Beating Bo: Penn State Looks to Add to Big Game Struggles for Auburn Quarterback Bo Nix

By Nick Polak on September 17, 2021 at 9:00 am
Auburn Tigers quarterback Bo Nix (10) throws the ball at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Auburn Tigers leads Alabama State Hornets 20-0 at halftime.
© Jake Crandall via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Bo Nix came to Auburn a five-star legacy prospect and was seen by many as the savior who would help them topple the Crimson Tide empire. A little over two years later, it...doesn't quite seem like that's in the cards. Still, Nix is a talented player who has thrown for over 5,300 yards in his 26 games as a starter while also rushing for 731 more. He's not someone who should be taken lightly.

However, the Nittany Lions will have the advantage of playing this game within the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium. After a year layoff, the crowd for this one should rival that of any other big game in Penn State's history and you can bet that it will be L O U D. That alone would typically be enough of an advantage for the home team, but it also happens to be the case that the quarterback on the other side of the field is simply not the same player he is outside of Jordan-Hare Stadium as he is inside of it.

Bo Nix Career Home/Away Splits
  Passing PAssing % Passing Yards TD/INT Rushing Yards Yards Per Carry Rushing TD
Home 249/388 64.2% 3,078 20/1 434 4.5 9
Away 156/286 54.4% 1,617 9/10 211 2.3 5

It doesn't take a degree in statistical analysis to see the Mariana Trench-sized gap between those two sets of data. At home, Nix has been mostly great! He's taken care of the football, he's been efficient, and he's been able to deliver plenty of points.

On the road, though Nix has been anything but reliable. Averaging just 180 passing yards per game in true road games (neutral site games were omitted here) is far from what his team needs of him to find success, and throwing more interceptions than touchdowns is a death knell. The team's record in such games is a reflection of that. Since Nix took over as the starter, Auburn is just 4-5 in true road games.

Bo Nix Career Splits vs. Top-30 SP+ Defenses
  Passing Passing % PAssing Yards TD/INT Rushing Yards Yards per Carry Rushing TD
vs. top-30 DEfenses 197/362 54.42% 2,013 9/9 268 2.6 6
vs. the Rest 263/411 63.99% 3,327 24/4 463 4.4 8

Now, the point of this isn't to pile on Nix for underperforming against top-tier defenses because top-tier defenses do this to most quarterbacks that they face. That's why they're top-tier defenses. But given the situation that Nix is going to be in on Saturday night, against a Penn State defense that is currently the No. 5-ranked defense per SP+, it's a very relevant data point.

Those top-30 defenses include 2019 Oregon, Texas A&M, Florida, LSU, Georgia, Alabama, and Minnesota, and 2020 Georgia, Alabama, Texas A&M, and Northwestern. It's a stout group, to be sure. But when the lights shine the brightest, you need your quarterback to go out and make plays, and Nix simply hasn't done that.

Things don't get any prettier for the junior when we simulate the situation he'll be in on Saturday night – on the road against a top-30 defense by SP+.

Nix vs. Top-30 SP+ Defenses on the Road
  Passing PAssing % Passing Yards TD/INT Rushing Yards Yards per Carry Rushing TD
top-30 Defense on the road 82/160 51.3% 806 3/7 57 0.9 2

Again, playing top-tier defenses on the road isn't supposed to be easy, especially when those games take place in special environments such as night games in Death Valley and the Swamp. But if you want to be the best, you have to perform in those situations, and a near 50% completion percentage with a 3/7 touchdown-to-interception ratio isn't going to cut it.

In those games (2019 Texas A&M, 2019 Florida, 2019 LSU, 2020 Georgia, 2020 Alabama), the Tigers are just 1-4. And even in the only win (@ Texas A&M in 2019), Nix was 12/20 passing for 100 yards in a 28-20 win that his team nearly blew in the fourth quarter.

No. 10 Penn State and No. 22 Auburn will kick off this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET in Happy Valley. The game will be broadcast on ABC. Penn State will also be the location for College GameDay in the lead-up to Saturday's slate. Make sure you stick with Roar Lions Roar for coverage of this Big Ten - SEC clash.