The curious case of Auburn's offense and reliance on Bo Nix
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. As fun as it is to continually pound your head against a brick wall, someone needs to tell Chad Morris to stop.
A snapshot of Bo Nix and Tank Bigsby’s stat line on Saturday against South Carolina is the perfect illustration to attach to the lunacy that remains Auburn’s questionable play-calling.
Nix was 24-47 for 272 yards, 5.8 yards an attempt, a touchdown and 3 interceptions. Bigsby carried the ball 16 times for 111 yards, 6.9 yards a carry and a touchdown. But time and time again, the keys to the Tigers’ offense are left in the hands of the inconsistent QB.
The performance at Williams-Brice wasn’t a one-off either. By nearly every measurement, Bigsby has demonstrated that the ball belongs in his hand. The freshman became the first Auburn RB since Kerryon Johnson in 2017 to record back-to-back 100-yard games against SEC opponents. Bigsby’s 6.1 yards per carry rank 2nd in the SEC among backs with at least 50 carries, yet here Auburn is, letting Nix throw the ball 31 times in the first 35 minutes of action against the Gamecocks.
For the first time in Gus Malzahn’s Auburn tenure, he relinquished play-calling duties to his OC. Morris, a “QB guru,” continues to force the issue with Nix to no avail. While the clamor for Malzahn’s job are at their typical volume level, it might be time for the head coach to step back in with offensive decision-making.
Under Morris, Auburn has passed on 52.6% of plays. Under Malzahn during the past 5 seasons, the Tigers passed 37.4 percent of the time, never exceeding 43% in a season. Bigsby’s 50 carries through 4 games are the fewest Auburn’s leading rusher has had through 4 weeks of action since Malzahn took over in 2013.
Last season Auburn scored touchdowns on 71.2% of drives into the red zone. This year that number sits at 46.7 after the Tigers only finished 2 of their 5 red-zone trips with a touchdown.
Following Auburn’s win over Alabama last year, Malzahn (in)famously said, “(Nix is) gonna win a championship before he gets outta here.”
Rather watch that prophecy materialize, the Nix-led Tigers are fortunate to be 2-2 and in need of a major offensive rejuvenation as Auburn prepares to face a feeble Ole Miss defense.
Nix is most effective when he throws the ball around 20-25 times. No more of this 47-pass rubbish. In 4 career games in which Nix has thrown at least 40 times, the Tigers are 1-3. Nix completed just 58% of his throws for 5.7 yards an attempt and has been intercepted twice as often as he’s thrown a touchdown.
When Nix has thrown 26 or fewer passes, Auburn is 5-1. Nix completes 68.3% of his passes at a clip of 8.9 yards per attempt and has thrown 9 touchdowns to 0 interceptions. For reference, his completion percentage and yards per attempt in those games would rank 5th in both categories in this season’s SEC instead of where he currently sits in last and second-to-last, respectively.
Nix’s primary instinct is still to pull down the ball and run. In his defense, he’s a fine dual-threat QB who can keep defenses on their toes. Some of his most impactful plays against South Carolina were scrambles on 3rd down to move the chains, but even on the game’s final play when the Tigers were in need of a pass to the end zone, Nix opted to scramble for 3 yards rather than give one of his talented wideouts a shot at 6.
These runs by Bo Nix were bold…is bold the right word? pic.twitter.com/yu8SCQpNCt
— Cover 3 Podcast (@Cover3Podcast) October 17, 2020
With the next 2 weeks against the SEC’s worst rush defense (Ole Miss) and the SEC’s worst pass defense (LSU), it’s the perfect opportunity to change how the offense operates.
Bo Nix is no Mac Jones or Kyle Trask, and he shouldn’t be used as such. Bo Nix is a Terry Wilson or John Rhys Plumlee, and that is completely OK, so long as Auburn adjusts accordingly and finds a way to increase Bigsby’s role.
Anything less than turning the offense over to one of the nation’s most talented true-freshman running backs is an error in judgement. Anything else is just insane.