The unforeseen revival of Bo Nix in Oregon proves the doubters wrong and boosts the Ducks’ playoff hopes

Everything is cool now with Bo Nix. The taunts, the critics, the failures – all buried in some kind of dark past. The problem is that the entire nation has witnessed this dark past in the fishbowl that is the SEC.

“Last year I just got over it. Every week it was different,” Oregon’s quarterback told CBS Sports this week. “Honestly, I couldn’t do anything about it. I just remember being kind of unhappy. It wasn’t fun anymore.”

Last year was Nix’s third in Auburn. In the end, part of his legacy was a kind of college football platitude. There was Good Bo and Bad Bo. You never knew what you would get. In three years, Nix had three different coaches who named plays. There was the usual auburn swirl. Most of the time there was too much to lose.

“I’ll say that: intense,” said Oregon offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham when asked to describe this Auburn culture.

Dillingham, 32, is not only Nix’s fourth play-caller in four years, he also spent the 2019 season as Auburn’s offensive coordinator. That was Nix’s first year. That’s also the main reason why they reunited this season. The familiarity has produced two surprises: Oregon, No. 8, is in the college football playoff chase, and Nix is ​​working its way to the periphery of the Heisman Trophy conversation.

For real.

“Auburn is always intense,” added Dillingham. “It’s intense when you win because when you win at a high level it’s the year you have to win a natty. It’s intense when you lose because you shouldn’t lose. It’s intense 24/7.”

That is such a succinct and accurate description of everything there is in Auburn football. It’s also a fitting backdrop for the Bo Nix Reinvention Project. In case you missed it, the former Tigers’ whipping boy has had what is quite possibly the best game of his career.

For the second time this season, Nix threw five touchdown passes. This time against then-no. 9 UCLA in Pac-12 Game of the Year so far. The Ducks won comfortably, positioning themselves as the Pac-12 frontrunners. Nothing could have blown the fuse on the whole thing.

He won’t say that, but what we’re witnessing is what was always simmering inside 247Sports’ No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2019, the son of Auburn heir Patrick Nix. This time, all those promises could be kept.

Oregon is intense too, just in a different way. Its modern identity was forged from Chip Kelly’s win-the-day pace. Mario Cristobal built SEC-level physicality before leaving for Miami. It was up to new coach Dan Lanning, his offensive coordinator and his quarterback to bring their own identities to a program with his fourth head coach since 2016.

To Nix, he’s more than a transplant. It’s a refreshing freedom to suddenly be able to change any game. He is a husband (married in July). A career that began with a win against Oregon (2019 season opener) but ended with a broken leg in Auburn last November has a happy coincidence.

It’s a career that’s starting anew — not exactly out of the public eye, but — in the Pacific Northwest. With seven games in and especially after Saturday, anything seems possible.

“It helps me know I’m in control of the situation,” Nix said.

Oregon’s current six-game winning streak is just beginning to overshadow the Ducks’ 46-point opening win over reigning national champions Georgia. For those immersed in Nix lore, the story was familiar. The quarterback threw two crippling interceptions and lost to the Bulldogs for the fourth time in fourth career meetings.

After the defeat, Dillingham told his players: “How and why we failed had nothing to do with Georgia, it was all about us.”

In the last six games, only one other quarterback in the country has been more accurate than Nix. Of his 19 career interceptions, only one has happened since losing to Georgia. Since that day, the new Nix has been both confident and encouraged.

“Well, if we played them again tomorrow, the game would be completely different, and everyone knows that,” Nix said of the Dawgs.

Wait, this requires a follow-up. Do you think Oregon would beat Georgia today?

“I do,” said the senior. “From the first game of the season, a lot of teams get so much better.”

In a way, what do you expect from Nix? As that leader, he needs to exude confidence. But at any other time, in the depths of Bad Bo’s being, that statement would never have been uttered.

Everything about Bo Chapman Nix is ​​really cool.

“There’s no point in yelling at Bo because he’s already yelled at himself,” Dillingham said. “He wants to know why. If something doesn’t go right, don’t yell at him. He’s already mad. why didn’t it go right?”

This partnership of transfer manager, player coordinator and dude-dude is a key reason Oregon has continued the momentum begun under Cristobal. It’s safe to say that Nix probably wouldn’t be in Oregon if he hadn’t played under Dillingham. Here’s how the offensive boss described it: He would do anything but stand on the table and urge Lanning to take Nix as soon as the signal caller entered the portal.

