With Auburn’s basketball team gearing up for another post season run and baseball about to start SEC play this weekend, it’s understandable if the approach of spring practice caught you by surprise. Next Monday, the 2020 version of Auburn football will take to the practice fields for the first time this year and begin preparation for a crucial season in the Gus Malzahn regime.
The Tigers are coming off a solid 9-4 campaign but one that was so close to being so much more. If the 2020 season is to be a special one, it will be the development at the first position on our preview list that will be most crucial this spring.
This time last year, the major storyline heading into spring ball was #DECISION19. Auburn started spring practice unsure of who its QB would be. It was a 3 way battle early between Malik Willis, Joey Gatewood and Bo Nix before Willis was eliminated from the race and transferred to Liberty. Heading into fall camp, Gatewood was the presumed favorite after a strong spring but Nix reportedly out performed the redshirt freshman and won the job. Halfway through the season Gatewood then left the team eventually landing in Lexington, KY.
As for how Nix performed in his debut campaign, it was a up and down. There were moments of brilliance (Oregon comeback, Mississippi State shredding) followed by some real clunkers (Florida catastrophe, struggles in Baton Rouge). One moment you would see the arm strength paired with deadly accuracy only to be followed by a puzzling decision to scramble from the pocket and launch a ball five feet out of bounds. Consistency will be the key for Nix in 2020.
What To Know
Bo Nix must be better in 2020 if Auburn wants to play for any championships. Obviously, Auburn’s offensive struggles last season don’t rest solely on Nix’s shoulders. Gus Malzahn’s offense is predicated first on establishing an inside run game. Everything is built off Power and Inside Zone. If those two concepts aren’t clicking it’s going to be a long day. But Nix also didn’t consistently capitalize when the opportunities were there last season. He often too quickly bailed from the pocket resulting in a dead play or overshot a deep ball due to poor footwork. The tools are all there to be a very good QB in the SEC, it’s just about consistently putting them together.
The good news is Nix will be tutored this season by one of the better QB coaches in the country. Chad Morris is now running Auburn’s offense and will be working with the quarterbacks. He’s got a strong track record (sans that stint in Fayetteville) of building QB friendly offenses. As an offensive coordinator, his QBs have thrown for 3600+ yards in four of five seasons (the one being the year Deshaun Watson got hurt). If he can get even close to that type of production with Nix, Auburn could be poised to make some noise in 2020.
In my opinion, what happens behind Nix will be just as important as Nix’s development this spring. Auburn needs to use Nix’s athleticism which means exposing him to taking more hits. Doing so could increase the chances of injury which means you better have a #2 guy you trust. Not sure Auburn has that right now so it’s vitally important one of Cord Sandberg, Chayil Garnett or a walk on prove to the staff that they can be trusted to at least execute at a high enough level to keep Auburn competitive if the worst happens.