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A spirit that is not afraid

Auburn remaining unpredictable with QB play

Auburn isn't naming a permanent starting quarterback early in the season, and that be for the best.

Even after Saturday's game versus Mercer, Auburn and head coach Bryan Harsin were still not ready to decide on one guy that will consistently take over the QB spot.

"T.J. (Finley) had a couple of turnovers. Not ideal, not exactly what you want, but we're not making any decisions right now," Harsin said. "We're going to go back and really look at who was it that caused the turnovers and how the guys how the guys will look because there's a lot of other things, too ... It's not just throwing the ball; it's how he's operating as well."

But that could play in Auburn’s favor. 

Auburn doesn’t have the luxury of turning to Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, nor a dangerous triple-option attack led by Nick Marshall, like it did in 2010 and 2013, but what it does have is unpredictability.

After week one, the biggest takeaway from the quarterback play seems to be their ability to make plays in a variety of ways. It’s not just Finley with his arm then Robby Ashford coming in to run. That’s predictable — and that’s why most two-QB systems fail.

What the duo of Finley and Ashford have is different. Although Ashford ran QB keepers on his first five snaps, going for 66 yards, when he first led a full drive by himself, he let it fly. No. 9 went 2-for-3 through the air on his first drive in the third quarter.

He finished out his first full drive by connecting with Ja’Varrius Johnson, whose weekend performance solidified him a starting position at slot receiver. The 56-yard bomb got the team inside the 10 and let the running game cap off the seven-play, 80-yard drive with a touchdown.

So yes, Ashford can use his legs, but the defense can’t afford to key in on that completely, because he has already shown the potential to be dangerous in the passing attack as well.

On the other hand, Finley, who is still penciled in as QB1 for week two against San Jose State, brings his own strengths to the offense.

Offensive coordinator Eric Kieseau has praised Finley for his “command” of the offense throughout the offseason. That’s his advantage as a returning starter. He knows the playbook, can line guys up and is a vocal leader on this team as a junior. 

Not to mention, Finley has quite the arm on him. He’s showed toughness and the ability to deliver a throw, with velocity, in the face of pressure again and again. He also completed a 40-yard pass to Johnson and the only touchdown through the air against Mercer.

Finley’s two picks are a concern and “not what you want,” according to Harsin, but he adds the veteran presence that Ashford lacks.

The two QBs might just work well together. Last season, Finley was called on to alternate with Bo Nix as Nix struggled with efficiency and injury, but the duo were never intended to operate as a tandem. As Harsin and Kiesau take full control of the offense, they can input a two-quarterback system from the jump and then adapt it as the season demands. 

Yes, Finley is currently on top of the depth chart at QB, but Harsin said to expect them both to play again against San José State on Saturday at 6:30 P.M. CST. 

"I think everybody feels like if there's two guys playing, there's some sort of controversy," Harsin said. "If guys deserve to play, then we should find a role for them."

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Noah Griffith | Assistant Sports Editor

Noah is a senior in journalism from Salem, Alabama. He joined the Plainsman in August of 2021 after transferring in from Southern Union Community College.

Twitter: @NoahGG01

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