Auburn football: Bo Nix, Tigers' offense sputtered at Florida. How much is fixable?
Auburn certainly had its opportunities. They had plenty of them. With the defense creating 4 turnovers and putting the offense in good field position, it just seemed that Gus Malzahn’s offense would come through and eventually take the lead against Florida
That never came to fruition. For the first time since the opening half against Oregon in the first game of the season, Bo Nix (11-for-27, 145 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT) looked like what most true freshmen look like when you have 90,000-plus fans making your ears ring. Oh, and that Florida defense? Yes, it is top notch.
Yet if Nix, who hadn’t made a mistake since he faced the Ducks, was able to put a few balls on target, this game would have turned out differently. From the first snap, when Nix was pressured and had to throw the ball away, it was apparent that the crowd noise at The Swamp was going to make a difference. The offensive line, which seemed to make some progress over the past few weeks, had some miscommunication and every second in the pocket for Nix must have felt like a millisecond. That is how fast the Gators were coming for him.
There are 2 moments that stand out when it comes to the learning curve that Nix faces, and they both came on 3rd down.
Late in the 3rd quarter, with the Tigers facing a 3rd-and-12 in field goal range, Nix lofted a ball intended for Sal Cannella right into the arms of Gators’ defensive back Donovan Stiner. What seemed like at least a sure 3 points for Auburn was now off the board.
The very next drive, with Auburn again moving, Nix’s judgment took the Tigers out of field-goal range. On 3rd-and-8 from the Florida 36-yard line, Nix scrambled backward for a loss of 22 yards. Auburn punted and, on the very next play, Lamical Perine rushed 88 yards to put the game away.
It is hard to blame a true freshman quarterback for the failures of the offense totally, and it wasn’t all his fault that Malzahn’s offense was completely lackluster. Nix took responsibility. He told the media afterward that he has to play better.
Fair enough. But he needs some help, too. The running game was nowhere to be seen in the 1st half, playmaker such as Anthony Schwartz (1 rush attempt, 0 catches) and Eli Stove (2 catches, 14 yards) were ignored, and that falls on Malzahn.
Another weakness reared its ugly head Saturday as well. The offensive line was iffy at best. This led to the lack of running game and pressure on Nix. For a veteran group that starts all 5 seniors, it isn’t a good sign when there are a multitude of problems that allowed the Gators to basically do what they want, including on a couple of 3rd-and-shorts that the Tigers couldn’t convert.
Auburn has an off week now to settle some of these concerns that finally came back to bite them in Gainesville. Road trips to Arkansas and LSU await. Better communication is required, especially in the showdown at LSU, which figures to be just as loud as Gainesville.
Nix was due for one of those games where his youth was exposed, and inexperience at the most important position in football cost the Tigers.
It just so happened to come on the national scene in a top 10 matchup. He will learn, but how quickly will make a difference between whether Auburn can get themselves back into the national picture or if this is yet another ho-hum year on The Plains.