The last time a quarterback not named Bo Nix started a football game for Auburn was on Dec. 28, 2018 in Nashville when the Tigers demolished Purdue 63-14 with Jarrett Stidham playing the position in the Music City Bowl. That seems like a long time ago and with all of the transition in college football it sort of is.
On Saturday night, the Tigers will take the field at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia to face South Carolina with Nix a spectator as he recovers from ankle surgery after being injured against Mississippi State when he was hit in the third quarter throwing a deep pass. Surprisingly, despite breaking a bone, he continued to play until the final series when this week’s expected starter, T.J. Finley, relieved Nix, who deserves major respect for his toughness.
Fortunately for the Tigers, their new starter has SEC starting experience from last season at LSU where he started five times as a true freshman. One of those games came at home vs. South Carolina. He helped LSU to a 52-24 win by completing 17-21 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. The 6-7, 246-pounder ran the ball eight times for 24 yards and a score.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, Finley has not played a road game in front of a large, hostile crowd so how he handles the environment will be worth watching this week.
South Carolina previously lost starting quarterback, Luke Doty, to a season-ending injury, which adds some intrigue to this week’s matchup vs. the Gamecocks.
Tigers take to the road
A good example that Bruce Pearl knows what he is doing when it comes to non-conference scheduling is that his Tigers will play their first road game on Friday night in Tampa at Amalie Arena, which is the site for this season’s SEC Basketball Tournament.
Getting accustomed to the court, the lighting and the entire setting should be a help when the Tigers return in March.
Pearl’s team will take on the host South Florida Bulls at Tampa before heading for The Bahamas to face what should be three challenging games at the Battle 4 Atlantis on Paradise Island.
The Tigers will open the eight-team event with a 1:30 p.m. CST contest on the day before Thanksgiving vs. a strong opponent, the UConn Huskies. That match-up will be televised on ESPN.
Round two is on Thanksgiving and the tournament wraps up the next day.
The field includes defending national champion Baylor, Michigan State, Loyola of Chicago, Syracuse, Arizona State and VCU, so these teams should give Pearl and his staff a good read on what their strengths and weaknesses are as they move into December.
If the Tigers win one or more games on Paradise Island, it should be good for their power rating in addition to boosting Auburn’s strength of schedule.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter.