'That actually happened': Iron Bowl dream becomes reality for Bo Nix
Bo Nix raised the game ball to the Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd after his game-ending kneel down, then immediately clutched the pigskin and didn't let it go.
It was the only thing that kept him tethered to reality, the only sign that what he and his Tigers had just accomplished was real.
Because as he held the ball during his postgame interview, spinning and fiddling with it occasionally but mostly keeping tight and close to his chest, Nix said the celebration with his teammates, the students rushing Pat Dye Field, and their 48-45 win in the Iron Bowl felt like a dream — a hallucination of jubilation for the true freshman born and raised on Auburn Tiger football.
"You can fantasize at home in your room taking a knee against Alabama in your freshman year at the end of the game, and that actually happened," Nix said. "So it’s just a surreal moment. There’s nothing like it. I’ve never experienced it anything like it.”
Nix spread the ball around to eight different receivers for 173 yards and a touchdown, but it was his plays that aren't explicitly described in the stat sheet that displayed his maturity and growth from the start of the year to the final game of the regular season.
He didn't hesitate taking off and scrambling. He made throws on the run — whether it be on Auburn's final 2-point conversion, a big third-down completion to Seth Williams on that drive, or his one-handed shovel pass on the run to Shaun Shivers — when trying to throw outside the pocket had been a struggle most of season. He wasn't sacked.
Most importantly for the sustained success of Auburn's offense, he didn't commit a turnover. Nix finishes the season with 1,611 yards to no interceptions in games played inside Jordan-Hare.
That efficiency helped particularly in the Iron Bowl, where Auburn scored on eight of its nine drives that entered Alabama territory. The Tigers entered the game with just 13 scores on their previous 23 trips across midfield in SEC play.
"In the past, when we’ve lost, we’ve just sputtered there early in the game," Nix said. "We found our way at the end and we ended up moving the ball really well, and other times we could move the ball, we just couldn’t finish the drive, couldn’t get points on the board. So tonight, I feel like every drive we had led to an important field goal or an important touchdown.”
Nix was feeling it on Auburn's three pivotal touchdown drives. He kept around left end for a touchdown to put Auburn up 7-3 in the first quarter, went 4-for-4 for 67 yards and a touchdown to tie the game at 24-24 in the second quarter, and ran for 27 yards while completing 3-of-3 passes plus a successful 2-point conversion pass to Shedrick Jackson on Auburn's go-ahead touchdown drive with 8 minutes left in the game.
Nix didn't deny that playing against the Tide — in a rivalry he knows better than most Auburn players because of his family — added to the competitiveness and fire that kept his confidence high that he would emerge victorious through the game's 10 lead changes.
“Obviously, that makes it three state championships, I guess," said Nix, who won two state titles in high school at Pinson Valley.
Nix will go down as the top freshman quarterback in program history. He didn't do so without struggles that were, at times, placing him near the bottom of the conference in completion percentage and quarterback rating.
But the final home game of his rookie career provided further confidence — as if Auburn wasn't already 100% on backing Nix as their leader of the future — to Gus Malzahn, Nix and Auburn. After all, 2019 was only Chapter 1 for the legacy QB.
"Yeah, I've said it all along: he's got something special to him," Malzahn said of his quarterback. "He'll win a championship, I told you that this week, before he gets out of here. With his leadership, the moment's not too big. He's got real good command. When he makes a mistake, he owns up to it: 'Hey, I'll make up for it.'
"He's got the special traits. I think the future is going to be a lot of fun with him leading us."
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