The most-asked question on the Plains was answered Aug. 19.
That’s when coach Gus Malzahn named 5-star true freshman Bo Nix to start at quarterback for No. 16 Auburn in its opener at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 31, against No. 11 Oregon on ABC in the AdvoCare Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Nix thus becomes the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Auburn since 1946. Single-wing tailback Travis Tidwell led the Auburn offense that year.
This year’s opener is a rematch of the 2011 BCS National Championship Game in which Auburn edged Oregon 22-19 for the title. The Tigers had a generational talent in Cam Newton taking snaps in that contest.
The recent quarterback announcement concluded a hotly contested battle between Nix, the son for former Tiger signal-caller Patrick Nix, and redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood.
“We’ve got two quarterbacks I feel we can win with,” the Auburn coach said. “At the end of the day, Bo Nix won the starting quarterback job. He did a very good job (with) his attention to detail and everything that goes with it.”
The younger Nix is “not your normal freshman,” Malzahn said. “The fact that he came in in the spring really helped … that he got quality reps in the spring really helped.
“Of course, he’s a coach’s son,” the top Tiger said. “You can tell that.”
Nix said being named the starting quarterback to open the season is “a dream come true.
“I’ve always wanted to play quarterback at Auburn,” said the Pinson Valley product who led the Indians to back-to-back Class 6A state championships. “It’s a goal of mine that I’ve had for a long, long time, as far as I can remember, all the way back to throwing the football in the back yard with my dad.”
Mobility is an attribute of both contending quarterbacks. Malzahn said Nix has shown he can extend plays and is a lot faster than people think.
“They both can run,” he said. “The mindset will be whatever we have to do to win football games will be our approach.”
Nix takes the offensive reins of a Tigers team that will face six of the top 12 teams in ESPN’s latest Way-Too-Early preseason rankings. Four of those games are on the road.
“That’s what I signed up for,” the freshman QB said. “In coming to Auburn, I knew we’d have a tough schedule every year, maybe the toughest in the country this year. The good thing is I have a really good defense, a really good offensive line and great skill players around me. As long as I just do my job, everything else will just take care of itself.”
Nix and Gatewood emerged from a four-player competition in the spring. Their rise prompted Malik Willis, a backup in 2018, to transfer to Liberty.
Despite Gatewood coming in second in the two-horse race, Malzahn said, “He’s going to help us win this year. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Malzahn was not ready to say exactly what role he will hand his No. 2 QB against the Ducks, “but I have a lot of confidence in him.
“I told (Joey) we’re going to need him this year and to be ready,” the coach continued. “It gives us a lot of flexibility. We’ll see what that means moving forward.”
Auburn had its most explosive postseason offensive showing in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, a 63-14 victory over Purdue. While the Auburn offense had its ups and downs in 2018, the defense was one of the nation’s best.
Brandon Marcello of Auburn Undercover said the Auburn defense “has the opportunity, the potential to be a top-5 defense this year if they stay healthy.”
Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said it always reverts to the principles of relentless effort, physical and mental toughness and tackling.
“We’ve got a really mature (defensive) group,” Steele said. “There are several guys in the room who have been here through the whole thing.”
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