On Saturday night, 109,958 fans, almost uniformly clad in white, came to Beaver Stadium to watch the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Auburn Tigers engage in a contest of American football in State College, Pennsylvania. The Nittany Lions emerged victorious, 28-20. I have several thoughts, which are set forth randomly below.
1. With all the attention given to this game for several weeks, ESPN in town for GameDay, the first week win over Wisconsin, and exhaustion over last year’s COVID-19 restrictions, I would have wagered that Saturday night would set a Beaver Stadium attendance record.
2. I’m truly surprised it didn’t, but it only missed by 931 people.
3. The Auburn traveling contingent seemed impressive looking, and they made a statement by dressing in orange. Of course, it would have been less impressive if our own stadium staff hadn’t elected to dress in orange as well.
4. Live and learn, I guess, but next time, let’s try to find vests and shirts that aren’t based in our opponent’s colors.
5. I’m not the religious GameDay watcher that I used to be. Sometimes it’s hard to find any time for it on a Saturday. But just having the crew on campus gives everything a boost and provides a team with gravitas. The existence of GameDay just screams, “THIS IS MEANINGFUL AND YOU SHOULD PAY ATTENTION.”
6. And that wasn’t wrong. It’s remarkable that this is the first time Auburn has been north to play a Big Ten team since the 1930s. The SEC rarely plays these kinds of home-and-homes with northern teams. Neutral site games are fine, but home environments, student-focused crowds, and campus traditions are what make college football special.
7. This game wasn’t important because it was Auburn. It could have been Alabama, Georgia, Florida, or LSU. But having a high level southern team in Beaver Stadium is different from Penn State’s old eastern foes.
8. Prior to kickoff, ESPN played a video package that featured one Auburn player (Owen Pappoe, maybe?) and Noah Cain talking about how they’re representing their respective constituencies. Pappoe closes the video by talking about how he’s playing to show SEC pride, and then name checks Auburn too.
9. I generally think it’s fine when the Big Ten does well out of conference or in bowl season, but I don’t care that much. I’d never chant “B-1-G” anywhere.
10. This SEC pride thing is wholly incomprehensible to me. Auburn’s players are playing to show how dominant…their conference is? If I’m an Auburn grad, why in the world would I care about that?
11. And why bother talking down the atmosphere and the opponent prior to the game? First of all, everyone in the known universe is aware of Penn State’s White Out. It’s loud as hell and it’s an incredible choreographed, chanting, singing visual. Why would you downplay that by complimenting...Alabama and Florida?
12. More than that, Penn State came into the game ranked 10th. So if Auburn wins, they survived an impossible environment and beat a highly ranked team that already had a quality road win. That is, almost by definition, a proof of concept win for a brand new coaching staff.
13. And yet, days later, I’m still hearing Auburn- and SEC-related personnel talk about how unimpressed they were.
14. Alright, y’all. Sure, I guess.
16. GameDay did a nice piece on White Out history, and I’m glad Guido D’Elia got his 15 minutes of fame. But the one bit of information that kept coming up throughout the day was that Penn State’s record in “full stadium White Outs” was .500, which requires a lot more context than it was given.
17. Yes, they lost games. Penn State also puts together the White Out for its marquee home opponent. Those losses came to a 2009 Iowa team that finished 7th nationally, 2011 National Champion Alabama, 2012 unbeaten Ohio State, 2014 National Champion Ohio State, and 2018 Ohio State, which finished 3rd nationally.
18. Auburn was the right choice for a White Out opponent this year for the national spotlight alone. And the game lived up to the hype, which was nice to see.
19. Walking in, I felt like Penn State was the better team. They justified that over the course of 60 minutes.
20. Most of the time in college football, you feel that way because the other team is inferior or sloppy. This did not feel like that. Auburn is a good football team – they are fast and physical, they play strong defense, and they have an excellent running game. Bo Nix gets a lot of flack, but he has a lot of experience and looked solid, if unspectacular in this offense.
