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10.29.23.Football Articles Early Edition


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Instant Analysis: Auburn ends losing streak with win over Mississippi State

Taylor Jones

4–5 minutes

It took five tries, but Hugh Freeze has earned his first SEC win as Auburn’s head coach.

Auburn used a dominating first half to coast past Mississippi State, 27-13, on Saturday afternoon at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn (4-4, 1-4 SEC) jumped out to a dominating 24-3 halftime lead after posting 301 total yards. Quarterback Payton Thorne appeared to be comfortable throughout the game, as he tossed three passing touchdowns in the first half on his way to a 230-yard performance. Mississippi State (4-4, 1-4 SEC) busted for 223 total yards in the second half, but they could not overcome the giant first-half deficit laid out by Auburn.

The Tigers dominated the first quarter by outgaining the Bulldogs, 163-77 en route to a 14-3 lead. Thorne completed eight passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. On the Tigers’ initial drive, he connected with Shane Hooks on a 27-yard pass with 11:38 remaining in the quarter to put the Tigers up, 7-0.

After a Mississippi State field goal on their first possession, Thorne again led Auburn on a 75-yard drive that ended with a 45-yard touchdown pass to Ja'Varrius Johnson to extend the Auburn lead to 14-3. Jarquez Hunter was the Tigers’ leading rusher with 61 yards on six carries.

Auburn added 10 points to their total in the second quarter to take a 24-10 lead into the locker room for halftime. Kicker Alex McPherson jumped into the box score by connecting on a 39-yard field goal with 7:18 remaining in the 2nd quarter. The Tigers ended the half on a touchdown connection between Thorne and freshman running back Jeremiah Cobb for a seven-yard touchdown pass to extend the Auburn lead to 24-10 with 0:09 remaining.

Auburn’s first half ended with 301 total yards, compared to Mississippi State’s 122-yard output. Thorne ended the half with 192 passing yards and three scores with a completion percentage of 75%. He completed a pass to 11 different receivers in the first half, with Rivaldo Fairweather hauling in three passes for 22 yards. Defensively, Keionte Scott and Eugene Asante recorded five tackles each. Asante and Jalen McLeod had a tackle for loss.

The third quarter was rather quiet, as both teams traded field goals. Mississippi State’s Kyle Ferrie nailed his second field goal of the day from 40 yards with 9:10 to go in the quarter. McPherson answered with 3:14 to go in the 3rd quarter to extend Auburn’s lead to 27-6. Thorne added 32 yards to his passing total in the quarter to break the 200-yard mark for the second time this season.

State opened the 4th quarter by scoring their first touchdown of the game. Wright found Zavion Thomas from 14 yards away on the first play of the quarter to trim Auburn’s lead to 27-13. Mississippi State had a chance to cut the lead even more, but a fourth down attempt from the Auburn 13-yard line did not work in their favor, allowing Auburn to run out the clock.

Auburn outgained Mississippi State, 416-345. Thorne completed 20 passes to 11 different receivers, with Rivaldo Fairweather making four catches for 31 yards. Yardage-wise, Ja’Varrius Johnson led the team with 59 yards on two catches. Hunter’s day ended with 144 yards, which goes down as his first 100-yard game of the season.

Defensively, Eugene Asante led the team in tackles with nine, while Jalen McLeod recorded two tackles for loss. Zion Puckett recorded his second interception in as many games in the 4th quarter.

Auburn will go for their second SEC win of the season next week on the road at Vanderbilt. The Tigers and Commodores will face off at FirstBank Stadium next Saturday at 3 p.m. CT on SEC Network.

Contact/Follow us @TheAuburnWire on  X (Twitter), and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Auburn news, notes, and opinions. You can also follow Taylor on Twitter @TaylorJones__

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Social media reacts to Auburn beating Mississippi State

JD McCarthy

~3 minutes

Auburn needed that.

After weeks of struggling, Auburn’s offense came alive against Mississippi State as the Tigers beat the Bulldogs 27-13 Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The win snapped a four-game losing streak and was Hugh Freeze’s first conference win as Auburn’s head coach.

It started in the first half as the Tigers had back-to-back touchdown drives to open the game. Payton Thorne finished the half 15 of 20 passing for 192 yards and three touchdowns and looked to be in complete control of the offense.

He finished the day 20 of 26 for 230 yards and three touchdowns to have his best game as a Tiger.

The offense took its foot off the gas in the second half as they protected the lead. The Bulldogs were able to cut into the lead but Auburn was able to pick up the much-needed win and provided optimism for the offense moving forward.

The defense kept up its great work, holding the Bulldogs to 13 points and forcing the game’s only turnover.

The offensive breakout in the first half fired up the Auburn fanbase which took to social media to celebrate the win, here is a look at the top reactions.

This is the year. Payton Thorne has improved so much under this new offense. He’s focused. He’s having fun

— Dan Peck (@DanielAllenPeck) October 28, 2023

I will gladly watch games in Porto for the entire season if it will help Auburn. Anything for the alma mater. #WarEagle

— John Carvalho (@John_P_Carvalho) October 28, 2023

The coaches are putting Payton Thorne in a position to succeed and he is BALLIN’ 🤩

— Babysitter Bari (@BabysitterBari) October 28, 2023


— Auburn Barstool (@WarDamnStool) October 28, 2023

Shane Hooks with a grown man touchdown reception.

— Sir Barnsalot 🍤 (@barnsalot) October 28, 2023

We threw the ball and scored. I repeat, WE THREW THE BALL AND SCORED.

