5 takeaways from Auburn's A-Day spring game, starting with Bo Nix's performance
As much as fans may want to believe, not much stock can be gleaned from a spring game, but the glorified scrimmage was still a fun chance for approximately 35,000 fans to get their eyes on a new Auburn football team.
It was the first extended look at what the future may hold under Bryan Harsin and his coordinators. Team Auburn (first-team offense and defense) beat Team Tigers (second-team offense and defense) 17-3. These were the 5 biggest takeaways from Auburn’s 2021 A-Day:
1. Life under center for Bo Nix
Everyone knew the offense would look different under Harsin and Mike Bobo, but the point was made quite clear with Bo Nix making his first pass on a play-action from under center. The pass was completed to tight end Tyler Fromm for 15 yards. Both parts of that play would have been completely foreign a season ago with a quarterback not lined up in the shotgun and targeting a tight end.
Nix still took the large majority of snaps away from center, but there was a clear effort from him to work in Auburn’s tight ends. The QB still had his patented roll outs from the pocket, including a few misfires, but he did look a little more poised than in 2020, albeit against a second-team defense with minimal contact allowed.
The threat to run is still there as well. Nix nearly scored on a long scramble that was then ruled out of bounds, but Harsin and Bobo are still going to prominently feature Nix’s athleticism in the offense. Nix even lined up at wide receiver and nearly made a diving touchdown grab that was ultimately dropped, before tossing a 4-yard pass to Elijah Canion for a score. Nix finished 12-of-20 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 29 yards.
— Auburn Football (@AuburnFootball) April 17, 2021
2. Can Dematrius Davis take Nix’s job?
For those keeping their fingers crossed that Dematrius Davis has what it takes to usurp Nix, he showed some flashes that he may live up to his 4-star billing.
Standing under center behind a behemoth line, his listed height of 5-10 looked generous, but he quickly showed his dual-threat capability, effectively evading defenders on several scrambles. His 42-yard pass to Malcolm Johnson Jr. was the longest pass of the afternoon and a pretty over-the-shoulder catch by Johnson in itself.
Davis didn’t see time until the 3rd quarter, as Loy initially led the second-team offense. If the depth chart were to be determined off of play solely from Saturday, Davis definitely outplayed Loy for the right to be Nix’s backup.
3. Tank Bigsby … still good
In case there was any trepidation that Bigsby would be featured less in the new offense, fret not. Bigsby housed the opening kickoff for a touchdown (although everyone pretty much did, with none actually counting) and looked like his normal self bouncing off defenders on his carries.
Bigsby was named the offensive MVP after gaining 64 yards on 7 carries. The highlight: a 46-yard score when newly-minted defensive lineman J.J. Pegues was swallowed alive by the offensive line, allowing for Bigsby to break free.
House call! @tank_bigsby takes it 46 yards for the tuddy!
— Auburn Football (@AuburnFootball) April 17, 2021
While there is a definite cause for concern that Auburn only has 3 scholarship running backs, Shaun Shivers looked equally, if not more effective at times on the ground, and even returned a kickoff for a touchdown himself. The offense will still clearly run through the backfield.
4. Offensive line is still a work in progress
Perhaps Auburn’s biggest downfall in 2020 was a lack of a dependable offensive line. While they return every starter from last year, Auburn offensive line coach Will Friend will be busy this summer. The starting five, from left to right, for the first team’s opening series included Austin Troxell, Tashawn Manning, Nick Brahms, Keiondre Jones and Brodarious Hamm, with the caveat that Brandon Council and Alec Jackson didn’t play.
While there were still times that defenders got through to pressure Nix and flush him from the pocket, the line did a great job in the run game. They consistently opened holes in the interior for downhill runs from Shivers and Bigsby. Whatever combination is settled upon for the opening game will need to be much better in pass protection if Nix is to show any signs of improvement in Year 3.
5. … As are the wide receivers
Losing the top 3 receivers from a season ago is a glaring hole that needs to be fixed, and there didn’t appear to be an obvious stop-gap on the field Saturday. Canion led all players with 6 receptions for 51 yards and a score, which is good to see him build off his Citrus Bowl outing, but the Tigers still have numerous questions.
Malcolm Johnson Jr. may be the home-run threat, as he was targeted twice on deep throws — once by Nix and once by freshman Davis — although he only caught the latter. Bigsby was still a frequent target out of the backfield, and there will definitely by much more involvement from the tight ends this season, especially in Brandon Frazier can stay healthy.