Photo courtesy of Auburn athletics
The last time Auburn traveled north of the Mason-Dixon Line for a regular-season game was in 2001 to square off against Syracuse.
Auburn struggled to get things going against the Orangemen and dropped that one 31-14 in the Carrier Dome. Now, the 22nd-ranked Tigers will travel to State College to take on No. 10 Penn State for the Nittany Lions’ annual “whiteout” game on Saturday night.
The contest will begin at 7:30 p.m. ET and will air nationally on ABC.
Auburn and Penn State have met just twice in history, and the series is split. The last meeting took place in 2003, when Tommy Tuberville’s Auburn Tigers defeated Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions. Penn State’s win came in 1996, when it thrashed Auburn, 43-14.
Penn State will make the return trip to Auburn in 2022. This matchup makes one of the best home-and-home series in the last few years. Regardless, the winner of this upcoming game will take the edge in the all-time series.
Auburn is outscoring its opponents through the first two weeks, 122-10. To be fair, Akron and Alabama State aren’t the toughest of opponents. Still. Auburn has seen improved play from quarterback Bo Nix and has run the ball efficiently.
Outside of some miscues in the first half against Alabama State, Auburn has played with a certain level of comfort and discipline that is more important than what shows up on the stat sheet.
Penn State is a different animal. Nix and the Auburn offense will be under more duress than the past two games combined. Now, it is up to head coach Bryan Harsin and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to combat the change in competition. The Auburn offense will know where it is very quickly against what’s easily the stiffest competition so far.
This could be a statement win for Harsin early in his tenure.
Like Auburn, there is still a lot we don’t know about the Nittany Lions. They picked up a good Week 1 victory over Wisconsin, but how good is that Wisconsin team? We aren’t sure, but a win over a ranked team on the road is huge. As is the case with Nix, we have seen improved play from quarterback Sean Clifford.
When he has time and is comfortable, he can put the ball where he wants it. He is also a good runner. The biggest question for Penn State is whether it can handle an SEC team in the trenches; we’ll find out on Saturday.
One big headline we have seen is that there is reportedly mutual interest between USC and Penn State head coach James Franklin. The USC job opened up after Clay Helton was fired this past week.
Regardless of whether there’s any truth to the rumors, it could be a distraction for the Nittany Lions headed into Saturday’s game. Franklin will surely be asked about it.
Keys to Victory
Auburn is going to be able to run the ball. Thus far, Penn State has done a good job against the run, but Auburn has the best ground attack that the Nittany Lions have seen up to this point. After all, Tank Bigsby might just be the best back in the country. On top of that, freshman phenom Jarquez Hunter has been one of the league’s most prolific rushers this far.
Offensively, this game will fall in the hands of Nix and the Auburn passing game. If the offensive line can give Nix time to throw and the receivers can step up, Auburn will put itself in a good spot. If not, things are going to be tough on offense.
For the Tigers, the defense is going to keep them in this game; the offense just needs to take care of the ball and not make any crucial mistakes. Minor miscues like false starts can be huge when playing in a road atmosphere like this, so it all comes down to preparation.
Speaking of the defense, Auburn needs to do one thing to win the game: pressure the quarterback. Penn State has weapons at wide receiver, and Clifford is more than capable of making big-time throws.
He can however, get jittery when the pressure comes and that is something Auburn will try to exploit. Wisconsin was able to get after Clifford, at least in the first half. Now, it is up to Auburn to do the same.
On offense, it is all about Clifford. Penn State can run the ball, but this will be the best front seven it has seen thus far. The Nittany Lions will try to establish the ground attack, but Auburn will force Clifford to win the game through the air.
Clifford is capable of accomplishing that feat, but it will take a big night from the Penn State offensive line. If Clifford has time to throw, guys on the outside like Jahan Dotson are going to be able to make plays. Franklin and his staff do a good job of getting the ball in the hands of their playmakers.
On defense, Penn State will have a similar strategy. The Nittany Lions will work to limit Bigsby and the ground attack and have the game decided on Nix’s right arm. The Auburn offensive line has been inconsistent in recent years, and we still aren’t sure what the receivers are capable of.
An attainable goal for Penn State would be holding Auburn to fewer than 150 yards on the ground.
Line: Penn State -5
Both of these teams match up very well, and it should come be a highly-competitive game. We have seen some crazy things transpire in previous whiteout games, and there could be some more late-game magic in this one.
There has already been a lot of hype and trash-talking between the teams. Pair those things with the whiteout and a primetime kickoff and you have the makings of a classic. It is important to know that Penn State will return to Auburn next year, so the winner will have bragging rights for a whole year.
The Tigers have some notable advantages, especially in the trenches. Still, we know more about Penn State than we do about Auburn at this point in the season. On top of that, Penn State has the advantage of playing in Happy Valley.
Auburn will have a chance to win late, but Penn State capitalizes on a turnover in the fourth and the crowd does the rest.
Final: Penn State 24, Auburn 20
Other Predictions from Around the SEC
New Mexico 7, Texas A&M 41
Chattanooga 10, Kentucky 44
Southeast Missouri 9, Missouri 45
Tennessee Tech 20, Tennessee 49
Alabama 42, Florida 24
Georgia Southern 13, Arkansas 38
Mississippi State 27, Memphis 20
South Carolina 17, Georgia 34
Central Michigan 24, LSU 42
Tulane 28, Ole Miss 45
Stanford 24, Vanderbilt 6