Aubserver Mailbag 122: What is Payton Thorne's potential in Auburn's offense?
This week: 2023 expectations, Robby Ashford, passing game complexity, NIL, Johni Broome, gas station restaurants and water parks
QB Payton Thorne (Instagram)
When this upcoming season starts, I will have been covering Auburn football for a decade.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons from a lot of great people during my time on the beat, which started with the unreal 2013 season at The Auburn Plainsman. I’ve learned how to carve out my own style of coverage, try out a wide variety of story types and even started my own publication after being a full-time beat writer at two different outlets.
But the lesson that I learned early and still go back to every single year is this: If you want to write something in the offseason that people will care about, write about the quarterbacks.
And that is definitely going to hold up in 2023, with Auburn starting a new era under a new coaching staff. You people — I say that lovingly — can’t get enough of the quarterbacks.
The quarterback situation at Auburn and the passing game in general will be the focal point of this week’s mailbag, along with some questions about NIL, Johni Broome, the future of Auburn basketball’s roster, gas station restaurants and water slides.
Thanks as always for your continued support of The Auburn Observer. You still have time to donate to the EDSBS Charity Bowl, or start a new subscription and know that all of the money will go directly to a phenomenal cause.
What’s your realistic potential for Payton Thorne in a Freeze offense?
During his two seasons as a starter at Michigan State, Payton Thorne completed 61% of his 776 passes for 5,911 yards. That’s an average of 7.6 yards per attempt and 31.04 pass attempts per game. He also threw touchdowns on 5.93% of his attempts.
Hugh Freeze teams have averaged anywhere between 30 and 40 pass attempts per game. Philip Montgomery has had his offenses in that range, too, with only a couple of them ever getting above 35 attempts per game. (And those came with highly experienced, returning starters at quarterback.)
I would tilt Auburn more toward the lower end of the spectrum this fall, considering all the newness at quarterback and wide receiver — plus the potential strength of the rushing attack. However, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Thorne has thrown the ball extremely well when the ground game is clicking. So I could see a slightly lower volume, slightly higher efficiency type of season for Thorne at Auburn.
If he’s the Day 1 starter, let’s say Thorne averages somewhere between 30 to 35 pass attempts per game this season and averages around 7.4 to a full 8.0 YPA mark. Over a 12-game regular season, you’re looking at somewhere between 2,700 to 3,300 yards for Thorne and between 20 to 25 passing touchdowns. Anything there would put him in the top five at Auburn all-time in single-season yards and touchdowns.
Thorne doesn’t have to be above and beyond what he’s been at Michigan State in order to reignite Auburn’s passing attack under a coaching staff that has been known to work some magic in that department. (It’s also not all up to him, either.) He just needs to do more of the same on the Plains. The floor is enough for a competitive Auburn football team in the fall. The ceiling could turn some heads.
Multi-part question regarding early season QB evaluation: How valuable is it really to get all the QBs playing time in the first couple games? Is there really going to be separation in the competition based on how they run the offense against Samford? If Thorne is considered by the coaching staff to be the best option from a talent perspective, why not let him get as many reps as possible and play the whole game early on to help him catch up?