Hugh Freeze likely won't change his QB1 this week, but he has plenty more to fix.
Auburn's offense has struggled mightily in two P5 games. Freeze knows it's ultimately on him to turn it around on that side of the ball.
HC Hugh Freeze (Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers)
If there’s one word that best sums up Auburn’s current situation on offense, it’s “disconnect.”
There were the literal disconnections, such as Auburn’s quarterbacks throwing incompletions on 14 of their 23 pass attempts at Texas A&M last Saturday. There were also intangible ones — like breakdowns in pass protection by the offensive line, incorrectly run routes by receivers and poor timing by the quarterbacks.
When a team only comes up with 200 yards and zero offensive touchdowns, everything feels out of sorts. Positive running plays weren’t strung together consistently enough, whether it was due to losses up front or drive-killing penalties. Mistakes stacked on top of each other. Empty drives became the norm.
“I think the biggest thing is just everyone being on the same page,” tight end Luke Deal said on Monday, two days after Auburn’s 27-10 loss at Texas A&M. “I think everybody just having that same mindset that each and every play is its own play. Be excited for the good ones, flush the bad ones. … We didn’t have that Saturday, and we’ve gotta get back to it.”
There’s a big-picture disconnect: Auburn is four games into the season and doesn’t have a true offensive identity.
A major part of that is the disconnect between the quarterback Payton Thorne has shown to be in the past and what he’s been in his two starts against power-conference competition.
Very little about Thorne’s performances away from home resemble the quarterback who threw for 325 yards as a redshirt freshman at Penn State or the one who threw for nearly 6,000 yards as a two-year starter at Michigan State. It also doesn’t resemble the quarterback who won the starting job two weeks before the season started, despite the fact he didn’t even go through spring practices on the Plains.
“I mean, he's really sharp in practice, really sharp in practice,” Freeze said. “Last week, particularly, was really, really sharp in practice. And we keep hoping to see that translate into the games. … It's not all Payton, but sometimes it is, and he owns it.
“We had a good meeting (Sunday) night, and so we just gotta try this week to get a plan in place that all execute and all understand. And that falls on Phillip and his staff and, ultimately, on me.”
Freeze sounded like a head coach who is going to stick by his transfer starter at quarterback for at least one more game, when Auburn faces back-to-back defending national champion Georgia this Saturday inside Jordan-Hare Stadium before a much-needed off week.
Thorne was replaced by Robby Ashford during the third quarter of the loss to Texas A&M, although he came back in to run two more plays for the Tigers. Auburn also gave the final drive to redshirt freshman Holden Geriner.
“We’re still kind of wading through that, but that’s probably where it will land this week,” Freeze said when asked if Thorne would remain the starter for the UGA game.
Fixing that disconnect between the Thorne of the past and the Thorne of the two rough road starts — or deciding to move on from the transfer at some point to either Ashford or Geriner — will be crucial to Auburn rediscovering momentum in its first season under Freeze.
Thorne needs to perform better, but he’s far from the only one. Freeze chalked up Auburn’s offensive woes to a combination of issues all over the field. But he was quick to say multiple times that it’s ultimately on the coaches to get that fixed.
“I know the quarterbacks and coaches get the blame,” Freeze said. “Coaches, we deserve it. Quarterbacks don’t always deserve it.”
This week, Freeze said he’s “determined to try and help” offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery and the rest of the Tigers’ staff fix the issues that plague their attack so far this season.
And, as it stands right now, that doesn’t sound like a situation where Freeze takes over offensive play-calling from Montgomery.
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