The Nittany Lions look to climb to 3-0, while Auburn is seeking some revenge.
Penn State (2-0) vs. Auburn (2-0)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, AL
TV: CBS, 3:30 p.m. - Brad Nessler (play-by-play), Gary Danielson (analyst), Jenny Dell (sideline)
Weather: A hot and sunny day with highs in the upper-80s.
PENN STATE RECORD: 69-34, 9th Year
OVERALL RECORD: 93-49, 12th Year
VS. AUBURN: 1-0
AUBURN RECORD: 8-7, 2nd Year
OVERALL RECORD: 84-31, 9th Year
VS. PENN STATE: 0-1
This game will give Penn State a winning or losing record against SEC teams, with the all-time record deadlocked 24-24...Saturday will mark the 62nd anniversary of the first game played in Beaver Stadium, a 20-0 triumph against Boston University in 1960...Penn State is 8-1 all-time on games played on September 17, with the one loss coming at the hands of Iowa in 1983...James Franklin has won 69 games as head coach at Penn State...Penn State is 2-1 all-time against Auburn, with two of those games occurring in bowl games (Penn State won the 1996 Outback Bowl in a downpour, 43-14, while Auburn retuned the favor with a 13-9 victory in the 2002 Citrus Bowl.
AUBURN OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE
The key stat to this game will likely be Auburn’s rushing yards. Not allowing the Tigers to gain much on the ground will go a long ways towards victory. The Tigers have some punishing runners, mainly Tank Bigsby, who could help them sustain long drives and keep the Penn State offense on the sidelines. If you recall the 2021 contest, Bigsby rushed for 102 yards and two scores against the Nittany Lions defense.
Bigsby got off to a hot start with 147 rushing yards against Mercer, but was slowed down for 51 yards on 13 carries against San Jose State on Saturday, who made the Tigers offense earn everything as they escaped with a 24-16 victory.
Auburn has a curious quarterback situation, as Texas A&M transfer Zach Calzada (who you may remember from a gritty performance leading the Aggies to an upset over Alabama last fall) was unable to land the starting gig, which went to TJ Finley, the returning albeit embattled starter from a year ago. Finley has completed 64.7 percent of his passes thus far, but has just one touchdown pass and already has been picked off three times - not the type of ratio you want to see against Mercer and San Jose State. Manny Diaz may go extra heavy on the stunts and variable blitz packages, if that’s even possible, to rattle Finley and force him into poor decisions.
Freshman quarterback Robby Ashford saw some action on Saturday, and helped the Tigers secure the win with 61 yards rushing in the second half. However, he was just 1 of 3 with an interception through the air.
Penn State’s secondary has been nothing short of outstanding after two games, leading the nation with 25 pass breakups. Their biggest challenge will be junior receiver Ja’Varrius Johnson, who has amassed 158 receiving yards. Senior John Samuel Shenker could also pose problems, especially in coverage for Penn State’s inexperienced linebacker crew. He had one of his best games of the 2021 season against Penn State, with five catches for 62 yards.
PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. AUBURN DEFENSE
The storyline of the Auburn defense heading into the season was that they would have a strong defensive line, but question marks in the secondary. While it’s difficult to judge following games against Mercer and San Jose St., that has held up to be true after two games.
The Auburn defender Penn State should be most concerned about is defensive end Eku Leota. He is a handful coming off the edge, and has picked up a sack, two TFLs and three quarterback hurries after two weeks. Like Chop Robinson, Leota impacts many more plays than show up on the stat sheet. Defensive tackle Marcus Harris also knows how to get into the backfield, and leads the team with three TFLs, as well a sack.
While Auburn has been stout against the run, the pass defense has been struggling. They yielded 275 yards through the air to San Jose State, as quarterback Chevan Cordeiro distributed the ball pretty evenly to eight different receivers on the day.
True freshman Nick Singleton showed why he was the top running back recruit in his class last week, burning the Bobcats for 176 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries. Now, he’ll look to prove himself against a much better fron seven. Sean Clifford will also look to repeat history, after having perhaps the best game of his career against Auburn last season, going 28 of 32 for 280 yards and three total touchdowns.
Anders Carlson is back for his fifth season as Auburn’s kicker. He has good range, connecting on 11-of-13 field goal attempts between 40-49 yards the last two seasons. Oscar Chapman is an Aussie-style punter who finished second in the SEC a year ago with a 44.1 average. However, his average is down to 39.75 after two games, with a long of 46 yards.
Penn State enters the game with questions surrounding its kicking game. Senior Jake Pinegar is coming off a rough outing, missing an extra point and 41-yard field goal attempt. His other attempt was succsful from 25 yards out. During his weekly press conference, James Franklin announced that freshman Sander Sahaydak will handle field goals of 52 yards or more (similar to Jordan Stout taking long field goals while Pinegar handled everything under 50 yards). Another poor outing from Pinegar could see Sahaydak taking over more of his duties.
In brighter news, punter Barney Amor has been spectacular in his first two games. The Colgate transfer is averaging an eye-popping 47.5 yards per punt while also helping pin the opponent deep on five occasions - with just one touchback.
Penn State-28, Auburn-23
They key stat for this game will be Tank Bigsby’s rushing total. If he has a big day, Penn State’s offense will be on the sidelines and the defense will be fatigued by the fourth quarter. The defense will need to make the Tigers offense one-dimensional - Auburn will want to pound the ball, so stacking the box and shutting down the run to put the game on T.J. Finley’s arm would be quite ideal for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State will need Sean Clifford at his best to help take advantage of Auburn’s secondary. Jordan-Hare is one of the loudest stadiums in the nation, and they will have some extra juice as they look to show up the White Out crowd they faced last fall. Communication will be especially difficult, so the offense will be to be in synch to neutralize the crowd.
It’s difficult to get a solid read on each team at this point, but I like the way the Nittany Lions match up. Penn State should be able to move the ball through the air, and Nick Singelton and Kaytron Allen have given the running game hope. The defense should be able to produce multiple turnovers, especially if they force Finley to throw into Penn State’s wildly talented secondary. Penn State comes out on top, but not without plenty of tension and nail-biting along the way.