Auburn rolls over UMass in Freeze’s debut

Auburn quarterback Robby Ashford carries the ball in for a touchdown against Massachusetts...
Auburn quarterback Robby Ashford carries the ball in for a touchdown against Massachusetts during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)(Butch Dill | AP)
Published: Sep. 2, 2023 at 7:54 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 2, 2023 at 8:10 PM EDT
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AUBURN, Ala. (WSFA) - The Auburn Tigers started the season with a bang, dominating the UMass Minutemen 59-14 on Saturday afternoon at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The Auburn offense came out and set the tone early. The team started the game with a big opening kickoff return for 38 yards, followed by an 11-play 62-yard drive that showcased the Auburn run game. The drive was capped off with a 3-yard rushing touchdown by Damari Alston.

The Tiger defense did not get off on the right foot, however. The UMass offense matched the performance of the Auburn run game and stormed down the field 89 yards on eight plays, amassing 76 rushing yards on the opening drive. The drive ended with quarterback Taisun Phommachanh punching it into the endzone on the goalline.

The Tiger offense looked to answer back quickly and stormed down the field but fell short, settling for a field goal.

When the Minuteman offense took the field a second time, the Auburn defense was ready for anything and quickly forced a three and out. UMass brought their punt unit out, looking to pin the Tigers deep. However, Keionte Scott had other plans and returned the 44-yard punt 56 yards, setting the Tiger offense up with a short field.

Robbie Ashford introduced himself to the UMass defense on the ensuing drive and punched in his first of three first-half touchdowns on a great run from the UMass 10. The Tigers entered the second quarter with a slim three-point lead 10-7.

The Auburn defense went on to force another three and out to start the second quarter, nearly intercepting the ball on 3rd down.

The Auburn offense began to get its air attack going in the second half. Thorne hit Shane Hooks for a 20-yard pass just as a UMass defender hit him. The pass set up another redzone attempt, which meant it was time for the Robbie Ashford show. Ashford hammered in his second rushing TD of the game, and the Tigers were rolling, up 24-7 with 10 minutes remaining in the half.

Auburn’s defense was not about to be outshined by their offensive counterparts, and on the ensuing drive, Donovan Kaufman sacked Phommachanh, forcing a fumble that was scooped up by Jaylin Simpson, who ran it for 13 yards, setting the Tiger offense up with a chance to extend the lead even further.

Thorne aired the ball out and connected with Koy Moore for 33 yards to start the drive out, and you guessed it, it was now Robbie time. Ashford returned to the game, and a few plays later and scored his third rushing touchdown of the half on a 4-yard run.

UMass found their rushing game again with a 28-yard run from Kay’Ron Lynch-Adams, followed by another 17-yard run on the next play. However, the Tiger defense stood strong and stopped the UMass offense with a big third-down sack. UMass would go on to miss their 42-yard FG attempt, giving the Tigers back the ball. However, nothing would come of that drive, and the Tigers went into halftime up 31-7

UMass started the second half with the ball, but the Tiger defense wanted it more, and on just the second play of the half, the Tiger defense got to Phommachanh, nearly sacking him before he got the ball off. The pressure caused a big mistake, and the ball went right to Jaylin Simpson, who intercepted the ball and ran it 50 yards to the endzone for a Tiger defensive touchdown.

The next offensive drive for the Minutemen did not go to plan, and the Tigers forced yet another three and out that would set up the offense with a short field once again.

Thorne wasted no time and aired out a pass to a wide-open Jay Fair in the endzone, and the Tigers suddenly found themselves up by 38 early in the second half.

Later in the quarter, the Auburn run game was on display again when Jeremiah Cobb ran 42 yards on the drive’s opening play for another Auburn rushing touchdown, making it five rushing touchdowns in the game. The score gave the Tigers a commanding 52-7 lead headed into the fourth quarter.

The Minutemen started the fourth quarter out trying to make something happen but ultimately turned the ball over on downs, giving the Tigers the ball back on their own 30-yard line. However, on the very next drive, the Tigers themselves fell short and turned the ball over on downs after back-to-back incomplete passes by Ashford.

UMass turned that turnover on downs into quick points when Phommachanh tossed a screen pass over to Anthony Simpson, and Simpson showed his speed, taking the ball 58 yards downfield to give the Minutemen their second touchdown of the day.

The Tigers answered back with a 45-yard touchdown run of their own by Sean Jackson. The run came shortly after redshirt freshman quarterback Holden Geriner connected with Malcom Johnson Jr. on a big 30-yard play that saw Johnson make a great move to gather an underthrown ball in tight coverage.

At the end of the day, the Tigers accumulated 289 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns. After a rough first defensive drive, the defense got things on track quickly, forcing two turnovers and getting on the scoreboard themselves.

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