BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU freshman TJ Finley passed for 265 yards and two touchdowns in his college debut, Trey Palmer scored on a 95-yard, sideline-to-sideline kickoff return and the Tigers defeated South Carolina 52-24 on Saturday night.
Filling in for injured starter Myles Brennan, Finley completed his first three passes and capped his first series with a 1-yard keeper for a touchdown. It was an auspicious start to a game in which Finley — who was highly recruited out of Ponchatoula, Louisiana — delighted the Death Valley crowd of 21,855 by completing 17 of 21 passes, including touchdowns of 7 and 51 yards to Terrace Marshall Jr.
Marshall continued his torrid start to this season. He finished with receptions six for 88 yards and now has 27 catches for 532 yards and nine touchdowns through four games this season.
South Carolina was unable to maintain its form from a week earlier when the Gamecocks beat Auburn for the first time since 1933. Collin Hill was 12 of 22 for 234 yards and one touchdown but also was intercepted by Eli Ricks, who returned the ball 45 yards for the first of LSU’s two non-offensive touchdowns during the game.
Running back Kevin Harris largely carried the Gamecocks’ offensive with 126 yards and two TDs on 12 carries.
LSU’s much maligned defense gave up several more big plays, but largely redeemed itself with numerous drive-stalling sacks and held South Carolina to a field goal after Finley’s lone interception gave the Gamecocks the ball inside the LSU 40. South Carolina settled for field goal tries on four promising drives, and kicker Parker White missed three from 54, 34, and 40 yards.
Palmer’s kickoff return for a touchdown was the first by LSU in Tiger Stadium since Eric Martin did it in 1981. The return hardly looked promising when Palmer mishandled the kickoff and had to stop and bend over to pick it up at his own 5 as South Carolina’s kickoff unit converged. But Palmer was able to side-step a couple tacklers, made his way across the width of the field, and outran remaining pursuers down the opposite sidelined from which he started.
LSU also looked determined to show it could run the ball after struggling to do so in a 45-41 loss in Missouri on Oct. 10 in which the Tigers failed to take a final-minute lead despite having first-and-goal from the 1. LSU rushers combined for 276 yards against the Gamecocks, with running backs John Emery and Tyrion Davis-Price each scoring from inside the 5. Davis-Price led LSU with 135 yards rushing.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks saw their two-game winning streak halted by an LSU team with a lot to prove. South Carolina was pushed around up front, struggled to stop the run or get pressure on Finley, and did not force a single punt.
LSU: Standout performances by true freshmen made the Tigers’ future look bright. In addition to Finley’s winning debut and Ricks’ third interception of the season, defensive end BJ Ojulari had three sacks to give him four this season.
South Carolina has next weekend off before hosting Texas A&M on Nov. 7.
LSU plays Saturday at Auburn, which lost to South Carolina on Oct. 17.