This Saturday the Auburn Tigers will hit the road for the first time this season to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions out of the Big Ten. This will be the first true test for the Tigers to determine their level of improvement under first-year head coach Bryan Harsin. Auburn has won in dominating fashion against inferior opponents in Akron and Alabama State. It will not be that easy against the Nittany Lions. There will be several keys to an Auburn victory over Penn State.
The game is being billed at the marquee game in college football this week with ESPN College Gameday being on site. This will be just the third meeting between the two programs with both coming in bowl games. Penn State won the 1996 Outback Bowl 43-14, and Auburn was victorious in the 2003 Capital One Bowl 13-9. The game will be broadcast nationally on ABC at 7:30 p.m. eastern time.
Keys to an Auburn victory over Penn State
Good Bo or Bad Bo?
A big determining factor for Auburn coming out with a victory on Saturday will be the play of third-year starting quarterback Bo Nix. The junior has looked more comfortable in two games under Bryan Harsin than he did in the two seasons under Gus Malzahn. He has completed 74% of his passes for 383 yards and five touchdowns with zero interceptions. Those numbers are against Akron and Alabama State at home. On the road against Penn State in their white-out game will be a different challenge.
In his first two seasons, there have been two different versions of Bo Nix. There is home Bo and there is road Bo. While playing at Jordan-Hare Stadium Nix has thrown 20 touchdowns to just one interception and the Tigers are 12-2 in those games. In away and neutral site games it is a different story. In those games, he has thrown 12 touchdowns to 12 interceptions and Auburn is just 5-5. Nix playing a clean game will be key to getting the road victory.
Run The Ball
It is going to be a hostile environment for Auburn on the road against the Nittany Lions. The Tigers have not played in front of a crowd like they will Saturday since 2019. Getting the run game going and controlling the line of scrimmage will be vastly important. The Nittany Lions had issues stopping the run against Wisconsin in their opener allowing 180 yards. Establishing it early will be vital, and that brings in Tank Bigsby.
The sophomore running back has rushed for 241 yards and two touchdowns in the first two games and has been as good as advertised. He is not the only back to worry about if you are Penn State though. Coming into the season a major question was the depth at running back for the Tigers. They have it now. Freshman Jarquez Hunter has been more than impressive in his first two games totaling 257 yards and two touchdowns. Hunter can beat a defense with his speed or pure hard nose running. It is still unknown whether Auburn will have Shaun Shivers available.
Get Pressure on Sean Clifford
The Auburn defense will need to do its part as well. That begins with getting pressure on senior quarterback Sean Clifford. There is not much Clifford has not seen so it will be up to defensive coordinator Derek Mason to scheme up some unique looks. He has been efficient the first two weeks completing 63% of his passes for 477 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. The offensive line has protected well only allowing four sacks.
Getting pressure will be pivotal for Auburn so Clifford cannot attempt to pick apart the Auburn secondary. Edge rushers T.D. Moultry, Colby Wooden, and Derrick Hall are the ones that can get the job done. All three have accumulated sacks this season, but they do not have to necessarily get sacks. If they can speed up the throws and knock the quarterback off his spot, it might be enough. If they make Clifford throw before he wants to it could set up big plays for defensive backs Smoke Monday and Roger McCreary.
Auburn vs Penn State Prediction
Auburn is averaging 61 points per game thus far but does not expect that kind of offense from either team on Saturday night. This has the feel of a low-scoring defensive game that will come down to two factors. Who can consistently run the ball and which quarterback makes the big mistake? It will be a close one but the Auburn Tigers will win 20-16.