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The Wild West - The Cal Game


Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers


For just the fourth time ever, the Auburn Football Tigers will travel across the country to matchup on on the gridiron in the Golden State. The Tigers are 0-3 all-time in games played in the state of California, those being at Santa Clara in 1936, at No. 18 USC in the Los Angeles Coliseum in 2002, and against No. 1 Florida State in the 2014 BCS championship game played in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. But, perhaps Auburn can make history against a new foe, the Cal Bears.


“Oh, it's great. It’s the first game ever between Auburn and Cal so we're excited to be a part of it. You know, storied tradition there at Auburn. You know, storied conference tradition. And I think it'd be great for for our fans and players. I know they're looking forward to it,” Cal head coach, Justin Wilcox said. “And what's most important, though, for us is preparing and having a great week of practice and preparation. That's going to be the most important thing and I got a ton of respect for them. They're well coached, they are very talented team. So we're looking forward to the challenge.”


Traveling across the country and kicking off at 9:30p.m. CT will certainly pose challenges for Hugh Freeze and his staff as they adjust their weekly preparation for the upcoming contest. Freeze mentioned only ever coaching out west once in a 31-24 loss at BYU back at Liberty and despite the increased challenges of playing even farther away in Northern California, he’s embracing the opportunity.


“This will be a good test for all of us coaches, training staff, nutritionist, strength staff, support staff and players. How do we handle you know if things are a little uncomfortable, or it's not exactly the way we want it,” Auburn head coach, Hugh Freeze said. “But you know what, that's what life is. And so how we approach it and the attitude we have for the opportunity we have ought to be one of gratitude and thankfulness. We got another opportunity to represent this school our conference and and each other and so let's let's go make the most of it.”


Photo by Jamie Holt/Auburn Tigers


The Tigers are coming off a 59-14 victory against UMass in which they rushed for six touchdowns for the first time since 2019 vs. Kent State and Mississippi State. Robby Ashford was responsible for three of the touchdowns himself, the most by an Auburn QB since Cam Newton in 2010. As Freeze said all fall camp, there were in fact packages and opportunities for Ashford to showcase his skills on the ground but, the now backup quarterback could have an even more unique role in this offense moving forward.


“Well, Robby didn't have to make many decisions. But, he's really talented and vital to our success. He will have to make some in the future,” Freeze said. “Payton (Thorne) had three decisions that were wrong and I expected more. I expect him not to make the ones he made and he knows that but he played solid. You just would like that decision making to be around 100% on particularly in the run pass world where he's deciding whether it's a run or pass those need to be those need to be near 100%.”


Thorne’s command of the offense was clear despite not lighting up the box score, 10-17 with 141 yards and a touchdown pass. In the early stages of this Freeze-Montgomery mesh of an offense, Thorne’s ability to make the correct reads and make the right decisions, even though it’s not the most flashy thing in the entire world, will ultimately go the longest way in determining the success of the offense as it continues to progress in difficulty, along with its competition.


“You know, Thorne has played a lot of football, Michigan State and then, you know, we've got a lot of experience. He throws the ball well, he seems to command their offense very well,” Wilcox said. “He can still run and then Ashford is a really unique athlete. He can you saw where he gets in there. And it's really, really hard to tackle. So a different you know, a different element, but both very talented players.”


Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers


The Golden Bears return home after a 58-21 season-opening rout of North Texas last week in Denton. With the return of former offensive coordinator, Jake Spavital, Cal tallied 669 yards of total offense, its most in a game in eight seasons. It was also the most points the Bears have scored in a game since 2015.


Sophomore running back Jaydn Ott exploded for 188 yards rushing with two touchdowns, the second-highest total of his career. Backup Isaiah Ifanse tied a career-high with three rushing touchdowns in his Cal debut, a feat he previously accomplished twice while playing for Montana State. Cal’s six rushing touchdowns at North Texas were the Golden Bears’ most since six in a home win over Eastern Washington in 2009.


“Then offensively, they're extremely scary. That tailback is one of the best ones I've seen. And obviously they had 670 yards I think it was last week and go fast,” Freeze said. “They got about 100 plays in the game and had eight receivers with two or more catches and you know so starting quarterback went out the other kid came in and still threw for all these yards so they've got depth and I think the tailback is really really special. And it will be it will be a great challenge for us as we go on the road to Cal.”


The battle on the ground between the Tigers and Golden Bears could be what determines a pivotal week two matchup out on the west coast. Auburn and Cal will kickoff from California Memorial Stadium under the lights at 9:30p.m. CT on ESPN. The game can also be heard across the state of Alabama on the Auburn Sports Network.

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