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Bad news for opposing defenses — Auburn’s Anthony Schwartz getting back up to speed

Anthony Schwartz’s eyes lit up when the play was called.

That play was a textbook end-around. Auburn quarterback Bo Nix took the shotgun snap and handed the ball to running back JaTarvious “Boobee” Whitlow. Whitlow ran a few steps to his right and tossed the ball to Schwartz.

Nix threw a block. Everybody else could have just stood and watched.

Goodbye, Texas A&M defense. Hello, end zone.

What few angles the Aggie defenders did have (they had two, but that might be a bit generous) stood only as false hope as the sophomore raced home for a 57-yard score that shocked the 100,000-plus at Kyle Field into silence.

“Man, he’s fast!” one passerby said of Schwartz. Well, yeah.

Schwartz knew he was going to score when he got the ball. He said he had “tunnel” vision and did not even notice the angles the Aggie defenders had. If his confidence is anything to go by, No. 7 Auburn has a lot to feel good about now that Schwartz is nearly back into game shape.

“I saw one (defender) out of the corner of my eye, but I know they’re not going to catch me,” Schwartz said. “If they do, that’s props to them. If they do catch me, they must be fast too.”

The play garnered online praise from former Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, and from NFL Hall-of-Famer Deion Sanders. Schwartz said he thinks he could beat Sanders, who ran a 4.27 40-yard dash at the 1989 NFL Combine, in a one-on-one race. Now take into account that the sophomore still considers himself around 80-to-85% up to speed.

His clubbed hand is finally free, and it’s only positive from there.

Schwartz hopes to be 100% for the Tigers’ game against Mississippi State on Saturday (7 p.m. EST, ESPN) and if he is, Auburn fans have another reason to feel optimistic beyond the 11-point spread.

“I feel like I can go way faster,” Schwartz said. “The middle to the end of the (touchdown) run, my legs kind of got heavy. I know if I was up to full fitness, maybe the angles wouldn’t have been as close as it was on the film.”

The rest of the offense is also stepping up to help out Nix. Yes, Nix will need to play better than he has so far if the Tigers are navigate a schedule that includes Alabama and Georgia at home, and Florida and LSU on the road. Nix threw for 100 yards and a touchdown against the Aggies, and averaged five yards per pass attempt.

So, the Tigers have turned to their defense, and to great success.

The Tigers defense held Texas A&M to 56 rushing yards, and allowed just two field goals to Tulane. There’s no telling what would have happened had they failed to stop Oregon’s fourth-down attempt late in that game, but a serious case can be made that the Tigers would have lost if not for that fourth-down stop.

The Tigers have won the SEC’s defensive lineman of the week award three weeks in a row: Marlon Davidson, twice, and Derrick Brown. Safety Jeremiah Dinson was named the SEC’s defensive player of the week after the Tigers’ win against Oregon.

Derrick Brown was named Bednarik Award Player of the Week after becoming the first Auburn player since 2016 to record at least two sacks, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble in one game and the first Auburn player since 2012 to record a sack, tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a pass breakup in one game, according to the Maxwell Football Club.

“They’ve played very good football all year,” Malzahn said. “You think back to the Tulane game and offensively we really struggled, but our defense really rose up when we were struggling and allowed us to get to the second half and start moving the ball.”

The run game has also opened up things. Guys like Whitlow, the unquestioned starter on the Tigers’ depth chart this week (no more “OR”s!), have steadily improved as the season has worn on.

Auburn’s running game is finally churning after a below-the-par outing against Tulane: The Tigers ran for 193 yards against the Aggies, and Nix was the third-leading rusher (12 rushes, 38 yards) behind Whitlow and Schwartz.

“A freshman quarterback — (the running game) is his best friend,” Malzahn said. “You see that (Nix) is able to get some yards keeping it and that he’s able to open everything else up.”

Once the run game gets going, the pass game is likely not far behind. Seven players caught passes against the Aggies, and Schwartz’ was the Tigers’ second-leading receiver, catching two passes for 30 yards.

Schwartz runs track for the Tigers as well. He was the Gatorade National Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year in 2018, and competed in the 100-meter sprints at the NCAA East Prelims in May.

“Flash,” as he was nicknamed by his teammates, is finally getting back to full speed. And that’s bad news for opposing defenders, defensive coordinators and NCAA track and field sprinters.

Just don’t ask Schwartz about the comic book character. He said prefers Marvel to DC. Who knows, maybe if the whole football or track thing doesn’t work out, he could play Quicksilver, Marvel’s equivalent to the Flash.

No CGI needed.

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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.