The Curious Case of Robby Ashford
T.J. Finley is Auburn's QB1. But the last two weeks have still been intriguing ones for Robby Ashford — and a situation from Bryan Harsin's past could shed some light on it.
QB Robby Ashford (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
The announcement on Sunday afternoon that T.J. Finley is Auburn’s QB1 after a three-man battle this offseason shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone.
Finley has been the first quarterback out there for Auburn in the vast majority of drills during practices, both in spring ball and fall camp. Bryan Harsin and Eric Kiesau mentioned him first when talking about the quarterbacks’ performances during the Tigers’ two scrimmages earlier this month. Kiesau’s quotes after the second scrimmage all but confirmed Finley’s status as the eventual starter.
In the week following that second scrimmage — which included two open Saturday practices inside Jordan-Hare Stadium and another media viewing window on the practice field — all anyone saw was more confirmation.
This offseason, Finley has looked more confident and decisive in this offense, which is undoubtedly boosted by the fact that he had a chance to be the guy for the first time in his college career after serving as an emergency option in 2020 at LSU and 2021 at Auburn. He even has shown much more comfort in scrambling and extending plays, something he didn’t show much last fall when he had to replace Bo Nix as the Tigers’ starting quarterback.
The last two weeks have featured a ton of Finley with the first-team offense. Zach Calzada, who was the preseason favorite to win the job despite the fact that he missed time in the spring recovering from a shoulder injury, has been with the 2s and the 3s when media members have been allowed to watch.
Then there’s Robby Ashford.
The redshirt sophomore from Hoover has been a wild card since he announced his transfer to Auburn from Oregon after Calzada’s announcement. As a recruit, Ashford was the highest-rated of the three quarterbacks who competed for the starting job at Auburn this offseason. But while Finley and Calzada had experience as emergency starters, Ashford has yet to play a single snap of college football.
Ashford had a strong finish to spring practices at Auburn earlier this year, playing well with the second-team offense against the first-team defense en route to winning the Offensive MVP award in the A-Day Game. He carried that into fall camp, winning a couple of player of the day awards in the first week.
“I thought he had a couple throws the other day that were really special, that he put into some windows with some accuracy, and just his command of the offense too — calling plays, making checks, audibles, all those things,” Harsin said early in fall camp. “He’s got a better feel for those things right now, and that’s why he was able to (win the awards).”
And while Finley continued to stay in front of the pack in fall camp and it was more evident that Calzada was third in the pecking order, Ashford stayed at the intriguing No. 2 spot. Auburn is expected to release a depth chart later today for the season opener, and it would be a shock to see Ashford anywhere but right behind Finley.
Anyone watching practices over the last couple of weeks couldn’t have helped but notice that Ashford got some first-team reps in drills. During Saturday’s open fan practice, Ashford had several situational and pace drill sessions behind the first-team offensive line and throwing to the expected starters at wide receiver.
It seemed like, while Finley had firm control over the starting job, Auburn’s coaching staff still wanted to see more from Ashford. And that’s what makes Saturday’s opener against Mercer quite intriguing.