Auburn began the 2022 season unconventionally, with a lengthy weather delay, but we gave ‘em something to talk about as the quarterback situation will continue to brew into subsequent weeks as the Tigers dispatched Mercer 42-10.
T.J. Finley threw two interceptions in the first half in his first game after being announced as the starter, and Robby Ashford showed flashes in both the run and pass game to get extensive playing time down the stretch. Due to the 1:28 weather delay splitting the third quarter, it was difficult to ascertain exactly how things were going, but Ashford certainly looked better tonight.
Things that we knew were going to happen included the defense playing very well, showcasing new stars like Cam Riley while old faces like Derick Hall impressed as we knew they would. Tank Bigsby had a huge night with 147 yards and 2 touchdowns in the opener as well.
What we’ll end up discussing as we turn the page to San Jose State next Saturday will largely revolve around the quarterback play and who will end up as the ultimate starter once we get into the meat of the schedule.
Auburn’s first drive of the game went run-heavy, and Robby Ashford had to enter on a fourth and short to convert. A couple of plays later Jarquez Hunter burst through the line and scooted right from 19 yards out for the first score of the 2022 season.
Didn't take too long for @jarquezhunter to find the end zone #WarEagle pic.twitter.com/1JOQB4LbLL— Auburn Football (@AuburnFootball) September 3, 2022
After one first down, Mercer ran into the Auburn defense we expected, and the Tigers forced a punt. With a good kick, the Bears pinned the Tigers at their own 7-yard line, and Robby Ashford got the start at quarterback for the second drive of the game. He promptly took a speed option 49 yards around left end before T.J. Finley came back in to connect with Ja’Varrius Johnson for 39 yards.
holy @robby_ashford pic.twitter.com/UsNhzf3XiG— Auburn Football (@AuburnFootball) September 3, 2022
On the ensuing play, Finley hit John Samuel Shenker for his first touchdown toss of the season from 2 yards away and the Tigers led 14-0.
Auburn’s defense forced a three-and-out, and the offense stalled after starting just near midfield, facing a punt as the first quarter ended. Once again the Tiger defense stood up, aided by a low snap, and forced yet another punt. Auburn started at the Mercer 38-yard line, and the Tigers took a 19-yard pass to Shedrick Jackson before another solid Ashford jaunt, and Hunter finished the drive with his second touchdown of the night. Auburn led 21-0 with 10:17 remaining in the first half.
TOUCHDOWN part ✌️ for @jarquezhunter!!#WarEagle pic.twitter.com/RrAYm7BU4r— Auburn Football (@AuburnFootball) September 3, 2022
Yet again, Auburn’s defense forced another three and out, and the Tigers went back to work on offense after a 17-yard punt return from Keionte Scott. Auburn began at its own 47, and included one play where T.J. Finley pitched to Robby Ashford, who then ran a speed option to the right. He pitched to Tank Bigsby for 21 yards. Five plays later, Tank barged into the end zone for his first touchdown of 2022 to increase the Auburn edge to 28-0 with 5:04 left in the half.
TANK OVER THE TOP FOR SIX#WarEagle | @tank_bigsby pic.twitter.com/kfGr93c2Ry— Auburn Football (@AuburnFootball) September 4, 2022
The defense earned another short trip with another punt forced, and Tank Bigsby opened the drive with a highlight run, juking defenders for a 60-yard gain, but it was called back for holding, and T.J. Finley threw an interception on 3rd and long a couple plays later. Mercer had its best opportunity with less than two minutes remaining in the half, and hit on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Fred Payton to Devron Harper with only 20 seconds to play.
Auburn took a 28-7 lead into the locker room, with the offense running up 274 yards of total offense with 174 on the ground.
Out of the half, Mercer again mustered nothing on offense and was forced to punt. After two good Tank runs, a key incompletion to Shenker set up a deep shot from Finley. He pulled the string and the ball was well underthrown, resulting in the second interception of the night.
A sack from Derick Hall ended any threat from the Mercer Bears on their ensuing possession, and Robby Ashford got his first full drive running the offense. He connected with Ja’Varrius Johnson for 56 yards to the Mercer 7-yard line, and Jarquez Hunter pounded in two plays later for his third score of the night. Auburn led 35-7, and after another punt by Mercer we entered a weather delay with lightning in the area.
After a lengthy weather delay, kickoff resumed just before 10 PM CST, with Auburn still in possession of the ball nearing the end of the third quarter. The Tigers wasted no time getting warmed back up, as Tank Bigsby took the first handoff 39 yards for a touchdown to give Auburn a 42-7 lead.
As the fourth quarter began, Auburn’s defense continued to play well, forcing another punt, but a bad snap resulted in a scramble for the ball and the Mercer punter was able to kick the ball cleanly. He was run into, resulting in a 5-yard penalty and a first down. After the momentum shift, the Bears drove and tacked on a field goal to pull within a 42-10 deficit.
Robby Ashford remained in the game on the next drive midway through the final period, and we got to see some more from Damari Alston. Ashford did hit Shenker on a solid route down the seam, sending the Tigers into Mercer territory, and the Tigers turned the ball over on downs a few plays later as the clock dwindled. Mercer drove for another score in the closing minute, with Devron Harper catching another touchdown from Fred Payton with :25 left. Auburn still ended up securing the victory 42-16.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
On offense it’s Tank Bigsby, with 16 carries for 147 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He showed better running than last year, hitting the hole a little more, but when he did bounce out he had an extra special burst.
Defensively, it was Cam Riley. Coming in to fill Zakoby McClain’s spot, Riley ended up with 15 total tackles and a QB hurry, and he displayed range and speed in getting to the ball carriers. At first glance, we haven’t lost much, if anything, from McClain’s absence
PLAY OF THE GAME
Tank got us started right out of the weather delay.
Tank Bigsby. First play back from delay pic.twitter.com/5vnOy8kDWB— Jacob Snyder (@ImJacobSnyder) September 4, 2022
WE WERE RIGHT ABOUT
This defense was fantastic. The only time they really bent all night was after Finley’s first interception and the short field just before halftime. They gave up a touchdown pass, but clamped down before and after that time. If not for that freak running into the kicker penalty, then the defense forces another great situation for the offense and run up the score even more.
WE WERE WRONG ABOUT
T.J. Finley. The starting quarterback tossed two interceptions, neither on good plays from the defensive backs, but from throws right to them. He had a couple of nice throws early on, but it was clear that he didn’t have the excitement and it factor that fans want to see.
We have another Saturday night affair next week with San Jose State coming to town! Kickoff is at 6:30 pm CST on SEC Network.