Rapid Reaction: TJ Finley and friends lead LSU to dominant win over South Carolina
Freshman TJ Finley threw 2 touchdowns passes and ran for 1 touchdown in his college debut as LSU dominated South Carolina 52-24 Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
Finley started in place of injured Myles Brennan and helped produce a balanced attack as the defending CFP champions improved to 2-2.
He got a lot of help from his friends as the offensive line created running room for John Emery Jr. and Tyrion Price-Davis as well as protecting Finley. Price-Davis rushed for 135 yards and Emery added 88.
The LSU defense, which allowed an SEC-record 623 passing yards to Mississippi State and nearly 600 total yards to Missouri in its 2 losses, played better despite allowing several big plays.
Freshman Eli Ricks ran 45 yards for a touchdown after intercepting Collin Hill, and the Tigers forced the Gamecocks to attempt 4 field goals — and Parker White missed 3 of them.
The defense put a consistent pass rush on Collin Hill, which helped it withstand a 100-yard rushing game by Kevin Harris.
The LSU special teams chipped in a score on Trey Palmer’s 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that short-circuited South Carolina’s attempt to turn the game around early in the 3rd quarter.
The loss ended the Gamecocks’ 2-game winning streak and dropped them to 2-3.
South Carolina trailed 31-10 at halftime, but Harris’ 1-yard touchdown run on the first possession of the 3rd quarter put some pressure on Finley and the Tigers.
Palmer removed any pressure the offense might have been feeling on the sideline. He dropped the ensuing kickoff, picked up the football, calmly surveyed the landscape and weaved his way to the end zone.
It was the first kickoff return for a touchdown by an LSU player in Tiger Stadium since Eric Martin did it in 1981.
The Gamecocks tried to answer quickly, but Hill’s 57-yard pass completion to Keveon Mullins went for naught when White missed a 40-yard field goal.
The Tigers stretched their lead to 45-17 on Davis-Price’s 4-yard touchdown run with 4:12 left in the 3rd quarter.
LSU couldn’t have scripted the game’s first possession any better than it went for Finley.
The Tigers put most of the responsibility on the offensive line and Emery.
Emery had runs of 4, 8, 14 and 9 yards to put Finley in favorable down-and-distance situations. Finley completed his only 3 passes on the drive – 6 yards to Arik Gilbert and 6 and 7 yards to Terrace Marshall Jr.
Davis-Price had 5 rushes for 13 yards after a minor shoulder issue sent Emery to the sideline temporarily.
The drive concluded with Finley sneaking the final yard of a 75-yard march on the 16th play. Almost as importantly the drive kept the LSU defense on the sideline for 7 1/2 minutes.
The value of that was show on the ensuing possession when the Gamecocks needed just 3 plays, the last of which was a 45-yard run by Harris that tied the score.
Finley marched the Tigers into scoring position again on the next possession before stalling. Cade York’s 27-yard field goal gave LSU a 10-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Tigers made it 3 scoring possessions in a row when Finley threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Marshall for a 17-7 lead. That gave Marshall 9 touchdown receptions this season.
South Carolina kicked a field goal to pull within 7, but LSU quickly answered when Finley hit Marshall for a 51-yard TD, and the margin never dipped below double digits.