by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Back in December, LSU Odyssey posted news of TJ Finley's outgoing transfer from the program, though it took nearly 6 months for the inevitable to happen due to TJ's competitive mentality.
Many doubted our reports, which is fine, that's what happens when you're threatening the big dogs as the fastest growing college football news site in America; however, in the end what we'd heard all December and January came to fruition.
Following fellow 2020 class QB Max Johnson's tyrannical performances vs #6 Florida and Ole Miss, Finley could smell blood in the water. While Max produced two key victories for the Tigers to save face at 5-5, the athletically gifted Prince from Ponchatoula could read the writing on the wall.
Showing how tough "the Strawberry King" really is, TJ stayed and fought for the spot with everything he had, even while being outnumbered by two "chosen" quarterbacks. Offensive Coordinator Jake Peetz was instrumental in convincing Finley to return for LSU's Spring 2021 quarterback battle, challenging TJ to stay in his home state and fight.
"He (Coach Peetz) is NFL caliber," TJ Finley told the Jordy Culotta Show this morning, "he comes from NFL people...he is one of the NFL guys...and I truly appreciate all of the work he's done with me personally."
Though Finley eventually lost out to Max or Myles, the lessons he learned over the past year, combined with the rate of competition for the quarterback spot, will have done his game a world of good.
It's sad things didn't work out for Finley at LSU...but when contending against a crowded, impossible quarterback room which will only get thicker and better next year, the Ponchatoula Prince needed a chance at a program where one incompletion, one turnover, one touchdown, one blown red zone read wasn't the difference between starting or watching.
You could feel one turnover become two, the first sack grow into another...
Despite TJ crediting his "poise and calm" as one of 2020's positives, I also feel TJ tries so hard to be calm that he actually cuts a rattled figure, neither throwing or getting rid of the football with purpose at that juncture....he would simply backpedal from pressure and release the ball towards the first direction in his sight, "over-trusting" his arm.
If you count LSU's 2021 Spring Game, TJ tossed 7 interceptions in his past 6 Tigers appearances, supplying defenders with three multi-INT games....
Every pitfall in TJ's game is mentally rooted and the negative chain reaction after his errors had to stop immediately before he was cast in the wrong light....he actually had to leave to become re-born.....
It wasn't long ago TJ was the wunderkind first choice freshman starter at LSU....reminding many of a cross between JaMarcus Russell and Rohan Davey, two of the Tigers' greatest ever passing quarterbacks. While he may have been compared to past LSU legends, he actually gained some incredible advice & insight from Joe Burrow.
In January 2020, Finley arrived at LSU alongside fellow freshman Max Johnson, and together the two early enrollees were invited to watch & participate in the 2019 Tigers' postseason practices. Studying how Joe Burrow's 2019 offensive juggernaut practiced, carried themselves and challenged each other had a profound effect on both TJ & Max.
Coming upon 2020's title defending season, no one expected either freshman quarterback to receive anything more than garbage time reps....however, once Myles Brennan went down with a rare torn abdominal muscle, TJ Finley's Tiger trajectory was suddenly thrown into overdrive.
While Offensive Coordinator Steve Ensminger backed Max Johnson at quarterback, Finley received the nod from Coach Orgeron...at first, Coach O looked to have pulled the right lever once again. Finley announced himself on the SEC stage in outrageous fashion, blowing out Will Muschamp's South Carolina 52-24, providing TJ's greatest moment as a Tiger.
During his collegiate debut, TJ showcased everything we love about his game: the patient, precise passing, the pocket extension and ability to throw on the run with accuracy, his poise under pressure and most important of all, thanks to his long arms, TJ possesses an unpredictable release most opponents can't even begin to decipher.
Recording a rushing touchdown, 2 passing touchdowns and 289 combined yards, TJ was nearly flawless throughout proceedings, prematurely receiving the title "QB of the future".
Still, if you watch the South Carolina game, Finley also shows a glimmer of his turnover trials, throwing a near pick six when LSU was ready to score deep in the opposition red zone, Carolina's Israel Mukuamu returning the ball 56 yards before TJ made the tackle.
Manning a program possessing 2 historically horrific losses after only 3 games, an illegitimate "defense" disguised in purple & gold (betrayed by Bo Pelini's cash grab), and an offensive line so abysmal many Tigers fans called for Joe Moore Award-winning OL Coach James Cregg's head on a pike, you have to wonder: did TJ Finley really have a fair shot?
You could actually argue TJ was given the biggest chance of any 2020 quarterback, starting 5 games to Myles' 3 and Max's 2, returned to the starting spot even after poor performances vs Auburn & Texas A&M....but when losing the biggest games of LSU's season with all the bright lights and pressure on him alone, the optics turned on TJ bad.
Against Auburn, Texas A&M, Mississippi State & Missouri, LSU could only muster a high of 2.5 rushing yards across all four defeats, 27 carries for 32 yards as a team vs Auburn and 25 carries for 36 vs the Aggies while TJ was sacked 7 times (4 vs Alabama, 2 vs Auburn and once vs Arkansas).
So, while TJ proved disastrous in the turnover game, throwing 5 interceptions in 5 games (2 multi-INT outings), he didn't have much help either, frequently getting rocked in the backfield just as his progressions began. Or, he symptomatically held on to the ball until every open window closed before his eyes.
Also fumbling the ball twice (losing a game-ending fumble vs Auburn), turnovers sadly grew to be synonymous when thinking of his game.
Now, LSU's coaching staff may have been alarmed by TJ's turnover propensity, but when he continued to throw away possessions this Spring, Offensive Coordinator Jake Peetz was having none of it.
He was hard on TJ, yet demanded more because he understood just how high Finley's potential ceiling is:
Thanks to his god-given athleticism, growing football IQ and howitzer for a passing arm, there are still many towering heights to climb for this young Louisiana quarterback.
Although LSU never figured out a role for the Prince of Ponchatoula, he will forever remain a true Tiger as well as one of the truly talented quarterbacks to come out of Louisiana in the past decade.....he won a pair of SEC games as a freshman, including one on the road, he totaled 6 TDs (5 through the air) and he hasn't even hit anywhere close to his peak yet.
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2021 Uninterrupted Writings Inc
SHOUTOUTS: TJ, we wish you all the luck in the world! Geaux TJ! We are proud of you for hanging in tough and battling like a true Tiger. LSU Odyssey will be rooting for you!