— Heather (@Heather_ishh) October 28, 2023



— Aubie’s son🦅 (@AubieSon) October 28, 2023

Good dub. 14 point win, don’t like the second half but we needed that badly

— Eli Gravitt (@EliGravitt) October 28, 2023

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3 takeaways from Auburn's 27-13 win over Mississippi State

Updated: Oct. 28, 2023, 6:43 p.m.|Published: Oct. 28, 2023, 5:37 p.m.

6–7 minutes

Well, that was fun.

Auburn’s offense hadn’t had anywhere near the kind of production it did in Saturday afternoon’s win over Mississippi State since the Tigers’ win over Samford in Week 3 on Sept. 16.

The Tigers came out fast and furious as head coach Hugh Freeze dialed up an up-tempo offensive approach and the Auburn defense held up its end of the bargain, not letting the Mississippi State offense find the end zone until the fourth quarter.

With it all, the Tigers snapped their four-game losing streak and kept their hopes of bowl eligibility alive with a 27-13 win over the Bulldogs Saturday afternoon from Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Here are the takeaways from Auburn’s win, which improves the Tigers to 4-4 (1-4 SEC) this season.

Auburn uses lead-footed offense to attack Mississippi State early

Prior to Saturday’s game against Mississippi State, the Auburn offense hadn’t scored on its first drive since the season opener against UMass on Sept. 2. Since the Tigers’ win in Week 1, four opening drives have ended in punts, with the other two ending in turnovers.

But that finally changed against the Bulldogs Saturday as junior Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne and the Tigers’ offense generated an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive that saw Auburn use the up-tempo approach Freeze said he, offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery and Thorne felt more comfortable using.

“My history has been around tempo, and RPO,” Freeze said Monday. “I think Monty is more comfortable in tempo, and it seems Payton is more comfortable in his skill set with some of that.”

Auburn scored points in four of its six opening drives, while averaging a play every 25.5 seconds in the first half.

Auburn’s 24-3 lead over Mississippi State was the Tigers’ largest halftime lead since leading Samford 17-0 and the second-most points they’d scored in one half since going up 31-7 at halftime against UMass in the season opener on Sept. 2 — much less the most points Auburn has scored against a Power 5 opponent all season.

Thorne serves as true QB1, tosses 3 TDs in win

Freeze said Thursday night during his time on Auburn’s Tiger Talk radio show that the Tigers would have to throw the football if it wanted to have success against Mississippi State’s chaotic defensive front.

And that statement alone had Auburn fans feeling antsy considering the Tigers’ season-long struggles passing the football.

Prior to Saturday’s game, the most passing yards Auburn had tallied against a Power 5 opponent was 154 passing yards against LSU. The game prior against Ole Miss, Auburn’s quarterbacks tallied just 26 passing yards in the first three quarters before finding a bit of momentum in a fast-paced fourth quarter.

But finally, with Thorne acting as the Auburn’s main quarterback Saturday and Robby Ashford only taking a small handful of snaps, the Tigers’ offense was able to successfully pick apart the Mississippi State defense — both on the ground and through the air.

In Thorne’s first two drives, he went 8-for-9 through the air for 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns — a mark that eclipsed Auburn’s total passing numbers in four different games this season. And again, Thorne did it in just two drives.

By halftime, Thorne had tallied 192 passing yards on a 15-for-20 passing effort and three touchdowns.

And for those who haven’t been keeping track, it had been quite some time since Auburn had a quarterback toss three touchdowns against a SEC opponent.

(Spoiler: It was Bo Nix against LSU in 2020)

Thorne finished his day 20-for-26 for 230 yards and three touchdowns, completing passes to 11 different receivers.

Ja’Varrius Johnson was Auburn’s most efficient pass catcher with two receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown.

Meanwhile, Shane Hooks and Jeremiah Cobb also hauled in touchdown passes Saturday.

On the ground, it was junior running back Jarquez Hunter who led the way with 144 yards on 17 carries — including a 32-yard sprint and a jaw-dropping hurdle in the second quarter, and a 50-yard scamper in the final quarter.

Auburn defense misses on shutout bid, but keeps Mississippi State out of the end zone until the final quarter

After his ramble on his “Plankton mentality”, Auburn veteran defensive back Jaylin Simpson said Tuesday that the goal of the Tigers’ defense was to pitch a shutout. And with Mississippi State playing without its starting quarterback and its starting running back Saturday, it felt like a prime opportunity the Tigers to do just that.

However, with senior quarterback Mike Wright under center and freshman running back Seth Davis relieving their injured teammates, the Bulldogs were still able to bite the Tigers’ defense with some chunk yardage plays.

In Mississippi State’s opening drive, Wright connected with Zavion Thomas on a 32-yard pass in the Bulldogs’ first play from scrimmage. Two plays later, Lideatrick Griffin ripped off a 17-yard rush, forcing the Tigers’ defense to shake awake after two quick jabs to the gut.

And once shaken awake, the Auburn defense settled back into the same bend-don’t-break mentality it’s played with all season and didn’t allow the Bulldogs to find the end zone until the fourth quarter, despite giving up a pair of field goals prior.

Auburn junior linebacker Eugene Asante led the defense with nine tackles, a tackle for a loss and a pair of quarterback hurries, while senior safety was responsible for the game’s lone turnover as he intercepted Wright midway through the fourth quarter.

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Instant Impressions Auburn 27 Mississippi State 13

Nathan King

7–9 minutes

For the first time as Auburn's head coach, Hugh Freeze is back in the SEC win column.

Payton Thorne and the Tigers exploded on offense in the first half with easily their best performance against a Power Five opponent, and Auburn's defense held on down the stretch in a 27-13 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon.

Here are Auburn Undercover's instant impressions, as the Tigers are off to a strong start in what's a much more manageable second half of their SEC schedule.


