AUBURN — Eric Kiesau put his offense on full display in Auburn's dominant victory over Mercer on Saturday night. The Tigers(1-0) defeated the Bears(1-1) 42-16 in the 2022 season opener.

While most teams opt to show the basics against FCS-level opponents, Kiesau and the offense brought a lot from their bag of tricks, with jet sweeps, Robert Ashford running a read option, and a Finley-Ashford-Bigsby triple option that will certainly be seen in the future.

However, even a convincing win like this was not without drama.

The offense was clicking on its way to a 28-point lead, with two touchdowns from Jarquez Hunter, another from Tank Bigsby, and quarterback T.J. Finley started the game 8-9 with 100 yards and a touchdown of his own.

Then, with over two minutes left in the first half and a 28-0 lead, Finley made his first mistake with a third-down interception setting up Mercer for a touchdown drive to end the half.

Finley continued to struggle in the second half, throwing his second pick of the day on the Tigers' first drive of the third quarter, ending what started as a promising drive. That would be the last time Finley saw the field.

The Auburn defense, which held Mercer to 271 yards, including 74 yards rushing, came up with another stop and the offense took over again, and transfer quarterback Robby Ashford trotted onto the field.

"I really can't thank Coach Harsin enough for giving me the opportunity to compete during fall camp from the time I got here," Ashford said. "I just knew I had to make the most of it. Getting out in Jordan-Hare, it almost felt like a dream."

Ashford took over from there and immediately wowed the crowd with a 56-yard rocket to Ja'Varrius Johnson, capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by Jarquez Hunter, his third of the night, matching his total from his entire freshman season.

Hunter and Bigsby combined for 181 yards and five touchdowns, a promising start for one of the SEC's most dangerous running back duos.

"Both of us want to be great, so we work hard every day at practice to be great, and we make each other better," Hunter said. "I think me and Tank will be remembered as the one-two punch at Auburn."

The drama set in yet again as the storm clouds began to roll toward Jordan-Hare Stadium, with lightning etching its way toward the over 80,000 in attendance.

With 1:33 left in the third quarter, lightning was detected within eight miles of the stadium, and the game was delayed for over an hour. Most fans departed, but some members of the student section held out as the rain poured.

At 9:30 p.m., fans, whatever fans were left, began to trickle back in, and football was soon to follow. Action resumed at 9:55 p.m., with the rain still pouring down and the field resembling a swamp.

Back like he never left, Tank Bigsby broke off a huge 39-yard run on the first play back from delay and Auburn's final score of the night.

The offense stalled from that point on, as Mercer began to chip away at the lead, nailing a short field goal after a 17-play drive that took 8:32 off the clock and then a garbage time touchdown with 25 seconds left, but a missed extra point which made the final score 42-16.

Robby Ashford finished the day with a balanced stat sheet, 4-7 for 100 yards through the air and an extra 68 yards on the ground, including a 49-yard scamper that kickstarted a 93-yard Auburn drive. The Tigers finished with 497 total yards, 212 through the air, and 285 between the tackles.

Mercer quarterback Fred Payton finished the game with 21 completions on 36 attempts for 197 yards and two touchdowns, but the Bears could not establish much of a running game and had to rely on bubble screens and lateral passing plays to create space.

The Auburn defense did not dominate the line of scrimmage as expected, but junior linebacker Cam Riley had a career day for the Tigers, finishing the game with 15 tackles, 10 more than anyone on the team.

"I just feel good, being my first college game starting in Jordan-Hare," Riley said. "I was only expecting to be in like 15 seconds. So I'm looking forward to progressing throughout the season."

Despite the rain delay and quarterback changes, Bryan Harsin remains focused on taking the season one game at a time and recognizing what can change between now and the next game.

"We got plenty of things to work on. It wasn't perfect. There's a lot of stuff we have to get better at. That's the beauty of the first game of the season," Harsin said.

Auburn will be back in Jordan-Hare Stadium for game two of its five-game homestand next Saturday to take on San Jose State (1-0). Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. CST.

Notes—Cam Riley's 15 tackles Saturday night surpassed his total from last season. He said in postgame that his preseason goal was 50 tackles, but that number is too low now…Independence (the Auburn bald eagle) had its second career pregame flight around Jordan-Hare Stadium, the first coming at the Mississippi State game last season…The last Auburn game that was interrupted by a lightning delay was the 2018 matchup with Southern Miss.

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