STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Auburn fumbled the ball on the first play of the second half and Penn State recovered. Auburn never did, suffering its first loss of the season on Saturday night to No. 10 Penn State, 28-20.
It was in front of a crowd of 109,958 — the 10th-most attended game in Beaver Stadium history — and in grand white-out fashion.
"I felt like we put ourselves in a position to win and we didn't," said head coach Bryan Harsin. "So that hurts."
At one point, the Tigers were two yards and a two-point conversion away from tying the game.
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford turned out one of the best outings of his career, putting on a show in State College. He completed 28-of-32 passes for a game-high 87.5% completion rate.
Clifford had time to throw, being hurried just one time. The inability to find a pass rush was something Harsin touched on postgame.
"I thought early on, there was one that he stood back there for seemed like about 10 seconds early in the game," Harsin said. "I thought we got a better pass rush after that. But you gotta find ways to get after the quarterback. We gotta do a better job of that."
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Late in the first quarter, trailing 3-0, Clifford completed a pair of passes for a combined 60 yards on back-to-back plays. It set Penn State up inside the Auburn 5-yard line, scoring a touchdown on the next play to take a 7-3 lead.
On the ensuing possession, Auburn answered with its own touchdown. It was an 11-play, 75-yard drive that lasted just under five minutes. The drive was capped off with a four-yard touchdown run by Tank Bisgby, to give Auburn its last lead of the game at 10-7.
Penn State not only took the lead with a touchdown late in the second quarter, but also momentum. Auburn came out of the locker rooms trailing 14-10, with a chance to reverse that momentum.
All hope of that was lost on the first play from scrimmage.
Auburn set up for a trick play, in what looked like a designed Kobe Hudson-pass. With no one open, Hudson was forced to scramble, where he bobbled the ball and dropped it. Penn State pounced on the loose football, claiming possession at the Auburn 20-yard line.
"We thought we had something throughout the week watching film that it was going to be a good call for us," Harsin said of the trick play. "Part of it is if it's not there, get what you can out of it. And we fumbled the ball. Any time there's a turnover in the game, that's a major factor."
It wasn't long before the Nittany Lions found the end zone for a third time.
This time it was Tyler Warren, who lined up in the shotgun formation and went up-and-over the defensive line on a goal-line play, crossing the goal line for a score.
It extended the Nittany Lion lead by 11 points, the largest of the night, and Auburn was left playing catch-up the rest of the second half.
Auburn nearly did catch up, scoring 10 unanswered points to bring the deficit to just a point.
It was never able to cross the threshold, though. Penn State added another touchdown in the fourth quarter, pushing the lead out to its eventual final.
The Tigers had a pair of late comeback attempts in the fourth, at one point driving to the Penn State two-yard line. On a fourth-and-goal from the two, Nix threw a ball to the corner of the end zone, targeted at Hudson.
Hudson was unable to get to the pass and the Penn State defense forced a turnover on downs.
"Those plays are preplanned and scripted in that area," Harsin said. "We went to that menu of plays. Didn't hit like we wanted it to."
Nix and the offense came back onto the field for a final comeback attempt after the defense had a crucial stop. With 38 seconds on the clock, Auburn was 62 yards away from the end zone.
A couple short completions moved the ball to the Penn State 25-yard line, with just three seconds on the clock.
But on the final play, Nix’s pass was broken up by Penn State and fell to the ground. The white-out victory was complete for Penn State.
"It should [hurt]," Harsin said on the loss. "Now, we have to take that and learn from it. Apply the things that we can control and do a much better job of and focus on. And actually go and do those things as we move into this next week, starting with tomorrow."
Auburn returns home to face Georgia State from Jordan-Hare Stadium on Sept. 25, with kickoff set for 3 p.m. CST. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network.
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