Auburn vs UMass: Tale of the Tape

The college football season finally kicks off for Auburn on Saturday against 1-0 UMass. The Minutemen are coming off an excellent performance on the road vs. New Mexico State, winning 41-30 on the back of great play from Clemson transfer quarterback Taisun Phommachanh and a stout showing from their defensive line.

While the Minutemen surely have momentum coming into this game, there is a reason BetMGM has them as 35.5-point underdogs against the Tigers in Jordan-Hare. The talent gap is wide, but do the direct comparisons support the overwhelming idea this game will be a blowout?

Most football teams’ success is contingent on the play of their quarterback, and both of these teams have a good one.

The aforementioned Taisun Phommachanh had an efficient, well-rounded, performance in week one. Phommachanh completed 10 of his 17 passes for 192 yards and was also his team’s leading rusher, compiling 96 yards on the ground on 17 carries.

Still, it’s hard not to give the edge to Auburn quarterback Payton Thorne here. Although he does not nearly pose the threat on the ground that Phommachanh does (He had 270 rushing yards in three seasons at Michigan State), Thorne is clearly the more established passer.

Over three seasons for the Spartans, Thorne racked up 6,501 passing yards to go along with 49 touchdowns.

Phommachanh on the other hand, played sparingly for Clemson and Georgia Tech before transferring this season. The UMass QB has only thrown 70 passes in four-plus years, completing 34 of them for 409 yards and one touchdown.

The Quarterback edge clearly goes to Payton Thorne and Auburn.

Experience gives the Tigers the edge in the quarterback battle, and the same goes when looking at the running backs as well.

Auburn running back Jarquez Hunter is expected by many, including myself, to have a monster season for the Tigers. The junior has averaged a magnificent 6.5 YPC over the past two years, rushing for 1,261 yards and 10 touchdowns on 193 career carries.

Conversely, UMass starter Kay'Ron Lynch-Adams came into the season with only 206 carries for 731 yards in four seasons at Rutgers and UMass. Lynch-Adams had a very nice game in his team’s opener last weekend, rushing for 79 yards and scoring twice. Still, Auburn’s All-SEC third-team back has the clear edge here.

As for the final skill position group on offense, the wide receivers, it is hard to gauge which team has the upper hand, at least for now. UMass ran the ball more than twice as much as they threw it in week one, leaving some mystery as to how explosive their pass catcher can be.

Auburn’s receiving core also has a great deal of mystery heading into the season. The team is starting two transfers at the X and Z positions, Shane Hooks and Jyaire Shorter, respectively. Although both have had great camps, it is hard to tell how either will adjust to a talented SEC after transferring from smaller schools.

It is too early to give either team an edge in this department.

The one area on the field where the huge underdogs could give Auburn a run for their money is the defensive front. The Minutemen front seven wreaked havoc against the New Mexico State offensive line in week one, sacking New Mexico State quarterback Diego Pavia three times.

Auburn’s defensive line has struggled in recent years, particularly against the run. This year’s down lineman rotation features three transfers, Mosiah Nasili-Kite, Justin Rogers, and Lawrence Johnson, as well as freshmen, Keldric Faulk.

The Tigers are also starting two transfers at the linebacker spots in jack Elijah McAllister and MLB Austin Keys.

It may take some time for these new Tigers to get their footing, and that could lead to some early gaping holes for a UMass team that has made it clear they want to run the ball.

I’m giving the ever-so-slight edge to UMass in this category just because of the unknown surrounding Auburn’s front seven.

Despite the surpassingly close comparisons across the defensive front and receiver groups, Auburn still has the clear edge as a team in their home opener. They will attempt to show the Jordan-Hare crowd that edge when the teams kick off at 2:30 CST on Saturday.

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Story originally appeared on Auburn Wire