AUBURN, Ala. -- Robby Ashford rushed for three first-half touchdowns as Auburn defeated UMass 59-14 on Saturday in Hugh Freeze's debut as the Tigers' head coach.
Ashford, the Tigers' 2022 starting quarterback, was used in red-zone packages to complement new starter and Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne. Thorne threw for 141 yards and a touchdown in his Auburn (1-0) debut.
Damari Alston scored a rushing touchdown on the Tigers' first drive, while freshman Jeremiah Cobb broke a 42-yard touchdown run on the second carry of his college career. The Tigers rushed for 294 yards.
Alston started at running back in place of junior Jarquez Hunter, the team's top returner in rushing yards. Hunter did not dress out Saturday, and he missed Auburn's first several practices in August for undisclosed reasons.
Auburn's defense recorded two takeaways and stopped UMass twice on fourth down in the victory. Jaylin Simpson returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown and recovered a fumble forced by fellow defensive back Donovan Kaufman.
UMass (1-1) scored a touchdown on its first possession of the game but was unable to put up any more points until the fourth quarter. Kay'Ron Adams led the Minutemen with 101 rushing yards, while backup quarterback Carlos Davis found Arizona transfer receiver Anthony Simpson for a late 58-yard touchdown.
UMass: The Minutemen were able to hit the Tigers for several big plays but just didn't have the depth or athleticism to truly compete with an SEC team after the first quarter.
Auburn: The Tigers struggled to pass and stop the run early, which were both problems from last season. But second-half improvement in both areas - and the overall success of the rushing attack without Hunter - were positive signs.
Auburn: Visits California on Sept. 9.