Auburn’s passing game has been the SEC worst for most of the season. Thorne in particular, in his first year as Auburn’s starter, entered Saturday last place in the league in QBR. Consistency had been almost impossible for the Tigers to attain through the air.

That was, until Saturday afternoon in Jordan-Hare Stadium, where it was apparent through just a couple possessions that Auburn was able to shift to another gear as a passing attack for the first time under Hugh Freeze’s watch.

Thorne was precise, consistent and explosive from the get-go, hitting 10 of his first 11 passes, as the Michigan State transfer tallied three passing touchdowns in the first half alone. By halftime, Thorne had easily his best stat line of the year against a Power Five team: 15-of-20 for 192 yards and three touchdowns.

With a gorgeous over-the-shoulder toss to Jeremiah Cobb out of the backfield and into the end zone right before halftime, Thorne became the first Auburn quarterback to throw for three touchdowns against an SEC opponent since Bo Nix against LSU in 2020.

Thorne’s second incompletion of the game didn’t come until midway through the second quarter

With his best quarterback rating in Power Five game since midway through the 2021 season at Michigan State, Thorne paced Auburn’s best first-half scoring performance in its last 15 SEC games, as 24 points marked the team’s most since it was up 28-10 at halftime the last time Mississippi State came to Jordan-Hare Stadium in 2021.

Auburn’s 301 yards at halftime are better than any Power Five matchup this season, for the entire game, with the exception of the matchup against No. 1 Georgia. 


Auburn’s wide receivers had been just as inconsistent as the rest of the passing game, totaling just 19 catches across the first four SEC games of the season.

In a resurgent performance for the group against Mississippi State, the Tigers’ receiving corps had 12 catches for 136 yards. 

That total included Ja’Varrius Johnson’s 45-yard touchdown reception in the first half — the longest play of the season by an Auburn receiver — and Shane Hooks’ 27-yard touchdown on the first drive. Johnson hadn’t had a catch since Week 2 at Cal; Hooks hadn’t caught a pass since Week 4 at Texas A&M. 

In all, 11 different Auburn players caught a pass in the game, as the Tigers utilized more tempo offensively than they’d displayed most of the season. But that success screeched to a halt in the second half, where Thorne completed only five passes.


Mississippi State had blowtorched Auburn’s defense during its wins the past two seasons, but that quarterback was in street clothes Saturday.

With four-year starter Will Rogers missing his second straight game due to a shoulder injury, Vanderbilt transfer Mike Wright got the nod again.

Auburn was stunned a bit on the Bulldogs’ first series, when they had 49 yards across their first three players of the game. But as they’ve done most of the season, it didn’t take long for the Tigers to settle in and adjust nicely. Mississippi State had just 54 yards over its next 20 plays.

The Bulldogs worked their way down the field twice in the first half but came up with only 3 points, after Wright stumbled and was stopped on a fourth-and-1 attempt at Auburn’s 30-yard line with 74 seconds left in the first half. Auburn proceeded to march down the field, led by Thorne, and went up three touchdowns at halftime.

On a week where Freeze emphasized third-down success, Mississippi State failed to convert on its first six attempts of the game in that department. 

Mississippi State was also shorthanded on the ground, as leading rusher Jo’Quavious Marks did not play after suffering a lower-body injury last week. 


During a brief third quarter, Mississippi State began finding some rhythm on the ground. The Bulldogs had 99 rushing yards in that quarter alone, including runs of 37 and 22 yards.

Without Marks, running backs Seth Davis and Jeffery Pittman were strong, combining for 113 yards.

Wright had a strong connection with receiver Zavion Thomas all game, and he hooked up with him in the back of the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter to trim the Tigers’ lead to two touchdowns. Thomas had 101 of Wright's first 106 passing yards in the game and finished with 112 receiving yards.

Auburn’s 65-second touchdown drive right before halftime proved to be crucial, as it gave the Tigers some breathing room when Mississippi State was the better team for a large chunk of the second half. After the Bulldogs’ first touchdown of the game, Auburn quickly went three-and-out, giving Mississippi State and opportunity to trim the lead further. The Tigers got a well-timed three-and-out of their own, though, forcing Wright into an errant throw on third-and-8, but their offense followed up with yet another three-and-out.

The Bulldogs converted a third-and-12 after Antonio Harmon slipped a tackle by Donovan Kaufman and went 21 yards. But Wright heaved the ball into double coverages two plays later, and Zion Puckett came up with his second interception in as many games.

Auburn went three-and-out for the third straight time, though, after an illegible man downfield wiped away a third-down conversion, and Oscar Chapman punted from his own end zone.

Mississippi State went down the field and moved the chains on a fourth-and-2 inside Auburn's 30-yard line, as the clock ticked inside four minutes. Auburn needed one more stop on fourth-and-8 in the red zone with three minutes remaining, and Wright's pass sailed out of the back of the end zone.

Wright was much more effective for Mississippi State down the stretch, completing 12-of-22 passes in the second half compared to 4-of-10 in the first half

Auburn’s offense trailed off after halftime, too. The Tigers had only six first downs after the break, compared to 15 in the first half. Their explosive offense was suddenly constricted, as their yards-per-play mark severely dipped from 8.4 yards in the first half to 4.4 after halftime.


Led by Jarquez Hunter once again, the Tigers had some mixed results on the ground.

The Mississippi native was strong for the second straight game, posting 144 rushing yards, plus 26 yards through the air. Hunter now has 315 yards from scrimmage over his past two games.

Thorne continued to be a weapon with his legs, too, with 38 yards on the ground. He was sacked only once in the game, as Auburn’s offensive line held up with one of its better performances of the year thus far.

