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No. 22 Auburn looks to keep LSU guessing at QB

Auburn Tigers quarterback T.J. Finley (1) looks to throw at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. Auburn Tigers defeated Georgia State Panthers 34-24.
Auburn Tigers quarterback T.J. Finley (1) looks to throw at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. Auburn Tigers defeated Georgia State Panthers 34-24.

TJ Finley is likely to play against his former team when No. 22 Auburn visits LSU on Saturday night.

Finley relieved an ineffective Bo Nix last Saturday and rallied Auburn to a 34-24 victory against visiting Georgia State.

Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin has been non-committal about whether Nix or Finley will start this week, but it seems likely that Finley will at least split time with Nix if not supplant him as the starting quarterback for Auburn (3-1, 0-0) in its SEC opener at Baton Rouge, La.

“Both those guys need to be ready,” Harsin said.

And LSU coach Ed Orgeron needs to be ready for both those guys.

“You just have to have a plan,” Orgeron said. “You have to see what Bo does well, what TJ does well. I don’t think the run game’s going to change with either one of them. I don’t think the pass protection’s going to change.”

But Harsin was convinced that a change at quarterback was necessary last week after the Auburn offense sputtered while Nix completed 13 of 27 passes for 156 yards. He turned to Finley on Auburn’s third series of the third quarter.

“We played every running back,” Harsin said. “We played every wide receiver. I wasn’t going to switch the offensive line out. … I made the decision to change and try to create some momentum.”

It worked. Finley completed 9 of 16 passes for 97 yards and led Auburn on a 13-play, 98-yard go-ahead touchdown drive that ended with just 45 seconds left in the game. He threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Shedrick Jackson on fourth and 9.

“It’s easy to slack on the preparation (as a backup),” Harsin said, “and (Finley) didn’t do that.”

Harsin’s concerns about his offense have to do with more than just Nix’s inconsistency. On Sunday, Harsin fired wide receivers coach Cornelius Williams and replaced him with Eric Kiesau.

Finley’s situation at Auburn is reminiscent of his one season at LSU last year. Myles Brennan was injured in the third game of the season and Finley edged out fellow true freshman Max Johnson to start against South Carolina.

The Tigers rolled to a 52-24 victory behind Finley, but a week later at Auburn, Finley lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and threw two interceptions during a 48-11 Auburn victory.

Johnson relieved Finley, but Finley started three more games before Johnson started the final two games and led LSU to victories.

After spring practice, it was clear that Johnson and a healthy Brennan would enter preseason camp in a two-man battle to start this season for LSU (3-1, 1-0). So Finley, who grew up in Ponchatoula, La., transferred to Auburn.

“TJ didn’t want to leave, but it was a decision that was best for him,” Orgeron “He’s always going to be a part of our family.”

Brennan is sidelined by a broken arm suffered in late July, so Johnson has started the first four games.

He has thrown 15 touchdown passes and three interceptions for the Tigers despite operating with a poor running game and inconsistent protection.

“We have some outstanding backs,” Orgeron said. “We just don’t have any room to run. Our pass protection has to improve. We’re nowhere near being the team we want to be, but we’re getting there.”

–Field Level Media