AUBURN, Ala. — Payton Thorne turned the corner and was off to the races, speeding 61 yards past the Georgia defense in the first quarter and serving notice Auburn came to play.
“I thought that we should have won the game, to be honest,” said Thorne, a first-year transfer quarterback for the Tigers from Michigan State.
“I give credit to them though, obviously. They’re a great team, two-time defending champs. You know they’re rolling over there. But it was frustrating, I feel like we let it slip away.”
The Tigers jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and were up 17-10 in the third quarter before the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs finally took the lead in the fourth quarter en route to a 27-20 win.
Thorne, Auburn’s starting quarterback, was 10-of-19 passing for 82 yards and rushed for 107 yards on 9 carries. But Thorne was also sacked three times for 15 yards of losses and was intercepted on the Tigers’ final drive.
Auburn coach Hugh Freeze also utilized dual-threat quarterback Robby Ashford, who completed the only pass he threw for 6 yards and rushed four times for 33 yards including a go-ahead touchdown.
The Tigers rolled up 219 yards rushing and averaged 5.1 yards per carry, beating a Georgia defensive front that has insisted there would be no drop-off after first-round picks Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith left for the NFL last spring.
“We knew coming into the game, we had to be the more physical team,” said Auburn tailback Brian Battie, who had 35 yards on 8 carries.
“It started with the O-Line. They went all out. Overall, I feel like we played a good game.”
The Tigers appeared to win both sides of the line of scrimmage, as Georgia was limited to just 3.6 yards per carry, finishing with 107 yards on the strength of Daijun Edwards’ 76 yards on 19 carries.
“Disappointment for sure, because we know we could have had that game,” Auburn defensive lineman Marcus Harris said. “We knew we had to pick up the intensity against a great team.”
It was a Georgia offensive line playing without starting right tackle Amarius Mims, who missed another game after undergoing ankle surgery.
The Bulldogs started Earnest Greene lll at left tackle with Dylan Fairchild at left guard, All-American Sedrick Van Pran at center, Tate Ratledge at right guard and Xavier Truss at right tackle.
Micah Morris was the only other offensive linemen to play, getting 28 snaps at left guard while Fairchild had 36, per PFF.
Auburn felt it won the physical battle while still losing the ultimate war on the scoreboard.
“Coach talked about going toe-to-toe with them, and I thought we did that,” Thorne said. “I don’t think anyone out there was playing scared, and we got to take that away from this game, so that was a positive.”
Auburn (3-2, 0-2 SEC) is off next Saturday before playing at LSU on Oct. 14.
Georgia (5-0, 2-0) plays host to Kentucky (5-0, 2-0) next Saturday at Sanford Stadium.