The first two games for Bo Nix have been a trial by fire, as the true freshman has experienced everything from the struggles of adapting to collegiate play to the exuberant highs of leading the Tigers to a last-second prime time win over Oregon.
He's only completed 47 percent of his pass attempts so far, with three touchdown passes and two interceptions. The struggles at the onset of his career don't surprise Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who said he knew going into the season that patience was needed.
"You’ve got to be patient, first of all, and we knew that," he said. "The good thing is that these first three games really are good for us. We’re still learning about (Bo Nix); he’s still learning about us.
"But once we get into conference play, things need to be pretty set. You’ve just got to be a little patient. Like I’ve said before, what I like about him is when he’ll make a mistake, there’s a good chance that he’s not going to make the same mistake twice. So that’s really what’s caught my eye so far."
Nix didn't shy away after the Tulane game when asked what the offense needed to do to improve, admitting that he needed to play better.
"We have to click a little better," said Nix. "We have to become more comfortable with each other and a lot of that is through practice and more repetition of things."
Nix will have to click better with a somewhat depleted wide receiver corps, which will be without deep threat Seth Williams, who injured his shoulder last week and whose status for next week's SEC road-opener against Texas A&M in uncertain.
"I think it’s kind of a day-to-day deal as far as that goes," said Malzahn.
Nix will likely continue to heavily target veteran wideouts Will Hastings and Eli Stove often on Saturday.
Nix could also be without a fully healthy Anthony Schwartz, who is still sporting a cast on his surgically repaired hand. Schwartz will slowly be brought back into Auburn's offense as he continues to heal.
"Schwartz is going to practice more and more each week. This week, he will be on the field more than he was last week," said Malzahn. "As far as taking the cast off, that is a week-to-week deal. I do not know when that will be, but hopefully sooner than later. I cannot guarantee it will be the next week either, but he will be on the field more and more each game."
With Williams out and Schwartz limited, redshirt freshman Matthew Hill should see increased reps in the wide receiver rotation. Through two games, Hill has two receptions for 11 yards.
"From what I’m seeing, he can do some things with the ball in his hands. I think he is getting more comfortable, so he can definitely have a bigger role each week," said Malzahn.
With Auburn playing such an overmatched opponent in Kent State, the Tigers are set to dip deeper into the depth chart at running back as well. The need might be even more pronounced with starter Boobee Whitlow having shouldered so many of the carries (47) the first two games and having issues protecting the ball after fumbling the ball three times last week."
Malzahn said he talked to Whitlow to address the fumbles after the Tulane game.
"To play, you’ve got to hold on to the football," he said. "I wasn’t happy. I think we had four or five balls on the ground and really that is unacceptable. That was really where it started in our meeting Sunday. We are not going to be irresponsible with the football at any position. A whole lot of ball security, attention drills, focus and we expect to be better."
In addition to a heavier workload for Kam Martin and Shaun Shivers, the Kent State matchup should give Harold Joiner and, possibly, D.J. Williams an opportunity to show what they can do.
The status of Williams, who turned heads in spring practice with his strong play after enrolling early, is uncertain after he suffered a recent hip injury.
"He is planning on practicing and we will see where he’s at. It would be nice to give him a chance to show what he can do out there," said Malzahn.
Overall, the Tigers will try to highlight the running game more against Kent State after struggling at times so far this season.
"The evaluation is that the first half we’ve struggled a little bit. The second half, we’ve played really good football," said Malzahn. "I think we’re capable of being a good running team — there’s no doubt in my mind — and we will get better. It could be using a different scheme, play, personnel, using a tight end or H-back, or spreading them out. Each game is different as far as that goes."
The Auburn offensive line will also look to improve its consistency, especially in the first half.
"If you really look, really the positives, both second halves (of the first two games), we played really good football and we finished really good," said Malzahn. "There were no pre-snap penalties — we improved there. We haven’t had a holding penalty. So there’s a lot of good things going on up front and I think you will see that grow as the season goes on."
Backup quarterback Joey Gatewood should get plenty of playing time on Saturday after seeing the field sparingly the first two games. Gatewood has yet to complete a pass this season, but has seven rushes for 22 yards and a score.
"I was glad he got a chance to play and there is nothing like getting out there and playing," said Malzahn. "You can see he is an explosive guy. I think that is the number one thing and we will have a role for him each game. We will see how much that is each game specific with that, but he presents a different element, there’s no doubt about that."