Damari Alston returned from injury and contributed 9 yards on four carries. Auburn had a respectable 186 yards rushing for the game, but were limited for the most part in the second half before Hunter ripped off a 50-yard run on the final drive.

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  • aubiefifty changed the title to 10.29.23.Football Articles Early Edition

Thanks for the early edition Fiddy. Will enjoy these today…Much better than the last few weeks.

Then time to start getting ready for Vandy. That is a great trip for anyone planning to go. Been a couple of times. Saw Louise Mandrell do a show one time. She was amazingly talented and you would have appreciated her. She sang and played something like 21 instruments during the show. Was told that she was actually more talented than Barbra.

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11 hours ago, aubiefifty said:

— Auburn Barstool (@WarDamnStool) October 28, 2023

This from Hail State Stool.


Really great name to call a rivalry, much better than the *Egg Bowl*.

  • Haha 1
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Auburn Undercover Podcast The significance of Auburns first SEC victory

Nathan King

6–8 minutes

Payton Thorne breaks down the win over Mississippi State">

It was on the tip of Hugh Freeze’s tongue, but he refused to call Saturday a “must-win.”

Whatever the persuasion on whether Auburn’s matchup with Mississippi State fit that label, the Tigers knew they were going to be an unsatisfactory and uncomfortable position if they had lost their third straight game to the Bulldogs.

“This was a big one for us, I think, with the remaining stretch that we have and going on the road the next two weeks,” Freeze said postgame. “This was kind of a — and you never want to say it, because you don't want to make too much of one game — but it had the feeling, for me, as a critical game.”

The result was the one they’ve been craving, though, and Freeze and co. can breathe a deep sigh of relief, with some pressure alleviated — after four SEC losses of buildup.

“I thought our kids and our staff responded very well this week,” Freeze said.

The Tigers’ worst start in conference play since 2012 is no more, after they finally found some semblance of a passing game, and rode a 21-point halftime lead and continued consistency from their defense to a 27-13 victory over Mississippi State.

Payton Thorne and the Auburn passing game came out with a rhythm for really the first time against a Power Five team, as the Tigers’ starting quarterback hit on 8-of-9 passes to begin the game, with a pair of touchdowns and 120 yards.

Thorne hit a hat trick right before halftime, becoming the first Auburn quarterback to throw for three touchdowns in a game since Bo Nix against LSU in 2020 when he found Jeremiah Cobb in the end zone with nine seconds left in the second quarter. Thorne's final line of 20-of-26 passing for 230 yards and three scores marks his best performance of the season against a Power Five opponent, without a doubt.

Auburn stalled on offense in the second half, though, and was unable to rekindle the fire it played with previously. Only one possession for the offense in the third quarter didn’t help, but the Tigers still went three-and-out on three straight possessions.

Mississippi State and backup quarterback Mike Wright — starting his second straight game for the injured Will Rogers — made things interesting with some improved offense out of the locker room, including a 75-yard touchdown drive to trim the lead down to two scores at the start of the fourth quarter.

Auburn’s defense did what it’s done most of the season, though, and continued to execute, forcing a timely three-and-out, then intercepting Wright on a throw into double coverage, then forcing a turnover on downs by stopping the Bulldogs on fourth-and-8

And for the first time since all the way back on Sept. 16 against Samford, Auburn players were able to skip over to the student section and celebrate.

“Just a refreshing feeling, going back into the locker room with a win,” linebacker Eugene Asante said postgame. “I know how much guys were hungry for this win. I know how much we put into this game, and guys really do care about going out there and performing. So I'm just grateful to God that we got it done today.”

With the exception of a 48-18 drubbing at LSU, Auburn’s felt it had opportunities to win, or at least remain in the game late, against every SEC opponent thus far. The two closest calls came at home, too, when No. 1 Georgia needed a late score to outlast Auburn 27-20, and Ole Miss was tied 14-14 with the Tigers for almost half the game before pulling away against a defense that was left out to dry by an offense that failed to score on eight straight possessions.

“The ones where it was close, it was heartbreaking,” pass-rusher Jalen McLeod said. “But this one right here, we’re happy. You know, we went a month without winning so this one right here, it meant a lot. We’re going to use that momentum to go into next week.”

Things were different Saturday, though. Against what was easily the lightest competition of SEC play so far, Auburn executed on offense early, scoring its most first-half points (24) in its last 15 SEC games. The Tigers’ little mistakes — they were still penalized seven times — didn’t come back to bite them as much as they did against better opponents, either.

“Only go up from here,” running back Jarquez Hunter said. “We've just got to execute. This game is in the past. … Execute in practice. If we practice hard, we play hard.”

Could an upward swing be in store for Auburn in the near future? On paper, the Tigers could be close to flipping their record to a winning one. What was a murderous start to the season, especially for a new team, featured three of Auburn’s first four Power Five games on the road, plus three straight top-15 opponents in Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss. ESPN FPI rated Auburn’s schedule through seven games as the third-toughest in college football.

The next two, though, are against teams that are winless in the SEC — Vanderbilt and Arkansas — and will likely be a combined 0-10 in league play after Saturday night. Then comes the annual pre-Iron Bowl warmup against New Mexico State.

Simply reaching the baseline six wins and bowl eligibility is obviously not the long-term goal for Freeze and his Auburn program. But it would be an improvement off last season, and players continued to reiterate how much they want to get this team back to the postseason, if not simply to give the seniors more time with their team, and maybe what would be the only bowl win of their Auburn careers.

And with some confidence gathered Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Tigers could very well be positioned to go on a mini winning streak in November.

“Well, you hope that it gives us a lot of confidence and maybe a little swagger to go play with confidence on the road,” Freeze said. “... We've got two games that obviously you look at and you think we can win 'em. But as I know from being in this league before, you can also lose them. And your confidence is a huge, huge factor and key in that. And hopefully that's what today did.”

*** Subscribe to Auburn Undercover for the latest news and intel, podcasts, recruiting coverage and more ***

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Hunter coming alive at just the right time for Auburn offense

Jason Caldwell

~3 minutes

AUBURN, Alabama—Through his first five games of the 2023 season, Auburn running back Jarquez Hunter just looked like he was missing something. With just 218 yards rushing on 57 carries, the junior wasn’t his usual explosive self with the ball in his hands. The last two games has changed that.

With 91 yards on 15 carries last week against Ole Miss and another 54 yards receiving, Hunter was just getting warmed up. He continued his strong play on Saturday in Auburn’s 27-13 win over Mississippi State with 144 yards on just 17 carries and another 26 yards receiving. Coach Hugh Freeze said he’s seen Hunter put in the work and now it’s paying off.

“He doesn't say anything,” Freeze said. “He just works and runs a hundred miles an hour. Every, every run he gets he finishes, practices hard and, you know, again, I thought we had a really good plan against their stuff to run the ball and it worked in the first half and then they made their adjustments and give them credit for that. And we made a little adjustment on the last two possessions that helped us. We busted obviously a long run on one of those. And good to see Jarquez continue to have success.”

Not arriving at Auburn until the summer and not working with Hunter until preseason camp, quarterback Payton Thorne said he’s not surprised to see the running back’s production taking off because of the work he puts in every day on and off the field.

“It's the kind of stuff he's been doing, I would say,” Thorne said. “Just trusting what he's seeing and putting his foot in the ground when he needs to, getting the edge when he needs to. He works his butt off. He's a very powerful back; he doesn't go down easy.

“But he also possesses some speed. So when we can get him out in open space, he can roll. I thought you saw all elements of his game tonight. Like I said before, he's an underrated guy in pass pro; he's been excellent so far. So he's a stonewall. He's been awesome.”

Expected to be the guy that carried the load for the Auburn offense this year, Hunter has been MIA for much of the season. Now he’s back and feeling good about his game as the Tigers prepare for the stretch run of the season.

“It was a rough start,” Hunter said. “I had to get back in a groove and get back in some momentum. But this second half of the season, I think, is going to be better. I try to get better at practice. If I practice hard, I play hard. That's where it all starts.”

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Game overview Auburns firsthalf surge too much for Mississippi State

Phillip Marshall

4–5 minutes

It wasn’t a field-storming kind of game Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Some students had left, presumably for Halloween parties, before it was over. But it was sweet tonic for Auburn’s football team.

In a four-game gauntlet unlike many if any teams in the country have faced, Auburn almost beat No. 1 Georgia. It was within a touchdown of Ole Miss and kicking onsides. It let one that might have been won get away at Texas A&M. Only high-flying LSU had made it look easy.

But in the end, The Tigers had lost four straight. For any college football player, being on the bad end of such a streak makes for a miserable existence. Throughout the past week, the Tigers vowed to do something about it Saturday when Mississippi State came to town. And they did, winning 27-13.

Defensive back Keionte Scott, who missed much of that losing streak with an injury, said it was time to put the past behind and move on.

“The motto of the week was on expectation,” Scott said. “My expectation is to close the doors at the end of the day. When you realize that the season is a season, you can’t go back and change anything. So, the main focus was starting with a new slate, getting one in our pocket and starting our own streak.”

Rivaldo Fairweather led Auburn with four pass receptions. (Photo: USA TODAY Sports)

The Tigers came out firing, playing fast on offense and making plays on defense. With quarterback Payton Thorne, running back Jarquez Hunter and a rejuvenated wide receiver corps, Auburn drove 75 yards to a touchdown on its first possession, gave up a field goal and drove 75 yards for another touchdown.

After a fourth-and-one stop, the Tigers raced 68 yards in just 1:05. A nifty pass from Thorne to running back Jeremiah Cobb with seven seconds left made it 24-3 at halftime.

Stephen Hooks caught a 27-yard pass for the touchdown pass, fighting his way into the end zone. The second one came on a 45-yard pass to Ja’Varrius Johnson. Hunter finished the game with 144 yards on 17 carries and two receptions for 26 yards.

Thorne completed 20-of-26 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns. Two other completions were wiped out by penalties. Eleven Auburn receivers caught passes, led by tight end Rivaldo Fairweather with four catches.

In the third quarter, after Mississippi State kicked another field goal to make it 24-6, Auburn drove to a field goal with 9:10 left. That’s when things changed.

Mississippi State kept the ball for the remainder of the quarter, finally getting a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter for the final points of the game. In the fourth quarter, Auburn had two drives cut short by penalties. Mississippi State drove into Auburn territory three times. Zion Puckett’s interception, another fourth-down stop by the defense at the 13-yard line.

Jarquez broke runs of 17 yards and 50 yards to settle it once and for all. With a first down at the Mississippi State 20, Auburn killed the clock.

Auburn coach Hugh Freeze was smiling when it was over.

“It’s not easy to win in this league and this was a big win for us with the remaining stretch that we have,” Freeze said. “We are going on the road the next two weeks. You never want to say it because you don’t want to make too much of one game, but it had the feeling for me as a critical game.

“I thought our kids and staff responded very well this week and it showed. They’re (Mississippi State) really good on defense – how they stop people running the ball - and I think their kids played extremely hard also.”

Freeze got his first SEC win at Auburn. He will try to get another one next Saturday at Vanderbilt.

