The attempted comeback fell short for the Tigers in Saturday’s 28–20 loss to No. 10 Penn State, giving Bryan Harsin his first loss as head coach of the Tigers.
Here are three takeaways from the loss against Penn State.
#1 The pass defense needs improvement.
In the first half against Penn State, the Auburn pass rush was nearly nonexistent, allowing quarterback Sean Clifford to have all day to throw. When nothing developed, Clifford was able to escape the pocket with his legs. In addition to the pass rush, the Nittany Lions had open receivers all over the field in the first half.
There wasn’t a big difference in the second half, as Clifford was still able to pick apart the Auburn defense. Clifford finished the game 28-32 for 280 yards and two touchdowns and an interception. His one interception came as they were driving with under a minute in the first half and Roger McCreary picked him off near the goal line — one of the few bright spots for the Tiger pass defense on Saturday.
The run defense held their own, even after linebacker Zakoby McClain was ejected for targeting, but the pass defense needs work if Auburn hopes to be competitive in the SEC.
#2 The run game is the strong suit of the Auburn offense
This one isn’t much of a surprise, but it was confirmed against Penn State. All of the Tigers’ scoring drives featured run attempts on at least 50 percent of the plays, highlighted by the 12-run drive in the third quarter where Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter’s runs accounted for 52 of the 75 yards on the drive.
Nix threw the ball 37 times, completing 21 passes for 185 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. A handful of dropped passes didn’t help, but Nix was staring down his receivers all night and had two passes that should have been picked off, including one that should have gone the other way for six.
With another tune-up game against Georgia State next week, the Tigers will have an opportunity to clean up any issues with the pass game before SEC play begins in two weeks.
#3 This isn’t the end of the season for the Tigers
Losing a game that was very well within the grasp may sting, but it doesn’t knock the Tigers out of the count. By losing an out-of-conference game early in the season, there is a lot of time to rebound, especially with SEC play on the horizon. Auburn has five matchups remaining with Top 25 teams on the schedule, playing three of those games at home.