Bo Nix is an easy target, but Auburn's passing attack depends on protection
It might surprise you to know that Auburn’s pass protection is one of the best in the SEC. Well, at least statistically is it.
The Tigers have allowed 7 sacks in 6 games. That comes out to 1.17-sacks per game. On the surface, that not so bad. On television or in person, Auburn’s pass protection was horrid on Saturday against Georgia.
Just ask Bo Nix. The junior wasn’t feeling too comfortable Saturday as the Bulldogs rang up 4 sacks against the Tigers. Nix completed 21-of-38 passes for 217 yards and an interception. Of course, that had fans and media some calling for TJ Finley to replace Nix. In limited action, Finley completed 3-of-5 passes for 55 yards.
Both quarterbacks will be tested again when Auburn travels to No. 17 Arkansas on Saturday. Fortunately for Auburn’s quarterbacks, the Razorbacks haven’t had much success in the sack department. They are 13th in the SEC with just 1.67 sacks per game. There’s no Georgia-like pressure this week.
Perhaps this is the time to make the tough decision since neither quarterback should face an inordinate amount of pressure based on the Hogs’ recent history. Could Auburn once again bench Nix for Finley like they did to avoid a monumental upset against Georgia State? Don’t rule it out.
I don’t envy Bryan Harsin’s decision. To this point, neither quarterback has proved to be elite, although both have shown flashes. On one hand, the Tigers have Nix. We’re all familiar with him. He has mobility. He can throw on the run, though probably not as accurately as he thinks. And he can give up a big play for the opposition as much as he makes a big play for Auburn.
Nix’s scrambling often goes in the wrong direction. That means a big loss for Auburn far too often. So how about Finley? Well, he’s not as likely to lose a ton of yardage, but he may be even more likely to get sacked. Finley is a big target who prefers to stand in the pocket. He’s easier to track down, but he’s also tougher to bring down. So Nix or Finley? It’s kind of like a debate about how to pronounce tomato.
It’s hard to blame Harsin’s offense for poor pass protection last week. Auburn trailed early against Georgia and had to throw more than most coaches would like. Schematically, one would think Harsin’s offense would innately protect the quarterback with the way he uses versatile and multiple tight ends.
Pass protection moving forward won’t be as much of an issue as it was against Georgia, which leads the SEC in sacks with almost 4 per game. Still, it’s cause for concern.
Nix probably didn’t help himself with some comments he made about the officiating after the Georgia game.
“I always feel like there are some questionable calls in big moments,” Nix told AL.com. “Obviously, there were a few that I thought could have gone differently. I thought the one to Ze (receiver Ze’Vian Capers) there at the end of the half, that was just kind of one of those judgment calls that was tough. It’s hard to make a play on the ball when they’re that aggressive. So, I guess the officials were letting us play. We should’ve been more aggressive on our end, I guess, and seen how they would’ve responded to that.”
If I’m Harsin, I’m reminding Nix that certain things, like criticizing the officials, should be left to the head coach.
Auburn’s quarterback play has certainly put a glass ceiling on just how good the Tigers can be this season. No matter what Harsin’s offensive staff does, it just doesn’t seem like the Tigers will have a consistent playmaker under center. It’s as if Auburn has to win in spite of their quarterback, not because of their quarterback.
Whether it’s his fault or not, Nix has just been below average this season despite a good start. Currently, he’s 10th among quarterbacks in the SEC with a 121.77 rating. Nix is 7th in the SEC with 199 yards passing per game. That simply won’t do.
Fortunately for Auburn, the Tigers won’t face another team like Georgia, which might have the best defense in the nation. Alabama’s defense isn’t as good as Georgia’s. However, the schedule certainly doesn’t lighten up. After all, it’s the SEC.
After the Arkansas game, Auburn will host No. 13 Ole Miss and travels to No. 21 Texas A&M. Then there’s Mississippi State at home and South Carolina on the road before the annual Iron Bowl against Alabama. What’s the goal for Auburn in that stretch?
Forget about the record. Find a quarterback.