Bo Nix: Breaking down the Auburn quarterback's play after 2 games
Sure, Auburn QB Bo Nix has endured his share of freshman struggles. There are not many who come straight into college football and are immediately great under center. Mistakes are an expected part of on-the-job training.
After 2 starts, Nix has displayed several flashes of potential, too, most notably the heroic game-winning drive against Oregon.
He has shown composure in pressure situations, an uncommon trait for a true freshman. He hasn’t wavered in confidence despite times when he definitely could have hung his head, and he seems to be willing to learn while, at the same time, being thrown into the fire.
So what has he done well, and what does he need to improve on? Let’s break it down.
Many true freshmen, when facing a ranked team such as Oregon and after having a bad first half, would have had a deer-in-the-headlights look.
Nix stood in there and delivered the game-winning touchdown to Seth Williams to help make a name for himself just 1 week into his college career. It wasn’t just that 1 throw, either. Before his signature play (to date), he used his legs and determination to take on Oregon defenders and dive for a 1st down on 4th-and-3.
There is a lot to say of having a quarterback pedigree and being groomed for this role since he was little, but when the lights are on and 90,000 people all have their eyes on you, it would be easy to get lost.
When given time in the pocket — given the play of the offensive line, not occurring that much — Nix has gone through his reads and found the right receiver most of the time. IF the offensive line can improve, it will open up many more opportunities for Nix to start to feel comfortable in the pocket.
While he threw for only 207 yards against Tulane in Week 2, there was a big positive that Gus Malzahn had to like to see out of the signal-caller: no turnovers. After 2 interceptions on bad reads against Oregon in the opener, Nix made few mistakes against the Green Wave. That had to please the coach.
Nix has targeted Will Hastings 16 times, 6 of those for receptions, and has seemed to find a comfort zone with the senior. A good route runner, Hastings has a knack for getting open and many of these attempts were downfield.
Taking a look at who Nix has targeted along with their receptions:
- Hastings (16 targets, 6 receptions, 113 yards, 1 TD, 1 pass interference called)
- Williams (11 targets, 5 receptions, 81 yards, 1 TD) — Williams averages 16.2 yards per catch.
- Eli Stove (15 targets, 10 receptions, 45 yards, 1 TD) — These are mostly jet sweeps or screen passes. Averages 4.5 yards per reception.
- Sal Cannella (6 targets, 3 receptions, 52 yards) — People are still waiting on him to become reliable.
- Harold Joiner (3 targets, 1 reception, 28 yards)
- Boobie Whitlow (4 targets, 1 reception, 25 yards)
- Matthew Hill (2 targets, 2 receptions, 11 yards)
- Kam Martin (4 targets, 2 receptions, 11 yards)
- John Samuel Shenker (1 target, 1 reception, 9 yards)
- Spencer Nigh (1 target, 1 reception, 9 yards)
- Jay Jay Wilson (2 targets, 0 catches)
- Anthony Schwartz (1 target, 0 catches) — The pass was off target, but Schwartz, with a cast on his left hand, was under it and dropped it.
- Shaun Shivers (1 target, 0 catches) — The play resulted in an offside by the defense.
- Three passes did not have an intended receiver. Two resulted in interceptions.
The Tigers are not going to win many games if his completion percentage, currently at 47.1%, doesn’t improve. Nix is ahead of only Arkansas’ Ben Hicks (46.67%) in that category, and Hicks lost his job to Nick Starkel. There have been some drops by receivers, but Nix must raise that stat by at least 10 percent for Auburn to be a threat in the passing game.
Another stat where he has lacked is in yards per attempt. Out of 16 quarterbacks, Nix ranks 14th with 5.65 yards/attempt. This number is brought down by several jet sweeps to Stove that count as passes, but stretching the field will be of utmost importance in the future.
Needs to work on
Many believe that Nix is the perfect quarterback for Malzahn’s system, as the quarterback can run the ball and is deceptively fast. While it is definitely a learning curve, knowing when to pull the ball back and keep it for a run himself — something Nick Marshall was proficient at — has to be better. He seems indecisive and tends to rely on the running backs often when the hole is open for him. This brings me to …
There were a few moments in the Tulane game where, when Nix was improvising, there was a miscommunication with receivers. He threw the ball upfield while the receivers cut toward the sidelines. He also overthrew a receiver on what would have been an easy TD and flat out missed some open receivers.
Finding his playmakers. While Williams will be out at least for the game this Saturday against Kent State, they must develop chemistry. In the first two games, the wide receiver has only five catches (11 targets) for 81 yards, 40 of those coming on one play. Williams is the top receiver the Tigers have on the roster. He must help his freshman quarterback out.
Overall, Nix has had his ups and downs in his first 120 minutes of college football. A lot of the offensive struggles, certainly, do not fall on him as the line has been mediocre at best and the running game has done nothing to help relieve pressure.
Nix showed that he is a winner in the 4th quarter against Oregon and will win many more games in his Auburn career. How many, exactly, that is this season depends on his growth.
Bo Nix cover photo by Adam Gold Broach.