Auburn @ Penn State Preview
What to watch for, What are Auburn's chances, and some hot takes about the big showdown in Happy Valley
Auburn finally makes its long awaited trip to Sate College this weekend. The Tigers have gotten some mixed reviews about their chances after hanging 60+ points on their two opponents this season. The talk already this week is that the “White-Out” environment at Penn State is like nothing Auburn has ever seen. As SEC fans, I think we all see that and say, “…Really?” Let’s take a dive into some numbers and make some predictions about the game.
Through two games, Auburn has outscored their opponents 122-10. Their opponents were Akron and FCS-level Alabama State. If you have watched Auburn closely like I have, that point differential jumps off the page. I’m calling this the “Bryan Harsin Affect.” Under Gus Malzahn, Auburn was notorious for slow starts on offense and lacking focus allowing them to play down to their competition; see, Jacksonville State in 2015. Auburn has come out of the gates in 2021 and dominated their competition. That’s a big deal for me. Bryan Harsin has quickly implemented his culture, and I think that will be a major difference in this game. Another advantage for Auburn is they likely have not shown much beyond their base offense and defense on film. Penn State could not hold anything since they played Wisconsin in week 1. I think Auburn is going to rely on Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter and run the ball a lot on Saturday night. This is for a couple of reasons. Penn State is using Auburn for their White Out game, so the crowd is going to be rocking and loud. Really, really loud. If Auburn can pick up some first downs early on the ground, they can quiet the crowd early. Another reason for relying on the running game is Bo Nix. In his two seasons as Auburn’s starting QB, Nix has not been a good QB on the road, and pretty dismal in environments similar to what he will experience on Saturday. The Florida and South Carolina games come to mind. Nix’s TD- INT ratio at home is 15-1. That’s incredible. On the road, it’s just 9-10. His completion percentage at Jordan-Hare Stadium is 63.0%, and just 54.5% on the road. These are splits that are rarely seen across college football. I have been and will continue to be a Bo Nix fan as Auburn’s QB, but I don’t think Bryan Harsin can trust Bo Nix to come out and throw the ball early against Penn State. Nix is a QB that has to get comfortable and find his rhythm. It’s been easy at home. It won’t be easy Saturday night. I think Auburn has the edge defensively. Wisconsin shut down Penn State’s offense for the most part. Their offense turned it over 3 times and that was the difference in the game. Penn State really only hit three or four long passes against Wisconsin. I like Auburn’s chances of not just slowing down, but shutting down the Penn State offense. The key for Auburn to win this is game is limiting turnovers.
Penn State got a big win on the road at Wisconsin in a game they were kind of dominated in. Wisconsin had more passing and rushing yards and first downs than Penn State, but their three turnovers cost them the game. Penn State has the advantage of playing and winning a 4-quarter game this season that Auburn does not. Penn State took down Ball State last week to get to 2-0. They seemed to stay very vanilla against Ball State, so there is not much reason to analyze that game. Sean Clifford is back for his third season as the starter for Penn State. Clifford and Bo Nix are very similar QBs. They both can run, and they both have struggled to throw the ball at times. RB Noah Cain leads the running back room at PSU. The former 5-star recruit has yet to really breakout for James Franklin’s team. First year OC Mike Yurcich is known for wanting to air the ball out, so Auburn’s secondary will have its work cut out for it. Clifford threw the ball 33 times against Wisconsin and 29 against Ball State. Cifford has a 60.3% career completion percentage, so he can definitely cause problems for Auburn’s secondary.
How will the game be won?
The winner of this game will be the team that has the fewest turnovers. I think both defenses will limit explosive plays. I also think both teams, especially early on, will be conservative on offense. The defenses of both teams are the real strength of the two teams. Both teams have really good running backs who they will feed the ball to early and often. Given Bo Nix’s past road performances, you almost have to assume he is going to throw at least one interception. If Nix can take care of the ball and keep Auburn’s offense moving, Auburn will win this game. I think Auburn is the better team; they will lose this game because of their mistakes, not because of Penn State’s performance. I do not Penn State is a team that will dominate Auburn up and down the field like an Alabama or Georgia team might do later in the season. This is a great opportunity for Auburn to get a huge win.
Auburn 31, Penn State 23
I feel very confident Auburn will go in to State College and upset Penn State. I think Auburn’s offense is a much better fit for Bo Nix and the offensive line, and I think that has shown in the first two games. Both teams spent the last offseason implementing new offenses, and thru two games, I think Auburn is further ahead with their offense than Penn State. On offense, Auburn has a better safety blanket in Tank Bigsby than Penn State does. I think Auburn has the better defense, and I think they will be flying around, creating pressure on Sean Clifford and creating turnovers. I love this matchup for Auburn. I think if this game was on a neutral site, Auburn would be favored and many more people nationally would be picking them to win.