AUBURN, Ala. — Texas A&M junior quarterback Kellen Mond can relate to the emotions Auburn true freshman Bo Nix must be feeling heading into their Southeastern Conference opener Saturday at Kyle Field.
Mond was once the youthful starter leading his team into big SEC road games.
Nix will be the center of attention when he takes the field for the No. 8 Tigers (3-0) in the No. 17 Aggies’ backyard. He does have some experience in this situation, albeit as an eighth-grader. Nix had only three or four starts under his belt going into a playoff game against eventual state champion Clay-Chalkville but passed for five touchdowns among his eight completions in an 85-50 loss in 2014.
“As an eighth-grader, that was just intense,” Nix said. “That was my first time I was playing [on a] higher level as a younger kid. That was tough, and it was just my second year of live football, but it was fun. I had a blast.”
Nix leads Auburn onto a much bigger stage Saturday against Mond and A&M (2-1) in the 2:30 p.m. matchup that will be televised by CBS (KBTX, Ch. 5).
Mond has been where Nix is, making eight starts as a freshman. Mond is now one of the SEC’s most experienced quarterbacks and well understands how difficult Kyle Field can be for opposing quarterbacks with 102,000-plus fans showering opposing offenses with noise.
“I think it’s shocking for a lot of quarterbacks, obviously for a freshman who is probably playing on the road for the first time at a place like this with the 12th Man and Kyle Field,” Mond said. “So it’s definitely going to be something he’s never seen before.”
Mond has played in plenty of big games. He and the Aggies fell short in the biggest one so far this season, a 24-10 loss at No. 1 Clemson where Mond threw for 236 yards with an interception. Mond bounced back last Saturday with a 317-yard passing effort in a 62-3 victory over Lamar. He completed 20 of 28 passes with a touchdown and ran for another touchdown to improve to 16-8 as a starter, making him the 10th winningest starting quarterback in school history.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has seen Mond mature as a quarterback over the past three seasons. Mond has thrown for 747 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions this year.
“He looks like he’s in command of his offense this year,” Malzahn said.
Like Mond before him, Nix is trying to grow into the job on the field.
Mond played in the Aggies’ 2017 opener at UCLA, taking over for an injured Nick Starkel. Mond then played three home games and a neutral-site game against Arkansas at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium before making his first road start at Florida. Mond completed only 8 of 24 passes for 180 yards with no touchdowns and an interception against the Gators, but he rushed for 52 yards on 15 carries and accounted for 19 of the 24 yards on A&M’s last possession of the game that resulted in the game-winning field goal in the 19-17 victory.
Nix also would probably rather walk out of Kyle Field with a win and modest numbers rather than throw five touchdown passes and lose again like he did as an eighth-grader.
He made his college debut in another big game against No. 16 Oregon in AT&T Stadium, leading the Tigers to a comeback victory capped by his touchdown pass in the final seconds. Teammates have praised his poise and maturity, and both were on display in his level-headed reaction to that kind of finish.
“It wasn’t hard because I know it’s a long season and I didn’t play that great,” Nix said. “So I just wanted to get better. I still want to get better.”
Malzahn believes that experience will help, even though he acknowledges it was an Auburn-leaning crowd.
A&M coach Jimbo Fisher was the quarterbacks coach at Auburn for former Tigers quarterback Patrick Nix, Bo’s father and high school coach.
“His dad’s a winner,” Fisher said. “He’s a great coach, coached in college, coached in high school. So he’ll have a lot of intangibles in his blood that some other freshman may not just from the experience of being around those things.”
Bo Nix hasn’t put up big numbers, and Auburn ranks last in the SEC in passing yards. Nix has completed just 52.4 percent of his passes for 545 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions while dealing with injuries to receivers Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz. He also has flashed some running ability, particularly early in the Kent State game.
“I see him growing each game,” Malzahn said.
Since the Oregon game, Nix has faced friendly crowds and overmatched opponents in Tulane and Kent State. Now Nix’s challenge will be decidedly different.
He’ll be matched up with the SEC’s No. 2 scoring defense, a noisy crowd and a group of defenders trying to rattle the 18-year-old.
“I definitely think we can [rattle him],” A&M junior cornerback Myles Jones said. “It’s a freshman coming into our stadium. I definitely think that’s going to be a big factor, too, with the 12th Man. They get pretty loud.”