done a tremendous job. He is one of our most improved football players. He has come here and done a tremendous job. I’m so happy about what he’s doing. I think we need to get him the ball more. I know he represents Alexandria, represents that area. He’s very proud of it, a great young man. I’m happy for him.”

On the credit QB TJ.Finley gave to offensive analyst Russ Callaway in his preparation for South Carolina

“Here is what happened with Russ. He’s an analyst, he can’t coach any of the players. He does prepare all the stuff for Coach Ensminger. He prepares what they may see, prepares the Power Points, then Coach Ensminger is the one that does it. Russ is in the background, does a tremendous job. He’s a great young coach.”

On the commitment to the running game and how it paid dividends

“Night and day. Night and day difference. We have to run the football, especially on first down. I thought our offensive line had their best game. That helped pave the way for TJ’s success. We couldn’t put it all on his shoulders.”

What adjustments were made to help in being more successful on third down

“They (South Carolina) played a lot of man coverage for us. (Passing Game Coordinator) Coach (Scott) Linehan had a great plan. I thought TJ did a tremendous job of delivering the football on time. I told ya’ll he has a cannon for an arm. I was so pleased with TJ’s poise. He looked like a veteran out there. I think that’s what made the difference in the football game.”

On the performance of true freshmen such as Finley and Eli Ricks

That’s something we pride ourselves on here. We tell our freshmen, guys we’re recruiting, I don’t care if you’re a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, the best guys play. Those guys have developed, great young men. Also, Arik Gilbert. You look at the job he’s doing. We’re selling that to our recruits. If you want to play as a freshman, have success, come to LSU. I have to give credit to our coaching staff. They’ve done a tremendous job of preparing these young men getting ready to play.”

On the development of Terrace Marshall Jr. since he signed

“He’s turned into a team leader. He came to my office the last week, ‘Coach, who is going to be the starting quarterback, man? I want to know. I want to know who he is.’ I told him my feelings. They were right down the middle. I said, Hey, let’s see this week, pick. He came in my office Thursday morning, let’s talk about it. He’s become a team leader, vocal young man. He’s the leader. He was in the background a little bit, kept quiet. I think the big thing with Terrace was to get healthy. Now he’s healthy. He’s confident. He comes off that field, Man, coach, I want that ball. You want that in all receivers. He’s very confident right now and healthy.”

On your expectations for offensive tackle Cam Wire

“I’m very impressed with Cam. When we recruited Cam, he was probably my 270, 280. We knew he would gain weight. He has quick feet, got better and better and better. He’s playing pretty well right now. Cam is our starting left tackle. He’s banged up a little bit also. He has to stay healthy. If Cam couldn’t go, we’d have to put in Charles Turner would be our second team left tackle.”

On your preference of good ground game this week to take pressure off Finley

“Yeah. Most of those runs were RPO. The good thing about TJ, he’s 6-6. He sees it really easy, man. He can see that slant behind him. It’s all built in. If they give us a box where we can run the football, we want to run the football. We have to. Going into the season, I thought the backs were going to be the strength of our offense.”

On Finley’s effort to make a tackle after throwing an interception

“He has some fire in him. He was fired up. He was on the sideline, ‘Let’s go’. Vocal leader. A lot of things that Joe (Burrow) did, to be honest with you. He showed some toughness. I have to work on his tackling a little bit. Kind of a shoulder tackle. I love his effort. TJ came alive, man. It was his night. He’d been confident all week. He’s been confident since he came here. Not cocky, but confident. We love that about him.”

On the proliferation of spread offenses at the high school level making transition easier now for QBs now that LSU run similar system

“No question. Running a spread offense. That’s the way to go. It’s here to stay. It’s basketball on grass. Put athletes in space, let them make plays, let the quarterback make decisions, make the right reads. The thing that helps TJ is his length. Being 6-6, he sees over all those linemen, he has a cannon for an arm. He lost some weight. He has quick feet. He studies football all the time. He’s a football junkie.”

On whether it makes sense to sit Brennan this week to get healthier with an open date coming up

No question. If he’s not 100% healthy, there’s any chance of injury, I’m not playing him. TJ will be fine. TJ and Max (Johnson) will do a good job. But if he’s healthy, we’re going to play him. No. It’s just a matter of if he’s ready to play. At this point in the season we have to do what’s best to win the football game. I can’t think about nothing after but beating Auburn. Whatever we can do, whatever personnel we have to beat Auburn, that’s what we’re going to worry about.”

