Not widely known for his dual-threat ability, Auburn quarterback Payton Thorne used both his arm and legs to lead Auburn to victory in the homecoming game against Samford.
“I think it's the first time since 2013 that Auburn’s had a quarterback to rush for 100 yards and throw for over 200. I thought he had a solid day,” said head coach Hugh Freeze. “We’ve got to get more confidence in us being a balanced offense, and that is the goal.”
Thorne completed 24 of his 32 pass attempts, equaling the Tigers’ most completions from last season. Thorne’s 282 passing yards were the team’s most since passing for 285 yards against Arkansas last season.
Five of Thorne’s completions were gains of 15 or more yards. Those five big completions went to four different players: Jay Fair, Omari Kelly, Shane Hooks and Rivaldo Fairweather. Despite throwing two interceptions, Freeze only placed him at fault for one.
“I thought he had a pretty good percentage of completions. I thought the interception in the end zone was a great decision,” Freeze said. “It did hit our guy on the shoulder pad it looked like. I'm going to see it on film, but the next one was a poor decision.”
While Thorne had passing performances like this in the past, the success Thorne had on the ground was something he had not shown during a game before. Coming into the contest, Thorne’s career-high rushing performance was 47 yards.
Against the Bulldogs, however, Thorne was Auburn’s leading rusher for the game. The junior gained 123 yards on the ground, eclipsing his previous best by 76 yards. Thorne became the first, and thus far only, Tiger to rush for 100 yards in a game this season.
“I’m not that slow,” Thorne said. “I told people all summer I couldn’t really run last year. Two years ago, I don’t know how many yards I had, but it wasn’t anything crazy. I can get some stuff done on the ground. It was good to get back out there and run again.”
Thorne carried the ball 11 times in the game, equaling his number of statistical rush attempts in the first two games combined. Thorne, however, had 17 yards rushing combined in those games, as sacks were included in his rushing totals. He ran for 106 more yards in this one game than he did in the first two games combined.
Five of Thorne’s runs went for 10 yards or more, with his longest run being a 38-yard keeper that set Auburn up at the one-yard line. Four of Thorne’s big runs led to touchdowns on the drive, while the fifth was a touchdown itself.
“My body finally feels back to 100 percent after dealing with some stuff I couldn’t run last year, so it was great,” Thorne said. “I haven’t really run any quarterback-designed run plays. Just different reads in my past, so tonight we were able to get that done and that was fun.”
Thorne’s performance provided the type of balanced attack Auburn has not seen in nearly 10 seasons. The last Auburn quarterback to throw for 200 yards and rush for 100 in a game was Nick Marshall against Mississippi State in 2014. Later that year, Marshall totaled 505 total yards against Alabama — Thorne’s 405-yard performance was the closest an Auburn quarterback has gotten to that mark since then.
Through three games, Thorne has completed 43 of his 63 pass attempts (68.25%) for 517 yards and four touchdowns, while throwing three interceptions. He also is the team’s leading rusher through three games with 140 yards on the ground, averaging 46.67 rush yards per game.
As Freeze wants a balanced offense, Thorne’s performance as SEC play begins could go a long way into determining just how balanced that offense is.
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Matthew is a senior from Huntsville, Alabama, majoring in journalism. He started with The Plainsman in fall 2021.