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Penn State Football’s Post-Auburn Report Card

The Nittany Lions are rolling. No. 6 Penn State football is 3-0 and now boasts two wins over AP Top 25-ranked squads.

After this past weekend’s tight victory over No. 23 Auburn, hopes couldn’t be higher for James Franklin’s crew entering week four. Before we move on to a noon kickoff against Villanova, let’s break down an all-around impressive performance for the Nittany Lions at the White Out.

Quarterback: A

Sean Clifford balled out on Saturday. The redshirt senior quarterback’s one notable blunder came when he threw his first interception of the season, but that essentially ended up being a punt for the Nittany Lions just before halftime.

When analyzing his quarterback’s day at the White Out, Franklin noted that Clifford looked especially poised and comfortable in the pocket. He didn’t take any sacks and showcased his ability to move under pressure on his first touchdown pass to Jahan Dotson in the first quarter.

Clifford finished his night with just four incompletions, while he had two touchdowns and threw for 280 yards. Especially against an SEC defense, the quarterback’s consistent decision-making and accuracy throughout the night were exciting to watch.

Running Backs: B+

As the leader of this group once again, Noah Cain wasn’t necessarily dominant in his performance, but he did have one of the plays of the game with his late touchdown to extend the Nittany Lions’ lead.

Cain led the team with 45 yards on 19 rushes. The 2.4 yards per carry is hardly an eye-popping stat, but the junior’s bruising, physical style likely helped wear down Derek Mason’s Auburn defense.

Keyvone Lee had only two carries, but he quickly totaled 15 yards on the ground before fumbling and getting rotated out. We didn’t see any Devyn Ford, but John Lovett made his Nittany Lion debut sporting No. 10. The Baylor transfer added nine yards on two carries and had an impressive 18-yard gain on a screen.

Wide Receivers: A-

As the best wide receiver on this team and arguably the best in the Big Ten, Jahan Dotson once again led this group to another productive day. The senior had a day that included a laundry list of highlights, including that sweet touchdown grab to give Penn State a first-quarter lead.

Outside of that, Dotson also managed an absurd snag later in the second quarter and even threw a pass on a gadget play to tight end Tyler Warren for a solid gain. The veteran wideout finished his night with a team-leading 10 catches worth 78 yards.

Parker Washington was also a consistent target for Sean Clifford, as he made nine catches for 49 yards. KeAndre Lambert-Smith added four total grabs.

Tight Ends: A

Three of Penn State’s tight ends each had their hands all over Saturday’s win. After not adding a ton of value through the Nittany Lions’ first two games, redshirt freshman Tyler Warren made a 22-yard grab on the pass from Dotson and had an electric score early in the second half.

Warren took a direct snap out of the wildcat formation and dove over the offensive line to give the Nittany Lions a 21-10 lead.

Starting tight end Brenton Strange also made multiple massive catches for Penn State, including 23 and 40-yard receptions, and scored his first touchdown of the year on a perfectly executed play-action pass. The redshirt sophomore out of West Virginia finished the game with 71 receiving yards on four catches.

Theo Johnson also showed out for the Nittany Lions, as he made a 37-yard grab that set them up on Auburn’s four-yard line.

Offensive Line: B+

Penn State’s offensive line impressed early by giving Sean Clifford quite literally all day to make a pass on the third play from scrimmage. From there, the quarterback was never sacked and was hurried on just one occasion.

Eric Wilson has solidified himself as a right guard for the Nittany Lions, while the rest of the positions have largely been settled other than a few rotations on some drives. That continuity clearly helped Penn State in pass protection all night Saturday, but there’s still a little left to be desired on the rushing attack.

Cain looked strong Saturday night, but we have yet to see any of the Nittany Lions’ rushers have the holes necessary to put together truly dominant performances.

Defensive Line: B

Penn State’s defensive line managed to get a ton of pressure on Bo Nix, but the group struggled to slow down Tank Bigsby throughout the game. The sophomore running back scored both of Auburn’s touchdowns and totaled 102 rushing yards. Jarquez Hunter also had himself a nice rushing performance by totaling 63 yards on just nine attempts.

The Tigers’ rushing attack carried them all night, but Penn State’s pressure on Nix certainly halted the passing attack. Arnold “AK” Ebiketie hurried the signal-caller on three occasions, while Derrick Tangelo also made a massive play by falling on a fumble that set the Nittany Lions up on Auburn’s 20-yard line.

Linebackers: A-

Again, the rushing attack was difficult to handle for Brent Pry’s group, but his linebackers flashed throughout the White Out.

Brandon Smith led the Nittany Lions with ten total tackles, including one for a loss. Despite the bobbled interception in the second half, the junior linebacker proved once again that he’s one of the top players on Penn State’s defense.

Veteran linebacker Ellis Brooks also added six total tackles, while Jesse Luketa managed eight of his own. The trio helped make several key tackles of Auburn’s running backs any time they broke into the second level.

Secondary: B+

Penn State’s front seven played a key role in shutting down Nix’s arm and holding him to 185 yards, but the Nittany Lions’ secondary members all had solid outings.

Auburn’s leading receiver, Kobe Hudson, was held to 66 yards, while the Tigers struggled to get the passing game going in the red zone. That defense came up in Penn State’s favor most notably when Auburn’s 4th and goal shot to the end zone late in the fourth quarter fell incomplete. Jaquan Brisker, who finished with six total tackles and a pass break up, was unsurprisingly on the coverage.

Joey Porter Jr. followed Brisker with five total tackles and a pass break up, while Tariq Castro-Fields and Ji’Ayir Brown also had one of their own, respectively.

Special Teams: A

Special teams didn’t play a massive role in Saturday’s win, but Jordan Stout did everything that was asked of him against Auburn. Penn State’s Mr. Everything attempted four punts, two of which sailed more than 50 yards and pinned the Tigers inside of their own 20-yard line on one occasion.

Stout also hit all four of his extra points and once again hit touchbacks on all of his kickoffs.

The Nittany Lions didn’t have any standout return plays, but Jahan Dotson put together a solid 16-yard punt return late in Saturday’s victory.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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