ARLINGTON, Texas — The Bo Nix era at Auburn began with a 27-21 comeback victory over Oregon in the final seconds.
Here’s the Sunday report card:
One single drive can be the difference between an above average grade and an almost failing grade. True freshman quarterback Bo Nix wasn’t perfect, and he wasn’t even that effective at all for three quarters of Auburn’s season opener, but he showed poise when it mattered most and that’s what counts.
Nix showed flashes early on in the first half, before stalling out, with a completion to Will Hastings, and a scramble on the read option for a first down, but other than that drive he struggled to get into a rhythm. He finished 13-of-32 (40%) for 177 yards passing, 75 of which came in the fourth quarter, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
It wasn’t pretty, for the most part. Nix had the tendency to stare down his receivers at times, which was seen on the rollout interception intended for Seth Williams, and finished the game 1-for-9 on third down passing. However, it takes a tremendous amount of ability and fearlessness to stay composed and run a two-minute drill, down by a point, and lead a comeback victory against the No. 11 team in the country in Jerry World as a true freshman in your first start.
So, does it wipe away all the wrongs from last night? No, there are obviously still plenty of room for improvement. But, it’s pretty dang close.
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RUNNING BACKS: B+
Gus Malzahn was back calling plays which meant the buzz of Auburn, once again, having a 1,000-yard rusher was back. Nonetheless, the Tigers had 70 rushing yards at halftime and couldn’t get any push against the Oregon defensive line.
But, as Boobie Miles once said in the hit movie Friday Night Lights, “If y’all wanna win, put Boobie in.” Spelling aside, Auburn did exactly that with Boobee Whitlow Saturday night in AT&T Stadium. The Tigers leaned on their lead back to carry them down the stretch, with an emphasis on overpowering the Ducks in the trenches, as they finished with 206 yards rushing, 136 of those coming in the second half.
Whitlow carried the ball 24 times for 110 yards, showing the potential to be a dominant workhorse when SEC play comes around.
WIDE RECIEVERS: B
The running game wasn’t the only thing area having troubles. As Nix’s stat line can probably suggest, the Auburn receivers got off to a slow start themselves against a disciplined Oregon secondary.
The Tigers had just 91 passing yards in the first half, and Nix completed just 6-of-18 to his wide outs in that span. In the third quarter, it wasn’t much better. Auburn had gained just 11 yards in the period and had just 102 passing yards for the game entering the fourth.
But, much like a lot of these grades, the fourth quarter was the difference maker. Nix was 6-for-11 passing in the fourth quarter and had 75 yards, including the game-winning drive and touchdown pass to Seth Williams. Williams was the star of the game and hauled in the game-winning touchdown catch, after entering the final drive with just one reception for -3 yards.
Williams finished with four receptions for 41 yards, including the biggest play of the game to cap the comeback. Eli Stove also added a touchdown of his own on three receptions for 18 yards. Sal Cannella led the team with 42 yards receiving on two receptions.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C
The offensive line’s performance Saturday night in Arlington was a microcosm of last season. Early on they struggled to give Nix any time to throw or Whitlow and co. any holes to run through, causing many to think that this unit had not improved at all since last season. As the game went on they got some confidence, more so in the second half with the running game. Malzahn said postgame the line was imploring him to just run the ball, that they could run it down their throat, and that’s what they did.
The run blocking in the second half was the difference in the game and gave the Tigers a chance to complete a comeback. The jury is still out, however, on the pass blocking.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
It’s hard to live up to the hype when you’re expected to be the No. 1 defensive line in the country right off the bat.
So in that respect, I give Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson, Nick Coe, etc. some credit for battling back after a not so great first quarter where the Ducks rushed for 67 yards and a touchdown. After the first quarter, the line lived up to its name. In the following quarters, Oregon rushed for 10, nine, and four yards respectively.
They held the Ducks rushing attack and CJ Verdell, who is one of the more explosive backs in the country, to just 90 yards total on the ground and allowed just seven points after the first quarter.
The linebackers were flying around from the get-go and get the best grade of the week.
Play after play, this young and unproven unit (up until now) was stepping up to the challenge. Led by junior KJ Britt and freshman Owen Pappoe, the Auburn linebackers compiled 18 total tackles and stuffed the run all night against an experienced Oregon offensive line. Britt looked overpowering and extremely strong, like a middle linebacker should, and Pappoe showed why he was so highly recruited with his outstanding speed from the outside edge.
Britt finished second on the team in the game with seven tackles, two of them solo, while Pappoe came in fourth and added four of his own.
The secondary held up the Auburn defense’s mantra of bend but don’t break Saturday night.
I know most people will look at Justin Herbert’s stat line of 242 yards passing and think that the secondary was gashed all game. But, apart from Oregon’s first few drives in the first quarter, the Auburn defensive backs held the Ducks passing attack in check.
The Tigers allowed just three chunk plays of over 15 yards and only one touchdown through the air the entire game.
Senior safety Jeremiah Dinson led the team with 13 tackles and one sack.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
Anders Carlson was 2-for-3, converted on two field goals from 25 and 40 yards out, with a 42-yard missed attempt before halftime.
Christian Tutt was a bright spot in the punt return game and had 64 yards returning with two separate runs that gave the Tigers a short field to work with.
Tutt should be an impact player in special teams in the weeks to come.
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