BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - In front of an official Tiger Stadium crowd of 21,855, many of whom were chanting his name by the end of the game, LSU true freshman quarterback TJ Finley of Ponchatoula, La. put on a show in his first collegiate start to lead the Tigers to a win over the South Carolina Gamecocks.
LSU (2-2) looked like the offense didn’t miss a beat with a new starter in the game, dominating South Carolina (2-3), 52-24, in a game that saw the running game head coach Ed Orgeron has been talking about, emerge to help out the young signal-caller.
Finley was 17-21-1 for 265 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a touchdown. Finley looked very confident and comfortable in the pocket. He was hit by the South Carolina defenders a few times but he was not sacked in the game. Good protection by the offensive line, along with good decision-making on when to run and the ability to extend plays then find open receivers, kept Finley upright most of the game.
The Tigers gave the Gamecocks a heavy dose of the run game, picking up a total of 276 yards on the ground. John Emery Jr. got it going for LSU first but it was Tyrion Davis-Price who did the most damage. He had 22 carries for 135 yards and a touchdown. Emery had 18 carries for 88 yards and he also found the end zone once. Finley ran the ball eight times for 24 yards, including his one-yard keeper to cross the goal line for LSU’s first score of the game. After going 0-10 on third down against Missouri, the offense was 8-10 on third down and the Tigers did not punt in the game.
Terrace Marshall Jr. led LSU’s wide receivers with six catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns. On the season, he has 27 receptions for 512 yards and nine touchdowns. Jaray Jenkins had three catches for 76 yards. He was part of Finley’s worst play of the game but also what was possibly the young quarterback’s best play of the game. There was an apparent mix up between Finley and Jenkins on the interception. Finley apparently expected Jenkins to stop but Jenkins kept running and Israel Mukuamu out of Parkway High in Bossier City, La. picked off the pass. Finley then made a touchdown-saving tackle and the defense forced South Carolina to kick a field goal. On what was one of Finley’s most impressive plays of the day, he scrambled away from the pressure on a second-and-13 in the third quarter and Jenkins came back to him for a 14-yard completion and first down.
The LSU defense continued its inconsistent play but showed some improvement, especially with its pass rush. The Tigers sacked South Carolina quarterback Collin Hill five times, with three of those by BJ Ojulari. Freshman cornerback Eli Ricks had a pick-6. It was his third interception of the season.
After a South Carolina touchdown in the third quarter, Trey Palmer from Kentwood, La. bobbled the kickoff but then picked up the ball and went 93 yards for a touchdown. It was LSU’s first kickoff return for a touchdown in Tiger Stadium since 1981 when Eric Martin did it against Kentucky. South Carolina’s kicking game struggled, making just one of four field goals.
LSU got on the board first when Finley scored on the quarterback sneak from one yard out to cap a 16-play, 75-yard opening drive to put LSU up 7-0.
South Carolina turned to its ground attack early in the game and scored less than 1:00 later. A jet sweep by wide receiver Shi Smith went for 36 yards on the first offensive play for the Gamecocks. Then, two plays later, running back Kevin Harris took the handoff and went 45 yards to the end zone and tie it, 7-7, with 6:40 left in the first quarter.
LSU then had to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Cade York to put the Tigers back up 10-7 with 2:05 left in first. After Ojulari’s first sack of the game forced South Carolina to punt, LSU ran a perfect rub play to Marshall on a wheel route and he beat cornerback Jaycee Horn to the corner of the end zone for an easy 7-yard touchdown to go up 17-7 with 11:14 left before halftime.
Later, South Carolina kicker Parker White made a 45-yard field goal to make it 17-10 with 5:22 left in the second quarter but Finley connected with Marshall for a 51-yard touchdown to make it 24-10 less than 1:30 later. The Tigers extended the lead on a 45-yard pick-6 by Ricks to put LSU up 31-10 at halftime.
South Carolina received the ball first to start the second half and wasted no time putting more points on the board. On third-and-goal, Harris punched it in from 1-yard out to make it 31-17 but that’s when Palmer showed off his track speed and took the kickoff to the house to make it 38-17.
Later, Davis-Price broke loose for a big 35-yard run and was tackled at the 4-yard line. The very next play, he took it into the end zone to finish off an eight-play drive that had only one pass play, the impressive connection Finley made with Jenkins for a 14-yard gain that was described earlier. Davis-Price had all seven runs for 63 yards on the drive.
In the fourth quarter, Emery extended LSU’s lead on a leap across the goal line from three yards out to make it 52-17 and South Carolina scored in garbage time on a 5-yard touchdown pass to make it 52-24.
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