AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Payton Thorne passed for 230 yards and three first-half touchdowns and Jarquez Hunter ran for a season-high 144 yards to lead Auburn to a 27-13 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday.
The Tigers (4-4, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) snapped a four-game skid and got their first league win under coach Hugh Freeze after racing to a 24-3 halftime lead, their biggest in an SEC game in four years.
“You hope that it gives us a lot of confidence and maybe a little swagger,” Freeze said.
Thorne had five touchdown passes in the first seven games since transferring from Michigan State but delivered his best game against an FBS team with the Tigers. He completed 20 of 26 passes and ran for 38 yards.
Hunter got his first 100-yard game this season after ripping off runs of 17 and 49 yards on Auburn's final drive.
The Bulldogs (4-4, 1-4) started Mike Wright at quarterback for the second straight game with Will Rogers sidelined by a left shoulder injury. Leading rusher Jo’Quavious Marks also sat out the game with an injury.
Wright was 16-of-32 passing for 161 yards and ran for another 63 yards. He hit Zavion Thomas for a 14-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs had two late drives into Auburn territory halted by an interception and a fourth-down incompletion.
Thomas had nine catches for 112 yards. His left foot landed out of bounds on a throw into the end zone in the final minutes that could have kept the Bulldogs alive.
Thorne passed for 192 yards in the first half, easily topping his previous season game high against a FBS competition (102 against LSU).
That included touchdown passes of 27 yards to Shane Hooks and 45 to Ja'Varrius Johnson in the first quarter. Thorne punctuated the half with a 7-yard score to tailback Jeremiah Cobb with 9 seconds left to take the three-touchdown lead into the locker room.
“We got the fourth down stop right before half and we took it down and scored,” Freeze said. “That was one of our better complementary football series of the year. And I thought that gave us a lot of momentum.”
It was Auburn's largest halftime lead against an SEC team since going up by 33 against Mississippi State in 2019. Thorne said it was probably the best the offense had clicked since an early game against FCS Samford.
“But it was good to do it against an SEC opponent,” he said. “We might have even been better this week.”
The Bulldogs had a chance to make it a one-score game late in the first half. But Wright slipped and was tackled for a loss on fourth and 1 from the Tigers’ 30.
“We didn’t stop anything in the first half,” Bulldogs coach Zach Arnett said. “We didn’t stop the run or the pass. You can’t win a football game playing a half of football. I appreciate the guys’ effort in the second half, but I’m not particularly interested in moral victories and you ain't gonna win a football game playing a half of complementary football.”
Arnett didn't have much of an update on Rogers, describing him as still “week to week.”
“When he's able to play, he will play,” the coach said.
Mississippi St: The offensive struggles continued in Rogers' absence, but a defense that spearheaded a 7-3 win last weekend gave up an array of big first-half plays to an offense that had been having its own issues.
Auburn: A passing game that had been mostly dormant against FBS competition came to life in the first half — then stalled again. The Tigers' 301 first-half yards was more than they managed in four quarters against LSU (293) and Mississippi (275) the past two games. They finished with 416 and 63 came on that game-ending drive.
Mississippi State hosts Kentucky on Saturday.
Auburn visits Vanderbilt on Saturday.
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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football