Auburn football: Is Bo Nix progressing or regressing?
On Monday Night Football a week ago, New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold was caught on a hot mic saying that he was seeing ghosts on the field. What he meant was that he was seeing New England Patriot players in places that they weren’t after looking at pictures of plays, something common for a young quarterback.
It might be safe to say that Auburn’s Bo Nix is suffering from the same fate.
The 19-year-old true freshman once again looked in over his head this past Saturday in the Tigers’ 23-20 loss to LSU, a game that, for many reasons, Auburn had every opportunity to win. Nix completed just 15-of-35 passes for 157 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Many of the yards and the TD came late. Mostly, he looked rushed and uncomfortable.
So the question has to be asked: After 8 games, has Auburn’s quarterback made progress or have we seen him regress?
I’m arguing it’s the latter.
Since his 335-yard outing against Mississippi State in which he completed 76.2 percent of his passes, here are his numbers in the past 3 games:
- 38-for-79 (48%)
- 469 yards
- 5 TDs, 4 INTs
- 1-2 W-L
Take out the 12-for-17 performance against Arkansas, a team with a defense that couldn’t stop anyone, and that completion percentage drops to 42%. There’s no sugarcoating 42%
It is apparent to most that, when Nix wants to take a chance on a wide receiver coming down for the ball, especially in the red zone, the memory of the 3 interceptions against Florida are still haunting him. Instead of giving his receivers an opportunity, these throws are now landing well out of bounds, a sign that he just doesn’t want to make a mistake. The one time he did try at the end of the first half, LSU’s standout corner Derek Stingley Jr. made an unbelievable play for the interception. We didn’t see another chance.
Some have suggested his longest completion against LSU, the sideline throw to Seth Williams, was actually an attempt to throw it out of bounds.
His spotty play of late could come down to confidence.
At the beginning of the season, after winning the job over Joey Gatewood and being termed the quarterback of the future for Auburn, he was brimming with it, especially in the 4th quarter against Oregon, when he made the throw to Williams for the game-winning touchdown.
Would he even attempt that throw now? I doubt it.
But it’s not just the long passes that are getting away from him. With the Tigers backed up against their goal line in the 3rd quarter Saturday, Nix missed an open Anthony Schwartz, who, had he been hit in stride, could have used his speed to go the distance for a touchdown. Balls were thrown behind receivers at an alarming rate. And miscommunication, which should not be happening this late in the season, are still plaguing the offense.
The run-pass option game that Nix was perfect to play in Gus Malzahn’s offense? That barely exists anymore.
We no longer see him keeping the ball on the RPO game and rushing for himself, at least not more than once or twice a game. He has deceptive speed, but is no longer using that as a weapon. His longest run Saturday was 6 yards. His longest run against Florida was 10 yards.
With the Tigers building somewhat of a running game against LSU — freshman D.J. Williams was outstanding, going for 130 yards on 13 carries — it should have been simple for Nix to feel more comfortable, even with 100,000-plus fans ringing his ears. Yet, here we are going into the last month of the season and, I ask you Auburn fans, do you feel comfortable with where the quarterback play is at?
Will you truly believe that Nix will be able to put up performances against Georgia and Alabama, both at home, that can help the Tigers win those games?
I don’t see it.
Yet Nix’s regression has become the latest casualty in an alarming trend with Malzahn. Since he became head coach in 2013, we have seen multiple quarterbacks regress under his watch, the best example being Jarrett Stidham. Stidham was terrific in 2017 but slumped in 2018 after being viewed as a potential 1st-round draft pick. It was shocking. Stidham fell to the 4th round and, now in the hands of Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, won the backup job to Tom Brady.
The list of names goes on. Nick Marshall wasn’t as effective in his second season at Auburn. Jeremy Johnson fell so hard that it was brutal to watch. Joey Gatewood arrived with Cam Newton comparisons but hasn’t developed enough to be trusted in a big moment.
Yet you can’t put all of the blame on Nix’s regression on Malzahn — and Nix certainly has the talent and time to rebound. But Malzahn has to help him through the growing process. Nix came in as a highly hyped recruit who was ready to go from Day 1 and some rough times were expected at the beginning.
As they say, though, he’s not a freshman any longer. Mistakes that were maybe acceptable in the first part of the year are not anymore. As it has been said ad nauseam throughout the first 2 months of the season, yes, Nix has a chance to be a good quarterback, maybe even special, but we are now in the latter part of his first season and there has been no evidence of him getting any better.
That is a disconcerting sign for Auburn.