Bo Nix opens sophomore campaign in impressive fashion

The question loomed over Bo Nix for nearly nine months.

Could the young Auburn quarterback take that next step after an uneven-yet-promising freshman campaign?

If Saturday was any indication, Nix’s answer to that question is going to be one Auburn and its fans like—and one that could cause concern for those on the Tigers’ schedule. During No. 8 Auburn’s season-opening win against No. 23 Kentucky, Nix put together a strong sophomore debut, completing 16-of-27 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns at Jordan-Hare Stadium. He also led the team in rushing and averaging 6.8 yards per carry while making some heads-up decisions with his legs.

“I thought from the start, I got a few completions to begin the game and then that kind of got us just rolling,” Nix said. “… The game flow was a little bit slower so it was tough to stay in rhythm, but every time we were out there on the field, we did a good job of getting a few completions and starting drives off.”

Nix’s start was inauspicious, misfiring on two of his first three pass attempts but soon found his rhythm on the afternoon. He had back-to-back incompletions just once against Kentucky, had 12 of his 16 completions result in a first down or a touchdown and was surgical in the second half as Chad Morris’ new-look offense found its footing.

Nix completed 10 of his 16 pass attempts after halftime, averaging 18.1 yards per completion over the final two quarters. That’s when he also threw all three of his touchdowns — two spectacular plays by Seth Williams in coverage and then a 21-yard dart to Eli Stove that put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter.

The first one to Williams, which gave Auburn a 15-7 lead in the third quarter, particularly stood out, as he made the throw off his back foot and put it where only the junior receiver — who finished with six receptions for 112 yards and two scores — could make the play. The one to Stove, coach Gus Malzahn said, was a “perfect throw.”

“I think he made some outstanding throws,” Malzahn said. “…For them to go out there against a very good defense, and you’re talking about a defense that had most of their guys back and they were one of the best in the country last year in pass defense. And so, for us to get the passing yards, and I thought Chad did a really good job of mixing in the run. They’re a good defense.”

Nix finished the day with his second career game with three passing touchdowns, previously only reaching that mark against Arkansas last season. He also saw his completion percentage take a slight uptick from his 57.6 percent clip last season and finished with a 168.4 quarterback rating, a mark he surpassed only three times last season — in wins against Kent State, Arkansas and Mississippi State.

“You know, there’s no doubt, there’s no wondering — he knows what he wants,” Malzahn said.

It was a promising start for Nix to build his sophomore campaign on as he continues to adjust and familiarize himself with Morris’ offense. As Malzahn was quick to put things into perspective after the game: Nix has only really had six weeks to get into the swing of things with the new system and work hands-on with Morris, who has a track record of getting the most out of his quarterbacks.

Nix said after the game that Morris kept things pretty basic against Kentucky — the offensive coordinator sticking to what he felt the Tigers could do most successfully in their first game since New Year’s Day. In other words, Nix could just be scratching the surface of his capabilities this season.

“Yeah, I think Bo, he really likes this offense,” Williams said. “I think we’ve got a lot of things to come with it.”

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

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