Starting off 2-0, and fresh off of a 62-0 win over Alabama State, Auburn has its first away game of the Harsin era coming up. It will be no easy task, as Auburn travels to Penn State in white-out conditions. As the Tigers head to Pennsylvania for their primetime matchup, here are some players to keep an eye on.
Jarquez Hunter (RB)
Hunter has been a big surprise for the Tigers in the first two games. While listed behind Tank Bigsby and Shaun Shivers on the depth chart, the true freshman has racked up 257 rushing yards in only two contests. His speed and tenacity will be put to good use in a high-stakes game like this one. Penn State’s rushing defense showed some holes in its win over Wisconsin, as while they held the Badgers to only 10 points, they allowed Chez Mullusi to rush for 128 yards. It would be to nobody’s surprise if he pulled off a long run or two this game, like his 94-yard score last weekend.
Smoke Monday (S)
Monday was one of the most highly respected defenders in the Southeastern Conference coming into this season, and for good reason, his coverage ability has improved drastically since he came to Auburn in 2018. In a game where the crowd makes all the difference, a huge turnover can be all it takes to create some silence. It’s very likely that a game-changing interception could come on the hands of the veteran safety.
Bo Nix (QB)
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Nix didn’t quite match the efficient game he had against Akron, however his improvement under the new offense has made him fun to watch. With this being the game of the year so far, a good performance from Nix can give Heisman hopeful Tank Bigsby plenty of breathing room, but a poor showing makes the chances of winning dark. It will all depend on whether he can stay focused and block out the immense noise.
Jahan Dotson (WR)
Auburn’s defense has let up only 10 points in the first two games, but in spite of that, Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin has noted that there are holes in coverage that need to be addressed. Jahan Dotson returns as the Nittany Lion’s top receiver, and racked up 102 yards against Wisconsin. Auburn hasn’t faced a weapon like him this year, and his ability to rack up big plays on vertical routes may allow him to score a time or two
Jaquan Brisker (S)
With Auburn having the most rushing yards in the NCAA this season, Penn State will turn to it’s senior safety to stuff the Tigers. Brisker has made a name for himself as one of the best run-stopping safeties in the country, an ability that has him commonly placed on draft boards across the NFL. The matchup between him and Auburn’s running backs should be very interesting to watch.
If the Nittany Lions want to keep the crowd loud, they must contain an Auburn pass rush that has eight team sacks on the season so far. While Sean Clifford has great mobility, he has been prone to big mistakes when pressured, and those costly mistakes can take the crowd’s energy away. Giving him time will be a huge difference-maker this Saturday.
Keys to Victory
Ignore the crowd, and be prepared to use hand signals. Auburn looked a little jumpy in the first half against Alabama State, resulting in some costly penalties. If that happens this weekend, it could make all the difference.
The Tigers have to contain Clifford for any hope to win. Clifford’s ability to use his legs to extend drives has been a major factor in Penn State’s offense. Make him read the defense and make his mistakes in the backfield.
Special teams has to be error-free for Auburn to come out with a win. In 2016, a No. 2 ranked Ohio State team lost after a blocked field goal was returned for a TD. Special teams coordinator Bert Watts should be poised to play it safe when the legs are on the field.
Force Nix to get rid of the ball quickly, the more he can let plays develop, the more deadly he can be. Get the pass rush going and force him to make instinctive throws.
Stay disciplined in the gaps. Tank Bigsby has shown great patience waiting for holes to develop, so hold the gaps and don’t let Bigsby get past the linebackers.
Stick to your guns, don’t try any tricks. While safe football isn’t as fun, letting Auburn take the risks and make mistakes will keep the decibels in the stands high.
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