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Penn State Travels to Auburn

Penn State travels to Auburn this weekend with a much improved rushing attack as well as a hungry secondary. Both are groups to watch on Saturday.

The Penn State Nittany Lions travel to Auburn on Saturday after starting the season 2-0. Penn State won a nailbiter against a tough Purdue team to start the season and then handled Ohio with ease a week ago. Something that the Nittany Lions have this year compared to this game a season ago? Depth at the quarterback position and an effective run game. For Auburn? A struggling quarterback position and a run-heavy offense. Let’s take a look at what to expect as Penn State travels to Auburn.

Penn State Positions to Watch Against Auburn

It is no secret that the Auburn Tigers have an outstanding run game. With a duo of Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter, the Penn State defense will have to be solid on Saturday. However, according to Penn State linebacker, Curtis Jacobs, the Nittany Lions are also preparing for freshman Damari Alston. Jacobs stated on Wednesday to the media, “I think they have three really good backs.”

This has been on display early in the 2022 season. Through two games this season Bigsby has 198 rushing yards and three touchdowns. In addition, Hunter has rushed for only 75 yards through two games, but the back has accounted for four touchdowns. Finally, Alston hasn’t found the endzone yet, but he has six rushing attempts and is averaging just under eight yards per carry. Manny Diaz’s defense will need to be ready for all three running backs on Saturday, considering the quarterback play for Auburn has been severely lacking.
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Penn State Secondary Looking to Cash In

Auburn’s starting quarterback, T.J. Finley has thrown one touchdown pass this season and three interceptions. The LSU transfer has yet to find his groove in the passing game with the Tigers despite passing for 279 yards in two games. The backup, Robby Ashford, hasn’t been much better. He has 101 passing yards through two games and one interception.

Two units to watch for the Nittany Lions against Finley are the edge rushers and the secondary. If Diaz brings pressure the talented secondary, highlighted by Joey Porter Jr. could come up with a turnover or two. Porter Jr. has racked up six passes defended through two games this season, in addition to a fumble recovery. Keaton Ellis is looking to have a bounce-back year and is on pace with five passes defended through two games. Both have almost had several interceptions so far in this young season and look to finally cash in against struggling Auburn quarterback play.

Auburn’s Rush Defense Against Penn State’s Young Backs

While it is likely true that Auburn hasn’t played overly tough teams yet this season in Mercer and San Jose State, the Tigers are ranked very high in the defensive categories. The Auburn defense has allowed just over two yards per rush through two games. Neither opponent was able to reach a 100-yard rush game against the Tigers, with Mercer fairing better than San Jose State. However, the Nittany Lions have over 300 rush yards this season. The majority came against Ohio last week, but Penn State backs were two yards shy of a 100-yard rushing game against a stingy Purdue defensive front. The difference between the Purdue game and this weekend against Auburn? Penn State’s young backs are getting into a groove.

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Freshmen duo Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen are a bright change from the dismal Nittany Lions’ rushing attack of 2021. Singleton has already tallied a 100-yard rushing game and two touchdowns this season. The relatively improved Penn State offensive line will need to wrangle Auburn edge rusher Derick Hall on Saturday. Hall led the Tigers with nine sacks in 2021 and has both a sack and a tackle for loss this season. The success of the young backs will hinge on the play of the offensive line. The Nittany Lions need to get the run game going early to help quarterback Sean Clifford in the passing game.

Penn State Quarterback Depth

As we talked about at the top, Penn State finally has depth at the quarterback position. A season ago, all of the success was derailed by one injury to Clifford. There was no consistent, or effective, backup quarterback. That is not the case this season. Freshman phenom Drew Allar has already played in both games to start the season. He came in for a momentarily injured Clifford against Purdue, attempted four passes, and completed two. Then against Ohio last week he played significant time in the second half to rest Clifford. He threw for 88 yards and two touchdowns in his outing. Not saying that Allar will get any playing time against Auburn on Saturday, but if he is called on he will actually be ready.

Last year’s Lions vs Tigers matchup was fun to watch and we don’t expect anything less this season.

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