What transfers around, comes around in college football nowadays.
So, how cool would it be for quarterback TJ Finley of Ponchatoula – 48 miles from LSU – to take the first snap from center in the burnt orange and navy blue of Auburn (3-1) Saturday night against LSU (3-1) at the Tiger Stadium classic kickoff time of 8 p.m. on ESPN?
For cinematic purposes, Auburn first-year coach Bryan Harsin has to start him. Finley, who started five games for LSU last season as a freshman, transferred to Auburn following spring practice this year when he realized either sophomore Max Johnson or senior Myles Brennan would likely start for LSU this season. Johnson performed better in two starts at the end of last season than Finley did in his five or Brennan did in his three. Brennan was then lost for much of the season with a broken arm suffered just before the season.
On Saturday, the 6-foot-7 Finley scrambled and threw a 9-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal with 45 seconds left fot wide receiver Shedrick Jackson to put Auburn ahead of 28-point underdog Georgia State, 25-24, then completed a two-point conversion pass on the way to a 34-24 win.
Finley also converted a third-and-11 at his 19-yard line with a 15-yard completion in what was a 13-play, 98-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes. He was 5-of-8 passing for 63 yards in the final drive and had a 16-yard scramble. In the third quarter, he replaced starter Bo Nix, who was 13-of-27 passing for 156 yards and no touchdown drives. Finley finished 9-of-16 passing for 97 yards and one big touchdown.
“He popped,” Harsin said. “He wasn’t perfect. There are plenty of things to fix and make thigns better, but damn, the guy won the game. He was out there on the last drive and found a way to win. He made the throw. So, I’m proud of him. We all want to have these perfect games and these perfect stats, but damn, you’ve got to find a way to win. That’s exactly what he did.”
So, damn, can you start him?
“I know what you’re asking, but that position and every other position is going to hear about what we have to do to get better,” Harsin said. “I know everybody wants to make a big thing out of that (Finley returning to LSU). That becomes the storyline. The storyline is about getting better. That’s the storyline.”
Finley provided the momentum change Harsin was looking for when he made the quarterback change. He made Auburn better.
“I don’t have a game plan like that,” Harsin said. “And I don’t have to tell anyone what the game plan is.”
Finley, though, sounds like he has already seen this movie filmed in Hollywood South.
“It’s going to be amazing,” he said after the game of his triumphant return to LSU. “Can’t wait. I can’t wait to go back. I told all my teammates, it’s my homecoming. And I look forward to it. Whether I’m starting or not, I just can’t wait to enjoy 100,000 in Tiger Stadium and help my team win in any way possible.”
Finley or Nix will face an LSU team that is suddenly rejuvenated following a 28-25 win at Mississippi State. The Tigers’ defense gave up 486 yards, including 371 passing to quarterback Will Rogers and three touchdowns. But LSU gained two turnovers and forced short field goal attempts. It eliminated big plays, which has been LSU’s problem on defense since last season.
Auburn has not won in Tiger Stadium since 1999. LSU could be on the way back. Or Auburn is.
Texas A&M, meanwhile, is struggling on offense in a way very uncharacteristic of Jimbo Fisher teams. The No. 7 Aggies, who fell to No. 16 Arkansas, 20-10, have two games this season with but two touchdowns.
“We didn’t get the things done we needed to get done,” Fisher said. “We have to get guys playing with more consistency, and that’s coaching. We have to be responsible for it.”
Quarterback Zach Calzada is struggling, but his receivers also dropped key passes right to them. The Aggies (3-1) will get Mississippi State (2-2) at home next week to fix things, which is what LSU did.
The SEC will feature four games Saturday worthy of prime time, particularly the first one.
Four Games to Watch Next Week:
-Arkansas (4-0, 1-0 SEC) at Georgia (4-0, 2-0), 11 a.m., ESPN
-Ole Miss (3-0) at Alabama (4-0, 1-0), 2:30 p.m., CBS
-Florida (3-1, 1-1) at Kentucky (4-0, 2-0), 5 p.m., ESPN
-Auburn (3-1) at LSU (3-1, 1-0), 8 p.m., ESPN