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Previewing The Enemy: Auburn Tigers

After a clean performance against Ohio, No. 22 Penn State football (2-0, 1-0 Big Ten) is heading down south for a marquee matchup with Auburn.

The Tigers and Nittany Lions have faced off just three times before — most recently in 2021 when Penn State secured a 28-20 victory under White Out conditions.

Penn State holds a three-point betting edge ahead of this matchup, but anything can happen on the road in the SEC. Although these teams played just last year, plenty of things have changed on both sides of the ball.

The Team

Head coach Bryan Harsin is in his second year at the helm of the Tigers after mustering a 6-7 record in 2021. Before last year, Harsin had been at Boise State since 2014 and led the Broncos to five double-digit-win seasons

Just like Penn State, the Tigers are off to a 2-0 start to begin the 2022 season, claiming wins over Mercer and San Jose State. However, the win over the Spartans — a Mountain West opponent — was only by an eight-point margin.

Auburn’s coordinators are Eric Kiesau on offense, Jeff Schmedding on defense, and Roc Bellantoni on special teams. All three are in their first year in their respective roles.

Despite a fresh coaching staff, the Tigers return a lot of talent on the field. Seven offensive, seven defensive, and four special teams starters return from last year’s campaign.

Offense

Auburn’s offense hasn’t had a major defensive test yet, but it hasn’t necessarily shined against its early-season opponents, either. The Tigers put up 42 points in its season-opener against Mercer before sputtering for just 24 against San Jose State.

Quarterback TJ Finley, who transferred in from LSU, replaces Bo Nix for Auburn. He’s had a poor start to the season, logging three interceptions to just one touchdown so far. He’s attempted just 34 passes, completing 65% of them for 279 yards.

Ja’Varrius Johnson has been Finley’s go-to guy thus far, as he leads the team with seven receptions for 158 yards. John Samuel Shenker has the loan receiving touchdown of the year.

Robby Ashford, the backup quarterback, has also gotten run behind Finley and has sparked a bit of a controversy. He’s gained 137 yards on the ground so far this season but has only completed half of his 10 passes and has an interception. James Franklin noted Penn State tried to recruit him out of high school.

As you may have guessed from the passing stats, Auburn is a team that relies heavily on the run game, which is a bit uncommon for an SEC team. Running back Tank Bigsby is the star of the offense and already has three touchdowns in just two games. He’s averaging 6.8 yards per carry on 29 attempts.

Jarquez Hunter has been quite involved in the Tiger’s rushing attack, too. He leads the team with four scores and has posted 77 yards of his own on 16 attempts.

Only eight players have caught passes for Auburn so far this year, which is a stark contrast to Penn State, as it had 17 players catch a ball just against Ohio.

Defense

As James Franklin pointed out earlier this week, Auburn’s defensive front seven really stands, especially compared to a so-so secondary. The Tigers have given up 16 points per game so far this year.

Auburn’s trio of starting linebackers — Cam Riley, Owen Pappoe, and Derick Hall — lead the team in tackles so far this year. Riley has the most at 20, while Pappoe has 11 and Hall has 10. This is likely the Tigers’ strongest position group on defense, and Franklin said he has his eye on both Riley and Hall.

Defensive tackle Marcus Harris leads the team in tackles for loss with three and also has a sack on the year. Auburn also has a pair of impressive, experienced ends in Eku Leota and Colby Wooden. Leota has two tackles for loss and a sack so far this season as well.

The Tigers’ secondary is a weaker point of the team and has yet to record an interception this year. Safety Donovan Kaufman is likely the most talented player back there and has two pass breakups in 2022. He’s opposed by Zion Puckett, who has nine tackles and a pass deflection of his own on the year.

Nehemiah Pritchett Jr. and Jaylin Simpson Jr. are Auburn’s guys at cornerback and have yet to make a noticeable splash this season. Last week, San Jose State’s Chevan Cordeiro attempted 40 passes against the secondary and it held up well enough, allowing just 275 yards and no touchdowns.

Special Teams

Anders Carlson is in his fourth year as Auburn’s placekicker and handles kickoff duties as well. He’s made 68 of his 94 career attempts and has a career-long of 53 yards. He had two kicks blocked in 2021.

Oscar Chapman also returns as the starting punter and ranked second in the SEC last season at 44.1 yards per punt.

Jarquez Hunter and Ja’Varrius Johnson handle most return duties for the Tigers.

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected]

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