Auburn’s victory over Samford on Saturday gave freshman quarterback Bo Nix a chance to break one program record and tie another as the Tigers sealed their eighth win of 2019. More importantly for Nix and the Tigers, the game was another chance to take a step forward before the biggest game of the season.
Nix took care of business against Samford on Saturday, going 15-of-23 passing for 150 yards and one touchdown to help the Tigers pull away from the Bulldogs. Nix’s efforts gave him the school record for completions in a freshman season and tied the record for touchdown passes in a freshman season, both of which were set by Stan White in 1990.
Nix’s performance in the rain may not stand out among his biggest moments this season, but it provided another promising glimpse of the true freshman before he takes on Alabama for the first time.
“I thought (Bo) did some good things. We were really close to the deep one, to Shedrick (Jackson). (The rain) finally let up a little bit, so we had a chance to throw it down the field,” Malzahn said. “I think each week you just see him growing and improving, but that's to be expected. We're in Game 12 coming up. He's started 11 games, so he should be more comfortable. I feel like he is.”
Nix made plays when the Tigers needed them early to distance themselves from Samford, and once again he turned to his favorite target to make them happen. Sophomore Seth Williams was targeted again and again by Nix in the early going, which led to four receptions in the first quarter alone that helped the Tigers establish the passing game.
Williams may not have found the end zone in the victory, but it was yet another game in which he was the Tigers’ leading receiver. Williams spoke highly of the progress his quarterback has made, especially when it comes to the connection the two have established this season.
“He's improved a lot. Malzahn always says, 'Once you've got the first three games under your belt as a freshman, you're not a freshman no more,'” Williams said. “We've just got a feel for each other. We know what each other is going to do. He trusts me, and I trust him no matter what. That goes as a part of it, too.”
Williams pointed out that Nix is much more comfortable in handling being the starting quarterback, adding that the freshman has learned to handle the pressure of the moment as the year has progressed. Redshirt freshman quarterback Cord Sandberg echoed the same sentiment when asked about how far Nix has come after 11 games of action.
Sandberg said it was evident once Nix enrolled at Auburn that he had uncanny arm talent and possessed an effortless throwing motion akin to former Tigers quarterback Jarrett Stidham. The biggest key for Nix was understanding how to manage big moments, both when they went well and when they did not go in Auburn’s favor.
Sandberg pointed to the aftermath of Auburn’s loss to LSU as when he saw Nix grow that aspect of his game.
“We had those conversations of like, 'Man, it's different on the road. It's loud. It's in a different environment.' It's that perspective, of, OK, that wasn't like an anomaly. It's a general understanding of, hey, this is how it is,” Sandberg said. “It's been cool to see him develop and stay even-keel with everything, which has been great.”
Nix said after the Samford game that he felt good, adding that the Tigers were hungry and ready to play coming off the Georgia loss. He downplayed the record he broke and the one he tied Saturday, saying he doesn’t think about the numbers and instead concentrates on helping the team win.
Nix’s performance against an FCS opponent Saturday will likely be lost in the story of the season, but it was another positive showing for a player who this time last year was pushing Pinson Valley through the state playoffs.
Those strides made throughout the fall set Nix and the Tigers up for this upcoming Saturday, when Nix gets his first shot at topping the Crimson Tide.
“I’m super excited. Obviously growing up, you watch all these games — the Kick Six and all that — you just want to be in a game like that. There's a lot riding on this game (with) two great teams. It'll be fun,” Nix said. “We’ll focus in on this week, work on them and figure out a game plan to move the ball on offense.”