Penn State Football took care of business last Saturday against a Ball State team that, while good in the MAC, was unable to compete with the Nittany Lions. Watching the game, I was yet again impressed with the defense and am excited to see what a full season at defensive end for Jesse Luketa is going to look like. Luketa made an incredible one-handed interception off of the line on Saturday and looks like a brand-new player since his transition from linebacker. There were many defensive snaps taken by second and third string players which is exactly what one could have wanted from a game like this. Those snaps help build depth for years to come and with Penn State’s schedule being so unbelievably tough this year, they need to find those snaps wherever they can.
Offensively I was particularly underwhelmed but not enough so to be concerned. I think that the vanilla play calling and the pretty, shall I say boring, game was due to the fact that after two offensive drives and two touchdowns it was more or less already won by Penn State. Sean Clifford played another decent game where he did what he was asked to do and while again there were some throws that were missed, none were particularly dangerous. Again, no turnovers for the Nittany Lions and that is going to be key for Penn State this season. With how aggressive and fast this defense seems, keeping the ball with the offense and finishing enough drives when in the red zone may be enough to beat almost all teams on the schedule.
All in all, there are not a ton of takeaways that I have from this game. There was never really a point where I was concerned that Ball State would even threaten, let alone win. It was said in practice this week that we have yet to see much of Mike Yurcich’s offense, so I am very excited to see what is being cooked up for this week in the White Out against the Auburn Tigers.
Speaking of teams that are hard to find takeaways from, lets discuss Auburn. Auburn’s strength of record so far (having played Akron and FCS team Alabama State) ranks so low that it is among FCS teams. Yes, this means that they have played easier opponents than every single team in the FBS and many in the FCS. When you look at their consecutive 50-point wins against these teams, there is not much you can say other than they took care of business. When talking Auburn and trying to predict the outcome of this game, you need to look to the last few years as a lesson.
Auburn is a lot like Penn State in the SEC historically and now. They are typically a good-great program known for a consistent solid defense who has to run into the buzz saw of a team that is on always waiting for them on their half of the conference. They have Bama and we have Ohio. This year they seem to have another great defense and an offense that the book is still out on. Their defense is likely not as fast as Penn State’s is, but it is a little bigger. They carry a quarterback who came into the league with a lot of hype but who has significantly underperformed his expectations, especially in road games. They have decent pass catchers, but nobody really stands out as an all-conference type of player. Auburn’s offensive line is solid (but not great) and is constantly helped out by one of the best running backs in the league.
I am not convinced that Auburn is going to be able to generate enough big plays with their offense that they can win this game. Former 5-star QB for Auburn, Bo Nix, does not have a good track record in road games.
Home Stats: 64% completion%, 3078 yards, 20 TDs, 1 INT, 4.5 yards per carry, 9 rushing TDs
Away Stats: 54% completion%, 1617 yards, 9 TDs, 10 INT, 2.3 yards per carry, 5 rushing TDs
It appears as if the White Out may be enough alone to freak Bo Nix out for this game without even taking into consideration how solid the PSU defense has looked. The strength of Auburns offense will come from their sophomore running back Tank Bigsby. Rushing for 834 yards (6 per carry) and 5 TDs last season and already 241 and 2 this year – he is poised to perform as one of the best RBs in the sport over the next few years. The problem for Auburn is that if Penn State can focus to take him out of the game (much like Jonathan Taylor and Wisconsin in 2019) I am unsure Auburn will be able to generate enough offense elsewhere. Bo Nix will have a play a pretty great game to win on Saturday, and if history tells you anything – he may not have it in him.
Auburn is anything but proven this year. Penn State is battle tested and ready. I see this game as another strong win for the Nittany Lions despite what you may hear from SEC fans on Twitter. The question marks that surround the Auburn team all fall into the strength of this Nittany Lion defense and that does not bode well for the Tigers. For Penn State to win this game they are going to have to limit turnovers, finish drives, and get pressure early on Bo Nix. For Auburn to win this game they are going to need to brave the White Out crowd and play a brand of football away that they have not done in many years. Nittany Lions got this.
1-0. WE ARE!