Eric Kiesau turned back time more than a decade and pulled a piece from Art Briles’ book in Auburn’s season-opening win over Mercer.
In the second quarter of the Tigers’ 42-16 win, after rotating TJ Finley and Robby Ashford at quarterback for three of the team’s first four possessions, Kiesau composed a play in which Auburn had both quarterbacks in the field simultaneously. The result was a trick play that added 21 yards and helped set up the Tigers’ fourth touchdown of the night.
“It was just a bit of funk that we just added,” Finley said.
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The game saw Finley behind center and Ashford lined up in the slot. Finley took the snap and handed it to Ashford on a sweep down the right side of the formation. Ashford forced two defenders to collapse on him as he ran to the right, and once the second defender crashed, the Oregon transfer deftly tossed the ball to Tank Bigsby, who picked up 21 meters before being shot inside the red zone.
Ashford said it was the first time he had made a handoff since peewee ball, and he had only two thoughts as he lined up in the slot. First, he wanted to make sure he had a clean exchange with Finley on the sweep. Second? Get the second defender to crash so he can send the ball to Bigsby and “let that boy eat”.
“I like 4,” Ashford said of Bigsby. “I like 4. I like 4 on anyone. So whenever I can give the boys a ball, it’s a wrap. Facts.”
Five plays later, Bigsby ran for his first of two touchdowns on the night, giving Auburn a 28-0 lead after 20 minutes of play.
“I knew I just had to get that second defender bitten,” Ashford said. “So no matter what time it was, I was going to give that ball to Tank, and let him do the rest, because he’s like I say, the best running back in the country.”
Auburn installed the game during its game prep for Mercer. The idea was born when Kiesau came across a similar piece designed by Briles during his time at Baylor, when the Bears had eventual Heisman winner Robert Griffin III on their roster more than a decade ago.
“I want you all to go pull this clip out and watch it,” Finley said. “But long story short, Coach Kiesau did an amazing job finding that clip, and we added it to our offense, and it worked. I think you’ll see more of this coming down the line.
It was one of two gimmicks Auburn played in their Opening Week win. The other came two snaps earlier, during this player’s opening game. Bigsby took a transfer from Finley, then returned the ball to wide receiver Ja’Varrius Johnson on a backhand. Johnson gained 8 yards to put Auburn in midfield.
That play didn’t get as much attention as the sweep option, which marked the first time the Tigers used both quarterbacks on the field at the same time. While Saturday’s game sparked questions about who should be Auburn’s quarterback going forward (Finley started strong but threw interceptions on each of his last two drives, while Ashford showed flashes with his legs and arm), this second-quarter trick play provided Auburn with a peek. creativity offensively, as well as what the benefits of a potential two-quarterback system can bring to the Tigers this season.
“Hopefully that gets them (the opponents) working on it, you know, just having the two guys in there,” Auburn coach Bryan Harsin said. “These are just fun games. Sometimes you look for creative ways to get the ball in the hands of guys, and this was one way to do it – get two quarterbacks.
Harsin and Finley hinted that Auburn was only scratching the surface of its call-of-the-play creativity with the two-quarter turn game against Mercer. Harsin said there were “a few other things” Auburn had up their sleeves on Saturday night that he wished the team could film, but the 87-minute lightning delay and other factors resulted in the abandonment of these plans – or at least. aside for future use.
Harsin’s only regret about the two quarterbacks’ gimmicky play? Don’t call him upfront.
“I should have started with that game, so you would all have been confused, right? – to have both quarterbacks there, now that I think about it, have them both on the pitch for start,” Harsin laughed. “…We’re going to keep having wrinkles like that. If our guys can figure it out, then it’s fun to have those kind of wrinkles in the game plan.”
Tom Green is an Auburn Beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.