21. Credit Auburn’s new staff for knowing how to put him in position to be successful. They kept their poise, didn’t panic after a turnover turned into points, and put themselves in position to try to even things up late. This looks like a better, more disciplined Auburn team than they did under Gus Malzahn.
22. The thing that prevented this game from getting totally out of hand was the lack of Auburn turnovers. They played it close to the vest, but twice they almost let things get away from them.
23. That Brandon Smith almost pick six had 2002 Rich Gardner written all over it. Make that play and I’m convinced the rout is on.
24. Of course, I’m sure we would’ve had some officiating calls that would have kept the score in check.
25. I’m not going to ruin my memories of this game by talking about the referees, but really, when are all of these leagues going to figure out a way to get competent, full time, independent officials handling games?
26. Listen, you’re all going to have to wait while I take a victory lap with Sean Clifford.
27. For years, literally years, I’ve told you that Sean Clifford was capable of putting together drives, points, and wins. I’ve been met with overwhelming criticisms that basically boiled down to, “Sean Clifford ain’t Trace McSorley.”
28. Ok, fine. He’s not Trace McSorley. But he did just put together the finest Penn State quarterbacking performance top to bottom since the 2016 Big Ten Championship game. And statistically, that’s one of the best performances ever.
29. If I told you a week ago that Sean Clifford would complete 88 percent of his passes, how many passes would you have thought he had thrown?
30. It was a remarkable performance in its consistently. On target throughout the game, making plays when they needed conversions, keeping mistakes to a minimum.
31. Notably, Penn State has won 7 straight games and Clifford has thrown 2 interceptions. The one on Saturday barely even counts as more than a late 2Q punt.
32. The flip side of the passing game being so outrageously good is that the running game was…less than spectacular statistically.
33. Noah Cain is a really good player who can grind and get yards. That stop-start action on that cutback touchdown in the fourth quarter was exactly what was needed.
34. Penn State, though, needs to spell him with a back with some burst. Keyvone Lee looks more explosive than he did last year when he put together a strong campaign, but he needs to hang on to the ball. That’s two weeks in a row where he’s put the ball on the ground, and it obviously cost him carries.
35. Jon Lovett might be the guy for the job, though. Experience, good hands, and seems like he could be an asset in the passing game as well.
36. Clearly I don’t pay enough attention to recruiting anymore, because I had no idea who Tyler Warren was.
37. I’m a big fan of his crowd surfing efforts, though.
38. The first call to go for it on fourth down told us everything we needed to know. This was going to be an aggressive game plan. For what it’s worth, I probably would have punted there, but it all worked out in the wash.
39. Sometimes clever play design gets a little too clever. I’m not sure if the second Tyler Warren Wildcat formation was intended to do something different, but Auburn obviously sniffed it out. Likewise, the PJ Mustipher fourth down conversion that wasn’t was interesting, but maybe better served in the hands of someone else.
40. On the other hand, it’s hard to think of a more creative play design than the formation that sprung Brenton Strange free for his big gain late in the second half. An offensive lineman offset with the receivers? A tight end looking like a tackle and chip blocking before heading up the seam for a big play? Impressive.
41. Jahan Dotson is as smooth as Jordan Norwood, but he plays big like Allen Robinson. It’s hard to imagine Penn State would find another receiver as good as Robinson and Chris Godwin were, but it’s certainly happened. He’s an incredible asset.
42. Is Jaquan Brisker just going to make it his signature move to fly in and intercept or bat down a pass to seal a win? That’s fine with me, I’d just like him to do it 9 more times in the regular season, once in Indianapolis, and then two more times at neutral sites.
43. After having to endure years and years of press from antagonistic local reporters, I’ll take every bit of positive feedback from Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, and everyone else who chooses to call the White Out the greatest spectacle in sport.
44. Hard to argue that Penn State doesn’t have the best resume in the country through two weeks. Let’s hope this continues to hold.
45. On to Villanova.
46. We are …