On the big stage, against a top-25 team, in front of an orange-clad Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd, the Auburn Tigers showed they are not ready for prime time; not by a long shot. A mistake-prone Auburn team gift-wrapped visiting Penn State a lopsided 41-12 decision to fall to 2-1 for the season.
Is it time to change the quarterback? Is it time for Robby Ashford to take over as Auburn’s starter? Did he do enough Saturday in mop-up duty to convince head coach Bryan Harsin to make the switch?
One thing is sure. Harsin cannot use the two QBs the way he did Saturday, not in the first half anyway.
I’m all for giving Ashford an opportunity, but the times in which he was i
nserted into the Penn State game was puzzling, at least through the first 2 quarters. Starting drives, sure. Bringing some sort of spark to the offense, of course. But that’s not how Harsin chose to use his backup QB. Employing him in the middle of drives is suspect. To put him in when the Tigers are driving and starter T.J. Finley is beginning to get into a rhythm is the head-scratcher.
The times when Harsin deployed Ashford only served to disrupt those drives and to take Finley out of any rhythm he had developed. And it did nothing to put Ashford in a situation to succeed nor gain any confidence.
But it certainly seems like a time for change. Finley’s offense continues to struggle with turnovers. For all the gains Finley may have made Saturday in regard to moving the team and building confidence in his running abilities when it was needed, Finley kept derailing himself, and the team, with bad passing decisions under duress and – to a greater extent – by not protecting the football in those situations. He fumbled 3 times, losing 1.
Three of Finley’s first 7 possessions ended in turnovers. He threw an interception that stopped a 12-play drive, and fumbled another possession away. It’s nearly impossible to beat a top-25 team that way.
The Tigers moved the football, that wasn’t the problem. Finishing drives was. Their first 3 drives took 9, 12 and 12 plays and totaled 147 yards, but produced just 6 points. Instead of taking an early lead and building momentum and confidence, the Tigers trailed, 7-6. It was all downhill after that.
Those initial marches ultimately bogged down and ended in two field goals and a Finley interception. The offense was deflated, lost its confidence and didn’t reach the end zone until Ashford drove them to pay dirt in the 3rd quarter.
That was after Ashford threw an interception in the red zone on his first drive of the 2nd half. And the Ashford-led Tigers gave it up on downs in the red zone on their final possession as well.
So Harsin has a tough decision to make. It appears it’s time to pick a starter and stick with him. Otherwise, the two QBs w
ill continue to struggle for any sort of continuity in their game and the Tigers will suffer for it.
Ashford is clearly the better dual-threat quarterback, and that gives opposing defenses something extra to have to defend. He ended the game on Saturday with a better QB rating (123.1) than Finley (114.6).
But is that enough to make him QB1? Statistically speaking, both were similar. They both threw a pick. Ashford did not fumble. He does a little bit better job of protecting the football.
So, it seems to come down to what Harsin’s vision is for Auburn’s offense. That ultimately will decide which QB is the starter moving forward, because neither has been overly impressive.
And where in the world is Zach Calzada?