Observations: Auburn 42, Mercer 16
Two quarterbacks (from the very first drive), nine ball-carriers, one new starter with 15 tackles and a major weather episode — Auburn's 2022 opener was far from boring.
QB Robby Ashford (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
If you thought this was going to be a straightforward, by-the-book, uneventful season opener between an SEC program and an overmatched FCS opponent — you just don’t know Auburn football that well.
Auburn started T.J. Finley at quarterback and brought new fan-favorite backup Robby Ashford into the game on the fourth play of the night. On one play, Ashford lined up at slot receiver, took a sweep handoff from Finley and option-pitched it to Tank Bigsby for an impressive gain.
Only six players caught passes, but nine had carries. The one with the most touchdowns — Jarquez Hunter, who scored a “cowboy hat trick” — had just eight touches.
On defense, first-time starter Cam Riley had three times as many tackles as any other Tiger.
Oh, and there was a weather delay that lasted an hour and 27 minutes and dumped a mass of rainfall onto Pat Dye Field that hasn’t been seen on a game day this side of the 2009 West Virginia monsoon.
Welcome to Jordan-Hare Stadium, where football rarely happens like it does everywhere else.
“This is the first lightning delay game I had a chance to actually finish,” Harsin said. “Told our guys there’s a plan for that, but after a while, it gets a little boring in the locker room.”
When Auburn was out on the field, though, it wasn’t nearly as boring as one might have expected.
The Tigers’ 42-16 victory over Mercer wasn’t short on storylines. For a game that looked like it was going to be well in hand rather quickly, there’s a lot to digest as Harsin’s Tigers look to take full advantage of a five-home game start to the season that features a pair of paycheck games up front.
Here are the five biggest Observations from Auburn’s win, along with Nerd Stats, some No-Huddle Notes and the Quote of the Night.
Welcome to the show, Robby Ashford
Finley is Auburn’s starting quarterback, and Harsin made a point to reinforce that after the game. But the night ultimately belonged to Ashford, who finished 4-7 passing for 100 yards and had six carries for 68 yards. Finley finished 9-14 passing for 112 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
This was a collegiate debut for Ashford, the transfer quarterback who was on the sidelines for both of his previous two seasons at Oregon. He checked into the fourth play of the game and took a zone read for a successful eight yards. His next carry, which opened the Tigers’ second drive, went for 49 yards.
“We talked about it all week: 'We've just got to get you one-on-one with the safety,’” Ashford said. “(John Samuel Shenker) did his job and got the block, cut it up. After that, it was just rolling. I wish I could have went to the house, but I'll take first downs every day, too.
“I mean, it was good to just get that confidence. That was my confidence-booster — just going out there and just knowing I can make the plays.”
Offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau put Ashford in the game plan for Mercer, even though Finley was going to be QB1. Ashford said he “appreciated it so much” that he “almost started crying” over what he called his “second chance” as a college quarterback.