The Auburn Tigers were a good team in 2019. For the Tigers to become a great team in 2020, the offense and quarterback Bo Nix will need to take a huge step forward. In his freshman season, Nix had a solid year throwing for 2,542 yards with 16 touchdowns through the air and seven more on the ground. On paper, those numbers look solid, and truth be told for a true freshman they were. Nix did in fact win SEC Freshman of the Year last season. In sports though, statistics and awards can be deceiving, and do not always show where progress was made and where improvement is needed.
Can Bo Nix Take the Next Step?
Nix vs Unranked Opponents
Nix did what all quarterbacks and players are expected to do against inferior opponents. He played well and the Tigers won. In those six games against Tulane, Kent State, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Samford Auburn averaged 43 points and Nix played well. His completion percentage was at 66% and he averaged 228.2 yards a game with a touchdown-interception ration of 8-0.
Nix vs Ranked Opponents
In games against opponents with equal or better talent is where more consistency will need to come. In Auburn’s seven games against ranked teams, the Tigers went 3-4 in those games. Without a doubt, Auburn had one of the toughest schedules in all of college football, but in the always tough SEC, that is the norm. In those games, Nix completed just 52% of his passes and the team only averaged 24.6 points. In three of those games (Oregon, Florida, and LSU) his percentage was under 50%. At times it does appear that the footwork is not always there which can cause passes to be inaccurate. These are things that can be easily cleaned up and if done so the completion percentage should go up.
Through the first four games against ranked teams, Nix was also showing a tendency to put the ball in bad spots and had a total of four interceptions in those games. A positive though, he did not throw another pick once Auburn got out of the month of October and became more reliable with ball security. This is a big reason why Auburn was able to upset Alabama in the annual Iron Bowl. The thing with Nix too is while he will make some head-scratching throws, he also makes plays that not many college quarterbacks can make. Auburn does not beat Oregon in the opener without that play-making ability.
Let Nix Run
In his true freshman season, Nix ran for a total of 313 yards and seven touchdowns. Auburn should look to make his running ability a bigger part of the offense this season to create more chances in the passing attack. When Joey Gatewood left the program at mid-season coach Gus Malzahn seemed more reluctant to use Nix in the running attack off the read-option. In the Iron Bowl, Auburn did go back to more designed quarterback runs and Nix totaled for 44 yards on six carries and a touchdown. Auburn does not need Nix to rush on the same pace Nick Marshall once did, but if he stays around 40 yards a game that adds another dangerous element to the Auburn offense.
Playmakers Around the Quarterback
At the end of the day, the quarterback can only do so much on his own. He needs help from his skill position players and the offensive line. Auburn does go into the season with questions at running back. Who will be the guy? With the departure of Jatarvoius Whitlow, Auburn will lean on sophomore D.J. Williams and perhaps incoming freshman Tank Bigsby. Prior to the 2018 season, the Tigers had gone nine consecutive seasons with having a 1,000-yard rusher. The last two seasons Auburn has not had that, and it has impacted the offense tremendously. The read-option possibilities will not work if the defense does not fear or respect the rushing game from the backs. That is where improvement from the offensive line is key. Auburn returns just one starter from last season’s unit in junior center Nick Brahms.
At receiver, Auburn has one of the better pass-catchers in the SEC in junior Seth Williams, who will look to have a big year under new offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Williams does get under looked with LSU’s Ja’marr Chase and Alabama receivers Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle in the conference. There is not a ball in the field of play that Williams cannot go and get. Nix will need more than just Williams, and a healthy Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove give him plenty of options on the outside.
Nix has all the talent and potential to be one the best passers in the SEC this fall if just some minor improvements are made with his game, and more consistency added to offense around him. Auburn will not be able to lean on their defense as much as they did last season, and the offense will have to be more of a compliment than they have been in years past. The Auburn offense will absolutely be one of the more intriguing developments to keep an eye on this college football season.