On October 24, 2020, a little-known freshman named TJ Finley started under center for the LSU Tigers for the first time. The Bayou Bengals welcomed South Carolina to Death Valley in the middle of a brutal start to the fall following the program's perfect season the year before.
Just over one year later, Finley will take up the same role wearing the colors of a different Tigers team.
In that first start with LSU, Finley completed 17 of his 21 pass attempts to rack up 265 yards through the air against the Gamecocks. Two of those completions went for touchdowns, including one from 51 yards out. His final quarterback rating clocked in at 208.9--his best performance to date if you ignore a 542.2 rating off of two pass attempts this season against Alabama State.
Finley of course transferred to the Plains following the NCAA's move to institute a one-time transfer rule, allowing Finley to be immediately eligible to play without having to sit out for one season. Although he was beaten out by Bo Nix during fall camp, Finley has left his mark on Auburn in 2021. Fans will remember how rescued the Tigers from a crippling homecoming loss to Georgia State.
Now with Bo Nix out for the remainder of the season due to a broken ankle, Auburn will turn to Finley as the Tigers hit the road to face a familiar foe for both members of the 2020 squad and Finley alike.
The Gamecocks are much improved from last season when they beat Auburn, sitting at 5-5 and quite literally on the verge of earning a bowl bid in the first season of Shane Beamer's tenure. DB Jaylan Foster leads the SEC in interceptions, and the Gamecocks have more takeaways than anyone else in the league. They're well-coached, and it's not inconceivable that Finley may need to knock off some rust as he eases into being the full-time starter for what's left of the season.
Finley set the bar quite high in his last outing against the Gamecocks. November began with SEC West title aspirations on the Plains. Halfway through the month, those dreams have all but completely evaporated. In a sense, that means the Tigers have nothing left to lose.
It's up to TJ Finley to take off the gloves and give Auburn the juice it needs headed into the Iron Bowl. In that department, against this opponent in the South Carolina Gamecocks, Finley has experience.