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GAME RECAP: #10 Penn State 28, #22 Auburn 20

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A tough road loss with a ton to learn from.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 Auburn at Penn State Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Auburn fell in a hard-fought battle at Beaver Stadium tonight in front of more than 109,000 fans. Penn State took a 28-20 victory to save the Big Ten’s reputation and grab their second huge early season win. Meanwhile, the Tigers fall to 2-1 and head back home to take on Georgia State next Saturday afternoon.

What was hyped all week as the wildest atmosphere that Auburn has ever seen didn’t exactly live up to the billing, but it didn’t fall flat either. The dreaded whiteout game didn’t quite have nearly the effect that Penn State’s usage of the tight ends and Auburn’s inability to find a big play receiver ended up having. Bo Nix regressed to what we had seen from him over the past couple of seasons on the road to an extent, but not to the degree that he lost us the game by any stretch. He ended up 21-37 for 185 yards and no turnovers, but no touchdowns, and a couple of very near misses.

Meanwhile, the tailback combo of Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter proved to be a productive duo once again, combining for 165 yards and 2 scores on 32 carries. Auburn was at its best when it ran the ball with authority and shied away from the fancier schemes. Unfortunately, the defense had a tough night, allowing two lengthy first half scoring drives, and allowing Sean Clifford to go 28-32 for 280 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The defense decided to let Penn State complete passes in front of the sticks all night, but they got suckered in to a couple of long balls when they least expected it.

The first half went about as expected with Penn State taking a 14-10 lead into the locker room, with two touchdown drives spanning 88 and 91 yards. Auburn did hold on the opening drive, as the Nittany Lions tried to surprise the Tiger defense with a quarterback sneak on 4th and short, but Auburn held and got possession.

Tank Bigsby rolled for 18 yards on the first offensive play for Auburn, but the drive stalled and Anders Carlson had to come on for a 45-yard field goal to draw first blood and take a 3-0 lead with 9:37 left to go in the opening quarter. Penn State answered after a trade of punts, and used just 6 plays to roll 88 yards down the field, with the drive culminating in a 4-yard touchdown pass from Sean Clifford to Jahan Dotson.

Trailing 7-3, Auburn got the ball to start at their own 25, and after Jarquez Hunter converted a first down to get the drive going, Bo Nix hit Kobe Hudson on a back should fade down the seam for 36 yards to put Auburn in scoring position. With 13 yards to go, Tank Bigsby got the ball 3 times, and the third resulted in the go-ahead touchdown. Auburn regained the lead at 10-7 with 12:28 left in the first half.

One interesting event took place, where the referees put together an all-time gaffe that favored Auburn, Penn State was hit with an intentional grounding penalty and the officials made a mistake on counting the downs, thus forcing Penn State to punt on third down. Auburn couldn’t make any hay with the gift, and after punting it back to the Nittany Lions, Penn State got the ball at its own 9-yard line, and went to work involving Dotson in the game plan even more. He caught 4 passes on the drive and even completed one to tight end Tyler Warren for 22 yards during the drive. Penn State got the play-action touchdown to fullback Brenton Strange with a little over a minute left to play until the intermission.

Auburn got the ball with two timeouts and a chance to retake the lead, but Bo Nix got a huge gift as a sure pick six was dropped on a throw to John Samuel Shenker, and the Tigers punted again. As Penn State tried for more blood at the end of the half, Zakoby McClain lit up Sean Clifford as the quarterback lofted a throw to the end zone, but Roger McCreary picked it off and the Tigers too a knee to end the first half down 14-10.

FIRST HALF NUMBERS

After the half, Auburn took the ball down 14-10 with a chance to retake the lead, but disaster struck immediately. Mike Bobo tried to get cute on the first play, calling a reverse to Kobe Hudson, who may have had an option to pass, but Hudson dropped the ball and Penn State recovered at the Auburn 20. Four plays later, Tyler Warren went over the pile out of the Wildcat for the touchdown to give the Nittany Lions a 21-10 lead.

Auburn answered, however. The Tigers embarked on a grown man drive, marching 75 yards in 15 plays, melting 7:14 off the clock to cut into the lead. On that drive, Auburn ran 12 times, with Tank Bigsby finishing the drive from 6 yards away. The Tigers trailed 21-17 with 5:52 left in the third quarter.

Penn State took the ball and moved out near midfield before Auburn stuffed a third down just shy of the line to gain. In a move that the Tigers anticipated, Penn State faked the punt, with defensive tackle PJ Mustipher running the ball from the direct snap. Auburn stopped his forward progress and the ensuing measurement came up a foot short of the chain.

With momentum and a chance to take the lead, Auburn pushed into Penn State’s end as the third quarter drew to a close. Bo Nix scrambled for 11 yards on third and ten, and Auburn faced a 4th and 1 moments later from the PSU 26. Bryan Harsin elected to kick the field goal and take the points instead of trying to take the lead, and Anders Carlson hit his second kick of the night, this time from 43 yards out. Auburn trailed 21-20 with 14:55 remaining in the game.

Unfortunately, Penn State answered the Auburn score. Sean Clifford connected with Brenton Strange on a 40-yard completion to the Tiger 2-yard line, and on the next play Zakoby McClain was ejected for targeting while stopping Parker Washington from stretching out to the goal line. Auburn’s defense stood tall until third down, when Noah Cain strolled in behind a great push from the offensive line from 3 yards away. Penn State led 28-20 with 10:49 to play.

Auburn and Penn State each traded punts, and then Auburn made its move for what seemed like the drive to tie it up. Utilizing another solid diet of Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter, Auburn marched down the field. Facing a 2nd and 10 at the PSU 34, Hunter made his biggest and flashiest play of the night, hurdling a man to put Auburn in a goal to go situation.

Auburn got down to the 2-yard line after a completion to John Samuel Shenker, but the fourth down play fell incomplete as the Tigers tried the fade to the end zone, and Kobe Hudson got tied up with the corner as Nix’s pass sailed way overhead.

The Tigers had a chance to stop Penn State and force the Nittany Lions to punt from the endline, but a pass interference penalty on a prayer to Jahan Dotson gave PSU another set of downs. By the time Auburn had forced the punt, there were only 45 seconds to play. Auburn moved to the Penn State 26, but Bo Nix’s last second pass was batted down and the game ended with Auburn falling 28-20.

FINAL STATS

PLAYERS OF THE GAME

Tank Bigsby/Jarquez Hunter - These guys were the reason that Auburn stayed in this game. Bo Nix has his moments, and the offensive line made some good holes, but it was the tailback combo that nearly saved the day for the Tigers. Tank went over the hundred yard mark for the third straight game this year (102 yards and 2 touchdowns on 23 carries), while Hunter added 63 yards on 9 carries. It was when the offense flowed through the tailbacks that Auburn was successful, and while the outcome was difficult to bear, it does bode well for the future now that we have a better understanding of what this team can do against tough competition.

UP NEXT

Auburn returns home for the final non-conference game of the year as Georgia State heads to the Plains for a 3 pm CST/4 pm EST kickoff.