What kind of role will Robby Ashford have in Auburn's offense this fall?
The Tigers have had plenty of dual-threat QB2s with promise but little production. Here's why Ashford has a chance to be different.
QB Robby Ashford (Austin Perryman/Auburn Athletics)
Auburn fans have had hopes and dreams of a dual-threat quarterback playing a significant role off the bench for more than a decade.
It’s easy to rattle them off: Dematrius Davis. Joey Gatewood. Malik Willis. John Franklin III. Jeremy Johnson. Kiehl Frazier. Kodi Burns.
For the most part, those quarterbacks didn’t make big impacts as reserves. They largely played in blowouts or only got sporadic opportunities. Their presence generated more media and fan speculation than anything else in the long run.
But the situation with Robby Ashford in 2023 at least feels different than the rest.
That’s partly because Hugh Freeze wasted no time in talking about Ashford on the day when he named Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne his starting quarterback.
“I believe with all my heart Robby Ashford gives us an absolute better chance to win the game if he accepts this news and continues to work and develops himself — because he might be the most freakish athlete I've ever had at quarterback,” Freeze said.
And it’s also because Ashford is bringing something different to the table than the Tigers’ other dual-threat backups of the past: Nearly a full season of being the starter at Auburn.
You know the story by now: Ashford took over the starting role in 2022 after T.J. Finley went down with an injury. He played through multiple injuries to finish a difficult campaign for the Tigers.
And while his passing efficiency and accuracy numbers were towards the bottom of the charts nationally, he was the No. 5 rusher among all quarterbacks in college football.
His 710 yards on 152 carries (4.67 yards per attempt) ranked sixth all-time for an Auburn quarterback, only Cam Newton, Nick Marshall (twice), Jimmy Sidle and Travis Tidwell. What’s even more impressive is that when Auburn went with an obvious run-heavy strategy after Cadillac Williams took over, Ashford still ran for 313 yards and four touchdowns in the month of November alone.
That type of success on the ground — while playing through injuries and behind a struggling offensive line in a lost season, mind you — makes it easy to see why Freeze is so adamant about playing Ashford, even with Thorne becoming QB1.
“I want to say this about Robby: He will always have a package,” Freeze said. “If he handles all of this the right way, he will always have a package, because he has an element to us that’s just a little different.”
But playing a dual-threat quarterback in a package is always easier said than done. There’s a fine balance to walk between getting that player involved enough and avoiding a situation where you throw your starter off of their rhythm.
So how will Freeze and offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery handle Ashford this fall? For some clues, we need to look to their past.
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