Tale of two Tigers, Auburn starting QB: Nix or Finley?

Published 12:23 pm Thursday, September 30, 2021

Oh c’mon, Bryan Harsin, cut the stalling. Don’t kill this party.

All the Auburn head coach is doing is delaying a great story line for an LSU-Auburn series that usually doesn’t need any help to go off the rails while serving up the weird, strange and quirky.

But who’s your starting quarterback Saturday night? Three-year, up-and-down starter Patrick Nix? Or T.J. Finley, who came off the bench to rescue Auburn (3-1) in its face-saving comeback 34-24 victory over something called Georgia State last week?

Harsin is coach-speak mum on the deal. Probably won’t know until shortly before the 8 p.m. kickoff. And it’s quite the dilemma.

Both of his two choices aided Auburn greatly in its 48-11 rout of LSU last season.

Of course, Finley was playing for LSU at the time, but whatever.

LSU (3-1) will go in assuming it will face its old friend Finley either from the start or in another relief role.

After transferring to Auburn following spring practice, Finley is suddenly the latest hero on The Plains. He rescued the erratic Nix and capped the 98-yard winning drive with a fourthdown Houdini escape and miracle pass with 45 seconds remaining.

The Cam Newton imitation didn’t stop there — the 6-foot-6, 242-pound Ponchatoula native was last seen perched on a postgame podium, big smile, leading the Auburn student section in cheers rooted in relief.

LSU head coach Ed Orgeron couldn’t be happier for him.

“Love the guy,” Orgeron said of Finley. “He’s great young man, great young quarterback. He looks like he’s having a lot of success and we’re happy for him.”

No doubt, so are his former LSU teammates.

He was popular with them, too, during an eventful true freshman season. He probably wasn’t ready to start then, but he was next man up when Myles Brennan was injured in the third game of last season.

For a lifelong Tigers fan, it was a boyhood dream come true, even with the attendance-restricted pandemic season.

But the first time Finley hears a packed Tiger Stadium at full throat, he’ll be the opposition.

He went 2-3 as LSU’s starter before Max Johnson took over and won the final two games, including a mega-upset of Florida.

After spring practice, with Brennan back, Finley appeared to be No. 3 in the pecking order and, well …

Welcome to college football in the Transfer Portal Era.

“It’s something I don’t want to happen, but in the end when they decide to go, you have to take the high road and wish them well,” Orgeron said. “I understand. Only one can play. My son is a quarterback,” he said referring to McNeese State’s Cody Orgeron.

It was hard to get mad at Finley.

“When T.J. left he came and talked to me in my office like a man,” Orgeron continued. “He didn’t want to leave. He was crying. LSU meant a lot to him but it was a decision that was … best for him, so he left.”

Maybe he would have stayed if he’d known Brennan would break his arm in a fishing accident just before August camp.

With that size and cannon arm, there was no shortage of interested suitors. But the wonder of it is that he landed at Auburn. It was there that Finley arguably had his worst game as LSU’s starter — 13 of 24 with two interceptions and a lost fumble that was returned for a touchdown in last year’s 48-11 Auburn rout.

Johnson relieved him and accounted for the lone LSU touchdown on a 43-yard pass to — guess who? — Kayshon Boutte.

Maybe it works out best for all involved.

“It looks like he’s doing well so we wish him the best, obviously not against us, but … T.J. is always going to be a part of our family. He’s from Ponchatoula. He’s got a great family.”

But family only goes so far — even blood relations, as Orgeron proved when he beat his own son’s team 34-7 in Tiger Stadium three weeks ago.

“I mean, if you can sack your own son, you can sack T.J.,” Orgeron said.