AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Bo Nix passed for 275 yards and three touchdowns in just over a half, and Auburn gave new coach Bryan Harsin a 60-10 cakewalk in his debut against Akron Saturday night in the season opener for both teams.
It was a promising beginning even if it came against five-touchdown underdogs, especially for an offense and quarterback that had drawn some criticism the past couple of years.
It was the most points for an Auburn coaching debut.
“Today was an example of what we’re capable of doing if we go out there and play good football,” said Harsin, who returned to the office from COVID-19 on Monday. “And that’s been the message for a while is just playing good ball, taking care of it, doing things in situational football where we execute.”
Nix was nearly flawless his first time running the offense of Harsin and coordinator Mike Bobo, going 20-of-22 passing while hitting a couple of wide-open receivers for touchdowns.
He set the Auburn record for highest completion percentage (90.9) in a game with a minimum of 20 attempts. Nix said the reason for that level of execution was easy to explain: The offensive line play.
“It's up front and they started running the ball really well early and that opened everything up,” Nix said. “And they kind of had their way tonight.”
Auburn sprinted to a 37-0 halftime lead and scored on its first eight drives, reaching the end zone on seven of them.
Tailback Tank Bigsby, last year's Southeastern Conference freshman of the year, gave the Tigers some balance. He ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries.
Shaun Shivers had touchdowns receiving and rushing. Freshman Jarquez Hunter ran for 110 yards and a last-minute score.
Nix only played one series into the second half, giving way to LSU transfer T.J. Finley. The third-year Auburn starter completed his first 11 passes.
The Tigers outgained Akron 613-188 in total yards and allowed minus-3 rushing yards thanks partly to a botched punt snap.
Akron turned to Kato Nelson at quarterback after he missed last season following shoulder surgery, though coach Tom Arth had stayed mum on his starter during the week. Nelson and the Zips offense were stymied. He completed 9 of 14 passes for 62 yards.
Backup DJ Irons had far more success, completing all 13 of his passes for 129 yards and a touchdown and leading a late field goal drive.
Arth said the team's play late showed the Zips were “not just rolling over and letting it happen."
“Being able to come back and finish that game and win the fourth quarter, that was something that was really important to us,” he said. “I thought DJ Irons came in and really provided a great spark for our entire team and especially for our offense.”
Akron: The Zips took some ill-fated gambles, getting stopped twice on fourth down plays in their own territory in the first half. It really didn't matter a whole lot since little was working offensively or defensively, and they even gave up a safety on a punt snap. Akron had snapped a 21-game losing streak on Dec. 5 against Bowling Green.
Auburn: Granted the competition wasn’t SEC caliber by any stretch, but the Tigers did take care of business in Harsin's debut after going 6-5 last season before firing coach Gus Malzahn. Derek Mason's defense was dominant.
It was the most points an Auburn team had scored in an opener since beating Chattanooga 60-7 in 1971. It was also easily the most points by an Auburn coach in his debut, topping Gene Chizik’s 37 points against Louisiana Tech in 2009.
Running back Shaun Shivers made his first career touchdown catch (19 yards) before halftime, as did receivers Ja'Varrius Johnson (34) and Kobe Hudson (28). Johnson and Hudson were flying wide open down the middle while the 189-pound Shivers lowered his shoulder into a defender at the goal line.
Akron plays its home opener next Saturday against Temple.
Auburn faces FCS opponent Alabama State, from about an hour down I-85 in Montgomery.
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