Auburn has one of the most difficult schedules in the nation. That much is true for the Tigers, with Top 5 opponents Georgia and Alabama remaining on the schedule and having already faced playoff-hopeful Penn State.
Quarterback Bo Nix and Auburn have been put through the wringer early into the 2021 season, with night trips to Happy Valley and Death Valley — both known for their tough atmospheres to road opponents.
Now, Nix and company are happy to be back home under the lights of Jordan-Hare Stadium and under the unrelenting screams and shouts of the Auburn faithful, when the Tigers host No. 2 Georgia on Saturday.
“It’s just really fun to have a rivalry game like this in Jordan-Hare Stadium," Nix said. “I think that Auburn definitely compares and goes up against those other teams, the kind of traditional historical ones for being loud, I think Auburn’s right there with them.”
Coming off a 37-0 thrashing of then-ranked No. 8 Arkansas, Georgia’s defense looks even more menacing than its highly-productive offense, which dropped 24 points on the Razorbacks in the first half alone. Having played a Top 5 Georgia team before, Nix is making it clear that he isn’t shying away from the fight.
"One of the better teams I've faced, really in college," Nix said about Georgia. "They have one of the best defenses that I've faced, and the challenge is definitely there. But I think we're willing to accept it, play clean, compete until the final seconds, and see how the game goes from there."
Georgia's defense is led by some of the biggest bodies in the SEC, with a 6-foot-3 defensive lineman being considered undersized when compared to the rest of the position's players. Led by 340-pound Jordan Davis, the Bulldog's front seven might be the best in the SEC, or arguably the entire NCAA.
“I’ve kinda been there, played those kinds of guys, been around. Never necessarily had a huge issue with it, just play my game and if they’re in my way, just kind of run around them,” Nix said of Georgia’s front seven.
“[Jordan Davis] is gonna get his plays," Nix said. "He’s gonna make his own plays and that’s why he’s a good player and he’s gonna be a great draft pick for somebody in the future. There’s no denying that, so we just have to limit the times he is making plays, do our jobs and put him in compromising positions and make him beat us."
Offensively, the Tigers once nation-leading rush attack fizzled out at home against Georgia State and then followed the same tract into Baton Rouge on Saturday. Tank Bigsby finished with just 35 yards on nine attempts against LSU.
Nix led the Tigers with 74 yards rushing, but the Tiger’s offense needs to establish a run game early to keep the Georgia defense in check, something Nix is keying in on.
“I think it's extremely vital," Nix said. "It’s kinda the most important part of the game, I think that’ll go to our success if we can run the ball and move the ball consistently on the ground. It’ll open up other things in our offense and obviously we just don’t wanna become one-dimensional."
One element that Harsin and first-year offensive coordinator Mike Bobo can be credited with adding to the Tiger’s offensive package is the frequent use of tight ends. Under former head coach Gus Malzahn, Auburn didn’t make tight end use a priority, and subsequently, it faded out of the offensive playbook almost entirely.
Rejuvenated by Harsin’s staff, along with a recent 100-yard performance by John Samuel Shenker and a Tyler Fromm tight end touchdown against LSU, Auburn’s recently implemented multi-dimensional offense is opening the field up for Nix in ways he’s never seen.
“I think it's huge," Nix said. "When they have to cover all five guys and they have to be aware of where all five guys are at the same time. It makes it tougher on a defense when they have to cover six of us as opposed to I guess just three guys maybe out of the backfield."
"It just adds an element to our offense that allows us to succeed, and it really helps us on like third down I would say. Spreads out the call sheet for our coaches and gives us options that we can work with, so we’re not necessarily just limited to a few things.”
Having played in a home game against Georgia and an Iron Bowl his freshman season, seeing first-hand how rambunctious the Auburn crowd can get in a tight rivalry game is nothing new to the quarterback.
Nix isn’t underplaying the kind of impact a real, southern home-field advantage can have. An impact that Nix expects the Auburn faithful to provide for the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry on Saturday.
“I think it’ll be interesting to see how Auburn shows up for this one," Nix said. "I think it could have a huge impact on the team and maybe the outcome of the game. Just for Auburn to show up, it’d be much appreciated and just be as loud as they can. Obviously, it provides that home-field advantage and I know from a quarterback standpoint how tough it can be communicating on the road, so I think if we can just do our part and just make their quarterback confused and kind of disrupted, I think that’d be huge for us.”
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Larry is a senior studying journalism with a minor in sociology. He is from Enterprise, Alabama and is in his third year with The Auburn Plainsman.