“We have to do whatever it takes to get this guy,” Dillingham recalled.

In 2019, Gus Malzahn called games despite Dillingham having Auburn’s OC title. This happens in different programs. It’s not ideal for young OCs like Dillingham who struggle on a leash. On Saturdays he would stand in the coaching room and name the sets the defense was in and suggest where to attack the opponent.

To say it wasn’t optimal wouldn’t be fair though. Nix was the SEC Freshman of the Year. Auburn beat Alabama to win nine games in 2019.

“I didn’t really direct the show,” Dillingham said of his only season on The Plains. “That was a Gus show. Bo always knew the philosophy I wanted, the control I wanted to give the quarterback.”

That’s the closest thing to Oregon’s turnaround. Lanning’s defensive chops are established. That’s why he has the job after overseeing one of the greatest defenses in recent history at Georgia last year.

The relationship with Dillingham was forged when the two were on Mike Norvell’s staff in Memphis from 2016-17. The start in Eugene was impressive.

This game-changing freedom is palpable. Earlier this season, Nix had eight career multi-touchdown games. He already has five this season. Nix is ​​one of only five quarterbacks to have thrown five touchdowns multiple times this season. Only four other quarterbacks are more accurate than Nix (71.5%). With his legs, he ranks fifth nationally in yards per carry.

Perhaps most revealing are the explosive pieces. Oregon ranks first in the Pac-12 with 50+ yard gains. It finishes second in passing plays of at least 40 yards.

UCLA was blitzkrieged on Saturday. Eight of Nix’s 22 shots went for at least 17 yards. And if you want to get there, Oregon has also gained the most yards this season over Georgia (313).

“I played football, as I call it,” Nix said of his past. “‘This is where the ball should go. If he does, you’re in good shape.’ The worst thing an offensive coordinator wants is… ‘Okay, I’m calling this game, and I have no idea where this ball is going to go.'”

Then there’s the secret ingredient that set Nix free.

“Occasionally, on the 4th and 8th [Dillingham] understands. “All right, Bo. Make a game if it’s not there,” Nix said.

Unsurprisingly, Oregon ranks third nationally for fourth-down conversions (12 of 13, 92.3%).

You can understand why Dillingham’s name is popping up — at least on the periphery — for the Arizona and Auburn state openings. He is from Phoenix and attended ASU. His football career ended in high school due to a cruciate ligament tear. To supplement his income while in college, Dillingham coached almost every youth sport for the city of Scottsdale. These included track and field, soccer, basketball and even dodgeball.

“We used the five Ds,” Dillingham said, jokingly referring to a training method used in the 2004 film starring Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller. “That was sort of our practice plan. I got out the wrenches and all. Kids were tougher 11 years ago. Wrenches were still allowed.”

The trainer smiled and let the cheerfulness sink in. Might as well admit: “Duck, dodge, dip, dive and dodge” also applies to football.

They’re a couple – the quarterback and his coordinator – both looking for something better.

“You’re already 5-9, white and unsportsmanlike,” Dillingham said to himself after blowing up his knee.

Dillingham coached for seven years at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Arizona, where the staff consisted of current Las Vegas Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler, assistant to Denver Broncos general manager Darren Mougey, and Idaho State coach Charlie Ragle, insisted. Former Michigan All-American and three-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Taylor Lewan passed Chaparral during this time.

Nine years later, the stage is bigger, as is the importance of communication. Nix and his coordinator both profess to know what the other is thinking.

“I think it’s great for him to be just a 21-year-old boy in college [when] Everyone thinks you suck and really have no pressure,” Dillingham said of Nix. “Come in and play soccer. nothing else. No games. no drama Soccer. It was rejuvenating for him.”

Every morning, Nix kisses his wife, leaves their townhouse in Eugene, and embarks on another football adventure. When asked if the past four years have been a test of his deep faith or his example, Nix thinks for a second before replying, “Both.”

“Life was easy up until college,” he mused. “Mom and Dad play high school football. I’ve never been through real things. … But at the end of the day, when it mattered most, I understood that football would come and go. It wasn’t the end of the world entirely, so I was able to get out [the bad times]I believe.

“I knew the end wasn’t just football.”



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