On the whether 25,000 fans made a difference
“Yeah, it sounds like a spring scrimmage, a spring scrimmage. An okay spring game attendance. There is some noise. I got to say, I got to give our fans credit, there was a lot more noise than the first game. It’s still never going to be what 102,000 are.”

On what do you see as Terrace Marshall’s biggest area of growth this season

“I think learning all positions. We can put Terrace anywhere. He knows the offense. He feels confident. Being healthy, I think that’s the biggest thing. The yards after the catch, he catches that slant, goes for that touchdown, breaks those two tackles. I think that’s where you see him making a bunch of improvement. He’s tall, is a big target, has great hands. Yards after the catch has been tremendous.”

On the game running backs Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery Jr. enjoyed and the mixed reviews for defensive end B.J. Ojulari and Damone Clarke

“I worked with Jimmy Johnson, he told me one of his secrets: Get great players, get great players and let them play. I think those guys that you mentioned are great football players. Ty, I’m so glad to see him have success. He’s a big, strong, agile running back. John Emery has been one of the best backs in the country. He and Ty work well together. I met with Ty last week. I promised him he’s going to have the same amount of carries as John. We’re going to be equal. Two first-team starters. That worked out well.

“BJ Ojulari is a 4.0 grade point average. Very smart. Hard worker. Three and a half sacks. If you watch his sacks, relentless effort. Very proud of them. Damone, it’s his first time, first time going out there. He has some improvement to make. The good thing about Damone is I know he will.”

On thoughts of your last trip to Auburn that you won on a last-second field goal

“Relief (laughter). I was so happy that we won. But it was a hot day. We went there. We went with a great mindset, that whatever it took, we were going to win the game. I remember at one point in the game Auburn had started running the football on us. We had to fight back. I remember that last drive, (Stephen) Sullivan making that play. When we put our kicker (Cole Tracy) out there, I knew he was going to win the game. It was just a tremendous feeling, a feeling of relief. There was a lot of stuff going on, people were talking this, people were talking that. I think that kind of quieted things down a little bit for us.”

On your interior defensive front providing the type of statistical numbers such as sacks and tackles for loss

“Very pleased. It’s the 4-3, man. You’re not playing four techniques. You got ends rushing wide. We have more athletic people on the field. It’s LSU football. It’s what I grew up watching. We did that in Miami, we did that at USC. It was time to go back to it. I’m happy all those categories being plus six, leading the SEC all that stuff. But we’re still 2-2. We got to play better defense. There’s no excuse for it. Offense to me is playing well. Real disappointed in the third down (conversions). I was disappointed in the goal line. We got that fixed. We got to get some stuff fixed on defense to get where we want to go.”

On your reaction to Eli Ricks’ gesture toward an opponent near the end of his interception return for a TD

“He was made aware by the head coach as soon as he got to the sideline. I wasn’t very happy about it. I don’t like him taking his helmet and celebrating with the crowd. He could have cost us a touchdown. I don’t think you’re going to see that again. He’s a young kid. We got to coach him up. I’m going to give him a Mulligan on that one. But he ain’t getting a Mulligan again.”

On the play of Ricks

“That’s what he did in high school. He had picks and scored touchdowns. He has tremendous ball skills. I’ve known Elias Ricks since he’s seven years old. Great family. He came to camp at USC. That’s how I made the connection with him and his family at camp. We’re so happy he came all the way across the country to play here. I do believe that (defensive backs coach) Corey Raymond has done a tremendous job with him playing corner. There’s some difficult decisions he has to make. At the beginning he wasn’t able to make those decisions just because of experience. Now he’s getting better. I think you’re going to see a young man get better and better and better and be one of the top corners in the nation.”

On the versatility Marshall brings to the offense

“First of all, he’s smart. He is smart. He gets it. He knows football. Not like you need to leave him at one position, master that. He knows the whole offense. He probably could play quarterback. He has an awareness level, very smooth, good athlete. Does it help? Yeah. Like having three or four different receivers.”

On the return of offensive guard Ed Ingram impacting success of offensive line

“Big advantage. We ran some gap plays, a power play where we pulled the guard. We had some double-team, knocking people off the ball. We were physical. We have to be physical. We saw South Carolina out-physical their opponents the last couple weeks. That big block that Ed had, he pulled to his right, was really good. Good to see him. Yes, made a difference on the goal line when our offensive line came off the ball in a surge. Enabled us to get the points on the goal line, on the one-yard line. The week before we didn’t. That was a tremendous improvement.”

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