Saturday’s game at Auburn is a big one for Penn State.
It will be the first time Penn State or any Big Ten team has played a game in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Penn State comes into this clash 2-0. Here are three keys that, if executed, would go a long way toward getting Penn State to 3-0.
PENN STATE KEY NO. 1: FORCE A TURNOVER OR 3
New coordinator Manny Diaz prides himself on coaching units that get takeaways.
When Diaz ran Miami’s defense, the “turnover chain” got plenty of national attention. Diaz likes his defenses to be aggressive, and through two weeks, his unit has played pretty well overall, allowing a respectable 17 PPG.
But Penn State has only created one turnover, and that’s something Diaz and the rest of the defense would love to change this week.
The one takeaway that Penn State got had a big impact. Late in the first half against Purdue, with the Boilermakers driving and Penn State up 14-10, Zakee Wheatley forced a fumble that Joey Porter Jr. recovered.
Penn State then scored on 67-yard touchdown pass on a Sean Clifford to Brenton Strange. So the turnover likely created a 10-point swing, perhaps more, in Penn State’s favor before halftime.
It ended up being a four-point win, and without that turnover, Penn State could well have started 0-1, and the season would look a lot different.
Penn State got away with not forcing any turnovers against Ohio, winning 46-10 last week. It will be much harder to beat Auburn without getting at least one takeaway.
KEY NO. 2: A STATEMENT FROM THE O-LINE
Penn State’s offensive line took a lot of flack last season, and although there have been bright spots this year, such as the stellar play of left tackle Olu Fashanu, the line overall has struggled in each of Penn State’s two games.
Against Purdue, the team didn’t collectively break 100 yards rushing and only averaged 3.1 yards per carry. Against Ohio, Penn State ran for 234 yards and nearly seven yards per carry, but the line gave up five sacks and a total of eight tackles for loss.
Auburn has a capable pass rush, led by Derick Hall, who had nine sacks last season, and Cam Wooden, who had five.
Penn State’s line has struggled in both run and pass blocking this season, and if it struggles in both areas against Auburn, that could spell disaster.
KEY NO. 3: LIMIT THE RUN
Auburn running back Tank Bigsby has been written about extensively on NSN over the past week, and with good reason.
Bigsby is the best player on Auburn’s offense. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards and scored 10 touchdowns in 2021 and is averaging 6.8 yards per carry this season.
But Auburn’s running game is about more than Bigsby. Jarquez Hunter made SEC All-Freshman last year and averaged 6.7 yards per carry. Auburn also has true freshman Damari Alston, who was the No. 3 back in the 2022 class according to Rivals.
Penn State doesn’t have to stop the run to beat Auburn. In Beaver Stadium last year, Auburn ran for 182 yards, averaged 4.6 yards per carry and still lost, 28-20.
The more Auburn runs, however, the more likely it is to win. Bigsby gained 102 yards and scored two touchdowns against Penn State last year. Hunter gained 63 on nine carries and broke at 24-yard run.
Auburn’s two quarterbacks, TJ Finley and Robby Ashford, have combined for one touchdown pass and four interceptions against Mercer and San Jose State. The more Auburn has to throw against Penn State’s secondary, the better it will be for Penn State.
Ashford is another Tiger who can do damage on the ground. He’s averaging almost 10 yards per carry through two games and had a 49-yard run against Mercer.
Auburn can run the football, and Penn State hasn’t seen a team like it in that regard.
This will be a test, and if Penn State’s defense can neutralize the run enough, the team will be in good shape.