As he settles into his role as the starting quarterback, true freshman Bo Nix has something even better than a dog as his best friend — the Auburn running game.
While Nix and the Tigers' passing game leaves a lot to be desired and improved upon, the rushing attack has been on point, as Auburn leads the SEC with nearly 260 yards a game on the ground.
"I think that’s his best friend," head coach Gus Malzahn said. I mean if you’re able to run the football — and we are Auburn, we need to be successful running the football — when we have our good teams, we can do that. A freshman quarterback — that’s his best friend."
Nix's "best friend" amongst friends is no doubt JaTarvious Whitlow, who ranks second in the SEC in rushing, averaging 102 yards a game on the ground with four touchdowns.
"He’s a really good inside-the-tackle runner," said Malzahn of Whitlow. "You can tell that he’s more comfortable this year than he was last year, which is to be expected. I think he’s slowing down a little bit and letting plays develop. So he’s just a running back with more experience than he had last year."
The Tigers were just "OK at first" rushing the ball to start the season, but have improved over the last three games, said Malzahn, who added that Nix getting more involved rushing the ball will help the team continue to improve.
"I think we’ve got potential to keep improving and him keeping it has a lot to do with that, too," he said. "You see that he’s able to get some yards keeping it and that he’s able to open everything else up."
Nix carried the ball 16 times in the Tigers' first three games, but rushed 12 times last weekend against Texas A&M, which helped open up lanes for Whitlow.
"I think that’s a different dynamic, kind of those plus-one runs from a defensive standpoint that you just can’t gear up on the running back so I know that helps," said Malzahn.
Shaun Shivers and Kam Martin have provided some spark off the bench, rushing for 122 yards on 23 carries and 114 yards on 21 carries, respectively, so far. The two have also given some much-needed relief to Whitlow, who is averaging over 20 carries a game.
The Auburn offense has also welcomed back wide receiver Anthony Schwartz, who displayed his game-changing abilities last weekend against the Aggies when he took off on a 57-yard touchdown run to give the Tigers an early lead.
Freshman Harold Joiner might also get more the mix as the season progresses after seeing limited action in the first four games.
"He’s another one that you can tell is a talented guy," said Malzahn. "Each game we are trying to grow his package and continue to develop him. We are getting the ball to more running backs and believe that is helping overall."
Auburn fans could also see the debut of true freshman running back D.J. Williams in the near future. After making an early impression with a strong spring camp, Williams has been held back as he recovers from a shoulder injury, participating briefly against the Aggies on kick return.
"This week we’re hoping that he’s healthier than he was," said Malzahn. "You saw him, he was on kickoff return, so he was good enough to play. But we’ll see how he’s doing. He’s a guy that we wanted to get some touches for probably the last three weeks. But it just wasn’t there, or the game didn’t present the right situation."
The Tigers will try to keep improving on the ground Saturday night against a Mississippi State defense that gives up about 143 yards a game and 4.48 yards a carry.