AUBURN, Alabama (AP) — Robby Ashford scored three first-half touchdowns as Auburn beat UMass 59-14 on Saturday when Hugh Freeze made his debut as Tigers head coach.
Ashford, the Tigers’ starting quarterback for 2022, was used in red-zone packages to complement new starter and Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne. Thorne threw 141 yards and a touchdown on his debut in Auburn (1-0).
“Obviously you always want to be the starter,” Ashford said. “But Payton has done a great job and I treat him like a brother. We come out every day just knowing that we are out here to improve each other and do whatever we can to help this team win.”
Damari Alston hit a quick touchdown on the Tigers’ first drive, while freshman Jeremiah Cobb broke a 42-yard touchdown run on the second carry of his collegiate career. The Tigers rushed for 294 yards.
Alston started as a running back in place of junior Jarquez Hunter, the team’s top returner in rushing yards. Hunter didn’t strip Saturday and missed Auburn’s first practice sessions in August for undisclosed reasons.
Auburn’s defense recorded two takeaways and twice stopped UMass on the fourth down in the win. Jaylin Simpson returned an interception from 50 yards for a touchdown and saved a fumble forced by fellow defenseman Donovan Kaufman.
“It was nice to see our defense play hard,” Freeze said. “I thought we played harder than scrimmage and first possession. I thought we started showing a little passion.”
UMass (1-1) scored a touchdown on the game’s first possession but failed to score more points until the fourth quarter. Kay’Ron Adams led the Minutemen with 101 rushing yards while backup quarterback Carlos Davis hit Arizona transferee Anthony Simpson for a late 58-yard touchdown.
“Certainly not a good day to be a UMass minuteman,” said UMass head coach Don Brown. “But I really believe in our boys, we’ll get back on our feet, we’ll train hard and we’ll be ready to go again next week.”
MANY FRESH FACES
More than half of the grantees in Auburn’s 2023 roster were off the team last year, including Thorne and Cobb.
Thirteen of the Tigers’ 22 offensive and defensive starters on Saturday were freshmen, which several players believe contributed to Saturday’s slower start.
“We’ve got a lot of new people, new coaching staff,” said outside linebacker Elijah McAllister, who joined from Vanderbilt this season. “It was the first time we played together, so we sort of got used to it and settled in.”
A RECORD QUANTITY
Freeze’s debut came in front of the largest home crowd in Auburn history as the Tigers announced a viewership of 88,043 on Saturday. Auburn added new seating at Jordan-Hare Stadium this summer to expand its long-standing capacity of 87,451.
“It’s just pretty humbling to see the biggest student crowd ever and the biggest crowd ever,” Freeze said. “I just can’t say enough about their support and what that means for our players, our staff, our administration and everyone here at Auburn. It’s a testament to the love and passion of the Auburn family.”
THE TAKE AWAY
Umass: The Minutemen were able to beat the Tigers for several big plays, but didn’t have the depth or athleticism after the first quarter to truly rival an SEC team.
Auburn: The Tigers struggled to pass and stop the run early, both of which were problems from last season. But the improvement in both areas in the second half – and the overall success of the storming attack without Hunter – were positive signs.
Umass: Hosted by Miami (Ohio) on September 9th.
Auburn: Visits California on September 9th.
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