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What to watch: Auburn vs. Mercer

There may not be a program in the country that needs its first game to arrive more quickly than the Auburn Tigers. An offseason marked with internal investigations, coaching turnover, a quarterback competition, and an overall drama level that is high even for Auburn standards has finally ended.

Now, the coaches and players in the locker room have an opportunity to shift the focus and conversation to performance on the field. Of course, the Tigers must win games in order to accomplish their goals and alleviate some of the pressure that is undoubtedly felt within the athletic complex.

Auburn’s first chance to march toward a successful season begins tonight against the Mercer Bears in Jordan-Hare Stadium. The visitors already have one game under their belts, a 63-13 victory over Morehead State last weekend.

Listed below are three things to keep an eye on in Auburn’s season opener versus Mercer:

TJ Finley

TJ Finley became Auburn’s starting quarterback last year once Bo Nix was injured in the Mississippi State game. There is no need to rehash all the details, but Auburn was unable to muster more than 17 points in regulation of any game that Finley started.

Finley’s performance in 2021 combined with quarterback Bo Nix transferring to Oregon prompted Auburn to bring in two transfer quarterbacks through the portal. Conventional wisdom held that someone new would take the first snaps for Auburn in 2022.

This had to shake Finley’s confidence, but he stuck around and competed for the job.

This week, Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin named Finley the starting quarterback against Mercer.

All eyes will be on Finley tonight as onlookers watch for areas of improvement from the 6-7, 250-pound signal caller.

Finley won’t be able to secure his job forever based on competition against an FCS opponent, but command of the offense, quick decisions, and accurate throws would be a welcome sight to all Auburn supporters.

The Return of Anders Carlson

The late-season injury of quarterback Bo Nix last year overshadowed the fact that Auburn’s veteran kicker Anders Carlson tore his ACL against Mississippi State. Carlson spent the offseason rehabbing the injury and is set to re-take the field tonight.

In Carlson’s absence, the Tigers turned to walk-on Ben Patton who filled in admirably. However, should Carlson be unavailable for any reason this year, Auburn brought in Alex McPherson, the top high school kicker in America.

Harsin said this week that Carlson is the kicker, but McPherson may be involved in kickoffs  to help give the senior a break.

In a season where the Auburn may have to manufacture points in a variety of ways, the combination of Carlson’s experience and McPherson’s power could prove pivotal.

Tonight is the first opportunity to see if the Auburn’s special teams can be a difference maker.

New Faces

Lots of new faces will make their debut for the Tigers tonight. In fact, 16 players on the offensive and defensive depth charts have never taken a snap for the Tigers.

For example, three receivers are likely to make their first catches at Auburn, including Camden Brown, the only true freshman listed on the offensive two-deep.

Also, 12 newcomers are scattered all along the defensive depth chart. The hardest to miss of the newest Tigers will be 6-6, 328-pound Jayson Jones, who transferred from Oregon and is slated to start for Auburn at nose tackle.

It is always exciting when the first game rolls around, and tonight Tiger fans will be introduced to several athletes who could make plays that define the 2022 season.

Ready or not, here it comes.

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers.

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