After months of speculation, albeit with an idea of the inevitable future, Bryan Harsin has picked his starting quarterback for the 2022 season in T.J. Finley.
T.J. Finley will be @AuburnFootball’s starting QB, sources tell ESPN. He ended last season as the Tigers’ starter, and Bryan Harsin has been impressed with Finley’s improved command of the offense this preseason. Auburn opens its season Saturday at home against Mercer.— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) August 28, 2022
Word leaked just a little while ago that the Tigers had chosen last year’s returning starter to head up the offense this season. While Finley’s time taking the reins after Bo Nix’s injury in 2021 weren’t always great, he earned the valuable starting experience that apparently won him the job this offseason.
Harsin brought in two transfer quarterbacks in Zach Calzada and Robby Ashford, as well as a hand-picked freshman in Holden Geriner, and the general wisdom was that Calzada would win the job after his time at Texas A&M last season. After all, he did beat Alabama.
However, Finley beat out everybody. That says one of two things. Either Finley has improved and is seeing the field and running the offense, or the guys that came in to try and take the starting job weren’t that great. Either way you cut it, Finley is the best quarterback that we have on the roster. Harsin has been complimentary of him in fall camp, saying that he’s improved in leading the offense. I do fully believe that the team is behind him, but there’s much more to success than the support of your surrounding cast.
We first saw T.J. Finley when LSU came to town in 2020, and the Tigers wrecked the Bayou Bengals. He wasn’t great as a freshman in Baton Rouge that season, but the usually expected time in the offense during spring ball and fall camp wasn’t there. He wasn’t able to have summer workouts with the rest of the offense, and so 2020 is truly a lost season. Last year, he moves along to Auburn after the 2021 spring semester, so once again he’s coming into a season without some of the most crucial practice available.
Then, unexpectedly, we got to see Bo Nix be absolutely terrible in certain games, and Finley had to rescue the team against Georgia State of all opponents, before coming back in after Nix was injured in the loss to Mississippi State. Finley did not win a game for Auburn as a starter, falling against South Carolina, Alabama, and Houston to finish the year.
Overall, his numbers reflect that. 70-128 (54.7%) for 827 yards, 6 TDs, 1 INT. The lack of turnovers is great, but there’s not a ton of volume. It was the offense doing very little that cost the team those games he started, and with Bo Nix Auburn definitely would’ve won the Iron Bowl.
Has he improved? We saw what we saw in the spring game, with Robby Ashford looking mobile and dangerous, and that apparently continued during fall camp. However, coaches certainly wanted something a little more consistent than the highs and lows that Ashford provided, and Finley was the one who battled off contenders the entire time.
I’m certain that we’ll see both quarterbacks (and likely Zach Calzada too) at some point during the first two games before Penn State comes to town. In the end, Bryan Harsin brought in three new guys to beat out T.J. Finley, and he rebuffed all of their advances.
We’re less than a week away from kickoff, so this had to happen at some point, and we surely didn’t want Harsin to pull a Gus Malzahn Finley OR Ashford OR Calzada when the depth chart releases.
Hey, enjoy the game against Mercer. I’m sure well be to run over them, and this game will likely have a heavy early does of Tank and Jarquez before Damari Alston and Sean Jackson get some carries late. I would imagine that we do get to see some drives where they open up the playbook to test each quarterback.
Never a dull day on the Plains, War Eagle!