Auburn quarterback Bo Nix has already notched a comeback win on his belt against Oregon, led the Tigers to a road win against Texas A&M, but his true breakout performance came last weekend when he torched Mississippi State for more than 300 yards through the air.
Nix finished with a season-high 76.2 completion percentage on 16 of 21 passing for 335 yards and two scores. For the season, his completion percentage has steadily risen from 41.9 percent after the Oregon game to 57.6 percent currently. He's also gotten better making decisions in the passing game — he hasn't thrown an interception since tossing two in the season-opener.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is especially pleased with Nix's improvement with ball security.
"That’s probably the thing I’m most proud of," he said. "We were at A&M a few weeks ago and we had pretty good protection, but they had pretty good coverage and he took a sack. Another quarterback probably would’ve thrown it up for grabs — he didn’t do that. That shows a lot of maturity for a young guy, that he’s conscious of protecting the football No. 1. Of course, that’s what we tell him, but a lot of quarterbacks don’t do it in the heat of the moment.
"That’s really what’s been one of the biggest bright spots I think, that he’s protecting the football."
Nix's awareness has increased weekly in both games and practice, said Malzahn, who noted the freshman's quarterback's increasing comfort under center, which has allowed coaches to build on his knowledge and increase the playbook.
"We are trying to do a lot of carryover; we are trying to build upon things," he said. "You know each week he feels more comfortable, then you can add a few things to that, and we are to a point now that you know he really feels more comfortable. Each week, each snap, you know he will feel more comfortable. Obviously, we are going on the road this week and it’s going to be probably the most hostile environment we’ve been in. It’s going to be loud -- we’ve been working crowd noise for six weeks so hopefully that will help prepare him for this environment."
Nix's pedigree as the son of former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix, who coached his son in high school as well, has helped the first-year starter handle the pressure and adapt his skills to the collegiate field.
"He’s a coach’s son, and we knew that when we recruited him, but still I don’t care if he’s real comfortable — you’ve got to get out there and you’ve got to do it. Then, after things slow down a little bit, you can see progressions, and you can see reads, and you can see drops executed. So, it’s all the above as far as that goes," said Malzahn. "You’ve got to go out there and do it; you can’t just know it, but you’ve got to go out there and do it. Then we talked about our receivers not being healthy until about two weeks ago and we haven’t been able to do to any kind of timing — well, now they’ve been healthy for two weeks. Hopefully the timing will continue to improve.
"We’re still not there, but hopefully that will continue to improve in the right direction."
Nix will try to continue to improve this weekend against a Florida defense that has already registered nine interceptions and 24 sacks in five games.
Auburn and Florida will kick off at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. The game will be televised on CBS.