Auburn QB Bo Nix on handling criticism, making improvements and learning another new offense

Josh Vitale
Montgomery Advertiser

Bo Nix is no stranger to criticism.

The junior Auburn football quarterback surely hears it constantly. He’s a former five-star prospect and Alabama Mr. Football who joined the Tigers in 2019 fresh off winning back-to-back Class 6A championships playing for his father, Patrick Nix, at Pinson Valley High. But he hasn’t always up to that billing as a prospect.

He earned the starting job as a true freshman and led Auburn to a 9-4 record. He entered the 2020 season as one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the SEC. Then he completed just 59.9% of his passes, averaged 6.8 yards per attempt, threw 12 touchdowns to seven interceptions and complied an efficiency rating of 123.94 during a 6-5 campaign. Those totals ranked 10th, eighth, sixth, 13th and ninth and the SEC, respectively.

Headlines written about Nix over the last few months range from “can he be fixed?” to “is the starting job still his?

The first question he was asked before Auburn’s second spring practice Wednesday was, how does he handle that?

“There’s really nothing you can do about it, to be honest with you,” Nix said. “Everyone is always going to have something to say, positive or negative. One thing that always sticks out to me is, even going to the cross, Jesus had people talking bad about him. So if they were talking about him, then they’re going to consistently talk bad about me, that’s for sure.

“There’s nothing you can do but continue to work, put my head down and do what I’m supposed to do and do whatever I can to make my team better.”

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He’ll have to learn yet another new offense first. It will be his third since he arrived at Auburn. Nix ran Gus Malzahn’s plays while being coached by Kenny Dillingham as a freshman. He learned Chad Morris’ system remotely going into his sophomore season. Now, he’s working with new offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and first-year coach Bryan Harsin.

But the latter is perhaps the perfect man for the job. Harsin played for four different coaches during his career at Boise State – Pokey Allen and Tom Mason in 1996, Houston Nutt in 1997 and Dirk Koetter in 1998-99. He has a unique understanding of what Nix is going through.

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“I think that’s underestimated when there’s a change and players have to learn something new,” Harsin said. “That takes a tremendous amount of time to do that and a lot of energy and a lot of focus and a lot of dedication to have yourself ready.”

Nix has shown that dedication, even if it hasn't always come through in his play on the field. He said he learned something different from each of his coaches.

From his father, the foundation of the position. From Malzahn, how to play fast but not get sped up. From Dillingham, how to read defenses at the college level. From Morris, spread passing concepts and how to use motions and shifts.

From Harsin and Bobo, he knows that one of the things he’ll learn is how to play under center – there’s going to be more of that in Auburn’s offense this season.

The quarterback said he has already spent a lot of time picking the brains of both coaches. Both have strong track records – Harsin developed Kellen Moore and Brett Rypien at Boise State, and Bobo coached Matthew Stafford and Aaron Murray at Georgia. Neither has been able to recruit off campus because the NCAA is still in a dead period due to COVID-19, so both have been accessible more than they normally would be this time of year.

“They’ve had a lot of experience and they’ve also had a lot of success. When you look at Coach Harsin, he’s coached some good quarterbacks and they’ve done a really good job in his system. He has won a bunch of games, and I think that speaks to his leadership,” Nix said. “At the end of the day, they’ll put me in a great situation. I’m confident of that.”

Asked about the biggest thing he wanted to improve on during spring practice, Nix said “every part of my game.” More specifically, though, he said wants to gauge his receivers – he’ll be working with a lot of young ones this season after Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove moved on – and “be consistent, especially in the pocket.”

That second one is key. One of the lasting images of Nix’s 2020 season might be him scrambling out of the pocket play after play. Maybe that’s why he struggled to throw from it even when it was clean, ranking last among qualified SEC quarterbacks in adjusted completion percentage, per Pro Football Focus.

So Nix acknowledges his shortcomings. The question is whether he can fix them. That’s the surest way to quiet the critics.

"I feel like this spring is going to be really good, because last year we didn’t have one. So this year, there’s extra practice time to sharpen some things,” Nix said. "I’m just making sure I learn the offense like I’m supposed to and learning the ins and outs of it so I’m prepared every day and I can get better and I can make strides this spring.”

Josh Vitale is the Auburn beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoshVitale. To reach him by email, click here.