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'Nostalgic' pregame speech sparks Auburn's win over MSU, a postgame dance party ends it

Updated: Oct. 28, 2023, 7:55 p.m.|Published: Oct. 28, 2023, 7:40 p.m.

6–8 minutes

Earlier this week, Auburn’s first-year head coach Hugh Freeze was asked about the role of Cadillac Williams, who doubles as Auburn’s associate head coach and running backs coach.

“He’s someone I lean on to get the pulse of the team, for sure,” Freeze said Wednesday afternoon during his time on the SEC coaches’ teleconference.

So when it came time for Freeze to choose someone to deliver the pregame speech ahead of Saturday’s game against Mississippi State, the decision was easy: The talking stick was going to Williams, who was forced into a somewhat similar situation last season.

Auburn was on a four-game losing streak last fall when former head coach Bryan Harsin was fired and Williams was asked to lead the Tigers through the back half of the season as the team’s interim head coach.

The first team the Tigers would face under Williams’ leadership?

The Mississippi State Bulldogs.

As a former Auburn player himself, Williams knew just the buttons to press and helped motivate a second-half surge from the Tigers, who ended up forcing overtime but falling short against the Bulldogs.

Nonetheless, Williams’ message to Auburn early last November drew a passionate effort out of the Tigers. And it was up to him get a similar outcome from Auburn on Saturday afternoon as the Tigers once again found themselves looking to end a four-game skid.

“It was kind of really a nostalgic thing, to be honest,” Auburn linebacker Eugene Asante said of Williams’ speech. “I was like, ‘Oh. This is giving flashbacks of last year.’ But it was a really good thing. I think Coach Freeze did a really good job in terms of letting Cadillac come up there and incorporate his philosophy to the team.”

But more important than the speech itself, Williams’ pregame message worked as the Tigers topped the Mississippi State Bulldogs 27-13 from Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday, putting an end to a four-game slide and giving Auburn its first SEC win under Freeze.

Williams’ message was simple.

“His message was just forget about everything and think about ourselves,” said Auburn tight end Rivaldo Fairweather. “Think about what we play for. Think about our why. Just go out there, put it all on the line. And his message got to everybody, it really touched everybody.”

Fairweather went on to say that the team he saw on Pat Dye Field on Saturday was new team – one that “put their head down and went to work.”

For the first time since Auburn hosted Samford on Sept. 16, the Tigers’ offense moved the ball – on the ground and through the air.

Freeze decided it was time to “put up or shut up” in terms of the quarterback situation and seemingly put the two-quarterback rotation to bed and allowed junior Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne to have full control of the offense.

By halftime, Thorne had passed for 192 yards and three touchdowns – becoming the first Auburn quarterback to tally three touchdown passes in one game since Bo Nix against LSU in 2020. And he did it in just one half of play.

Thorne finished 20-for-26 through the air for 230 yards and that trio of touchdown passes.

“I’ve said all week in every media deal that I was on that we had to be balanced, and we had to throw the football,” Freeze said. “That was the plan. Fortunately, we executed it pretty well.”

While Thorne put together a solid night, Freeze was most excited about the success his wide receiver room had.

Thorne dished the ball out to 11 different pass catchers Saturday – of which six came from inside the wide receiver room, which has heard its fair share of criticism this season.

“Obviously, I do think we had work to do,” Freeze said of his wide receiver corps. “But to see them keep working and keep working and then have good things happen to them, on a Saturday in an SEC game, it’s really gratifying”

The Tigers had their way on the ground, too, as junior running back Jarquez Hunter became the first Auburn rusher to notch a 100-plus-yard game with a 149-yard afternoon.

Defensively, the Tigers got punched in the gut early with a pair of chunk yardage plays that allowed the Bulldogs to get into field goal range quickly. But Auburn stopped Mississippi State there, forcing the ‘Dogs to settle for just three points.

The Tigers’ defense gave up another field goal in the third quarter and didn’t allow a touchdown until early in the fourth quarter.

“Truthfully, we gave up too many explosive plays,” Freeze said of the defense. “But I thought they did a good job keeping ‘em outta the end zone.”

As a coach, it’s Freeze’s job to nit-pick – that’s the only way a team gets better.

But with the season winding down and Auburn still needing a handful of wins to reach bowl eligibility, Freeze knew it likely had to start on Saturday afternoon at Jordan-Hare Stadium against Mississippi State.

“This was a big one for us, I think, with the remaining stretch that we have and going on the road the next two weeks,” Freeze said. “This was kind of a — and you never want to say it, because you don’t want to make too much of one game — but it had the feeling, for me, as a critical game.”

Between that, and the fact that Freeze knows you can never take SEC wins for granted, he wasn’t going to let the nit-picking get in the way of an opportunity to celebrate.

And so when the final whistle blew and Freeze made his way back into the locker room, he didn’t skip out on the dance party.

“Coach Freeze, he’s currently working on his dance moves,” Asante joked. “A little stiff in the hips, I’m just going to be honest, but he goes out there and does his best. We’re going to continue to grow upon the dance moves, and Coach Freeze is going to dance the rest of the season. We want that, we want him to be dancing for the rest of the season.”

And though Saturday ended with a dance party in the locker room, in an effort to give credit where credit is due, it started with a locker room speech from Cadillac Williams.

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Everything Hugh Freeze, Auburn's players said after beating Mississippi State

JD McCarthy

8–11 minutes

For the first time all season, the Auburn players were able to celebrate an SEC win after the Tigers beat Mississippi State 27-13 Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The Tigers’ offense had its best half of the season to open the game, scoring 24 points and racking up 301 yards of offense. Payton Thorne was able to show why Hugh Freeze and Auburn’s coaching staff were so excited to land him as he completed 15 of 20 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns before halftime.

