Revenge and payback will be on the menu at Jordan-Hare Stadium for the Auburn football team this weekend as Penn State travels to the Plains for a marquee nonconference match-up against the Tigers.
The Tigers are certainly looking for some retribution after the 28-21 loss last year to the Nittany Lions, a game in which Auburn fell short with multiple late-game chances to tie it up. The Tigers' six penalties for 45 yards and questionable play-calling were the takeaways of last year’s game for coach Bryan Harsin and the Tigers.
Along with the in-game mistakes and penalties came the added intensity of the match-up being Penn State’s “white-out game” for the year. Combine that with Penn State Quarterback Sean Clifford having the best game of his career, completing 28 of 32 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns, and the Tigers were left with an extremely uphill battle in University Park.
Clifford is back for the Nittany Lions, who are 2-0 on the season with a 35-31 win over Purdue and a 46-10 victory over the Ohio Bobcats.
“Penn State is 2-0 and a very good football team. We played them last year and they beat us. They're scoring 40 points a game. They look good, fast, physical, and are well coached, all those things. Their quarterback, Sean Clifford, is a very good player. He was last year and continues to be,” said Auburn head coach Brian Harsin on Monday. “They have a lot of great players on both sides of the ball, and they play well. On special teams, you can see that that's important to him. They are thinking about the history of this game. They are 2-1 against Auburn. We're excited to get back, work on some of the things that we need to get better than the last game, focus on this opponent, and then get ourselves ready for Saturday.”
Auburn was competitive until the end last year against the Nittany Lions and Harsin hopes to come out with the same intensity and excitement in their home stadium on Saturday.
“I know Coach (James) Franklin. I've been around him a few times. I think he does a tremendous job with his guys. I know he's detailed. I know he coaches well. I know he's got his coaching staff prepared. I saw a well-coached football team,” said Harsin. “We played in their environment; we handled that noise. It was a big game. It was a whiteout. I remember that, and they did a great job with their atmosphere. Then you look at it for yourselves, and there were probably some opportunities that we missed. We look at it that way as well. You have to make some plays, but credit to them. They won the game. You have a chance to win games. After four hours of playing, they won the game. So, they were the better football team.
"We have to prepare for that, and we have to learn from it. They have a different coordinator. We have to be ready for that coming to the game on the defensive side. This is a really good football team that we're going to play, and we have to make sure that we're at our best when we step on the field.”
One key difference with the Tigers from a year ago is the loss of quarterback Bo Nix. With Nix at Oregon, T.J. Finley and Robby Ashford have both seen playing time in the first two games, leading the Tigers to a 2-0 record starting to the season.
In last Saturday’s game, though, both Finley and Ashford threw interceptions in the first quarter. While the Tigers held out for the win, they both struggled against San Jose State’s defense and never could get much momentum going offensively until the end of the game. Harsin emphasized in his Monday press conference that both Finley and Ashford have to work through the mistakes and not let them affect the entire game.
“They were okay. Both were good enough to win, said Harsin. "I think at the end of the day, T.J. bounced back from his interception and was able to do some things, and really rally up. I thought he ran the ball well and did some stuff when he needed to. He scrambled around and made some plays. He bounced back from a turnover. That’s one thing as a quarterback, you have to have a short-term memory. I said at the end of the game too. We hang on to these things more than our players do. But overall, I thought we were solid at the quarterback position.”
As already mentioned, the Tigers had six penalties last year at Penn State, which inevitably contributed to the loss. If the Tigers have the same penalty and turnover numbers that they did against San Jose State (eight penalties for 76 yards) this weekend against Penn State, they could be in for an extremely frustrating game. While Harsin describes the penalties as “uncharacteristic” for his team, he is also aware of just how costly those mistakes can be in games.
“We've had four turnovers and we've gotten zero. We've lost the turnover battle in each game, and that's not a good formula that's going to be sustainable. Defensively, we got to be able to create some takeaways, somehow and some way,” said Harsin. “I haven't gotten the official report back on what they thought about all those penalties, but that killed our momentum every time. It kind of seemed like it just went around each official that they were going to call a penalty, and somehow it slowed our momentum down. We had a ton of penalties, which is uncharacteristic of our football team. Either way, every explosive play we had hurt us. You chalk it up to just some of the stuff that we have to do a better job at.”
Auburn will try to advance to 3-0 on the season and pick up a big non-conference win in an “orange-out game” in Jordan-Hare Stadium when the Tigers take on the Nittany Lions at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The game will be televised on CBS.