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LSU Freshman Quarterback TJ Finley An Emerging Star in Tiger Offense

Finley's touch, quick decision making shows signs of immense potential within LSU program
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Against South Carolina, LSU football received a huge boost with the performance of freshman quarterback TJ Finley. Here’s a look at why the first time starter performed well.

Watching an experienced SEC defense shredded by LSU freshman signal caller TJ Finley was eye opening. He looked poised and under control. Some players adjust quicker to the college game than others, but Finley truly deserves credit, as does the LSU offensive coaching staff, for preparing and executing the game plan.

Best opening performance in LSU history? Debatable. Bottom line, Finley looked like he belonged behind center for the Tigers. The Louisiana high school product showed why LSU coveted his talents coming out of high school.

It’s 52 miles from Ponchatoula (La.) High School to Tiger Stadium, but the way Finley was dropping dimes to an overall 17-of-21 for 265-yards and two touchdowns, one would think Finley grew up practicing in Death Valley instead of at his high school’s stadium. He just looked like he belonged on that specific field. Here are the areas that he showed maturity beyond his years.

Quick Release

Many bigger quarterbacks display an elongated throwing motion. They possess longer arms so it’s natural for them to need just a split second more to release the football.

While Finley is 6-foot-6, 250-pounds, he provides an over-the-top delivery that does not waste time with extra movements while his hand holds the football behind his head. It’s directly back behind him, and then forward to release the football.

In short, it’s a natural delivery. Similar to a baseball pitcher that throws over the top. This quick yet powerful throwing motion will allow Finley to throw into tight windows against top SEC defensive backs. Even a quarter of a second can be precious time for a SEC quarterback and a wide receiver to connect, and Finley’s quick release provides that opportunity.

Arm Strength

As advertised. Finley’s high school film showed a powerful arm. No reason to discount that film after South Carolina’s secondary was picked apart by Finley’s lasers. Two points to note about his arm strength as it relates to accuracy and confidence.

Sometimes quarterbacks power up and throw the football too hard. It leads to accuracy issues. Finley showed he can throw a bullet and continue to be accurate. Case in point, Finley’s over the middle 51-yard touchdown completion to wide receiver Terrace Marshall.

Finley needed to get the football to Marshall quickly because there were multiple defenders near Marshall. Not only did he deliver the football quickly, Finley’s pass hit Marshall in stride and allowed the talented playmaker the opportunity to make defenders miss and score the touchdown. This confident pass should pay more dividends down the line.

As a quarterback makes plays in practice, it helps build confidence. Making those same plays in a game, however, truly means something. That pass to Marshall is about as good as it gets. NFL quarterbacks would be quite happy with that pass, as would their quarterback coaches.

Now that Finley proved he can fit the football into tight areas, and be on time to allow after the catch opportunities, the LSU offense can be dynamic when he’s in the lineup. With that said, sometimes Finley will need to take something off his throws, and that’s another area that he proved he does well.

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How often does one see a quarterback throw a bubble screen or short pass with such velocity that it catches the wide receiver by surprise and it goes incomplete? It’s too common. Finley’s touch during screens, hitches, and shallow crossing patterns was very good.

Perhaps that’s the most surprising aspect of Finley’s first performance in Death Valley. Rarely do young signal callers command the touch that Finley displayed. That leads to fewer errant throws and fewer tipped passes off of receivers’ hands that end up being intercepted.

Avoiding turnovers aside, Finley’s maturity and understanding of when to take something off a throw should be considered quite impressive. It’s not the only area he showed his ability to be savvy.

Play-Action Fakes

LSU finally started running the football better and Finley took advantage. Instead of a quick play-action fake, Finley actually carried out his fake like a quarterback should. It’s simple, yes, but it allows that fraction of a second longer for the skill position players to get open while the defensive backs and linebackers stare into the backfield at Finley.

Every second, or even fraction of a second, counts. This is the SEC. When carrying out fakes, quarterbacks that fail to consistently use proper quarterback etiquette will likely cost their teams points. This league is full of talented defensive backs just waiting for a mistake.

Hats off to Finley, and the LSU coaching staff, for getting Finley prepared. He made his fakes and then went into his progressions. Again, sounds simple. It’s not that easy. Most young quarterbacks do not like to turn their backs to the line of scrimmage. It will cause a young quarterback to panic because of not being able to see the pass rush at all times.

Finley did not panic; he made his reads and his throws regardless of a play-action fake or not. That’s yet another sign of maturity for the true freshman. Lastly, Finley executed the game plan.

Play Calling and Execution

As discussed earlier this week on LSU Country, this South Carolina preview article talked about getting Finley some easy throws via specific passing concepts and routes. Hats off to the LSU coaching staff for making that happen.

The South Carolina coaching staff undoubtedly knew that LSU would want to keep it simple for the most part. LSU executed so well that it did not matter what South Carolina knew. Finley looked comfortable from the opening drive until he left the game.

Crossing routes, roll-out passes, bubble screens, short passes into the flat, hitch routes, and slants were all a part of LSU’s game plan. None of it is all that surprising. It’s just how crisp and consistent Finley and skill position players executed.

All parties involved deserve credit. It was well devised with formations and route combinations, and certainly carried out well. From this foundation, LSU can truly expand the play book and build Finley’s game even more. It’s exciting to think what the Tigers can do this season and beyond.

LSU football has a young gunslinger. LSU football fans have something special to look forward to watching.