Newly named QB1, Payton Thorne, and other players were available to the media on Wednesday afternoon to talk about the state of Auburn football, 10 days before the 2023 season opener against UMASS on September 2nd.
The most crowded table was for Payton Thorne, Auburn’s new starting quarterback, who transferred in this spring from Michigan State University. If there was one takeaway from Thorne’s 25 minutes answering questions, it is that Auburn football is in good hands. He even talked about bringing a five-page packet with everybody’s name, so he could become familiar with everyone in the building more quickly.
The graduate transfer won the starting job last Thursday over sophomore Robby Ashford and redshirt freshman Holden Geriner. “It was good healthy competition,” said Thorne. “Nothing toxic. I have a lot of respect for Robby. I am focused on executing what I need to when I am in the game. It wasn’t a long conversation [with Coach Freeze], but to get past the whole competition definitely helps and is good for the mind.”
Thorne said everybody in Auburn has been “welcoming,” adding, “People are just… nicer down here.” He mentioned he grew up vacationing in Destin, Florida as a kid, so there was some familiarity with the area when he made his commitment to the Plains.
“Payton Thorne is a leader,” said senior transfer Avery Jones. “He has great character and knows the game, clearly. We have a great relationship, and he can run this offense smoothly.” Jones transferred to Auburn from East Carolina University this winter and has played with true leaders before. At ECU, he snapped the ball to Holton Ahlers, a four-year started and four-time team captain, so Jones knows what to look for in a leader.
The Auburn offensive line has been a tough watch the past three seasons, but there is reason to be optimistic in 2023. “From spring to now, guys have definitely gotten better. The offensive line has definitely gotten better,” said Jones. “It’s fun blocking for guys like Jarquez. You never know what to expect from guys like that. Even if we make a mistake, they can pick us up with their talent.”
The Auburn defense allowed just over 30 points per game in 2022, and the new defensive coordinator, Ron Roberts, looks to right that ship. That project starts in the middle of the field with the linebackers.
Cam Riley, a junior linebacker, had a successful 2022 campaign. Riley totaled 65 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. He noted that even though the defense lost some key pieces, like Owen Pappoe and Eku Leota, guys like Marcus Harris and Jayson Jones have stepped up as leaders. “Marcus [Harris] was part of that group last year. He has become more vocal and stepped up the plate leading,” said Riley.
Riley also shouted out the first-team offense and their performance through Fall camp, specifically the running game. He called the offense “electric” numerous times and said the running backs have created some chunk plays on their own.
“So many young guys are pushing. DJ James is ready to work… even on the punt team,” said Oscar Chapman, a senior punter. Chapman said it was a little weird not having Anders Carlson around for this camp, but it was huge for kicker Alex McPherson to know he is the guy.
“He [McPherson] excelled. Alex is kicking bombs and having fun. He’s relaxed and gets the job done. There’s still work to be done as a redshirt freshman, but I’m excited to watch him.” Chapman noted McPherson is good from as long as 63 yards during fall camp. McPherson has an NFL pedigree with his older brother, Evan McPherson, being the kicker for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Coach Freeze and the Auburn Tigers open their season on Saturday, September 2nd, in Jordan-Hare Stadium at 2:30 p.m. against the UMass Minutemen. UMass finished the 2022 season on a nine-game losing streak.