The Auburn Tigers are coming to Happy Valley Saturday night to take on the Nittany Lions in the university’s first white out in nearly two years. Not only is this a gigantic game for PSU’s season, but also for the Big Ten conference as a whole. The entire country will be watching this game in prime time and there is no better opportunity for this football team to show what this program is all about and that Beaver Stadium is the best atmosphere in college football.
It’s Mike Yurcich’s time to shine. The offense has executed well ever since they came out of the tunnel to start the second half in Madison. Quite frankly, Auburn’s defense matches up phenomenally with Penn State’s offense. Their weakness is up front, but this Nittany Lions offensive line has yet to prove that they will dominate an inferior defensive line. Auburn’s back seven has some of the best talent the NCAA has to offer. Owen Pappoe and Zakoby McClain are two of the best linebackers in the nation. Expect to hear their names a lot, especially McClain who led the SEC in tackles last season. Cornerback, Roger McCreary and Safety, Smoke Monday headline their secondary which contains plenty of question marks. The Tigers’ secondary has plenty of potential, but that comes with a lack of experience. They will play a sound game, but mistakes will be made and there will be guys open down the field. These opportunities will be few and far between so it is important that Sean Clifford makes the most of them. Clifford needs to keep the ball out of opposing hands and make the throws that he is given.
Mike Yurcich should use his running back depth early. Noah Cain has taken another gigantic leap going into this season and has proven himself to be this team’s best running back. Due to his importance, he needs to be fresh for the second half. Devyn Ford and Keyvone Lee should hopefully get touches early. All three guys need to remain fresh and go right at Auburn to wear down their linebackers. Then once the second half comes, it’s Noah Cain’s time to shine and put the game on ice.
The Nittany Lions will move the ball by being creative. Yurcich has already shown his willingness to go up tempo often and run the offense out of a wide variety of different personnel packages and formations. More of that style is to be expected tonight.
This has all the feels of being a dog fight. Not only is Auburn’s offensive line returning all five starters, but they have seven linemen in total who started multiple games last season. The Tigers possess experience and depth up front, they also possess one of the best running backs in the nation, Tank Bigsby. The sophomore is a downhill runner with power and underrated agility. However, it doesn’t end there; backing him up is Shaun Shivers, also one of the Tigers’ best players. He will see the field plenty, providing the finesse and receiving ability that Bigsby doesn’t. However, Tank is their guy and their offense goes when he goes. He will prefer to ground and pound trailing his guards, so it is important that the only returning Defensive Lineman, P.J. Mustipher clogs up holes and takes on double teams to allow his linebackers to make plays. The defensive ends need to keep their heads up to better defend the run and prevent success on draws and screens. Expect Jesse Luketa to have a big night on the edge due to his experience reading the field at linebacker.
The Nittany Lions’ back seven is most likely where this game will be won or lost. Auburn’s offensive coordinator, Mike Bobo is known for using multiple running backs to run the ball in his creative run scheme but also as receivers in the screen game. Penn State’s linebackers will be tested by Auburn’s offensive scheme. They need to be cautious of Tank Bigsby bruising them up the middle, but will also need to range sideline to sideline. Ellis Brooks has been phenomenal in the three halves he’s played this season, but Brandon Smith and Curtis Jacobs have been timid. They need to trust their instincts and play aggressively like they began to do last week against Ball State. Since Auburn is unlikely to be too spread out and will likely be in 21 personnel quite often, Brent Pry should be able to stack the box and trust his cornerbacks on the outside. Joey Porter Jr. and Tariq Castro-Fields have played excellently but will be tested on Saturday night, likely without much safety help. If those guys hold Bo Nix and the Tigers’ passing offense in check and allow the Linebackers to play aggressively sideline to sideline, the Nittany Lions probably win this game.
This is going to be a close game. Both defenses match up excellently against their opponents on offense. A multitude of running backs will be getting touches on both sides. This is going to be a game won on big plays and the turnover battle. Most likely Bo Nix and Sean Clifford will have relatively quiet games and won’t be asked to do too much. With that being said, there is a large chance that they will be the deciding factors in this game. If one throws a costly interception, but their counterpart is able to find a receiver deep for a timely touchdown, that probably decides the outcome of this showdown.
Penn State 23, Auburn 20
Offensive Player of the Game Prediction:
Defensive Player of the Game Prediction: