Auburn kicks off in four days against the Mercer Bears to open up the 2022 season, and there’s plenty to talk about with the announcements over the past couple of days regarding T.J. Finley winning the starting quarterback job along with the rest of the depth chart release.
However, we won’t be doing any of that here. This is all about the Mercer Bears and what they’ll bring into Jordan-Hare Stadium this coming Saturday. With kickoff scheduled for 6 pm CST, and a bit of a wet evening in the forecast, let’s see if the Bears can bring something to town that’ll shock the Tigers.
LAST GAME: 63-13 W vs Morehead State
Mercer had absolutely no trouble with Morehead State, rolling up 42 first-half points in a record-setting win. The Bears amassed 625 total yards (school record), and ran for 359 yards in the win as well. Some of their guys had absolutely monster days as well.
- QB Fred Payton: 11-17, 248 yds, 4 TDs
- RB Austin Douglas: 5 carries, 140 yds, 2 TDs
- RB Al Wooten: 13 carries, 108 yds
- WR Ty James: 5 catches, 192 yds, 3 TDs
Now, before you hearken back to 2017 Mercer, where the Tigers were a bit shorthanded offensively, and really only ran a few plays on the way to a 24-10 victory, remember some things. That was a turnover-filled affair, and we’d just come from getting our heads kicked in against Clemson. Gus Malzahn clearly tried to just get a victory and get out, and it would’ve been a standard FCS blowout if not for the 5 turnovers.
Also, before you have a flashback of Jacksonville State, remember that this isn’t the best FCS team in the land. Mercer is a top 25 FCS squad, for sure, but there’s a big gap between #1 and #21. Furthermore, Morehead State is not in a good league, and any time they played anyone with a pulse in 2021 they got blasted, giving up 68 points to JMU and another 59 to Austin Peay (both ranked teams). Mercer got the better of MSU, playing at home, but last week and this week will be a big leap in competition.
As for what you can expect from Mercer, they’ll run a multiple offense and I’m sure they’ll take their shots early on to try and hit big plays to shock the more talented Tigers. However, as things wear on, you’ll want to pay attention to the size mismatch in the trenches.
Their offensive line went 250, 270, 285, 275, and 300 pounds across the way. Reminds me of the old Atkins diet Tony Franklin line from 2008 that got pushed around by everyone. Auburn’s front line shouldn’t get moved hardly by this group to the tune of 9.4 yards per carry (Mercer’s average against Morehead).
Conversely, Mercer’s defensive lineup features a 3-4 look, with a role called the KAT, which is like a hybrid linebacker/defensive back. That position features guys playing at linebacker size, with the starter Christian Hanson weighing 228 pounds. However, that front line consisting of 6’1, 255 lb Solomon Zubairu (DE), 6’2, 285 lb Savio Frazier (DT), and 6’2, 284 lb Chris Hill (NG), will likely get pushed around a bit, even as Auburn’s offensive line tries to figure out exactly the right rhythm.
Something to watch for is ball security, as Mercer fumbled three times on Saturday, losing two of them to MSU. With a wet field expected, Auburn might end up with a reverse of the karma from 2017 fumble game, and get some turnovers to turn this into an easy rout.
Look, there’s not too much we can say here about Mercer without mentioning that Auburn absolutely has to come out sleepwalking and play awful for the Bears to even have a chance to get close. I don’t think this is the type of game we’ve seen at points in the past (aforementioned JSU, ULM 2012, or La Tech 2001). They opened 2021 with a huge record-setting victory as well before visiting Tuscaloosa and falling 48-14 to Alabama. We’ll see something similar this Saturday as well.