Auburn QB battle: TJ Finley wins starting job over Texas A&M transfer Zach Calzada

When Auburn opens the season against Mercer on Saturday, junior TJ Finley will start at quarterback for the Tigers, according to media reports. Finley beat out Texas A&M transfer Zach Calzada for the job in preseason practices after appearing in nine games for Auburn last season while backing up Bo Nix, who transferred to Oregon last December.

A former three-star prospect in the Class of 2020, Finley began his career at LSU, appearing in five games as a true freshman in 2020, before joining Auburn last season and playing time considerable to play. While he initially served as a relief and change-of-pace option behind Nix, Finley took over the starting duties in November after it was learned that Nix needed ankle surgery.

In starts against South Carolina, Alabama and Houston, Finley completed 55.8% of his passes for 552 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Although Auburn lost all three games, Finley was at the heart of the Tigers’ offense at Alabama on Nov. 27.

Finley is the only scholarship quarterback with experience in an Auburn uniform on the roster, but Calzada’s track record as Texas A&M’s starter heading into the 2021 season made him a legitimate option entering preseason practices. Oregon transfer Robby Ashford, an Alabama native, and four-star true freshman Holden Geriner have also been part of the quarterback equation for Auburn in the preseason.

Here are the takeaways from the announcement as Finley prepares to lead Auburn’s offense in a critical 2022 season for the Tigers and Hars.

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Due to offseason surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, Calzada was unable to fully participate in Auburn’s spring practice session after transferring from Texas A&M. However, the former three-star prospect was expected to mount a strong challenge for the starting job this month.

However, reports from Auburn’s open-to-the-media practice sessions have revealed that Ashford has often been seen getting second-team reps behind Finley. While that may come as a surprise to some who remember Calzada’s heroic effort in the Aggies’ upset win over that time. 1 Alabama last season, it was only because of an injury to Haynes King last season that Calzada got the starting job at Texas A&M.

Had King been healthy, Calzada likely would have been relegated to backup duties with the Aggies as well. Though he filled in admirably during an 8-4 campaign for Texas A&M last season, Calzada’s offseason surgery and lack of familiarity with Auburn’s system gave Finley a clear leg up entering preseason practice.

Finley didn’t back down

Finley’s familiarity with what Harsin wants in a quarterback made a definite difference for Finley after he was separated from the pack. Since the start of preseason practice, Finley has been seen working in the No. 1 offensive unit. 1.

“Having a whole offseason — a season and a whole offseason — with this offense, understanding what Coach Harsin wants to do, what his tendencies are and what he wants me to bring to the table.. .I break down his offense all day, every day This spring and this summer has helped me, I think, take my game to another level,” Finley told Auburn Undercover.

The Tigers have a new offensive coordinator this season in Eric Kiesau, but Harsin’s history as an offensive coordinator before becoming head coach means he is deeply involved with that side of the ball.

“TJ has a coach’s mentality,” Harsin said this month. “He sees things out there. Not everybody gets things conceptually very quickly. It takes a while. He has that mentality.”

Backup situation

Perhaps the most dramatic quarterback battle at Auburn is who will be the backup. While Ashford clearly emerged as a factor this month, Calzada’s extensive experience in high-pressure situations on an SEC West team last season makes him a compelling option at the top.

Ashford did not play in his two seasons with the Ducks after his standout career at perennial Hoover High School outside Birmingham, Alabama. Geriner has also received praise from Harsin this month. While it would be surprising if he saw action with three older scholarship quarterback options on the roster, it’s clear that Harsin is very high on what Geriner can do in the future.

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