AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Payton Thorne passed for 282 yards and a touchdown and ran for 123 yards and two more scores to lead Auburn to a 45-13 victory over Samford on Saturday night.
Thorne had easily his biggest game with the Tigers (3-0) despite throwing a pair of interceptions in the end zone against the Bulldogs (1-2), an FCS team.
The graduate transfer from Michigan State completed 24 of 32 passes and did his rushing damage on 11 carries, producing four passes and a rush of 30-plus yards. He came into the game with 235 passing yards and 17 rushing yards through two games, splitting time with last year’s starter Robby Ashford. Ashford also ran and passed for TDs.
Thorne is the first Auburn quarterback since Nick Marshall in 2014 against Mississippi State to rush for 100 yards and pass for 200 yards in a game. He said it was nice to show “I’m not that slow” after his running was limited by nagging injuries in both feet last season at Michigan State.
“I told people all summer that I couldnt’t run last year.” Thorne said. “But I can get some stuff done on the ground.”
One of Thorne’s interceptions came after a first-and-goal from the 1 and the other was on a deep ball where he didn’t spot an open receiver.
“Outside of that, I thought he played really solid,” Freeze said. “I thought he had a solid day but the plan was absolutely we’ve got to get more confidence in us being a balanced offense. And that was the goal.”
Held to 94 passing yards against California, Thorne had a 32-yard touchdown pass to Shane Hooks to go with scoring runs of 5 and 18 yards. It was the first Auburn touchdown catch for Hooks, a Jackson State transfer, and the Tigers’ longest-scoring pass of the season.
Freeze has led Auburn to its first 3-0 start since 2019 in his first season, albeit against less-than-impressive competition. Bigger tests with less margin for error await.
“There’s times that we don’t play great fundamental football and those plays, I know, will haunt us,” Freeze said.
This one was scoreless until the Tigers scored 17 in the second quarter.
Auburn, which had just 230 yards against Cal, outgained the Bulldogs 562-218.
Michael Hiers passed for 141 yards and a touchdown for Samford but was also intercepted twice.
Auburn’s Jay Fair gained 93 yards on seven catches.
“It was going to be an uphill battle to begin with, but for about three quarters it was a lot of fun,” Samford coach Chris Hatcher said. “In the fourth quarter, it became not so much fun.”
Samford: The defending Southern Conference champions fought the Tigers to a scoreless tie through the first quarter. That’s a win for an FCS team against one from the Southeastern Conference. Fell to 0-29-1 against Auburn but avoided the 20th shutout in the series.
Auburn: An offense that sputtered badly in a 14-10 win over California still had issues, particularly with the two red zone turnovers. Improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2019. Also had a muffed punt set up a second Samford touchdown.
Auburn’s Jaylin Simpson got his third interception of the season. He’s the first Auburn player with picks in three consecutive games since Jerraud Powers in 2007.
Samford hosts Chattanooga.
Auburn opens Southeastern Conference play at Texas A&M.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll