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A freshman, a sophomore and an Auburn Tigers offense still finding itself

‘We can’t turn the ball over’: Gus Malzahn reacts to Auburn’s turnover problems in Tulane win

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was not pleased with the Tigers' turnover struggles in their 24-6 win over Tulane. Boobee Whitlow fumbled three times and the Tigers lost two turnovers.
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Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was not pleased with the Tigers' turnover struggles in their 24-6 win over Tulane. Boobee Whitlow fumbled three times and the Tigers lost two turnovers.

JaTarvious “Boobee” Whitlow is a confident guy. He’ll let you know it, too.

The sophomore running back, before the season even began, said that “R.B.U. is back.” He went through each Auburn position group, one by one, and declared each of them the best in the country (probably the reason he’s not been selected by No. 10 Auburn to speak to reporters ever since).

Whitlow will often do a Deion Sanders-esque high-step whenever he breaks off a big run — he did so against both Oregon and, now, Tulane in the Tigers’ 24-6 win. And you can bet he’ll do it again when the Tigers host Kent State next week.

Whitlow was arguably one of Auburn’s better offensive players Saturday night, although that may not be saying much. The Tigers’ offense looked great at times, average at others and lost on a few occasions.

Even though the Tigers’ running game was largely shut down in the first half, Whitlow finished with 96 yards on 23 carries, and added a 14-yard score out of the wildcat formation in the second half. He also added one reception for 25 yards.

“We’re a team that, when we run the football, we’re a pretty good offense,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “That’s really got to be a focus moving forward.”

It was a pretty solid night for the sophomore. But there were some serious drawbacks that the Tigers were fortunate didn’t come back to bite them.

Whitlow fumbled three times, two of which the Green Wave recovered. The Tigers’ interior run game was almost nonexistent for much of the night, though that’s not really Whitlow’s fault: Tulane blitzed a lot, part of the reason Nix threw so many passes.

Nix’s first start inside Jordan-Hare Stadium was not perfect, though it did not need to be. He threw for 207 yards and a touchdown, and two of his throws drew some of the loudest cheers from the fans in attendance.

The first was a first-quarter throw to wide receiver Will Hastings, where the former walk-on kicker turned his body to make a difficult catch. The second throw, and Auburn’s first touchdown, came on a seam route to Hastings, who ran in almost untouched for a 31-yard score.

“(The first catch) was challenging,” Hastings said. “I thought he was going to throw over the top, but he got pressured. He threw it to the outside of me, so I had to quickly turn my head. Luckily, I just put my hands out and caught it.”

Nix nearly found Hastings again in the second half, when the senior got behind the secondary and was wide open. His throw, though, sailed past him. Had Nix found him, there would have been nobody standing between Hastings and his second touchdown of the night.

Nix still has lots of room to improve. He knows it, and didn’t sound thrilled with his performance when speaking to reporters after the game.

“We won the game, so that’s all that matters in the end,” Nix said. “Obviously, I’ve got to play a bit better … I’ve got to get better with my receivers, and I’ve got to hit them when they’re open.”

Nix was late on his reads a few times, and didn’t see open receivers on several plays. He also threw a lob pass into triple coverage that ended with Hastings receiving a “good lick” from a Green Wave safety.

Nix showed the throws and runs he can make throughout the game. If he becomes a bit more consistent, Auburn might have a serious playmaker at quarterback — and if Whitlow can protect the ball a bit better, at running back, too.

“We’re still a work in progress on offense,” Malzahn said. “We feel like we’re getting better and better each week. There’s a lot of things in the second half that I know we can build on.”

The Tigers host Kent State next week as a final tune-up before traveling to Texas A&M, which lost 24-10 to No. 1 Clemson on Saturday.

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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.