In a day and age where loyalty and commitment to a college football program is at an all time low, you would think it would be refreshing to have a lifelong die hard at starting quarterback. Especially one following in his father’s footsteps. In today’s need for instant gratification, and an overflowing transfer portal, somebody that truly “rides for the brand” should be respected on a higher level, right?
One would think so, but it is not the case with Bo Nix for many Auburn fans. The perception of #10 amongst the Auburn fanbase is one of the more puzzling things I’ve experienced in my Auburn fandom.
Throw the numbers out the window. We’ll get into those later. A five-star QB recruit commits to Auburn and starts as a true freshman. Immediately, the perception was this had to be some sort of mistake. Joey Gatewood is literally Cam Newton. What is Gus thinking?
Sadly, it then shifts to, “well, Gus is on the hot seat and only starting Bo to save face with the powers that be.” Yeah, some people actually went there. The only thing Bo does is go 9-4 beating all SEC West opponents with the exception of national champion LSU, losing by a field goal because the stripes swallowed their whistles.
One bad decision in the Swamp in his first true road game cost Auburn the Florida game. One bad throw to Harold Joiner cost Auburn the Georgia game. But there was that classic win over Pac-12 champion #6 Oregon, and None were sweeter than sending Saban home after yet another loss to a 9-win Auburn team.
“Yeah, well the Auburn defense really won those games!” Oh, so like JT Daniels for Georgia, right?
Everybody was excited heading into year two. The only problem was that Covid-19 decided to be a thing. That obviously forced a 10-game, all-SEC schedule. Auburn replaces all but one offensive lineman from the 2019 unit. They lose the staples that had been the heart and soul of the team in Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson, amongst others on the defensive side of the ball.
Oh yeah, they also hired Chad Morris at offensive coordinator. So, Bo inherits an unprecedented pandemic, a brand-new patch-work offensive line, an inexperienced defense, and a new offensive coordinator. What could go wrong?
Let’s talk about scheme. Gus Malzahn’s offense has undoubtedly been magical at times. The formations, motions, zone reads, jet sweeps, and RPO’s were taken to an entirely new level like the college football world had never seen at the time. Sprinkle all that eye candy with some fast tempo and you had the Gus Malzahn magic that we all loved.
However, all that magic had one major flaw. It lacked any sort of established route tree. When plan A wasn’t working, Auburn never had much of a plan B when teams forced them into obvious passing situations. There were never any progression reads.
Jordan Rodgers had a worrisome, yet amazing breakdown of this on film. The scheme lacked multiple reads, checkdowns, and safety outlets. Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz were both quoted during this NFL preseason as being behind on the basic knowledge of routes. Seth Williams was one of the more athletic wide receivers to ever walk through the tunnels of Jordan Hare Stadium. He was cut by the Denver Broncos reportedly on the basis that he understood the wide receiver position “at a high school level.”
I say all of that to get this: Bo had one primary read. If that read wasn’t there, he didn’t have progressions or check downs. He wasn’t put in situations to be successful. Combine that with not having any time to throw the football and you get what we saw last season.
Here we are in Bo’s third season. We are now in the Bryan Harsin era. Nix is on his third offensive coordinator in as many seasons. However, there are some major differences in this season compared to 2020.
We are back to our standard schedule. Fans are back in the stadium and there is a sense of normalcy. Auburn is returning all five starting offensive linemen from the previous season. The defense should be as good, if not better than it has been since 2017. And oh yeah, there’s that Tank Bigsby guy in the backfield.
After the throttling of Akron 60-10, the one thing I took away was how calm Bo looked in the pocket. Was he under pressure? No. Were most of his throws to wide open receivers? Yes. I did see one thing I haven’t seen, though. I saw Bo going through progressions.
First read, second read, and third read touchdown throws all happened. Yes, Akron was horrible, but the things you wanted to see were there. This is not a new Bo Nix. This is the same guy that’s always been there. He’s being coached up. He’s being put in situations where he has options and can have success.
He’s having fun. This is the year.