Mistakes, questionable play-calling and penalties are what eventually did in Auburn in its 28-20 loss to No. 10 Penn State.
The Tigers were unable to make up for their mistakes in Saturday’s matchup against Penn State, failing to score on two late drives with the game on the line. Auburn finished with six penalties for 45 yards, including one that all but sealed the Tigers' fate on a defensive pass interference call with just over two minutes to play.
“I felt like we put ourselves in a position to win and we didn’t,” head coach Bryan Harsin said. “So that hurts.”
The Tigers started off well following a failed fourth-down attempt by Penn State. Auburn started with the ball at their own 44 yard line, with their first offensive play of the night being an 18-yard carry by Tank Bigsby. A stalled drive allowed the Tigers to add on the first points of the evening, courtesy of the leg of Anders Carlson on his 45-yard field goal.
Following a touchdown pass to Penn State’s Jahan Dotson, the Tigers responded with a 4-yard touchdown run by Tank Bigsby to take a 10-7 lead. The Nittany Lions would score again, taking a 14-10 lead into the halftime locker room.
“We’ve just got to be better in coverage,” linebacker Chandler Wooten said. “That goes for safeties, corners and linebackers.”
Coming out of halftime Harsin’s Tigers attempted a Gus Malzahn-esque trickeration play, with receiver Kobe Hudson catching a lateral by Nix and looking downfield. When the play began to break down Hudson scrambled around the field, and dropped the ball. The Nittany Lions recovered, leading to a 2-yard touchdown run by Tyler Warren to give Penn State a 21-10 lead in under two minutes into the second half.
“We thought we had something throughout the week watching film that it would be a good call for us,” Harsin said about the trick play. “Part of that is if it’s not there, get what you can out of it.”
Nix and company responded to the turnover with a 15 play, 75-yard drive that ended with Bigsby’s second touchdown of the evening on a 6-yard run. The drive was run-heavy, with Nix only throwing three passes. Bigsby and Hunter combined for 53 yards on the ground, draining over seven minutes off the clock.
Carlson added another field goal on the next drive before Penn State scored another touchdown on their own 75-yard drive.
Down by eight points, the Tigers had an opportunity to score a touchdown two drives later. On fourth down Nix threw a fade to Hudson in the endzone that came down incomplete, giving Penn State the ball with the lead with just over three minutes to play.
“Those plays are pre-planned and scripted in those areas,” Harsin said. “Those are things that you work on. Obviously we didn’t execute or get the result that we wanted”
After a defensive pass interference penalty by Nehemiah Pritchett gave Penn State a first down, the Tiger defense held the Nittany Lions and forced a punt. With 38 seconds and no timeouts, Auburn had to march 62 yards to the endzone for an opportunity at a game-tying score. The final play of the game saw Nix’s throw to Demetris Robertson fall incomplete, and the Penn State players cheered.
Nix finished the game completing 21 of his 37 pass attempts for 185 yards and no touchdowns.
“Not good enough,” Harsin said about the passing game. “We needed to hit some explosive plays, we had some opportunities to do that. We need to catch the ball, and we need to be in the right area in the pass concepts.”
Auburn will face Georgia State at home next week. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. at Jordan-Hare Stadium.