TJ Finley doesn't have the poise of your common true freshman quarterback. In two of his three starts this season, Finley has looked far more like your everyday seasoned vet in the SEC and will need that confidence to progress even further for the Tigers to hang tight with the No. 5 Aggies on Saturday.
In LSU's two wins over South Carolina and Arkansas with Finley behind center, the freshman quarterback has completed 70% of his passes for 536 yards and five total touchdowns with just one turnover. But beyond the stats, his game winning drive in the fourth quarter to defeat the Razorbacks was truly a memorable moment from an otherwise forgettable season.
On that drive the true freshman completed passes of 15 and 16 yards to fellow true freshmen weapons Kayshon Boutte and Arik Gilbert before scrambling for a 13-yard touchdown completion to Jaray Jenkins.
But what Finley showed his teammates, coaches and fans more than anything on that drive was that the moment wasn't too big for him. Center Liam Shanahan believes that final drive from Finley is just a taste of what's to come as it was really his first opportunity to see him in a clutch, late game scenario.
"What's awesome about TJ is he doesn't get scared of the moment. For him it's just about going out there and playing football," Shanahan said. "Not only does it make him do well but it really kind of brings an aura around the whole offense when we're out there. We have confidence in him and he has confidence in us."
That confidence will be very much in demand this weekend as Texas A&M, unlike in past years, is among the most complete teams in the SEC because of its defense. The Aggies rank No. 2 in rush defense but there are some opportunities to convert on their defense through the air, allowing 242 passing yards to opposing offenses.
So what can we expect from Finley this week? Well, he's proven that he can be a competent starter that can propel his team to wins. While he hasn't done it against fierce competition, that's still a tough ask for an SEC quarterback making his first handful of starts.
That's why this week's performance will tell us a lot about the future of the LSU quarterback position and if it should be considered the present moving forward.
It'll be the first game Texas A&M has played in nearly three weeks, much like LSU last week, so the Aggies will be chomping at the bit to get back on the field. With weapons like Terrace Marshall, Gilbert, Boutte and Jenkins, the offense has been smooth sailing when the big boys on the offensive line are able to give Finley requisite time to throw the ball.
It's not so easy for a true freshman quarterback to earn the complete trust of his teammates after just three starts but that's exactly what the Ponchatoula native has been able to do. Jenkins, who was on the receiving end of that go ahead touchdown, said that Finley does a great job of finding the open man and that the zip he creates with his throws is truly special.
"He throws the ball pretty hard so you gotta be ready," Jenkins said. "Over the last three games he's progressed a lot and we just gotta get open for him. He's a freshman and I think he's gonna be really good from here on out and we believe in him."