Penn State and Auburn get the big game treatment this weekend at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Before we are all glued to CBS on Saturday, we had a few questions for Jack Condon of Auburn site College and Magnolia.
Since we saw Penn State and Auburn play last September in a Beaver Stadium Whiteout, the Tigers endured a five-game losing streak to close the year (including a multiple overtime loss to Alabama), a quarterback transfer, and a ton of turmoil (if that even begins to describe it) in the offseason with head coach Bryan Harsin. Blog to blog, how you guys doing?
To tell you the truth, we had some real “Our pets’ heads are falling off” moments this offseason, let alone last year during the regular season losing streak. The College and Magnolia Slack discussion was fiery at times to put it lightly, with deep discussions if Bryan Harsin is the right guy for the job, what we need to see from the team this fall to be somewhat satisfied, and where things went wrong in the past.
Jury’s still out on how we are actually doing, especially after trailing at the half to San Jose State last week. If we beat you all this weekend, then we’ll start to think that maybe there are some beautiful things left in this world.
Tank Bigsby was absolutely one of the most impressive players Penn State faced last year. How’s the offense looking and what can the Tigers do to help him replicate his success against Penn State?
Uh, the “offense”? Not sure what you’re talking about. In all seriousness, Tank Bigsby is the guy that this whole operation must flow through. He had a good game last year in Happy Valley, but we made some really dopey mistakes (literally dropping the ball unmolested) and our defensive coordinator decided that letting Sean Clifford complete passes was a great strategy. Our offensive line has struggled a bit early on (still looking for the elusive “gel” moment), and that’s been facilitated by our starting center retiring from football during fall camp. There’s actually quite a bit of experience up front, but not a ton of skill, and we’ll have to figure out how to get the rushing yards we need.
Quarterback is the big question for pretty much everyone. Our starter T.J. Finley threw two picks against Mercer, and backup Robby Ashford wowed with his legs and throwing ability, but then they both threw picks early against SJSU last week. Basically, we don’t have someone who’s going to take the job and hold it above everyone else’s head and dominate. Completing some passes would help Tank get the yards he needs, and maybe through some planned obsolescence we can do that. Finley (or Ashford) needs to stay away from throwing Joey Porter’s way, but our top wide receiver who may draw Porter most of the time has just 5 catches for 64 yards. It might help that our most consistent guy moves around more and plays in the slot a good bit. And hey, we like to throw to the tight ends too, but I think we’ll end up needing something from the defense and the crowd’s help this weekend.
Absolutely small sample size, but watching the San Jose State game, the Spartans had some success through the air. Meanwhile, last year, Sean Clifford had one of the best games of his career in the narrow win. How is this year’s Tiger defense built to hold up against a Penn State offense that loves to throw the ball around (and it feels weird saying that as a Penn State blog)?
I think where Auburn should have the advantage is up front when Penn State has the ball. The Tiger defensive line is very good, and should put the game on Clifford’s arm by shutting down the run. Derick Hall is going to be tasked with chasing him down a good bit of the time, and so we’re hoping that the seesaw tilts Auburn’s way in terms of winning those battles up front. Putting pressure on Clifford and making him make mistakes like we saw at times in the Purdue game would be ideal.
If Auburn isn’t able to get him hearing footsteps, then he could have another big day. Mercer completed some passes (albeit late after a lengthy rain delay when everyone wanted to go home), but SJSU had some guys outperforming our corners. We’ll need to make sure that Nehemiah Pritchett and D.J. James hold up to the pressure when matched up one-on-one. Linebackers have been a bit of a coverage liability so far as well, but Cam Riley has been a tackling machine through the first two weeks with 20 total tackles.
Moving into SEC play, how do you see this year turning out for Auburn and for the future of Tiger football?
Your guess is as good as mine. Nobody in the SEC looks unbeatable aside from Georgia, and Auburn has LSU, Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas A&M at home. You get Georgia, Alabama, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State on the road. After what we’ve seen the first two weeks, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Auburn somehow beats everyone except Georgia and Alabama, and even Bama isn’t what they were last year thus far. Win this weekend, and we’ll be expecting 9-3. Lose, and then it’s anywhere from 5-7 to 8-4. There’s too much turnover in the league from last year, and the samples we’ve seen are off the chart wacky to make a real prediction.
Any keys or predictions for Saturday afternoon?
Keys: 1. Auburn needs to get 3-4 sacks of Clifford and pressure him all game long (feeding off the crowd will help the defense); 2. T.J. Finley needs to complete some passes to keep the defense honest and let Tank have his signature moment; 3. Auburn Jesus speaks through the crowd and the kookiness of Jordan-Hare Stadium affects the game in a way that only that stadium can do.
Auburn 21-16 (I hope).
For more Auburn coverage and reaction from tomorrow’s game from the Tiger perspective, check out College and Magnolia.