Robby Ashford relies on the pain of losing to Alabama in his first Iron Bowl

Robby Ashford, a former Hoover High grad and Auburn starting quarterback, lived out a childhood by playing at the Iron Bowl on Saturday. Ashford scored the first touchdown of the game with a run for 24 yards on the 2nd and 8 at 8:31 in the first quarter.

Getting the opportunity to play in the Iron Bowl required more sacrifices than most observers realized. Ashford revealed he played through multiple injuries after taking on the starting role. He suffered an AC joint injury in the Sept. 24 win against Missouri, which would provide a good explanation for why Auburn started leaning on his running game.

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“Pretty much everything I’ve done has only gotten worse,” Ashford said. “Bruised rotator cuff, sprained finger, sprained index finger — you name it, I’ve probably had it before. So yes. I feel proud just knowing that I can go out there and still do it even if I’m hurt.

Ashford became the first Auburn player with two quick touchdowns in an Iron Bowl since 2003, when caretaker coach Cadillac Williams completed the feat.

“It’s just cool to know that I did that. Sharing that with my coach is a cool achievement. But at the end of the day we didn’t get a W. But you always try to see the bright side, the bright side. What we have achieved – no team has gone through what we have gone through this year.”

Alabama scored 21 straight points after Auburn led for less than three minutes. Ashford showed determination by leading the team to a touchdown drive that was capped by a 20-yard pass to Ja’Varrious Johnson in the end zone.

“We knew we had to score. Luckily we came back and scored and made a game out of it. Just kind of out of control,” Ashford said. “They just clicked offense.”

Auburn was trailing 21-14 after Ashford’s touchdown pass, which was a perfect spiral that ended up in Johnson’s hands for the score. Unfortunately for Auburn, the team saw a lull while Alabama extended their lead to 42-14 before Ashford’s 14-yard touchdown run ended 6:38 in the third quarter.

Ashford had the touchdown pass and was the team’s second-leading rusher with 121 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns. Aside from the touchdown pass to Johnson, however, his passing game was a walker for 77 yards on 11-23 attempts.

Auburn’s increased focus on running the ball since Williams took over and Ashford has rushed for more yards than he has thrown in the last four games. Ashford offered an insight into possible reasons he’s struggled to complete passes this season.

“There were a lot of nights I couldn’t sleep because I was in so much pain – a swollen shoulder, a lot of weeks I wasn’t able to train until game day,” Ashford said. “I wasn’t going to go out and do it for anyone other than this team and I knew that no matter how I felt, no matter how I felt after the game, I had to give it my all. A lot of people didn’t know that, but I’ve played injured all year.”

Alabama head coach Nick Saban appreciated Ashford’s bravery. Saban went deep into his memory bank when he spoke about Ashford.

“Some of the tracks they did with the quarterback I hadn’t seen since Pop Warner. [laughter] And they play well and are difficult to defend,” Saban told reporters. “So their quarterback played an excellent game from a run standpoint, and they executed. Because it’s like playing against Wildcat. You know, when the race is back in the backfield and someone has to cover the quarterback unless they’re a quarterback good enough to run. And then they also created some wildcat situations. So they really attacked us on the edges and cracked and blocked us well on the edges.”

Ashford played with pain in his first season as the Tigers’ starting quarterback. He showed electric speed and made good throws. There were also several plays that he would like to have back. Ashford hopes next season will be better for him and the Tigers.

I’ll tell everyone right now: Our plan for next year — it doesn’t matter who the coach is, whoever it is — our plan is to fight for an SEC title next year and fight for a national championship. We will do everything we can to do that. I have complete confidence in these guys.