How one player losing 25 pounds amid coronavirus shutdown led to LSU's most significant football win this season

Glenn Guilbeau
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

BATON ROUGE, La. - Something good has come out of the COVID-19 shutdown as far as LSU (2-2) is concerned. It made true freshman quarterback TJ Finley decide to lose some weight, which led to him becoming the Tigers' starting quarterback, which led to LSU's most significant victory of the season Saturday night.

Tyler Jamal Finley started for injured junior Myles Brennan and proceeded to look like a senior in completing 17 of 21 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns in the Tigers' 52-24 victory over South Carolina at Tiger Stadium.

The 6-6 Finley was over 260 pounds before COVID-19. He played at 240 on Saturday night.

"First, my weight loss is a huge aspect in this success I'm having right now," he said after the game. "I came into LSU at - and this is an embarrassing number, but oh well - 265 pounds. I was huge. A lot of the guys messed with me and said I'll move to D-tackle, so I kind of took that to heart."

LSU quarterback TJ Finley (11) throws as South Carolina defensive lineman Kingsley Enagbare (52) pressures during the first quarter at Tiger Stadium.

Misery index:Opinion: While Tennessee Vols are stalled under Jeremy Pruitt, Rutgers has new life with Greg Schiano

More:Ohio State up to No. 3 in Amway Coaches Poll behind Clemson, Alabama

Instead of gaining weight during home confinement amid COVID-19 protocols, Finley went the other way.

"So when COVID hit, and we went into quarantine, I took it upon myself to trim down," he said. "It is paying off well."

Orgeron was impressed with the svelte Finley as he tried to decide who would replace Brennan over the last week -- Finley or fellow true freshman Max Johnson. When Orgeron picked Finley on Thursday, Finley's ability to shed pounds was a factor.

"TJ showed us a lot of confidence throughout camp," Orgeron said. "He lost some weight. We're really proud of TJ Finley. That's what we saw in camp."

Finley displayed an extremely strong, whip-like arm that was also surgically accurate on short and intermediate passes. But he also ran well, breaking runs of five, four and nine yards on on LSU's first two drives. He gained 24 yards on eight carries on the night and threw the ball well on the run.

"The hits were a little harder, I'll tell you that," Finley said.

"Him being a freshman and coming in and balling like that was unbelievable," said sophomore John Emery, Jr., who also started the first game of his career and gained 88 yards on 18 carries with a 3-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter for a 52-17 lead.

LSU running back John Emery Jr. (4) scores a touchdown against South Carolina during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020.

That was LSU's largest advantage since 56-14 over Oklahoma in the third quarter of the national semifinal last season that the Tigers won 63-28.

LSU sophomore tailback Tyrion Davis-Price led all rushers with a career-high 135 yards on 22 carries.

"We already have a pass game," Emery said. "We just wanted to come out and show that we have a run game."

LSU also just needed a quality win, coming off a 45-41 loss at Missouri with its only other win at 0-3 Vanderbilt. 

"We had to get that nasty gut feeling out of our stomachs," Emery said. "We really needed this win. For South Carolina to beat Auburn (30-22 last week), and then for us to beat South Carolina, it was a huge confidence boost for us going into the week of Auburn."

LSU plays at Auburn (3-2) at 3:30 p.m., ET Saturday on CBS.