AUBURN — Bo Nix has tried to avoid the worst corners of social media, where people — many of them fans — have criticized him and his performance on the field through nine games as Auburn’s true freshman starting quarterback. But it’s unavoidable.
“Sometimes, you're just going to see it. Somebody's going to tell you about it. That's gonna happen,” he said Tuesday. “You can't really hide from it completely.”
One of the criticisms Nix has probably seen and heard is regarding his play against Florida and LSU. For the season, the quarterback has completed 56.5 percent of his passes for 199.8 yards a game, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. In those games in Gainesville, Fla., and Baton Rouge, La., he completed just 41.9 percent of his throws for 151 yards per game, two touchdowns and four interceptions.
Statistically, those are Nix’s two worst games of the season. They’re also Auburn’s only two losses.
One of the questions entering Auburn’s game vs. Georgia is what played a bigger factor in those struggles: The fact that those games were played against two of the best teams the Tigers have faced to date, or the fact that those games were played at two of the toughest road environments in all of college football, The Swamp and Death Valley?
Because one of those things won’t be a factor on Saturday — the 125th edition of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry will be played at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“We’re playing one of the most talented teams in the entire country. I think the good thing for us is we’ve already played three Top 10 teams, so it’s not going to be a shock to our system as far as that goes,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “I think another big factor is we’re playing at home. We’re very excited about that. I know our players are, too. I can’t wait to get in front of our fans in this game.”
Nix and the entire Malzahn-led Auburn offense have been considerably better at home this season than they have been on the road. The quarterback is completing 65.3 percent of passes for 8.8 yards an attempt and has thrown four touchdowns to zero interceptions at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Everywhere else, he’s completing 48.5 percent of his throws, for 5.8 yards per attempt and eight touchdowns to six interceptions.
“Obviously, the facts are that it's just a little bit easier to communicate, and it's not as loud out there on the field,” Nix said of the advantages that come with playing at home. “So, I feel like the atmosphere really helps as far as adrenaline and things like that. When you're at home, you just somehow play better. I think that it'll be really good for us this Saturday.”
Still, you have to consider what level of competition may have meant to the discrepancy between those home and road splits. None of Tulane, Kent State, Mississippi State or Ole Miss are ranked, and none have a scoring defense better than 44th nationally — the Rebels’, which allows 23.9 points a game and held the Tigers to 20 two weeks ago.
Texas A&M was ranked when Auburn traveled to College Station, though it isn’t anymore, and No. 6 Oregon, No. 11 Florida and No. 1 LSU rank among the best teams in all of college football, and Auburn beat Oregon on a neutral field, while losing to Florida and LSU on the road.
Meanwhile, no team has scored more than 20 points against Georgia's defense. The only team that has even reached that number is South Carolina in a 20-17, overtime upset in Athens on Oct. 12. The Bulldogs have arguably the best rushing defense in the entire country, ranking seventh holding teams to just 2.8 yards a carry and first having not allowed a single touchdown on the ground this season.
“They're a really solid group, probably one of the more solid teams we've played all season," Nix said. "So we'll see, kind of, what the difference is when we get out there and play them on Saturday. But right now, all we can do is worry about our game plan and focus on what they're doing. I mean, we'll have a good plan, like we always do. We'll just go in there and get after them.”