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Sep 3, 2022; Auburn, Al, USA;  Colby Wooden (25) gets tackle in the backfield during the game  between Auburn and Mercer at Jordan-Hare Stadium.  Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics
Sep 3, 2022; Auburn, Al, USA; Colby Wooden (25) gets tackle in the backfield during the game between Auburn and Mercer at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics

Auburn starts off season with 42-16 win and more questions than answers.

  

After a disappointing 6-7 season, Biringham bowl, and off-season that was filled to the brim with headlines and stories involving Quarterbacks and charges of the hot seat for head coach Bryan Harsin, it was finally time for the Auburn Tigers (1-0) to take on the Mercer Bears (1-1) for the opening of the 2022 campaign in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Despite the Tigers winning 42-16 it may have left more questions than answers. 

Auburn had a first quarter that they had dreamed about during training camp. Scoring a total of 14 points and gaining 110 rushing yards and 65 passing yards. Jaquez Hunter started his three-touchdown day with a 19-yard rushing touchdown, and T.J. Finley connected with John Samuel Shenker to put the Tigers up 14-0 going into the second quarter. 

The second quarter seemed to be even better with Auburn’s Jaquez Hunter and Tank Bigsby both scoring making it 28-0 going into the final 2 minutes of the first half. 

With 1:29 left in the first half, T.J. Finley threw an interception on a third and 18, which gave the Mercer Bears the ball on the Auburn 29, which led to Fred Payton connecting with Devron Harper for Mercer’s first touchdown. Ending the first half with Auburn up, but shaken, 28-7. 

Before Training camp, Auburn was fascinated by the potential QB controversy, created by the transfer of last year’s quarterback Bo Nix to Oregon. T.J. Finley won said controversy by being named the starter over Robby Ashford and Zach Calzada on August 28.  

That controversy reared its head again, when following another T.J. Finley interception, that was an underthrown play action deep ball. Robby Ashford, the transfer from Oregon, was called to go in on the next drive. 

When asked about his two interceptions T.J. Finley said, “the first one plain and simple through double kyle coverage, and I know the week spots of that defense so I tried to fit a throw where all practice it was open” on the second one kinda got on my back leg a little bit and left the ball short, and the guy just made a great play.”

Robby Ashford began his campaign of the 2022 season with a masterful deep ball for Ja’Varruis Johnson that resulted in a gain of 56-yards, setting Jarquez Hunter up perfectly for his hat-trick touchdown, and to put Auburn up 35-7 with 4:47 left in the third quarter.

Then tragedy struck as a lightning strike sent the players into the locker room for an extended period and sent many of the fans home.

When asked about the delay and the atmosphere before and after T.J. Finley said “it was amazing before the rain delay and then after the people who stayed in the pouring down rain and the lighting and things of that nature just shows you how much Auburn loves football.” 

Tank Bigsby must have stayed ready however, as the first play out Tank would show off what I am calling a 39-yard “Tankquake” onto Mercer, and to the wet fans still coming in from the rain, making the score 42-7 with 1:33 left in the third quarter. 

When asked about the production of the running backs Coach Harsin said “We did run the ball well, effectively Jarquez had a big night Tank had a great start after the lightning delay.” 

Auburn seemed to have really good defense production, especially coming from Cam Riley who had 15 tackles nine of which were solo. When asked about his performance Cam Riley said: “It just felt good my debut coming out and starting in Jordan-Hare I wasn’t expecting to end with 15 I told OP 15 but in reality, I wasn’t expecting to end with 15.”

The fourth quarter seemed to display a challenge for both offense and defense, with Robby Ashford throwing a couple of scary balls including a dicey throw that went through the hands of a Mercer defender before being caught by John Samuel Shenker. 

However, the real problem was the defense who let up two very good drives to Mercer that both ended up in the points column. Which left an unneeded bad taste in the mouth in the mouth of many, as the game ended 42-16 with an Auburn victory.

When asked about his Quarterbacks, Coach Harsin said, “Robbie is gonna play when T.J. is in there as well that’s part of the gameplan so it wasn’t a surprise for any of us that we were gonna have Robbie in their playing but now we go back and assess tomorrow where are we at.”

When asked about the late game drives by Mercer Coach Harsin said “It has nothing to do with the delay or anything like that, you gotta play” “I’m not gonna make excuses for our guys, they wouldn’t want that either.” Coach Harsin also said “overall we as a team need to finish better,” “We did start the second half fast that was a big challenge for us even from last season,” “but coming out and winning the third quarter and the fourth quarter and being the team that can finish, you gotta do that to win the kinda games we are gonna play in.  

The Tigers will be looking to replicate the result next week against San Jose State on September 11 at 6:30 inside Jordan-Hare. The game next week will be very important as a way to figure out some of these still lingering questions as they have a true test of skill against Penn State in week 3. 

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