Auburn Tigers vs Mercer Bears Preview

The Auburn Tigers open the 2022 season this Saturday when they host the Mercer Bears. Head coach Bryan Harsin enters his second season on the plains, and it is one some would have thought would not come to pass. It will be the first of five consecutive home games at Jordan-Hare Stadium to start the season. The season opener will be key for Auburn getting off to a hot start to keep the hot seat chatter away from Harsin. The Auburn Tigers had a tumultuous off-season, but they can now put that behind them with the start of a new season against Mercer.

Auburn Tigers vs Mercer Bears Preview

Who are the Mercer Bears?

The Mercer Bears play out of the Southern Conference in the FCS. The team resides in Macon, Georgia, and is coached by Drew Cronic entering his third season with the Bears. In 2021, they went 7-3 and finished second in their conference at 6-2. With 15 starters returning, this should be one of the best teams in the Southern Conference.

Meanwhile, the Bears gave their fans plenty to cheer about last week in a 63-13 week zero victory over Morehead State. They were led in the game by quarterback Fred Payton throwing for 248 yards and four touchdowns. Three of those scoring throws were to former Georgia receiver Ty James. He caught five passes for 192 yards with an average of 38.2 yards per catch. That performance led to him being named FCS Offensive Player of the Week. This will be the 13th time Auburn will play Mercer, holding a 12-0 advantage.

T.J.  Finley is QB1

The biggest question surrounding the Auburn offense throughout the spring and fall camp has been who will be the new starting quarterback. Many had counted out T.J. Finley, who ended the season as the Tigers starter after Bo Nix was lost for the season. More attention was paid to Texas A&M transfer Zach Calzada, and even Oregon transfer Robby Ashford. As a matter of fact, Finley proved to be the steadier of the three, as Calzada found himself slipping down the depth chart.

However, Finley will need help from his supporting cast, and certain position groups will need to step up. That begins this Saturday against the Mercer Bears. This week against Mercer, and next against San Jose State will be huge for Auburn getting their footing underneath them before Penn State comes to town in week three.

The Supporting Cast

In general, games against opponents like Mercer are good opportunities to work on the identity of a football team. With this team, that should be the rush attack led by Tank Bigsby. In 2021, Bigsby rushed for 1,099 yards and 10 touchdowns, but those numbers should improve with a renewed focus on the running game. Bigsby is joined in the backfield by Jarquez Hunter who showed great ability early last season.

A much-maligned position for the Tigers has been a receiver, but this gave welcomes an opportunity for the group to get some confidence. The unit is led by Shedrick Jackson, Malcolm Johnson, and Ja’Varrius Johnson. They should see plenty of chances with big plays with the attention paid to stopping the run game. They are now being coached by Ike Hilliard who comes in with plenty of experience as a player at the college and professional levels.

What about the defense?

Against Mercer, Auburn needs to prevent any big plays and get plenty of pressure on the quarterback. Take away any hope the Bears have early in this one. Mercer did have big rushing performances from Austin Douglas (140 yards) and Al Wooten II (96 yards) against Morehead State. Things will be different against these Auburn Tigers, and the likes of Derick Hall and Eku Leota coming off the edge will make things hard for the run and pass for any team.

This will be a good opportunity to see what is there at linebacker for defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding. Finding playmakers outside of Owen Pappoe will be a key question. Junior Cam Riley looks to be getting the nod to play next to Pappoe.

Auburn vs Mercer Prediction

Ultimately the outcome is not the question in this game. Auburn should win this one going away. The main question is does Auburn look engaged from the outset? All in all, they need to put this Bears team away early. They should get a lot of players in this one and establish who they are for the rest of the season.

Auburn wins 63-7