BY BRANDON HUGHES / FOR THE OBSERVER
Photos by Austin Perryman & Zach Bland /Auburn Tigers
Auburn’s offense mustered only three points while amassing more penalty yards than passing yards en route to a 27-10 loss to the Texas A&M Aggies, dropping its SEC opener for the first time since 2018. The Tigers fell to 3-1 (0-1), while the host Aggies improved to 3-1 (1-0).
After the game, Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze addressed the offensive performance: “We had people open, and we either missed them, or the pressure distracted us, it seemed. I’ve got to watch the film and see exactly what was going on to cause that. But we certainly missed a few opportunities in the passing game. I thought we were running it efficiently early on … But you have to stay balanced. We just weren’t efficient at all in throwing the ball to open receivers when we had them, for whatever reason.”
The defense did yeoman’s work in the first half keeping Auburn in the game as the offense continued to sputter. In true bend but don’t break fashion, the Auburn defense held the Aggies — who came into the contest averaging 44 points per game — to a pair of field goals on its first two possessions.
After getting down 6-0 and after going three and out on its first possession, Auburn drove its second possession of the game into Aggie territory to the A&M 30 yard line. Facing a third down and 8, quarterback Payton Thorne was sacked for an eight yard loss taking them out of field goal range and forcing an Auburn punt.
The Tiger defense then forced three consecutive three-and-outs, including two stops on third and short, to keep Auburn within striking distance as the offense tried to get untracked.
The first half concluded on a high note for Auburn’s offense, as they embarked on an eight-play drive culminating in a career-long 53 yard field goal by kicker Alex McPherson, sending the Tigers to the locker room down 6-3.
Auburn received the kickoff to open the second half but, just as with their first possession of the game, stumbled out of the gate. Impeded by yet another third down penalty, went three and out and had to punt the football. Meanwhile, the Aggies took advantage, starting their first drive in Tiger territory at the Auburn 46-yard line. On the sixth play of the drive, Max Johnson, the Aggies’ backup quarterback, connected with his brother Jake Johnson for a 22-yard touchdown, extending their lead to 13-3.
Auburn’s subsequent possession mirrored its struggles up to this point, with another three-and-out and yet another third-down penalty, thwarting any offensive momentum. Texas A&M capitalized, swiftly surging to a commanding 20-3 lead with a 37-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Evan Stewart.
The Tigers’ following drive was another three-and-out that saw yet another negative play on third down in the form of a sack on quarterback Robby Ashford.
Desperately needing a stop to keep the visiting Tigers in striking distance, the defense delivered and forced an Aggie punt. But, once again, the Auburn offense went three and out after another negative third down play. A Thorne fumble that was originally ruled an incomplete pass but was overturned after replay review and a false start penalty led to a loss of 19 yards and an Auburn punt.
The Tigers’ determination shone through, though, as the defense forced a crucial stop, and Auburn showed signs of life when linebacker Eugene Asante returned a forced fumble by cornerback Kayin Lee for a 67-yard touchdown, narrowing the score to 20-10.
About his first career touchdown, Asante said, “Coach talks about running to the football. I was on the back side of the play. Just trying to make a play for my team.”
The Auburn defense once again did its job forcing a punt on the next Texas A&M drive. With hope rekindled, Auburn’s offense took the field at its own 10 yard line, marching downfield under the guidance of quarterback Robby Ashford who had replaced a struggling Thorne. On the eighth play of the drive, a 1st down and 10 from the Aggie 28 yard line, Ashford went to the end zone only to have the pass dropped by wide receiver Shane Hooks. That was as close as the Tigers would get to scoring an offensive touchdown. After yet another penalty on third down that took them out of field goal range, Auburn punted the football.
However, the Aggies ripped off a devastating 79-yard run on the second play of their drive, bringing them to the Auburn four yard line. A touchdown run on the next play would put Texas A&M up 27-10 and seal the victory.
OF NOTE: This was the first game in which the Tigers failed to score an offensive touchdown since its last visit to Kyle Field in 2021. It was the first time since the opening game of the 2019 season that a Hugh Freeze led team was held without an offensive touchdown.
The Good: The Auburn running backs. The running backs averaged 7.4 yards per carry for the game.
THE BAD: Third Downs. Auburn faced 15 third downs in the game and was either sacked or committed a penalty on eight of them. Twice, once by a sack and once by a penalty, the negative play knocked the Tigers out of field goal range forcing the Tigers to punt the football.
THE UGLY: The Auburn quarterbacks. The quarterbacks combined to go 9-23 throwing the football for 56 yards and seven sacks.
NEXT UP: The Georgia Bulldogs visit Jordan-Hare for the 128th edition of The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.
Auburn enters the game on a six game losing streak to the Bulldogs and have lost 15 of the previous 20 meetings.
Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m on CBS.