Bo Nix’s Leash: How Long?

DazeNconfused Editorials

Former five-star QB recruit Bo Nix has never lived up the expectations thrust on him; is this the year he puts that to rest? Can Nix perform at a higher level this year? And if he struggles, how much slack does he get? Could we ultimately see the Oregon staff turn to one of the young quarterbacks, Ty Thompson or Jay Butterfield?

To analyze this, we need to consider Nix himself, the talent on the Oregon roster and the young quarterback’s development paths.

Bo Nix’s Struggles

I’ve previously written here that Nix ‘s problems have been largely mental mistakes, mainly a lack of discipline and conviction in himself. The lack of discipline is reflected in how he sometimes extends plays that typically result in a big play or complete disaster. While Nix’s ability to extend plays is a valuable part of his game, he tends to throw a bad pick at times he should throw the ball away.

Nix is, at times, slow on his read, delivering the ball late to his target or allowing the defender to close up on the receiver. He throws too many balls that require the receiver to adjust in order to complete the catch. This leads to missed big plays, incomplete passes and not converting on third down.

Bo Nix puts some touch on a touchdown pass to Dont’e Thornton in the Spring Game.

Why High School QBs Struggle to Adjust to the College Game

Disguising the defensive coverage is generally not complex and the talent isn’t deep at the high school level. High school offensive coordinators can scheme the first or second read open, and the defenders leave a big window to throw into.

If you watch Thompson or Dante Moore’s high school film, you will see 90% of the passes are to the first or second read on the same side of the field. You will not see them start their eyes on one side of the field and go through progressions while they come across to the other side. Both players show great athletic ability to escape the pocket, while keeping eyes downfield and finding a target.

Ty Thompson

Thompson, a Rivals five-star and the No. 10 player in the 2021 class, has come into the Duck program and had to learn to go through progressions across the field. Many high school QBs move to the college level and want to pull the ball and run if the second read isn’t open. Thompson is working on his pre-snap reads and then recognizing the coverage that the defense drops into. He’s also adjusting to tighter coverage on his receivers and throwing into tighter windows.

“I feel like I’ve grown with my accuracy and then with the film I feel like I’ve grown with my decision making, my recognition of defenses when I’m processing and making decisions,” Thompson told reporters at Oregon Football media day.

“Since I’ve got here I’ve learned so much about football,” the quarterback said of his first year with the Ducks. “I wish I knew what I knew now in high school. I would’ve been like the best thing that ever came out of high school. Being able to get that on the field and see it kind of come to fruition is gonna be fun.”

Ty Thompson stands in the pocket while he prepares to fire a pass.

Jay Butterfield

Butterfield has an extra year of college football under his belt compared to Thompson and it showed in the Spring Game. His father Mark Butterfield, who played quarterback at Stanford, was his high school QB coach — Butterfield has a coach’s kid football IQ.
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Butterfield played well in the Spring Game; he got through his progressions all the way to his check down. That shows me he is ready to step in and calmly run the offense. He gets some plays just won’t go into the coverage that is being played and he can get a positive play out of the check down. He has the arm to make all the throws and showed some settled feet in the pocket. He seems the type of QB who will stand in there and take a hit in the face to get the ball out, and that type of grit is huge for a team.

Butterfield is the No. 2 quarterback, from what I saw in spring ball. I wrote here that he should be playing this year in a two-QB rotation.

Jay Butterfield in game action against Stoneybrook.

How and Why Nix Makes a Jump

Nix has his best ever offensive line in front of him: a feature back Byron Cardwell and breakout ready stars in receivers in Troy Franklin and Dont’e Thornton. With all that talent, Nix won’t have to carry the team — he just needs to be a ball distributor, and let his guys eat! You can read more in more detail about my projection for the loaded Ducks’ offensive this season here.

With less pressure on him, Nix can focus on taking fewer negative plays and avoiding turnovers. I think Nix can mentally embrace that it’s fine to throw the ball away and come back and attack the defense on the next play. The level of talent surrounding him should really improve his confidence and make the game easier for him.

Finally, while I’d like to see Nix not be late or miss any of his reads, I really want to see him set his feet and drive the ball with conviction. Nix really needs to believe that these plays are going to be open, and he can put the ball on the numbers! I think that’s when we see Nix being on time and missing less throws. If Nix can put all that together, I really think he will lead the Oregon offense to a great year.

Jay Butterield

Jay Butterfield’s eye are locked onto his target as he prepares to fire a pass.

Bo Nix Has a Three Game Leash

There are no excuses for Nix. He must be successful right out of the box! That means his production needs to be on par with Justin Herbert’s senior year. Nix needs to complete around 65% of his passes with over 8 yards per pass average, and a passer rating of 156. Those numbers in Herbert’s senior year were good enough to have the Ducks in the playoff mix until a late season loss at ASU.

I’m not asking Nix to be a superstar; meeting Herbert’s numbers from when Mario Cristobal held him back is obtainable. If Nix isn’t around that benchmark, then the staff really needs to consider moving on to the next QB. 

Bo Nix has three games to show he has improved to being a good enough QB to keep the Ducks in the playoff chase, or it’s time to move on to the young guns and let them develop. Do you think I’m asking too much, and have to short a leash for Nix? Share your thoughts in the OBD FORUM!

Portland, Oregon
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck

Natalie Liebhaber, the Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in SLC, Utah.

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