Auburn should have the QB edge over Maryland. The Tigers need to make it count.
Maryland won't have Taulia Tagovailoa. But Auburn will have Payton Thorne, who is looking to enter 2024 on a high note.
QB Payton Thorne (Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — During several of Auburn’s on-campus bowl practices last week, Payton Thorne wasn’t out there with his teammates.
But, unlike what Maryland was dealing with after longtime starting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa opted out of the Music City Bowl matchup, Thorne’s absence was only temporary.
“I was sick,” Thorne said Wednesday, before Auburn began its on-site practices in Nashville. “Came down with the flu. … I'm feeling pretty good. I don't think that'll be an issue moving forward.”
Thorne hasn’t been the only Tiger who has dealt with sickness around the holidays. Two unnamed players stayed back at the hotel Wednesday afternoon, missing Auburn’s first of two practices at Vanderbilt.
In this particular matchup — one that has already been impacted by opt-outs such as Tagovailoa and several Auburn defensive standouts — Thorne’s availability could prove to be vital.
Maryland won’t have Tagovailoa and his all-time Big Ten-leading 11,256 passing yards over 41 career games. (The point spread for the game moved four points in Auburn’s favor after that news broke a couple of weeks ago.)
But Auburn will have Thorne, who started all 12 of the Tigers’ regular-season games and has more than 8,000 career passing yards to his name.
“It gives us so much confidence, just having a group of guys that work together consistently throughout the year,” tight end Luke Deal said Wednesday. “That’s been huge for us, ‘cause each week has just been learning something new every week.
“We’re confident in Payton. He’s confident in us. It definitely is a huge advantage.”
The story of Auburn’s 2023 regular season can be traced through what happened in the quarterback battle in each game.