How Auburn quarterbacks have fared in their first Iron Bowl start

How Auburn quarterbacks have fared in their first Iron Bowl start

The 88th game of the Iron Bowl takes place this Saturday, Nov. 25 as Auburn looks to rebound from a shocking 31-10 loss to New Mexico State.

The Tigers have lost three straight to Alabama as their last win came in 2019, and head coach Hugh Freeze is looking for his first win over Alabama as the head coach at Auburn.

Prior to his debut season at Auburn, Freeze retooled an Auburn roster that went 5-7 in 2022 by adding 20 players from the transfer portal. One of those players was starting quarterback Payton Thorne.

Thorne has had his share of ups and downs this season with a sour four-game stretch in which his highest passing mark was just 102 yards before finding a rhythm during Auburn’s three-game winning streak where Thorne threw eight touchdowns and two interceptions.

Now, Thorne must turn his attention toward No. 8 Alabama, which ranks 23rd in passing yards allowed (192.5), 16th in team passing efficiency defense (118.18) and 42nd in interceptions (10).

Saturday’s matchup will be Thorne’s first taste of the Iron Bowl. Over the last 14 years, it’s mostly been boom or bust for Auburn quarterbacks in their first start against Alabama. The Tigers are 4-6 over these matchups, and their quarterback has thrown for 150 yards or more in just five of the 10 matchups.

The 150-yard mark for Auburn’s quarterback could be important for the Tigers to win. In those four wins, the Tigers’ quarterback eclipsed 150 yards through the air in three of them.

Thorne has surpassed 150 yards passing four times this season, and Auburn defeated its opponent each time.

In Alabama’s lone loss this season, the Crimson Tide surrendered 349 yards passing and three touchdowns against Texas as the Longhorns made their mark through the air, not on the ground – rushing for just 105 yards at 2.8 yards per carry.

For Thorne, he’ll likely need to join that group of Auburn quarterbacks to throw for 150 yards or more and have a serviceable game passing for the Tigers to have a chance of pulling off the upset. However, that’s easier said than done as Alabama has had its own share of success shutting down Auburn quarterbacks in their first Iron Bowl start.

Here’s a breakdown of how the last 10 Auburn quarterbacks have fared in their first Iron Bowl start:

2022: Robby Ashford

How Auburn quarterbacks have fared in their first Iron Bowl start

Auburn quarterback Robby Ashford (9) celebrates with teammates after scoring a rushing touchdown in the first half against the Alabama Crimson Tide in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Nov. 26, 2022.

Result: 49-27 Alabama

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Statistics: 11-for-23 (48%), 77 yards passing, 121 yards rushing, three touchdowns

Now one of Auburn’s backup quarterbacks, Ashford started for the Tigers in last season’s Iron Bowl.

Ashford impressed early with a 24-yard touchdown run for the first score of the game and a beautiful 20-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. Ashford scored again on the ground in the third quarter, but as Auburn relied heavily on its running attack, it wasn’t enough as the Tigers’ defense could not string together many stops to help out the offense.

2021: T.J. Finley

How Auburn quarterbacks have fared in their first Iron Bowl start
T.J. Finley throws the ball during Auburn vs Alabama, on Nov. 27, 2021, in Auburn, Ala.

Result: 24-22 Alabama

Statistics: 17-for-26 (65%), 137 yards passing, -42 yards rushing, two touchdowns, one interception

In the most recent Iron Bowl in Jordan-Hare Stadium, Finley made his second career start against Alabama but first in an Auburn uniform after starting against the Tide for LSU in 2020.

A spirited effort from the Auburn defense aided an Auburn offense that couldn’t run the ball and was relying on an injured Finley and nearly helped Auburn pull off an upset win.

Finley threw the first touchdown of the game on a screen pass to Kobe Hudson and kept Auburn alive in overtime with a touchdown pass to Landen King. However, Finley also threw a deflating interception after the Alabama offense had turned the ball over on downs the play before. Alabama used the interception to kick a field goal and make it a one-possession game.

2019: Bo Nix

How Auburn quarterbacks have fared in their first Iron Bowl start

Bo Nix (10) runs the ball during Auburn Football vs. Alabama, on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, in Auburn, Ala.

Result: 48-45 Auburn

Statistics: 15-for-30 (50%), 173 yards passing, 44 yards rushing, two touchdowns

The 2019 Iron Bowl is the last time an Auburn quarterback in his first start against Alabama has passed 150 yards passing, and it’s also the last time the Tigers came out victorious over the Tide.

In an Iron Bowl that saw a lot of Jordan-Hare magic with two defensive touchdowns from Auburn and a late missed field goal from Alabama, the Auburn offense recorded seven scoring drives while lifelong Auburn fan Nix recorded over 200 total yards with two touchdowns and zero turnovers.

2017: Jarrett Stidham

How Auburn quarterbacks have fared in their first Iron Bowl start

Jarrett Stidham (8) runs in the second half. Auburn vs Alabama on Saturday, Nov. 25 in Auburn, Ala.

Result: 26-14 Auburn

Statistics: 21-for-28 (75%), 237 yards passing, 51 yards rushing, one touchdown, one fumble

The 2017 Iron Bowl served as a winner takes the SEC West matchup in which Auburn won – spearheaded offensively by a complete performance from quarterback Stidham.

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Stidham didn’t record a touchdown through the air but scored the lone touchdown of the fourth quarter with a 16-yard scamper to put Auburn up by 12. He took care of the ball outside an early fumble in the first quarter and efficiently completed 75% of his passes and completed six passes for a gain of 15 yards or more as the Tigers downed Alabama for the first time since 2013.