While the offense slowed down in the second half, the defense prevented the Bulldogs from climbing back into the game.

Here is everything Freeze, Thorne, Jarquez Hunter and other players had to say about the game.

Opening Statement…

“Obviously, it was a great day winning our first SEC game here at home in Jordan-Hare (Stadium) and on Military Appreciation Day. Always good to honor our military and what they do for our country and our families. Just really excited for our kids and our staff. We saw some signs today of us getting better at some things and it’s just really exciting to see. It’s not easy to win in this league and this was a big win for us with the remaining stretch that we have. We are going on the road the next two weeks. This was kind of, you never want to say it because you don’t want to make too much of one game, but it had the feeling for me as a critical game. I thought our kids and staff responded very well this week and it showed that we’re playing really good in the first half. They’re (Mississippi State) really good on defense – how they stop people running the ball and I think their kids play extremely hard also.”

On Payton Thorne…

“I told him this week, ‘it’s time to put up a ‘shut up’ and ‘figure out,’ who can run the things we want to run. Both (QBs) showed signs this week in practice of improvement. We started hot and felt good about our plan. We had a little plan for Robby (Ashford), too. We just never really got to it. Payton running was really good to see. I think he was 20-for-26 or something. Such a solid day and he took care of the ball well. We did some not so good things in the second half, some of it was them (Mississippi State). They really made an adjustment at halftime and how they were planning to get across. They made it hard to run the ball, and of course, you’re trying to move the clock a little bit when you’re up two-to-three scores. We’ll get a critical first down and have linemen downfield. We can’t do that and that’s frustrating to see those things, but excited for Payton to have a solid day.”

On prepping for MSU not knowing who their starting QB would be…

“Yeah, it was pretty tough because throughout the week it was undecided who was going to play, either #14 (Mike Wright) or #2 (Will Rogers). Just being able to prepare for those two quarterbacks, that was pretty difficult. But I think we did pretty good.”

On fourth-down stop late in the first half… 

“That was a big one. Definitely kudos to my defense for having everyone be locked in. Just emphasizing third and fourth down is what we did all week.”

On importance of getting into a rhythm… 

“I thought it was very important. Coach emphasized it all week, and I thought our guys did a good job of getting the ball back to the ref, letting them spot it, and then rolling again. The O-line did a good job of picking up whatever they were bringing too. I thought that was a big part of what we were doing.”

On confidence of connecting big early… 

“It helps for sure. When you connect down the field early on, you feel good about it. And even just the little five-yard hits, that’s good early in the game. To get those completions and to get those guys involved in the game and then to make the defense react to it, I’d say that helps in any game.”

On what has been working well the past couple of weeks …

“We’ve been doing good in the run game these last couple of weeks. The O-line has been executing their blocks. They have to be patient and hit the holes. The O-line has been making their blocks.”

On Carnell Williams delivering the pregame speech …

“He told us the same thing that he told us last year. We have 20 or so seniors on the team, and if we don’t play for anyone else, then play for the seniors. This is their last chance playing Mississippi State, so go out there and play hard for them.”

On getting back to the Jarquez Hunter that everybody knows … 

“It was a rough start. I had to get back into the groove and get back into the momentum. But the second half of the season is going to be better because I try to get better at practice. If I practice hard, I play hard. That’s where it starts.”

On Connor Lew’s performance in his first start at center …

“The offensive line did great at executing their blocks. There were some explosive runs today. Connor did good with his first start, and he progressed as the game went on. He did really good today.”

On what the experience in the locker room was like after the game…

“It was a refreshing feeling going back into the locker room with a win. I know how much the guys were hungry for this win and how much we put into this game. Guys really do care about going out there and performing.”

On the team’s success when it comes to keeping their opponents off the scoreboard…

“Our coaches. I’m so grateful to Coach (Ron) Roberts and all he does to prepare us. He trusts in us and believes in us. You can see it in the meetings and everything. He cares about us as human beings. I want to go lay it all out on the line for him.”

On the team’s first SEC win…

“It felt amazing. It’s just a start. If we’re going to win these next SEC games, we have to finish the season strong.”

On Associate Head Coach Cadillac Williams’ pregame speech and his message…

“He just told us to forget about everything else. Think about what we’re playing for and think about our ‘why.’ His message really touched everybody, and I saw the team out there put their head down and get to work.”

On the defense continuing to rally during the fourth quarter…

“It was good. We had many three-and-outs regarding crucial moments and points of the game. It was beneficial for the defense to get those stops toward the end of the game and get our offense on the field to seal the deal.”

On the significance of this coaching staff and game planning…

“One thing I want to say is that they have done big as far as game plans go. They utilize the linemen a lot more this year than opposed to the last three years. We are able to make a lot of plays in the backfield and are actually leading in sacks right now. As I said, they really utilize us and I’m getting to create plays in the backfield. They are always sending us on blitzes, stunts, and all kinds of things to create negative plays.”

On Marcus (Harris) coming along on the front and pass rushing being developed…

“We just wanted more. We know we are in a bad spot right now coming in 0-4 in the SEC. We knew it was time to go get the quarterback and time to hunt. Marcus and I talk about it when we watch film together that we are here for a reason, and that is to rush. Everyone is depending on us to.”

On the team’s defense…

“We kept on them (Mississippi State) defensively for three quarters. Coming in as a defense, we all met together and had the mindset of, ‘scoring teams don’t beat us.’ We decided to play with that mentality. At the end of the day, we have some cleaning up to do, but I felt like everyone was there. The intention was there. We all play team defense and that causes us to get off the field.”

