Robby Ashford's unexpected journey to his first Iron Bowl
The kid who picked Auburn "to be different" is about to head into a start at Alabama in a spot that is truly different from most quarterbacks who have gone before him.
QB Robby Ashford (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
Robby Ashford became an Auburn fan because he “loved to be different.”
It started when he was 4 years old. Growing up in a family of Alabama fans, Ashford went against the grain and decided he was going to like the Tigers instead of the Tide. He had a Bo Jackson jersey. His grandmother bought him a whole kid’s uniform set, complete with the trademark white AU helmet.
“Auburn just always just felt different to me and just felt special,” Ashford said with a smile.
Ashford’s desire to be different bled into his college decision, although it was one that took him on the other side of the country. He started his career at Oregon, but he didn’t play a single snap in two seasons there. The former 4-star quarterback from Hoover entered the transfer portal after the Ducks made a coaching change, and he knew he wanted to come home.
“When I entered the portal, I was like, ‘I gotta come to Auburn,’” Ashford said. “I was like, ‘That's where I need to be, and that's where I want to be.’”
To say Ashford’s first season at Auburn hasn’t gone as expected would be an understatement. He didn’t win the QB1 job in fall camp but has started each of the last eight games for the Tigers. The coaches who brought him to the Plains are no longer employed by Auburn, yet he stayed on top of the depth chart after the switch from Bryan Harsin to interim head coach Cadillac Williams.
Now, the Alabama native will start in his first Iron Bowl this Saturday. Ashford has heard a lot of talk from the many Crimson Tide fans in his family. He’s heard the most from his brother-in-law. Not only did Damion Square play at Alabama — he’s famous for a pregame speech (warning: strong language) that has become synonymous with the Nick Saban Era.
“He’s been talking smack,” Ashford said. “As he should, though. I mean, he played at Alabama. But it's been good just to see just how much this game brings our family just together, like it does for a whole lot of families. This game means everything. So it's cool to just know I'm about to go out there and play in the Iron Bowl after years of growing up and just watching it.”
And the kid who picked Auburn to be different is about to head into his first Iron Bowl in a spot that is truly different from most starting quarterbacks who have gone before him into this historic rivalry.
Auburn has won back-to-back games under Williams. There’s a real feeling of excitement among a team that was left for dead by many people several weeks ago. As star defensive linemen Colby Wooden and Derick Hall said Monday, the Tigers are playing with “house money” as they face their biggest rival. Just to get back to this point as a team has already been a pretty big upset.
But Auburn’s return to winning ways under Williams have come with Ashford making much less of an impact than you would expect from a starting quarterback — at least from a statistical standpoint. A season of low consistency through the air has turned into a stretch of low volume.
Ashford has gone from attempting 31.5 passes per game in October to just 18.0 per game in November. This month, his yards per attempt have dropped three whole yards, from 7.4 to 4.4. His completion percentage sits at a rough 38.9%. His passing efficiency is in the 70s.
Quarterbacks with these numbers, quite frankly, don’t have a chance to start Iron Bowls. They usually get benched. But this isn’t a normal season, a normal offense, or a normal player.
Over the last three games, Auburn has tried to run the ball as much as possible with Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter. Ashford, of course, has played a sizable role in the ground game. He’s attempting 14.33 carries per game in November and has raised his average yards per carry to an effective 4.47. His ability to scramble and make defenses respect his running threat are the main reasons why he got the starting job in the first place.
Still, Auburn has been much more competitive over the last three weeks with its starting quarterback shouldering a minimal amount of the offensive workload as a passer.
That doesn’t seem to bother him at all.
“I mean, right now, we've been running the ball really well,” Ashford said. “So it's kind of, if it ain't broke, why fix it? As a quarterback, I feel like a lot of people would be, like, ‘Oh, how do you feel?’ Like, you wouldn’t be happy or something, because your stats aren’t as great.
“But for me, I don't care about stats, as long as it is a W in the win column.”