Bo Nix not flawless but shines as Auburn football opens Bryan Harsin era by beating Akron 60-10

Bennett Durando
Montgomery Advertiser

AUBURN — The eagle flew, the fans packed Jordan-Hare Stadium, the marching band marched and Auburn football cruised to a 60-10 season-opening win against Akron on Saturday night.

Here are five observations from the dominant victory that emphatically kicked off the Bryan Harsin era.

Perfect game nixed

Auburn's student section brought the volume, especially for a laughter against Akron. A solid nine out of 10. Auburn's quarterback transcended that, reaching Spinal Tap amplifier levels of achievement: "It goes to 11."

Bo Nix completed his first 11 passes and was perfect until late in the first half. By the time a pass finally fell to the ground, he had 190 yards and three touchdowns. He finished 20-for-22 with 275 yards and a 240.9 quarterback rating that fell just short of a career high (241.6 against Mississippi State in 2019).

"I was excited to get out there and be consistent and obviously be in control of the game and know where to go with the ball," Nix said. "That’s the main kind of thing you have to take care of when you’re a quarterback — know where to go with the ball. The rest will usually take care of itself. Our guys did a great job getting open today. Our coaches put us in a great situation to succeed. Our game plan was good for what they were doing on defense. As a team, I felt like the whole offense kind of contributed to that, it was definitely not just me."

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It's easy to overreact against — to put it bluntly — an opponent as bad as Akron, but Nix was sharp and accurate. He seemed to be challenging himself to stay in the pocket, and he successfully found his wide-open receivers and stepped into his delivery. Whether the junior can be this efficient against a high-pressure defense is the next question. But Akron or not, it's clear that Harsin's work with Nix has made an impact at least mechanically. This was as good as the third-year starter has looked.

Auburn Tigers quarterback Bo Nix (10) dives for a few extra yards at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. Auburn Tigers leads Akron Zips 37-0.

Spreading the receptions

Nix's flawless first 11 passes revealed a lot about his development and about Auburn's new offense. Most importantly, he threw to seven different receivers during that stretch. One of the biggest questions entering this season was who will step up as Auburn's top target with last year's three leading receivers gone. As expected, Harsin's offense got the tight ends and running backs involved in the pass game.

But Shedrick Jackson was the standout as a popular choice. Nix's first two throws went to the senior, who was an unexpected choice at the top of the depth chart. When Auburn was backed up inside its own 10, Jackson also got free behind Akron's secondary for a 42-yard completion, the longest of the game. His five catches for 79 yards and Ja'Varrius Johnson's three for 51 led the way. Georgia transfer Demetris Robertson wasn't shabby either, but 28 yards on three receptions were a bit less than expected.

Tight end mania

Yes, John Samuel Shenker made five catches on five targets for 38 yards, but that's not what this is about. During preseason practices, Shenker and Luke Deal promised multi-tight end sets. Auburn exceeded expectations. At one point in the first half, the Tigers lined up three, but at first that appeared to be a mistake; Harsin called a timeout as though the offense was scrambled.

But later in the half, with Auburn needing a yard to tack on another touchdown, it lined up four tight ends in a goal-line set. Four tight ends. Four. Tank Bigsby plowed in for the touchdown with Shenker playing fullback. The new offense is not short on creativity.

T.D. Moultry showed out

Auburn's new edge position has been another point of preseason mystery, especially with veteran T.D. Moultry named as a starter. His career has been somewhat underwhelming after he came to Auburn as a top-100 recruit. But the senior was one of the defense's standout players against Akron. He made a team-leading three tackles for loss, including one sack, and finished with seven tackles total.

"Just to see him be successful, I’m really happy for him," fellow starting edge rusher Derick Hall said. "He’s a great guy and a great player. He’s definitely taken that next step to help push us in the right direction as a defense. I’m extremely excited and proud of him.”

The defensive front had a solid night: Hall had a sack of his own. Interestingly, Hall started the game standing up while Moultry lined up with his hand on the ground like a more traditional defensive lineman. The pair who started on the interior, Colby Wooden and Marcus Harris, also got in on the action with one sack each. But Moultry was the most disruptive presence in the backfield.

"T.D. knows he has to step up," senior cornerback Roger McCreary said two weeks before the season. Moultry listened and delivered in his first game in the new role.

Offensive line position battles

Auburn substituted its experienced offensive line quite a bit as expected. But after a depth chart that was heavy on the "OR" cop-out, the starters were, from left to right: Austin Troxell, Brandon Council, Nick Brahms, Keiondre Jones and Brodarious Hamm. Troxell and Council both earned their starting jobs on the left side over Alec Jackson, who got in the mix.

"I've been working for this for a long time," said Troxell, who has had an injury-plagued career. "It's finally ... my time has arrived. It's just a blessing to be out there with my teammates and my brothers. You can't beat that feeling, and you know, it was a good night tonight."

The sophomore Jones was the only non-senior to start. He supplanted Tashawn Manning at right guard.