Entering his first season with the Auburn Tigers, new head coach Hugh Freeze was tasked with turning around a program in disarray. On Thursday, he named his starting quarterback for the 2023 season in a step toward doing just that.
Hugh Freeze Names Starting Quarterback for 2023 Season
After a competitive battle for the starting quarterback position, Freeze has named Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne the starting quarterback over incumbent Robby Ashford.
“The reason Payton is getting the nod is the leadership ability and understanding of the offense,” Freeze told media on Thursday. “It was not a slam dunk. I hope everyone will handle it right.”
While Thorne may not possess the best arm talent in the world, he is a fit for what Freeze wants to do offensively. Thorne can run an RPO-centric offense with a capable enough dual-threat ability.
He isn’t a true rusher but provides enough of a threat that defenses will buy him as a ball carrier.
Over his two-plus seasons as starting quarterback, Thorne has completed 61.0% of his passes for 6,493 yards, 49 touchdowns, and 24 interceptions while rushing 270 yards and six more scores.
Thorne landed with an Auburn team in transition that still houses an experienced offensive line and star running back Jarquez Hunter, who should thrive in this rush-heavy scheme.
In the end, it was his tenacious attitude and willingness to go the extra mile that helped edge him over the competition.
“I can’t get rid of him,” Freeze continued. “He wants to know all the ins and outs about everything. And he’s a pro at it.”
He beat out incumbent Robby Ashford, who started nine games for the Tigers last season, and freshman Holden Geriner. A transfer from Oregon, Ashford is a true dual-threat while Freeze discussed Geriner’s true passing ability as the best of the group.
Last season, Ashford completed just 49.2% of his passes for 1,613 yards, seven touchdowns, and seven interceptions. His best utility is on the ground, as Ashford rushed for 710 yards and seven touchdowns in 2022.
If Thorne falters early on as a starter, Freeze has a talented option to turn to in Ashford.
Meanwhile, Thorne will be in an offense that is designed to generate explosive plays and should provide some excitement in the SEC West.