247Sports recently published an article predicting the first loss for every SEC team in 2022.
You don’t have to look very far into Auburn’s schedule to see what her first roadblock might be. In fact, 247Sports’ Austin Nivison believes the Tigers will lose the first game they play against a Power Five opponent – Penn State – in week three.
Here’s what 247 had to say about Auburn’s matchup with the Nittany Lions.
This is definitely a winnable game for Auburn, but there are still some serious questions to be answered as the 2022 season gets underway. The Tigers struggled with consistency in Bryan Harsin’s freshman season and are still in the process of determining their starting quarterback. After beating Auburn at Beaver Stadium in 2021, Penn State will do the same this year. Even without star playmaker Jahan Dotson, defending the powerful Nittany Lions could give them a small advantage in The Plains.
A few things should be noted here.
Nivison is right, this is a winnable game for both teams. Both Auburn and Penn State have plenty of talent and respectable coaching staffs. These two teams are on the same pitch and this is meant to be an even matchup.
Consider some of the things that held Auburn back in their 28-20 loss to the Nittany Lions last season.
Inability to get into third down situations
Penn State had 11 drives and was third only 10 times. You converted five of them. They met third place in the collective three Times on their four scoring drives because they either worked with short fields or the offense had several chunk pass plays.
For reference, in their four scoring drives, Auburn has finished third 17 times, converted 10 times and finished third nine times.
Auburn refused to pressure and was picked apart by Sean Clifford and Jahan Dotson.
I doubt Auburn will make the same mistake again this season.
Make a decision
Auburn’s game plan was not good. They’ve shot themselves in the foot several times and they’ve only ever lost by possession.
If Harsin & Co. do better at timing play calls and make better defensive adjustments (as we saw later last season), that’s worth at least a touchdown in Auburn’s favour, possibly more.
Auburn’s former quarterback was 21 of 37 (56%), passing for 185 yards, no touchdowns and a near pick six. Not good.
On a more positive note, Nix showed maturity and composure in an incredibly hostile environment. But maturity and poise don’t win football games alone. Auburn needed a little more from their quarterback, a little above average.
Does Auburn have anyone on the list who could top what Nix did? I would say yes. If they can get a solid-to-average QB game against PSU this season, they should have a much better chance of winning.
The white out
The White Out is one of the toughest street environments college football has to offer. If you haven’t seen the past year, or if you haven’t seen the White Out at all, do yourself a favor and watch this clip from 2016 vs. Ohio State and then this clip vs. Michigan in 2017. Not ideal circumstances for a freshman coaching staff or anyone in general honestly. Home advantage is crucial.
This year the game will be played at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Need we say more?
In my opinion, despite the unknown quarterback, Auburn should be a preseason favorite in this game. On paper, most things indicate the Tigers should win, and depending on how aggressively Auburn presses, it could end up being a double-digit win.
If you keep scrolling in the 247Sports article, you’ll see that they predict LSU will lose to Auburn in week five. Their reasoning is that the rivalry has been tight since 2016, neither team currently has a quarterback, and “with this game being played at Jordan-Hare Stadium, it feels like Auburn is putting up another tight matchup.”
You can apply this thought process to Auburn’s game against Penn State.
Auburn played a hard-fought game against Penn State last year, although they played poorly. The Tigers’ quarterback situation is unknown, sure. There’s no way around it.
Also understand that Sean Clifford had literally never completed more than 67.6% of his passes or finished with a better passer rating against a top 25 opponent before playing the defense of Auburn and Derek Mason. Clifford will not face the Tigers this season, especially with the loss of his top target Jahan Dotson.
Even though the perception is that Auburn’s offense is likely to struggle, which is one of the points 247Sports addresses when explaining why Auburn could lose this game, understand that Penn State has 103 running backs nationally, 102 yards and had two touchdowns against the Lions is back for Auburn.
This game is also played at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
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