By Dylan Larck
Auburn’s first road game is against Penn State, which could possibly be the annual “White Out” game for the Nittany Lions. The White Out game offers an even more hostile environment for what is already one of the loudest stadiums in college football.
Last year, Penn State did not start off the season well going 0-5 before turning it around and winning the last four games of the season.
On the offensive side of the ball, they return two-year starter in quarterback Sean Clifford. Clifford had a rough start to the season last year as he threw eight interceptions in the first five games. He was able to turn it around for the last four and only threw one pick. Clifford was also sacked 22 times in nine games, seven of which came from their loss to Maryland.
The running back room is probably the weakest of the skill groups, since it is a young backfield. Penn State brings back leading rusher Keyvone Lee, who rushed for 438 yards and four touchdowns last year. Also, returning to the backfield is Noah Cain. Cain led the Nittany Lions in rushing in 2019 but suffered an injury in week one against Indiana and was out for the season.
Penn State’s wide receivers are some of the best in the Big Ten. They bring back Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington who combined for 88 catches, 1,373 yards and 14 touchdowns. The only weakness of their receiving core is that tight end Pat Freiermuth left for the draft. Freiermuth, now with the Steelers, was one of the best tight ends in the country over the past three years and will be a key part of the offense to replace.
Penn State’s secondary brings back almost all of the starters, and they will be the key part of this defense. The Nittany Lions ranked 24th in the country in passing yards allowed per game with 198.6. They were only able to get four interceptions, but they excelled with over 20 pass breakups last year. Jaquan Brisker led the team with six and chose to return for his fifth season.
The front seven is the weaker part of the defense. The defensive line only brought back one starter and had to go to the transfer portal to fill empty spots in the line. They will also have to replace Shaka Toney, who was a key part of the defensive line over the years as an edge rusher. The defensive end position is also young with little of their depth having any in-game experience. The linebacker core had a rough season last year after Micah Parsons opted out of the season. The linebackers return all of their starters in what they hope to be a bounce back year for them.
MAKE OR BREAK:
For Auburn to beat Penn State in Beaver Stadium this defense has to play its best football yet. With a veteran quarterback and two athletic receivers, Auburn’s secondary is going to be in for a tough game. They will need to lay heavy emphasis on making sure they don’t give up big plays and find a way to make Clifford make mistakes. Penn State started winning games when Clifford stopped throwing interceptions. The defensive line will need to get pressure on him as quickly as possible.
Auburn’s offense is likely to keep their trend of running the ball heavily as the Penn State front seven is the weak link of the defense, but since this is a Power Five team, they will also need to be able to pass the ball. The best way to pass the ball against this defense would be to get the tight ends involved and attack the linebackers.