Penn State already faced one tough test on the road this season against Purdue, but the Nittany Lions are in for a much tougher experience Saturday at Auburn. Head coach Bryan Harsin and the Tigers aren’t considered a Top 25 program currently, but they are 2-0 on the year, defeating Mercer and San Jose State through the first two weeks.
Both teams were in a similar position last season and Auburn gave Penn State a game inside Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions ultimately won 28-20, but Auburn did drive the ball deep into Penn State territory with under a minute remaining. In the end, PSU’s defense held off Bo Nix, who’s now at Oregon, but it was clear that night that these two teams are more even than not.
Auburn underwent more changes via the transfer portal this offseason, but a similar matchup is expected Saturday. Currently, the Nittany Lions are a 3-point favorite at most sportsbooks.
How does our staff expect the game to go? We give our predictions below.
Nate Bauer (Season: 2-0; Last Week: 42-17 PSU)
Relying on history might not be much use with so many new pieces for Penn State football this season, but they’re guiding me on this one. Penn State tends to do well against one-dimensional offenses, which Auburn has.
And, despite the 81 combined points in the first two games, I need to see it again from the Nittany Lions before I can predict an avalanche of points on the road against a talented Auburn defense featuring many new faces. Sean Clifford had one of his best career games against the Tigers last season and Saturday will be another big one for the veteran QB.
Penn State: 28
Thomas Frank Carr (Season: 2-0; Last Week: 45-17 PSU)
Auburn’s offense shouldn’t intimidate anyone. Quarterback TJ Finely struggles to diagnose coverages and play within the moment for large stretches of the game. He’ll hit some timely passes but Penn State should be able to confuse and press him into mistakes. Similarly, the Auburn offensive line isn’t the intimidating monster you’d think it is. They have some solid players up front, but the real issues are the ball-carriers. Tank Bigsby and their running backs present challenges from multiple angles.
Defensively, Auburn has mixed things up more this year, playing with fewer single-high looks. The front seven is as advertised with stout, aggressive players. If Penn State can score enough points on this unit, the game should be in the bag.
Penn State: 31
Sean Fitz (Season: 2-0; Last Week: 38-17 PSU)
Auburn really hasn’t shown much through two weeks, and whether that’s by design or because they are very much a work in progress remains to be seen. The Tigers played Penn State tough last year in Happy Valley and Saturday’s atmosphere will be something that the Nittany Lions will have to overcome. Auburn will have to run the ball, which will be a change from what Penn State’s defense has faced the last two weeks.
Still, this one will come down to quarterback play, and Penn State has the advantage there. Sean Clifford played the best game of his long career against the Tigers last season and he’ll need to be on point again on Saturday. If Penn State can continue making progress up front and pass block like they did last year against Auburn, it could be a decisive win. That said, I don’t think we’ve seen enough to predict this offense rolling over teams at this point.
Penn State: 31
Matt Herb (Season: 2-0; Last Week: 38-17 PSU)
If feels safe to predict that Auburn is going to play a cleaner game than it did last week against San Jose State, when it committed 9 penalties, threw 2 interceptions in its own territory and nearly short-circuited its comeback bid with a bobbled fourth-down snap. How much cleaner? That’s the big question. Because if those problems recur, Penn State will likely leave Jordan-Hare Stadium with a victory.
The Nittany Lions, however, are facing the same imperative. They had to overcome a pick-six to earn a win at Purdue, and they probably won’t be so fortunate this week if they give Auburn a short field to work with.
All of which is to say, the team that makes the fewest mistakes on Saturday will probably emerge with a victory in a battle of evenly matched opponents. Jordan-Hare seems like a tough place to play, but I could see Penn State being that team.
Penn State: 27
Greg Pickel (Season: 2-0; Last Week: 45-17 PSU)
Penn State beat Auburn 28-20 in the first game of a home-and-home series between the Lions and Tigers last fall at Beaver Stadium. Now, the question is this: Will the Tigers hold serve in their own stadium, or can Saturday’s visitors take both matchups between the schools?
It all comes down to the running game, frankly. Can Penn State stop Auburn’s three-headed attack that’s led by Tanks Bigsby? Conversely, will the Lions rushing attack look good again, or at least be strong enough to act as a compliment to the passing attack? If not, Penn State could become one-dimensional, which causes problems everywhere but especially on the road in a hot, hostile environment.
While it’s fair to worry about how Manny Diaz’s front seven will hold up against its first run-oriented attack, this space sees the Lions putting up enough points to win. Will it cause some concerns coming out of the game? Probably. But a win is a win, and PSU should earn one Saturday afternoon.
Penn State: 24
Ryan Snyder (Season: 2-0; Last Week: 38-14 PSU)
Purdue gave Auburn a blueprint for success against this secondary, but can TJ Finley and Auburn’s receivers execute that plan? We know Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter are going to get their yards. It’s easy to say that the opposing quarterback is the X-Factor every week, but that really feels like the case in this one. Finley and his receivers struggled at times against San Jose State. For comparison, the Spartans threw for 275 yards last week. Auburn threw for just 168 with two interceptions.
I do expect Auburn’s defensive front to give Penn State’s offensive line issues at times. You add in a tough road environment and the revenge factor and I see another toss-up game here. I do believe Sean Clifford is the better quarterback, and I’ll take Penn State’s receivers over Auburn’s, too. I’m leaning Penn State, but nothing would really surprise me. We’ll learn a lot about this team Saturday.
Penn State: 27