Auburn QB T.J. Finley explains what he saw on his 2 interceptions against Mercer

TJ Finley’s debut as Auburn’s new starting quarterback didn’t quite live up to his expectations, regardless of the lengthy weather delay that stopped play for nearly 90 minutes late in the third quarter.

Finley was off balance in Auburn’s 42-16 win over Mercer, a game that started strong but ended with some hiccups that added to backup quarterback Robby Ashford’s impressive college debut Saturday night complex. Finley completed 9 of 14 passes for 112 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions against the Tigers’ FCS opponents, before handing the reins to Ashford midway through the third quarter. Leading offense in the second offense.

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“A lot of ups and downs,” Finley said of his start. “You know, it’s a learning experience in every game, but overall, it’s been very good. Offensively, we hit our goals, we had good ball control and we passed the ball very effectively at times. … We need to get better at that, and it starts with me.”

When he was at quarterback, Finley looked sharp and in control for much of the first half. He completed eight of his first nine passes for 100 yards and a touchdown — a one-yard pass to John Samuel Schenk to give Auburn a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter. He showed good offensive play, as well as a strong arm, as evidenced by his 40-yard strike on Javarius Johnson before the touchdown.

The Tigers had four touchdowns on their first five possessions when Finley was the primary quarterback in the first half. His last two drives – coming at halftime – left their mark on an otherwise solid game. Finley was picked by Mercer on the final pitch of the first half and then again on Auburn’s tee shot in the third quarter.

“I think I’m good in every way, but like I said, my two main goals for myself are to not turn the ball over, and I did that twice tonight,” Finley said. “So, we’re going back to the movie room to fix those things, and I promise you it won’t happen again.”

Finley explained after the game what he saw in two interceptions, which doubled from his first season at Auburn, when he played nine games and made three emergency starts at the end of the year .

The first pick came late in the first half as Auburn led 28-0 and faced No. 3 and No. 18 on their own 18-yard line. With a three-catcher, Tar’Varish Dawson Jr. gestured to the left side of the lineup, leaving Koy Moore on the right side of the field. The only catcher. Finley stepped back and tried to find Moore in the middle through a narrow window between multiple Mercer defensive backs.

Mercer safety Chris Jones closed that window and took Finley on the 29-yard line.

“Simple and straightforward, throw in double coverage,” Finley said. “I know the weakness of the defense, so I try to put a pitch into a hole that’s open for all the practices, when we play against those that cover all the practices. This guy just had a great game.”

The Tigers faced second and tenth at the Bears’ 39-yard line on their first drive after halftime at Auburn. Finley tried to find Sheldrick Jackson on a deep low post, but the ball was driven into a double screen, which allowed Mercer defensive back TJ Moore to make an easy interception at the 10-yard line.

“In Game 2, I got a little bit of an injury to my back leg, the ball was short, and the guy played really well,” Finley said. “Like I said, there’s a learning experience in everything, so we’re going to learn from it and bounce back.”

It was Finley’s last push of the night as Ashford came in and he had his first chance to command full speed ahead. Ashford led the offense in Auburn’s final three full possessions, with the Tigers scoring touchdowns on the first two. “This is not our deal for Robila TJ,” offensive coordinator Eric Kisso said on the postgame radio after the game, adding that the plan is to give both quarterbacks a chance to run the full offense. Finley’s second interception, which came at a crucial moment in the game, allowed the staff to get Ashford into a couple of full kicks.

When asked after the game if Ashford had done enough to be considered a starter, Auburn coach Brian Hassing reiterated that Finley is a starter for the Tigers and won’t be skeptical about the position until he has a chance to review the film. Make any decisions and fully evaluate the play of both quarterbacks.

“TJ had a couple of misses that weren’t ideal and not what you wanted,” Harsin said. “…we’re going to go back and really look at what caused the miss? How did the boys play? Because there’s a lot of other stuff. Just stuff you guys can’t see. It’s not just throwing Ball. That’s how he works too. There’s a lot to learn. No one on this football team is a finished product. And it’s never going to be that way in the first week. I’ve never coached a team like yours, ‘We Did it. It’s the season and we’re going to win every game after the first. That’s the reality of it.

“Those guys, you have to give them time to develop. And when you get out there, you have to think about that too, some of the factors are we just got a chance to be part of the whole vibe with our fans and all that stuff, and there’s a lot going on in a game.”

Tom Green is Auburn Street Reporter for Alabama Media Group.follow him on twitter @Tomas_Verde.

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