The Auburn football program took on the UMass Minutemen this weekend on the Plains in a highly anticipated season opener, the first Hugh Freeze-coached game of his AU tenure. The Tigers secured a sound victory over the Minutemen and a wide array of players saw the field, but there were key players missing from the lineup.
The most noticeable absence was, of course, running back Jarquez Hunter, who is dealing with repercussions from a social media situation that took place over the summer, but also missing were wide receivers Nick Mardner and Koy Moore, jack linebacker Jalen McLeod, and defensive backs Nehemiah Pritchett, JD Rhym, and Caleb Wooden.
Head coach Hugh Freeze has consistently held his cards close to his chest when it comes to who is available and who isn’t, but offered the following statement at his weekly press conference, per Richard Silva of The Montgomery Advertiser:
“The availability of a lot players is up in the air,” Freeze said when asked directly about Hunter, who has no known injury issues. “Like normally, I’d rather not even comment on all of them. We’ve got a long list, from Nick Mardner to Austin Keys to Jalen to Pritchett. All of those guys, hopefully, can have a good week. We can really, really use some of those guys.”
Silva noted that during the team’s media window during practice on Tuesday, noted that all the aforementioned players were actively practicing except for Austin Keys, who was not seen. While there was no mention of whether or not any of the players would return for Cal, participating in practice is a good sign.
The only player whose status seems to be concrete is Austin Keys, according Justin Hokanson, who is dealing with a thumb injury that required surgery and is expected to be out for some time. The loss of a linebacker is not great news for Auburn football, but if some of the other guys make their return it could help make up lost ground from Keys.