Only 13 more days until college football is on our television screens. Week zero cannot come soon enough but we have 13 more posts in 99 Things before the season starts. Today we are focusing on one of the premier non-conference games this season. Last Auburn traveled to Happy Valley to play Penn State. This season Penn State will return the favor. Rarely do we have Big Ten vs SEC regular season matchups and this one is in store to be a great game. Time to break down Penn State vs Auburn!
Penn State fans might be coming into the season with a big question mark hanging over their heads about how well Sean Clifford with do in his seemingly 7th season as their QB, but that’s nothing compared to the mess that is the Auburn football team. The Tigers lost 19 scholarship players to the transfer portal this offseason including starting QB Bo Nix, while only bringing in 10 to fill those gaps. They will argue they went for quality over quantity and acquired guys who can immediately step in and play.
So which transfer is going to be the starting Quarterback for Auburn? Will it be Zach Calzada from A&M? Likely, but there is also Robby Ashford from Oregon and T.J. Finley who sat behind Nix last season. Finley did keep Auburn in the game against Bama while tossing for 2 TD’s, but it was the defense who really made that a close game and gave the Tigers the chance to win. Holden Geriner is also an option, but it is unlikely we will see the true freshman taking it from guys with more game experience. The other major question mark is at Wide Receiver after they lost Kobe Hudson and Demetris Robinson who accounted for 1,069 yards and 8TD’s in the 2021 season. Their current best weapons to throw to are Shedrick Jackson and John Samuel Shenker. Jackson is coming back for his sixth year who accounted for 527 receiving yards and 1TD last year while Samuel Shenker finished the season with 413 yards. What they’re going to need is someone else to step up such as Malcolm Johnson Jr. or Ja’Varris Johnson or one of their incoming transfers in Koy Moore (LSU) or Dazalin Worsham (Miami).
The constant that is going to for sure keep Auburn in this game is Heisman hopeful Tank Bigsby who finished last season with 1,102 rushing yards and 10 TD’s and their veteran offensive line to block for him. Going up against Penn State, you cannot expect to just run it down their throats and hope it will win the game. They are going to need balance with the passing game too. Auburn is going to look at focusing on it in their games against Mercer and San Jose St. leading up to the matchup with Penn State this season. You have to think with bringing in a more talented quarterback in Calzada and having the returning offensive line they will have a decent shot at improving on the 185 passing and 182 rushing yards they had in Happy Valley last year especially with the home field advantage.
The defensive side of the ball has as many question marks as the offensive. Defensive Coordinator Derek Mason left for Oklahoma State after only one season with the Tigers and Jeff Schmedding was promoted from linebackers coach. The Tigers lose their best cornerback, safety and linebacker to the draft last season and six other defensive players to the portal, but the reload with six incoming transfers that tripled their playing time last season. Cornerback D.J. James (Oregon), safety Craig McDonald (Iowa State) and linebacker Eugene Asante (North Carolina) will have the massive shoes to fill of the three players headed to the draft, but they definitely do not lack the talent to be playmakers for the Tigers. Their defensive line is where they’re the strongest with returning edge rushers Derick Hall and Eku Leota along with transfer Marcus Bragg (WKU) for some much needed depth and then Colby Wooden on the interior. Against Penn State that’s where the biggest battle is. Typically if you can get them off balance and make Clifford uncomfortable they have a hard time switching to plan B mid game.
Penn State on the other hand loses their biggest weapon from last season with Jahan Dotson heading to the NFL, but they don’t lack the talent behind him. Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith and their 1,341 receiving yards and 7 TD’s return along with incoming transfer Mitchell Tinsley (WKU) which should give them a good core of receivers. 530 rushing yards and 2TD’s last season saw Keyvone Lee earn and hold down the starting RB job by the end of last season, which meant that Noah Cain would then depart for LSU. The offensive line lacks a lot of experience with only having three seniors listed on the roster. One name to keep an eye on is Olumuyiwa Fashanu who could become one of the top linemen for the Nittany Lions if he plays to his potential. Then there’s Sean Clifford coming back for his fifth year who was the best player in the game in Happy Valley last season. He went 28 of 32 for 280 yards and 2 TD’s in the game and will hope to repeat his success again this season against the Tigers. The biggest hindrance to the Penn State offense the last few years has been the play calling especially in big moments. They have been known to get complacent and play to just hold onto leads and that has proven to cost them games. They definitely do not lack the talent to walk into Jordan Hare Stadium and come out with a win, but the biggest factor will likely come down to late game play calling.
The Lions defensive line gets back two of its best lineman in defensive tackle PJ Mustipher and defensive end Adisa Isaac who were both out due to injuries last season. They lose Arnold Ebiketie and the 9.5 sacks he had last year to the NFL so there are definitely holes to fill, but there is talent there with five-star freshman Dani Dennis-Sutton and Maryland transfer Demeioun Robinson who should both be able to make an impact right away. Penn State also lose their two leading tackers from last season in linebackers’s Ellis Brooks and Brandon Smith, but return Curtis Jacobs to the position. The secondary should be in great shape with stud cornerback Joey Porter Jr. and safety Ji’Ayir Brown back, who will make things especially difficult for Auburn in the passing game.
With the inexperience on the defensive line Auburn will likely look to exploit it with their strong run game, but will struggle in the passing game. The opposite goes for Penn State who face a strong d-line and an inexperienced secondary.
The Nittany Lions travel to Auburn on September 17. The game is sure to help set the tone of the remainder of the season for both schools. Penn State is looking to make the first trip to the Big Ten Championship since 2016. A win over Auburn could give them the momentum needed to make it to Indianapolis. Auburn is coming off a shaky first season under Harsin. A key victory over Penn State could help vault them up the SEC West Standings. Game time has already been picked for 3:30 EST so set your calendars!