Penn State Football vs. Auburn: Nittany Lions’ 3 Must-Win Matchups

Joey Porter Jr.
Penn State Football cornerback Joey Porter, Jr. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire)

No. 22 Penn State Football will travel to Jordan Hare Stadium Saturday to take on Auburn in the back half of the non-conference home-and-home matchup between these two storied programs.

The Nittany Lions are a short favorite on the road and will have to contend with a stingy Auburn team and what should be a hostile environment in the heart of SEC country.

Auburn is calling for an “Orange Out” Saturday afternoon so this will be a tough task for James Franklin and his program.

Below we highlight three matchups for Penn State Football in this game that will determine who walks away a winner: 

3. Penn State Football OL Olu Fashanu and Caedan Wallace Against the Auburn Edge Rushers

Penn State Football’s offensive line has been the center of talk all offseason, and has shown improvement through the first two games but will likely face its toughest test to date when they take on Auburn Saturday.

Left tackle Olu Fashanu has been the stand out of the group as he is yet to allow a sack, register a penalty or even allow a quarterback pressure.

According to Pro Football Focus, his 92.1 pass blocking grade is the highest in the Big Ten.

On the other side, veteran right tackle Caedan Wallace has been up and down. He was replaced on the final drive against Purdue by Bryce Effner but played a much more solid game against Ohio.

In last year’s game against Auburn, the Lions struggled to run the ball but did not surrender a sack and that type of pass protection would go a long way in a win this time around. The matchup of Fashanu and Wallace against Auburn pass rushers Derick Hall and Eku Leota who have each registered a sack a piece through two games this season.

Sean Clifford was sacked three times against Ohio and once against Purdue.

Getting this offense behind the chains in this environment could be problematic for Penn State Football come Saturday, so these battles are huge for the outcome of this one.

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2. Penn State Football’s Front Seven Against the Auburn Ground Game

Nittany Lions linebacker Curtis Jacobs said this week that you don’t come to Penn State to play seven-on-seven football, and that this matchup with Auburn would be a hard hat kind of game and one he welcomes.

The first two matchups of the year against Purdue and Ohio were against spread offenses who throw it all over the lot, and Saturday will present a whole different type of challenge for Manny Diaz’s defense.

Last year, Auburn rushed for 182 yards on 40 carries against Penn State Football, and despite coming away with a win, controlling the ground game will be a major point of emphasis for Franklin and company this weekend.

They held Purdue to 61 yards rushing on 22 carries and Ohio did run for 100 yards but only averaged 3.8 yards per carry, so to this point, the Lions have held their own against the run. Auburn running backs Tank Bigsby and Jacquez Hunter, combined with backup quarterback Robby Ashford who will come in and run the read option will be the defenses toughest task thus far.

Tank Bigsby leads the Tigers in rushing this season with 198 yards and three touchdowns but Penn State will be their first real test this season as well. Interior defensive linemen PJ Mustipher and Hakeem Beamon will play a big role in controlling the line of scrimmage for Penn State Football.

1. Nittany Lions Trio of Wideouts Against the Auburn Secondary

A lot of the focus going into this game has been about Penn State Football’s defense stopping what Auburn is on offense, but not enough is being talked about regarding the Lions’ offense.

Penn State Football’s offense is averaging 40.5 points per game through two weeks, and when they had to be perfect, they were in the final drive against Purdue with the game on the line going 80 yards in 57 seconds for a touchdown.

The starting trio of wide receivers for Penn State of Mitchell Tinsley, Parker Washington and Keandre Lambert-Smith has combined for 22 catches for 285 yards and three scores thus far. They will be taking on an Auburn secondary that lost Roger McCreary and Smoke Monday to the NFL but is still very solid. However, they did give up 275 yards passing at 6.9 yards per clip against San Jose State last week.

In last year’s matchup, Jahan Dotson starred with 10 catches and a touchdown, and with him obviously no longer around, quarterback Sean Clifford will have to spread the wealth around to his wideouts to keep the offense balanced.

Week 1 against Purdue, who has a stingy passing defense, Clifford threw for 282 yards and four touchdowns and despite the one mistake of a pick-six, was very good. If Clifford can avoid the costly mistakes in this one, he should have a good chance of putting up solid numbers on Saturday.

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