AUBURN – For the first time under head coach Hugh Freeze, the Auburn Tigers (4-4, 1-4 SEC) have won a game in conference play, knocking off the Mississippi State Bulldogs (4-4, 1-4 SEC) 27-13.
Auburn was able to take control early as they jumped out to a 14-3 lead in the first quarter. The Tigers never looked back, and when the clock hit 0:00 in the fourth quarter, they had come out on top.
What are some of the biggest takeaways from Auburn's first SEC win of the season?
"Obviously, it was a great day winning our first SEC game here at home in Jordan-Hare (Stadium) and on Military Appreciation Day," Freeze said after the game. "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."
Jarquez Hunter had a breakout performance
Auburn running back Jarquez Hunter was expected to be a difference-maker for the Tigers this season. Unfortunately, that had not gone according to plan so far.
Hunter found his stride in this game. He rushed for 144 yards off of 17 carries and added 26 yards on two catches.
"It was a rough start," Hunter said. "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."
If Hunter can continue to make this kind of an impact, Auburn will be in good shape offensively moving forward.
Payton Thorne showed up to play
The quarterback position has been a revolving door for Auburn so far this season. Payton Thorne had a big day on Saturday, and it was exactly what he needed.
Thorne went 20-26 for 230 yards and three touchdowns. He was also able to spread the ball around, finding 11 different receivers for a completion.
"I thought it was very important," Thorne said on the importance of getting into a rhythm. "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."
"I saw the quarterback I've been seeing every day," Auburn tight end Rivaldo Fairweather said. "We really look amazing in practice and finally we get to see our quarterback being comfortable in there and slinging it around."
Auburn's defense dominated on third down
Auburn held Mississippi State to 2-12 on third-down conversions.
Getting off the field was vital to Auburn's dominant defensive display in this game.
The Tigers did give up 345 yards of total offense, but they held the Bulldogs to 13 points. This may not have been the case if the Auburn defense had to spend more time on the field.
Auburn's offensive line played well
Offensive line play has been a struggle for Auburn so far this season. In this game, however, the Tigers were able to turn things around at that spot.
Freshman Connor Lew started at center in place of Avery Jones, who sustained an injury last week against Ole Miss. Lew earned some praise from his coach and teammates for his performance.
"The offensive line did great at executing their blocks," Hunter stated. "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."
Auburn's offensive line only committed three pre-snap penalties, all false starts, for a total of 15 yards. Additionally, Thorne and Auburn's ball carriers had time to make things happen.
Auburn was able to pressure the quarterback
Getting to the quarterback has been an issue for Auburn so far this season.
Saturday, the Tigers forced six quarterback hurries and one interception.
Mississippi State quarterback Mike Wright was held in check, going 16-32 for 161 yards and one touchdown.
If Auburn can replicate that success rushing the pass, they will be in good shape.
Auburn is back on the road next week. The Tigers will travel up to Nashville to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores at FirstBank Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. CT, and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.
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