On celebrating a SEC victory…

“The motto of the week was on expectation. My expectation is to close the doors at the end of the day. When you realize that the season is a season, you can’t go back and change anything. So, the main focus on what this week now includes – starting with a new slate and getting one in our pocket than starting our streak.”

On the team’s chemistry…

“A lot of the guys that are freshmen came in together. We played in the All-American Bowl together. Ever since then, we have just kind of known that our group is going to be special. We tell each other that all of the time.”

On the strategy of the O-Line…

“All week, we just talked about knowing their (Mississippi State’s) indicators. We knew they were going to play it and play all kinds of games up front. We did a really good job in the first half picking that up. And as a result, we were able to do well in the run game and play a lot better.”

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Auburn puts QB rotation to bed and Payton Thorne loosens up in win over Mississippi State

Published: Oct. 29, 2023, 5:00 a.m.

6–7 minutes

Auburn first-year head coach Hugh Freeze said Thursday that he felt that his team played too tight at times – too scared of making mistakes.

“I want to do everything I can to remove the fog and the fear. Fear is just a liar and it’s really not real unless you give it power,” Freeze said during his time on Auburn’s Tiger Talk radio show Thursday night. “And I want us to play really free and loose.”

And while Freeze’s message could surely be applied to his entire roster, given the Tigers’ struggles on the offensive side of the football, it was likely pointed at Auburn’s offense – and especially Auburn’s quarterback room.

After a season of spitting and sputtering, Auburn’s offense had yet to have a true breakthrough against a quality opponent. And Freeze chalked some of that up to the “foggy conditions” that came with the Tigers’ stretch of playing three consecutive opponents now ranked inside the top 15.

Freeze’s wish was that as Auburn approached its more favorable stretch of games, the Tigers’ offense would loosen up and play with less fear of making mistakes.

Wish granted, coach.

In Saturday’s 27-13 win over Mississippi State, the Auburn offense spit out more production than it had since the Tigers’ win over Samford on Sept. 16, while junior Michigan State transfer quarterback Payton Thorne pieced together his best performance of the season against a Power 5 opponent.

All season long, Auburn had been using a funky two-quarterback rotation between Thorne and Robby Ashford as the Tigers searched for answers on offense.

Finally fed up with it, Freeze said it was time to “put up or shut up” against Mississippi State and handed the reins over to Thorne for – essentially – the entirety of the game.

“I thought both showed signs this week, in practice, of improvement,” Freeze said of Thorne and Ashford. “But, you know, (Thorne) just started hot, and I felt good about our plan. We had a little plan for Robby, too, and just never really got to it.”

Thorne passed for 230 yards in a 20-for-26 passing effort in Saturday’s win, while also tossing three touchdowns – becoming the first Auburn quarterback to tally a trio of passing touchdowns against a SEC opponent since Bo Nix against LSU in 2020.

Freeze and offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery dialed up an up-tempo game plan for Saturday night – an approach Freeze has previously said that himself, Montgomery and Thorne all seem more comfortable with.

“I thought it was very important,” Thorne said of rolling with tempo. “Coach emphasized it all week and I thought our guys did a good job of getting the ball back in to the ref and letting him spot it and rolling again. The o-line did a good job of picking up what they were bringing too. I thought it was a big part of what we were doing.”

Despite Auburn’s leading 24-3 at halftime, the Tigers only managed a field goal in the second half, while Mississippi State scored 10 second-half points, including its lone touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The Bulldogs outgained the Tigers 223 yards to 115 yards in the second half.

“We did some not-so-good things in the second half. Some of it was them. They really made an adjustment at halftime,” Freeze said. “It made it hard to run the ball. And, of course, you’re trying to milk the clock a little bit when you’re up two or three scores.”

Milking the clock isn’t something Auburn has had the luxury of even thinking about since the win over Samford.

And it still wouldn’t have been on Freeze’s mind if not for the big first half from Thorne and the Auburn offense – which according to tight end Rivaldo Fairweather looked like they do day-in and day-out in practice.

“We really do look amazing in practice,” Fairweather said. “And finally we get to see our quarterback be comfortable in there and sling it around, making the right checks, making the right throws, making the right reads.”

Thorne being comfortable and confident has been a bit of a rarity this fall.

Five days after Auburn lost to Texas A&M, which featured an abysmal showing from Thorne, Freeze said during the SEC coaches’ teleconference that it was up to he and the Tigers’ coaching staff to help repair the transfer quarterback’s confidence.

And that’s been a work in progress all season as offensive struggles have continued, as well as the Tigers’ two-quarterback rotation, leaving Thorne uncertain what his role will be on any given Saturday.

Even ahead of Saturday’s game against Mississippi State, Thorne said he wasn’t 100% certain he’d be Auburn’s main guy under center.

But once Thorne checked into the game as Auburn’s starter, the consistency of the gameplan helped, Thorne says.

“I would say so,” Thorne responded when asked if staying in the game helped him build rhythm. “I was out there more than normal and just rolling with our tempo and rolling with whatever guys are out there.”

And Thorne not only capitalized on the opportunity, but he had fun with it. He played free and loose, just like Freeze wanted.

“It was fun out there,” Thorne said. “It was fun getting to throw it around and play with our guys and execute the game plan. It was fun.”

Meanwhile, Fairweather knew it was just a matter of time until Thorne and the Auburn offense had its moment.

“That’s the Payton I been knew since I got here,” Fairweather said. “We’re going to continue to see that Payton.”

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"Auburn puts QB rotation to bed and Payton Thorne loosens up in win over Mississippi State"

PT loosening up is an understatement. After getting those completions he became a different person out there. We don't have a long passing threat but being able to quick short pass it to any of 3-5 people changes everything. Not sure why we pivoted from that for the second half. 

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