Through two games I’m actually a touch more optimistic about the Lions than I was at this point last year. Both seasons started with road wins against B1G West programs, but the 2021 week 2 win over Ball State felt much more hard-earned than the 2022 week 2 win over Ohio. The run game seems improved, the backup QB situation is not a total question mark, and the defense on the whole seems solid.
But the Lions need to go on the road to play an SEC team that, while not the cream of the crop, is still one of the top 25 talented teams in the country. It’s an afternoon game in the Alabama heat in a state where college football is king. And while the pass D looks good, passing is not Auburn’s strong suit - they’re going to lean on their run game, and I don’t have a ton of faith in Penn State’s linebacking corps to plug the gaps created by the Auburn O-line.
I’m expecting a back-and-forth game, but Auburn will wear down Penn State with the ground game, and one or two ill-timed turnovers ultimately doom the Lions on the road.
Auburn 28, Penn State 24
No knock on Purdue, who I feel comfortable saying is a better team than Auburn, but Saturday afternoon will be Penn State’s biggest test through the first three weeks of the season. Purdue threw the ball 58 times against a Penn State defense whose strength is their pass rush and secondary. On the other hand, Auburn will be happy to run the ball 35+ times and Penn State’s rush defense is an area of concern that has yet to be tested.
Tank Bigsby is one of the better running backs in the country. Other than Blake Corum and TreVeyon Henderson, he is the best back the Nittany Lion defense will face this season. His backup Jarquez Hunter is no slouch either and gives the Tigers a tremendous 1-2 punch in the backfield. When Robby Ashford is in the game at quarterback he will look to use his legs as well.
If Penn State can neutralize the Auburn rushing attack they should be in good shape as the Tiger quarterback play is atrocious. That said, before the season I predicted Penn State’s linebacker crew struggling against the run would cost them a game or two and this will be one of those games. I also have very little faith in Sean Clifford leading the offense in what will be a hostile environment in Jordan-Hare Stadium, and fully expect a killer turnover or two from him.
Auburn 23, Penn State 20
This is an amazing opportunity for Penn State. National audience, SEC opponent, and the very real possibility that a win here would mean being 5-0 heading into that crucial mid-October stretch that opens with a trip to Ann Arbor.
While it’s nice to dream about that, what’s giving me major pause is Auburn’s potential at running the ball. I’m also still in prove it mode with Penn State being able to be productive and complementary with its own run game. Factor those things in with playing at Jordan-Hare, a place where the Tigers always seem to punch above their weight in big spots and this is a game I just don’t have much confidence in Penn State winning.
Tank Bigsby grinds out yards, while John Samuel Shenker comes up with a big catch over the middle of the field and Auburn knocks off Penn State.
Auburn 26, Penn State 20
Unlike some of the Auburn fans said last week, I will give props to the road venue that Penn State is going to be playing in — Jordan-Hare is no joke. With a unique opponent like Penn State coming into town, I am have no doubts that the Auburn faithful will make this one of the best environments that college football will see this season.
Here’s the thing though: Auburn is not good. They are one-dimensional offensively, with their QBs struggling mightily against the likes of Mercer and San Jose State. Their defense is solid, especially against the run, but there are holes in the backend. I mean, this is a team that is going to struggle to make a bowl game.
Does that guarantee a Penn State victory? Of course not. This is Penn State we are talking about. Nothing is ever easy. But the Nittany Lions are the better team here.
Penn State 28, Auburn 17
This one will be a nail-biter to the end, primarily because of the Nittany Lions’ inability to stop Tank Bigsby. Penn State’s chances of winning depend on how successful the offensive line can be opening holes for Nick Singleton. We all know that having a dominant running game on the road can make the difference between a battle and a rout. Jordan-Hare is always a tough place to play, but if the good guys can make Auburn one-dimensional, they may have a shot.
Auburn 24, Penn State 21
This was a game I originally pegged as a loss during the preseason, due in part to the rowdy atmosphere at Jordan-Hare Stadium on a humid mid-September afternoon and also because of Tank Bigsby and Auburn’s ground game being problematic. This loss projection however, presumed that Auburn would have a serviceable enough passing attack. After a pair of games against Mercer and San Jose State, Auburn QB’s T.J. Finley and Robby Ashford have a whopping one touchdown and four interceptions between them. Hopefully, Manny Diaz stacks the box and forces Auburn’s QB’s to beat that vaunted PSU secondary. I expect this game to be a rock fight but PSU comes up with a few more big plays on both sides of the ball to escape with the dub.
Penn State 24, Auburn 17
(Originally appearing in the Game Preview)
The 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.
Penn State 28, Auburn 23
(Originally appearing in the B1G Preview and Degenerate Challenge)
Penn State has five road games this year. This is the second of the bunch. After this one, the toughest remaining road game will be at Michigan. That bodes well for a Nittany Lions squad looking to finish the season strong in 2022.
On the one hand, Auburn will be pumped to pay the Lions back for last season’s thriller in Happy Valley. On the other, the Tigers’ quarterback situation is not particularly great. The Lions won’t be able to outright stop the Auburn run game, but if Penn State can contain the ground attack, they should be able to pull this one out.
Penn State 56, Auburn 17