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No. 22 Penn State Cruises Past Auburn 41-12

Penn State football (3-0, 1-0 Big Ten) overcame a hostile crowd and an SEC heritage to handily defeat Auburn (2-1) 41-12 inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The Nittany Lion defense looked largely impenetrable, forcing four turnovers and six sacks. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was unafraid to send extra defenders on the blitz and the front four consistently won their battles on the line of scrimmage. Most of all, Penn State all but neutralized Auburn standout running back Tank Bigsby, who was only able to pick up 39 yards on the ground.

Entering the game as three-point favorites, Penn State crushed expectations. The team will return to Happy Valley with its perfect record intact and a successful home-and-home series sweep against its SEC opponent.

How It Happened

With Nick Singleton taking first-team reps at running back, the Nittany Lions took the field. On a third down, Sean Clifford got blasted on a scramble and fumbled toward the sideline, setting up a 4th-and-1 around midfield. The Nittany Lions failed to convert and the Tigers responded with a quick drive to the red zone. Curtis Jacobs came up with a big sack on third down and goal, holding Auburn to just a 3-0 lead.

Upon getting the ball back, Keyvone Lee checked into the backfield. After his first carry went two yards, Lee stayed down, clutching his knee. After limping off, freshman Kaytron Allen took his place. Allen hit a hole quick and found 16 yards. Clifford hooked up with Mitchell Tinsley on a perfectly anticipated ball down the right sideline, putting Penn State inside the 10-yard line. A quarterback draw from Clifford was enough to give Penn State its first lead of the day at 7-3.

Auburn responded with a drive deep into Penn State territory, but on a third down from the Nittany Lions’ 28-yard line, safety Jaylen Reed came blitzing off the weak edge and laid a huge hit on quarterback TJ Finley’s blind side. Finley was able to eek the ball out, but “Takeaway King” Zakee Wheatley stretched out to secure Penn State’s first interception of the season, ending the first quarter.

Penalties killed the Nittany Lions’ response, as Barney Amor punted it away with just over 12 minutes remaining in the first half. A long pass play and three painful runs were key components of Auburn’s push into Penn State territory. Another defensive stand saw the Tigers settle for another red zone field goal, cutting the Nittany Lions’ lead to 7-6.

A trick play saw Sean Clifford pick up his first career reception, when a double pass saw KeAndre Lambert-Smith find his quarterback for a 25-yard pass. Freshman running back Kaytron Allen capitalized on the team’s momentum, scoring his first college touchdown.

In a two-minute drill, Auburn drove down Penn State’s throat, picking up first downs on two consecutive plays. The drive would be stopped in its tracks when freshman linebacker Abdul Carter forced a fumble and the Nittany Lions regained possession. A weak drive saw a punt back to Auburn, but Penn State’s defense brought heavy blitzes and consistently sent Finley to the ground. Chop Robinson recorded a strip sack to end the half, with Penn State up 14-6.

The Nittany Lions held their opponents to a quick three and out, after Adisa Isaac recorded the defense’s third sack of the game. On the following drive, Singleton dominated Auburn. Three plays saw three Singleton carries, resulting in 58 yards, a score, and a 21-6 lead.

When the Tigers’ offense took the field again, it was met by a Ji’Ayir Brown strip sack on third down, recovered by Curtis Jacobs. Three insignificant offensive plays from Penn State brought out Jake Pinegar for a long 48-yard field goal attempt. He converted, giving the Nittany Lions a 24-6 advantage with under 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

Some efficient play from the Tigers saw Auburn ‘s offense reach the red zone yet again. However immediately following an enormous sack from Abdul Carter, Ji’Ayir Brown picked the ball off for the team’s second of the day. Clifford found Parker Washington for a 26-yard pass, which set up an eventual six-yard touchdown run for Kaytron Allen – his second of the day. With barely over a minute left in the quarter, the Nittany Lions led 31-6.

Big plays from Auburn brought on an energetic six-play touchdown drive. Auburn quarterback Robby Ashford found Jarquez Hunter, who proceeded to beat a handful of Nittany Lion defenders, en route to the end zone. The subsequent two-point conversion failed, so Penn State’s lead was only cut to 31-12. An immediate response came in the form of a 54-yard Singleton rushing touchdown on the outside edge.

Penn State forced a three and out, in under a minute, bringing out freshman quarterback Drew Allar for his first snaps of the day. Allar went 2-for-2, but Devyn Ford dominated the drive with five rushes. On a 4th-and-goal, James Franklin called a timeout, but ultimately opted for a field goal. Penn State led 41-12 with five and a half minutes remaining.

Christian Veilleux relieved Allar on Penn State’s next drive, as the team attempted to run out the clock. Auburn got the ball back with two minutes remaining in the game. A 43-yard pass gave the Tigers another red zone possession, although they were again unsuccessful, turning it over on downs.

Takeaways

  • Against arguably its toughest opponent so far this season, Penn State’s defense looked dominant. After a statistically quiet first two games, the Nittany Lions lived up to defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s push for “chaos plays.” Penn State entered the day having recorded three sacks and one turnover in its previous two games. On Saturday, the defense forced four turnovers and picked up six sacks.
  • Freshman linebacker Abdul Carter and defensive end Chop Robinson exemplified strong games from their respective units. Carter’s sack and forced fumble don’t fully encompass his impact. He and the linebackers put heavy pressure on the quarterback and refused to be pushed by Auburn’s run game. Robinson also picked up a sack and forced fumble, but broke into the backfield far more. Against Purdue and Ohio, the defensive line combined for zero sacks. But against Auburn, the defensive line’s pressure was much more potent. Three of the team’s six sacks were credited to the front four.
  • Freshman running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen continued their exciting first seasons. After showing up against Ohio in a big way, the duo combined for 176 yards and four touchdowns. In particular, Singleton’s explosiveness was on full display when he simply outran the defense on multiple plays. Allen picked up his first and second career touchdowns as well, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Sophomore Keyvone Lee did not get the start against Auburn and suffered an injury on his first carry. Although he eventually returned, Allen’s big game might not bode well for Lee’s spot on the depth chart.
  • Despite a game dominated by Penn State’s run, quarterback Sean Clifford quietly remained in his recently efficient form. Clifford seemed unfazed by incoming pressure. Oftentimes, he remained in the pocket and stepped up to find the right read. He exited the game in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach. Clifford’s final stat line was 14 completions on 19 attempts for 178 yards, as well as a touchdown run in the first quarter.
  • After facing its fair share of criticism over the first two games, Penn State’s offensive line entered a bounce back performance. The unit overcame a couple of early false start and holding penalties and successfully protected the Nittany Lion playmakers. They allowed zero sacks and were catalysts for the huge running game.

What’s Next

Penn State will host Central Michigan at Beaver Stadium on Saturday. The game is set for a noon kickoff and will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.

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About the Author

Sam Fremin

Sam is a senior from Ashburn, Virginia, majoring in journalism and political science & minoring in German and creative writing. He is a Dallas Cowboys fan who relishes the misery of Eagles fans. All hate messages can be sent to [email protected] or @SamFremin on Twitter.

He may or may not read every single comment he gets.

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