Penn State continues its road to redemption with a return trip to Jordan-Hare to face the Auburn Tigers in week 3. The Nittany Lions won a close one in 2021, a 28-20 thriller under the Whiteout that was as good as advertised. Now, the Lions look to take the series and the momentum.
Auburn started the season well enough, going 6-2 through their first eight games. Their biggest problem, of course, was finishing 0-4 to end the season, which led to their less than stellar 6-6 year. They capped it off by losing a close one to Houston in the Birmingham bowl.
Interestingly enough, the season was the boring part of the Tigers last year. Once the season ended, Auburn lost several coaches, its quarterback, and a bid to buy out head coach Bryan Harsin, put on by the Auburn boosters who were not exactly satisfied with the coach’s performance (and the aforementioned coaching issues, among others).
Regardless, Harsin survived the coup bid, and is back to coach a seemingly galvanized Tigers team in 2022.
Offensive Player To Watch: Tank Bigsby
Bo Nix is off to Oregon, so this magnificent quote now belongs to the Ducks:
This is the year. Bo Nix has improved so much under this new offense. He’s focused. He’s having fun. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a dark horse for the Heisman.
Someone who isn’t gone, however, is Tank Bigsby and his thousand-yard rushing season from last year. With uncertainty at quarterback, especially early in the season, expect Auburn to rely on its workhorse of a running back to give Penn State fits. Bigsby ran for 102 yards on 23 carries last season, and had two touchdowns on the night. The Nittany Lions may have their hands just as full this time around.
Defensive Player To Watch: Edge Derick Hall
There’s no shortage of talent on the Auburn defense, and picking a single player from this list was a lot less obvious than it was on the offensive side. Already projected as a first-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft, Hall recorded 52 tackles last season, and had 9.0 sacks to go along with it.
In the game against Penn State last season, Hall recorded 5 tackles, four of which were solo, and a tackle for loss. He made his presence felt then, and can certainly make his presence felt again next season.
Auburn Wins If...
They force Penn State to be one-dimensional. Yes, they mostly did that last season, but the Nittany Lions were able to overcome it. However, Auburn will be at home this time around, and we shouldn’t expect Sean Clifford to go 28 of 32 through the air two years in a row.
If Auburn can shut down the run game once more, ghosts of issues past, combined with a road environment, may be just enough to expose Penn State’s deficiencies early and often.
Penn State Wins If...
The offensive line comes to play. Yes, you could say that for every game this season, but it is of utmost importance that the line play well, especially to avoid the point above. Penn State will need to keep Auburn honest if it wants to win this game, and the only way they’ll be able to do that is if they can manage to open holes for the stable of running backs while also keeping Clifford upright.
Alternatively, the Lions can make it a long night for whoever is commandeering the Tiger offense, forcing them to be one-dimensional and putting all their chips in the Tank Bigsby hand.