2015: Jeremy Johnson

How Auburn quarterbacks have fared in their first Iron Bowl start

Quarterback Jeremy Johnson (6) celebrates his touchdown during the second quarter of Auburn’s NCAA football game against the University of Idaho at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 21. Auburn won 56-34.

Result: 29-13 Alabama

Statistics: 10-for-23 (43%), 170 yards passing, -18 yards rushing, one touchdown

Johnson’s statline was helped by a 77-yard touchdown pass that was popped up twice by wide receiver Jason Smith, but other than that, the quarterback who entered the season as one of the Heisman favorites had a lackluster Iron Bowl start.

The Tigers recorded nearly 30% of their total yards from that one play and relied on a defense that eventually ran out of gas as the Crimson Tide pulled away in the fourth quarter. Auburn converted just three of its 15 third-down attempts as Johnson and the rest of the Tigers’ offense never found its footing against the Tide.

2013: Nick Marshall

How Auburn quarterbacks have fared in their first Iron Bowl start
Nick Marshall runs into the end zone for a touchdown on Saturday against Tennessee. Raye May / Photo & Design Assistant

Result: 34-28 Auburn

Statistics: 11-for-16 (69%), 97 yards passing, 99 yards rushing, three touchdowns

The famous 2013 Iron Bowl is the lone time over the last 10 meetings where an Auburn quarterback in his first start against Alabama didn’t reach 150 yards passing, but Auburn still came out victorious.

While Marshall didn’t even hit 100 yards passing, both of his touchdown passes came at crucial times as both tied the game against Alabama. Marshall also had a 45-yard touchdown run for the first score of the game. His touchdowns came at crucial points as the Tigers ran for 296 yards to win the SEC West.

2012: Jonathan Wallace

How Auburn quarterbacks have fared in their first Iron Bowl start
Jonathan Wallace takes the field prior to the start of the game against South Carolina. Raye May / PHOTO EDITOR

Result: 49-0 Alabama

Statistics: 5-for-14 (36%), 71 yards passing, 6 yards rushing, two interceptions

In the second-largest margin of defeat Auburn has suffered against Alabama, the Tigers were shutout to cap a 3-9 season.

Nothing went right for the Tigers as Wallace completed just five passes with two interceptions, and Auburn was run out of Bryant-Denny Stadium. Wallace threw an interception in each half as the Tigers punted seven times on their way to a huge defeat.

2011: Clint Moseley

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How Auburn quarterbacks have fared in their first Iron Bowl start
Junior quarterback Clint Moseley (number 15) has decided not to return to Auburn’s football team for his senior season. (Courtesy of Todd Van Emst)

Result: 42-14 Alabama

Statistics: 11-for-18 (61%), 62 yards passing, -8 yards rushing, one interception, one fumble

Auburn used two non-offensive touchdowns to stick around in this game for a little bit, but Moseley and the entire Auburn offense never got it rolling – totalling just 140 yards and turning it over twice.

Auburn ran for just 2.2 yards per carry and could not rely on Moseley to lead the offense as he averaged just 3.4 yards per pass attempt. Moseley’s interception came at a crucial time, as the Tigers trailed by just 13 points early in the fourth quarter, but Moseley threw an interception which was returned for a touchdown to effectively end the game.

2010: Cam Newton

Junior quarterback Cam Newton scrambles to avoid Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus. (Charlie Timberlake/ASSISTANT PHOTO EDITOR)

Result: 28-27 Auburn

Statistics: 13-for-20 (65%), 216 yards passing, 39 yards rushing, four touchdowns

In arguably the greatest comeback in Auburn football history, Newton stole the show – leading Auburn on a massive comeback after the Tigers trailed 24-0 midway through the second quarter.

Newton threw a touchdown pass to Emory Blake before halftime, and then led the Tigers to a score on three of their five second-half drives to stun the Tide and keep Auburn’s national championship hopes alive. The turning point came at the beginning of the fourth quarter when Newton rolled to his right, and then threw the ball across the field to tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen in the end zone for the eventual game-winning touchdown.

2009: Chris Todd

How Auburn quarterbacks have fared in their first Iron Bowl start
(Left to right) Walter McFadden, Chris Todd and Antonio Coleman head to the field for the coin-toss: Rod Guajardo/ Photo Editor

Result: 26-21 Alabama

Statistics: 15-for-25 (60%), 181 yards passing, -3 yards rushing, two touchdowns, one interception, one fumble

Todd had his ups and downs in the 2009 Iron Bowl. After an electric start that put Auburn up 14-0 by way of a Todd touchdown pass to Eric Smith, Todd had two turnovers around midfield that Auburn could’ve used to at least add a field goal.

Todd had a 72-yard touchdown to Darvin Adams in the third quarter to put Auburn back on top 21-14, but after that, the Tigers either punted, turned the ball over or the game clock expired on the final five drives. Alabama had a 15-play touchdown drive that took over seven minutes off the clock to take the lead in the fourth quarter, and Auburn was unable to score on its final drive and lost the game.

Overall, the last 10 Auburn quarterbacks in their first Iron Bowl starts were a combined 129-for-223 (58% and recorded 1,421 yards passing, 289 yards rushing, 18 touchdowns and eight turnovers.

Auburn had some good performances in wins from Nix, Stidham, Marshall and Newton, but those four are all atop the Auburn passing record books. When Auburn hasn’t had a statistical all-time great under center, it’s usually struggled to move the ball against a Nick Saban coached Alabama team and pose a threat outside the 2009 matchup.

It’ll be on Thorne and the rest of the Auburn offense to change that trend this upcoming Saturday when the Tigers take on Alabama in the Iron Bowl at 2:30 p.m. CST on CBS.