Auburn football: Quarterback play lacking and unlikely to get better soon
Auburn has a major problem in preparing for Alabama this week. The Tigers don’t have a competent, quality quarterback ready to trade points with Bryce Young.
That’s not a permanent knock on TJ Finley and his abilities. He may improve and become one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. However, that’s not likely to happen before or during Saturday’s game against Alabama. After all, Finley struggled mightily in a 21-17 loss against South Carolina on Saturday. How well can he possibly play against a much better defense when he leads the Tigers on Saturday?
Finley had the unknown on his side against South Carolina. He had only played one half of a meaningful game, in which he led Auburn back from a potentially devastating loss to Georgia State. South Carolina didn’t have a complete scouting report on Finley. That should have given Auburn some sort of advantage. It didn’t.
Former starter Bo Nix was benched at halftime of the Georgia State game as the whole team struggled. Then he was brought back as the starter for the remainder of the season. Now we know why. There’s no bringing back Nix now. He suffered a leg injury last week that required surgery.
With no Bo, this is Finley’s opportunity to shine or – based on what we saw on Saturday – to entice a highly rated high school quarterback to sign with Auburn and secure some early playing time. Finley doesn’t look like the long-term answer. As for Nix? He has his own limitations, like consistency. That’s sort of a coveted quality for quarterbacks.
Despite Nix’s limitations, Auburn fans should throw an appreciation party for him and what he meant to Auburn before his injury. The Tigers rallied around Nix, he kept plays alive and was clearly a better option than Finley. That’s why the Georgia State quarterback change was not permanent. Finley isn’t ready to be a starting quarterback in the SEC and he may never be. Auburn coach Bryan Harsin knew it and now the college football world knows it as well. I’m certainly not throwing dirt on Finley’s entire future. He might find a way to be a complete, quality quarterback in the future. However, that won’t likely happen this week with Bama looming.
Finley completed just 17 of his 32 passes for 188 yards against South Carolina. He missed open receivers and never looked comfortable. It’s fair to partly blame Harsin for Finley’s incompetence on Saturday. Finley didn’t look ready to play but the offense wasn’t set up to take advantage of his skills, whatever they may be. It makes you wonder how first-team snaps have been divvied up in practice this season. Did Finley get his fair share? Probably not.
Before Nix’s injury, the Tigers were scrambling for wins and likely put the vast majority of their focus on preparing Nix for the stretch runs. That didn’t work out so well either. Auburn lost two games with Nix as the starter. That means the Tigers have lost three games in a row. Auburn has gone from being thought of as a contender in the SEC West to being thought of as a possible contender for the Music City Bowl. The whole transformation changed in less than a month. Life moves fast in college football.
Maybe Finley will be a different quarterback against Alabama on Saturday. Maybe he’ll lead the Tigers to a victory against the Crimson Tide and become a part of the rivalry’s folklore. I doubt it. Let’s go back to that comeback win against Georgia State one more time. Finley didn’t look comfortable in the pocket during that game, though the Tigers came back and won. No one should have laid that victory at Finley’s feet. The entire team played better to avoid nationwide embarrassment. That can be quite a motivator.
The one aspect of Finley’s game that Auburn could use might not be an option. Finley has a strong arm and can stretch defenses if he has time to throw the ball. That’s a problem. Auburn doesn’t protect the passer particularly well. That’s why Nix’s scrambling ability was so valuable. Finley can run but he makes the decision to throw or scamper too quickly. For better or for worse, you never really knew what Nix was going to do. Neither did opposing defenses, which made him much more difficult to defend, in an odd way.
Auburn’s mindset is almost as much of a concern as its inept quarterback play. The Tigers lost their leader when Nix went down and had to turn to Finley, who the team couldn’t have had much faith in before the South Carolina game. On top of that, there are reports that Harsin is a candidate to become the head coach at Washington. However, those reports don’t seem as threatening since Auburn lost to the Gamecocks on Saturday.
Harsin had success at Boise State but he shouldn’t be considered a slam-dunk hire by Washington or any other Power 5 program after the way his team has played in the last 3 games. The Tigers were dominated by Texas A&M, lost to Mississippi State in a historic comeback by the Bulldogs and couldn’t beat South Carolina, which was expected to be one of the worst teams in the SEC this season. That’s not a resume-building type of run.
Auburn likely would have beaten South Carolina with Nix at quarterback, even with his reckless, scrambling ways. Instead, the Tigers could only score 17 points in a loss. What makes an Auburn fan think that things can drastically change before the Iron Bowl and the Tigers can pull off an amazing upset?
I’m still waiting.