Auburn's Bo Nix capped an up-and-down regular season with the highest of highs

Auburn photo/Todd Van Emst / Auburn true freshman quarterback Bo Nix culminated his first regular season by leading the Tigers to a 48-45 upset of Alabama in last Saturday's Iron Bowl.

When it came to passing efficiency during the 2019 regular season in Southeastern Conference football, nine quarterbacks produced a superior rating to Auburn's Bo Nix.

Tigers fans aren't complaining about that this week, nor will they in the months ahead.

The 6-foot-2, 207-pound true freshman from the Birmingham suburb of Pinson guided the Tigers to a thrilling 27-21 comeback triumph over Oregon in his college debut, and he capped his initial regular season last Saturday by helping Auburn outlast rival Alabama 48-45 in a dizzying Iron Bowl that featured nine lead changes.

"I've said it all along - he's got something special in him," coach Gus Malzahn said Saturday after winning his third Iron Bowl in seven tries. "He'll win a championship before he gets out of here. The moment is not too big for him, and he's got really good command.

"When he makes a mistake, he owns up to it and makes up for it. He's got special traits, and the future is going to be a lot of fun with him leading us."

Auburn finished a 9-3 regular season with its win over Alabama, which includes a 3-3 mark against Top 20 teams at the time they played. The Tigers are certain to play another Top 20 team in a bowl game, so Nix will enter his sophomore year having faced more ranked opponents than unranked foes.

The Iron Bowl, however, was the first time Nix left the field with the game ball and clung to it throughout interviews afterward.

"You can't put this into words," Nix said. "It was awesome. It's everything you could imagine."

The Iron Bowl has been awesome for decades, with Alabama owning a 46-37-1 series advantage but with Auburn possessing a 20-18 edge since Bo Jackson scored the winning touchdown as a true freshman in the Tigers' 23-22 triumph in 1982. That win halted Alabama's nine-year series winning streak, which is the exact difference in the rivalry as it stands today.

Nix's father, former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix, guided the Tigers to Iron Bowl wins in 1993 and 1995, so the father-son tandem improved to 3-1 as competitors in the rivalry. The elder Nix said this summer that taking a knee in the 1995 Iron Bowl, which was his final game inside Jordan-Hare Stadium, was his favorite moment as a player.

His son now knows the same hard-earned experience.

"You can fantasize at home in your room about taking a knee against Alabama, and it's actually happened," Nix said, still clutching the ball. "It's just a surreal moment. There is nothing like it."

Nix will enter his first bowl game having completed 200 of 351 passes (57%) for 2,366 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions, with all six wedged into performances against Oregon, Florida and LSU. He did not get picked off in seven games inside Jordan-Hare.

There certainly were erratic showings at Florida and at LSU - Nix was a combined 26-of-62 in those losses - but he did have touchdown passes in 11 of 12 games and also rushed for 301 yards, including a six-carry, 44-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Crimson Tide.

"He battled and he protected the football," Malzahn said. "It was his first Iron Bowl, and he gets a victory at home. We've got a chance now to win 10 games, and that's a special thing here in the (SEC) West and playing the schedule that we've played."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.