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It’s Bo time: Why Auburn coach Gus Malzahn chose true freshman as Tigers’ quarterback

‘I’ve always wanted to play quarterback at Auburn’: Bo Nix named Tigers’ starting QB

Auburn Tigers freshman Bo Nix was named the starter at quarterback. He'll make his first start against the Oregon Ducks on August 31.
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Auburn Tigers freshman Bo Nix was named the starter at quarterback. He'll make his first start against the Oregon Ducks on August 31.

Much is typically made of a college football quarterback’s first start. Whether he’s a wide-eyed freshman or a seasoned senior, there are always questions.

How will his first snap play out? Will he undershoot (or overthrow) his first pass? Will the coach call it conservatively and have him hand the ball off to a running back, throw a short, high-percentage pass or open up the playbook?

These questions are often magnified when a quarterback makes his first start against a ranked opponent, in a highly-publicized game. So, imagine the questions that will be asked of newly-named Auburn starter Bo Nix until August 31.

Nix, a true freshman, makes his first collegiate start in just over two weeks, when the Tigers play the Oregon Ducks in Arlington, Texas (7:30, ABC).

It’s everything a young quarterback could dream (or dread) of: opening the season inside AT&T Stadium (“Jerry World,” it’s sometimes called), against a top-12 opponent, with ESPN’s marquee program College GameDay in town.

“Some people view that as tough,” Nix said in his first media appearance as a Tiger on Tuesday evening. “I kind of view it as fun.”

Malzahn did not have much of a choice with regards to experience. Joey Gatewood, whom Nix beat out for the starting job, is a redshirt freshman with almost no real in-game experience. Nix has none.

But Malzahn said Nix is “not your normal freshman.” He even let him speak to the media, a massive departure from Malzahn’s normal approach concerning freshmen and the press.

“The fact that (Nix) came in the spring really helped,” Malzahn said. “The fact that he got quality reps in the spring really helped, and he worked extremely hard over the summer, you could really tell that.”

It’s Bo time

Malzahn said the freshman had a “better fall camp” than Gatewood, but noted Nix’s attention to detail and consistency.

Malzahn said originally he’d pick a starter after fall camp, and did so two days following the conclusion of camp on Sunday. He said he’d pick the quarterback that gave the team the “best chance of winning.”

Nix said from spring to fall camp, he “got a lot better” at understanding Malzahn’s offensive playbook. He became more familiar with how Malzahn calls plays, learned his receivers’ tendencies over the summer and developed better timing with the group.

“Throughout fall camp, I did a good job; I understood the offense,” Nix said.

Nix said he also gained chemistry with the receivers — something quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham said both quarterbacks needed to improve at — as camp went on.

What he brings

Malzahn said at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama, that he wanted his quarterbacks to be a run threat. Nix fits the bill.

“He can run. He can really run,” Malzahn said. “Bo’s shown he can extend plays, and I think he’s a lot faster than people give him credit for.”

Dillingham noted both quarterbacks’ ability to extend plays last week.

Nix played high school football at Pinson Valley, the 2018 Alabama Class 6A state champions. His father, Patrick Nix, was his coach. Nix said the offense his father ran at Pinson Valley was “very similar” to Malzahn’s up-tempo attack, which likely eased the transition.

Nix is a former five-star according to Rivals and a former Mr. Football in the state of Alabama. He set Alabama state records with more than 12,000 career yards of total offense and 161 touchdowns. He led Pinson Valley High to consecutive state titles.

Malzahn said he could tell Nix was well-coached in high school, and that he was a coach’s son.

Nix will make some mistakes, Malzahn said — that’s to be expected with a freshman quarterback, and considering Auburn’s brutal 2019 schedule. The Tigers play six teams in the top-12 of the preseason AP Top 25 poll, including home games against Georgia and Alabama, and road games at Florida and LSU.

“You’re always going to have growing pains in an offense,” Dillingham said. “Hopefully we’re beyond some of those because of the experience (across the offense).”

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Joshua Mixon is a reporter for the Ledger-Enquirer. He covers sports (Auburn and preps) and local news, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America. He previously covered Georgia athletics for the Telegraph. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshDMixon.