PENN STATE PREVIEW: AUBURN

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: No. 10/12 Penn State (2-0) vs No. 22/20 Auburn (2-0). 7:30 p.m. ET kick-off, broadcast on ABC.

Venue: Beaver Stadium

Weather Forecast (via AccuWeather): Humid with some sun; fog in the morning, then a stray t-shower in the afternoon. High of 80.

The Line: Penn State -6.5

All-Time Series: This is the third matchup between the two schools, with each splitting wins in the previous two meetings.

Last Meeting: Penn State fell 13-9 against the Tigers in the 2002 Capital One Bowl. Robbie Gould hit three field goals for the Nittany Lions.

Throwback Classic (1995): In the 1995 Outback Bowl, Penn State crushed Auburn, 43-14 behind quarterback Wally Richardson. Wally threw for four touchdown passes while Bobby Engram recorded four catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns.

Last Week: Penn State topped Ball State in the Lions’ home opener, 44-13. Auburn, meanwhile, crushed FCS foe Alabama State, 62-0.

Photos by Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

The Lead: What an atmosphere we’ve got brewing in Happy Valley. White Out. Game Day. SEC opponent. Primetime. If you love college football, it doesn’t get much better than this. Both teams come into this game with a lot of momentum, having started each of their seasons at 2-0. The Nittany Lions have certainly faced the tougher opposition compared to the Tigers, picking up wins over then-No. 12 Wisconsin on the road before a convincing home win over defending MAC Champs Ball State last week. Auburn dispatched Akron and Alabama State with ease in the first two weeks but Penn State will obviously be a much bigger test for first-year head coach Bryan Harsin.

Penn State Wins If: The Nittany Lions can win the big play and turnover battle. There’s not much that gets a home crowd going more than big plays on offensive and forced turnovers on defense. James Franklin always preaches about the need to win the explosive play battle and finish on the plus side in the turnover margin. Penn State has done just that in the opening two weeks and it’s set them up for success. Much like Sean Clifford, Tigers signal caller Bo Nix is an experienced quarterback with plenty of big game experience. He won’t be easily rattled by the electric atmosphere inside Beaver Stadium. Though, if Arnold Ebiketie and the rest of the Penn State defensive line can get pressure and force him to make decisions quicker than he’d like to, that bodes well for the Nittany Lions with the terrific secondary that they employ.

Auburn Wins If: Bo Nix balls out. As mentioned above, Bo Nix is not a stranger to playing on the road in hostile environments. Heck, he’s had to do it just about every week in the SEC the past two years as Auburn’s starting quarterback. He’s going to need to be at his best if Auburn is going to pull off the road upset. If the blocking holds up well up front for Auburn and Nix is afforded the time and space to able to create with his arm and his legs, the Tigers can move the ball against this stingy Nittany Lions defense. Then, if Nix and Auburn can capitalize on those drives by getting into the end zone, the Tigers certainly have what it takes to win this game. Much was expected of Nix upon his arrival as a freshman, it hasn’t quite lived up to those expectations. But there’s no bigger and better showcase for you to re-announce yourself to the college football world than this Saturday’s showdown.

Count On: A few false start penalties for Auburn. Yes, yes, Auburn players have certainly played in environments that were loud before. Still, it really doesn’t matter your experience level, noise makes a difference for communication on offense. I’m not saying the crowd will be why the Tigers lose the game, but a few early-game jitters where the blue and white fans hollering at full volume will result in a few penalties for the Tigers offense.

Keep An Eye On: Noah Cain. The Penn State running game hasn’t fully clicked into gear yet, but it looks to be building each week. Cain had a productive day last week against Ball State (69 yards rushing and a touchdown). Look for him to carry that over to this week’s game. The Nittany Lions will need him against this SEC front seven.

Trivia Tidbit: This is Auburn’s first Big Ten road game since 1931. That’s before the SEC was even formed.

Predictions:

John Patishnock: Penn State 42, Auburn 13

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 38, Auburn 24

PENN STATE PREVIEW: BALL STATE

Penn State at Wisconsin. Penn State 16 – Wisconsin 10. Photo by Steve Manuel

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: No. 11/13 Penn State (1-0) vs. Ball State (0-1). 3:30 p.m. kickoff (ET), broadcast on FS1.

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where fans will be in attendance for a game for the first time since Nov. 30, 2019, a 27-6 win over Rutgers.

Weather forecast (via Accuweather): Mostly sunny with a high of 74 degrees. Near perfect weather for a day of tailgating. and football.

The line: Penn State – 22.5

All-time series: This is the first-ever meeting between the Nittany Lions and Cardinals.

Last meeting: N/A

Throwback classic (2009): Without a game to relive between these two opponents, I took a quick look back at Penn State’s second game of the 2009 season, a 28-7 win over Syracuse. Senior quarterback Darryl Clark passed for 240 yards and tossed a couple of touchdowns as the Nittany Lions cruised to an out-of-conference win.

Last week: Penn State went on the road and picked up a huge road win over then-No. 12 Wisconsin at Camp Randall.

The lead: Penn State returns home after that huge victory in Madison to face the defending MAC Champions, Ball State. While the Cardinals aren’t quite the level of opposition as the Badgers were, this Week Two contest won’t be a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination for the Nittany Lions. Ball State returns 21 starters from last year’s conference title winning team, including second-team All-MAC quarterback Drew Pitt. Penn State head coach James Franklin said in his weekly press conference that he does believe in the idea of “trap games,” and this game would certainly fit that bill. It makes his “1-0” mantra extra important this week. Don’t expect Penn State to look past the Cardinals after that win over Wisconsin and next week’s White Out showdown with Auburn looming — it’s just not in their DNA.

Penn State at Wisconsin. Penn State 16 – Wisconsin 10. Photo by Steve Manuel

Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions avoid mistakes. Penn State played turnover-free football last week and if that trend continues, it should see off any potential upset from Ball State. Sean Clifford and the offense grew into the game a week ago and most importantly avoided turnovers. If they pick up where they left off, the home fans will leave happy.

Ball State wins if: Penn State’s turnover woes from a year ago return and the defense’s performance last week can’t be duplicated. The Cardinals come into this one with plenty of confidence that they can walk away with a win. The last thing the Nittany Lions want to do is make mistakes and feed into the Cardinals’ belief.

Count on: A raucous atmosphere inside Beaver Stadium. It’s been 651 days (We think we did the math right!) since fans of the blue and white got to see their in action at home. As James Franklin tweeted throughout the week, this is going to be one big family reunion. It might not reach the levels of noise and excitement as next week’s game with Auburn, but it will still be a ton of fun. We’re jazzed up to see the return of tailgates, team arrival, the Blue Band performing pre-game and at halftime, and all that makes Saturdays in Happy Valley the best show in college football.

Keep an eye on: the Penn State running game. The Nittany Lions struggled to run the ball against Wisconsin’s stout front seven last week. Expect offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich to try and get Noah Cain and the rest of the Lawn Boyz going early. If Penn State can run more effectively this week, it should open up the passing game a lot more for Sean Clifford and co.

Trivia tidbit: Penn State snapped Wisconsin’s 25-game home opener win streak with the victory in Madison in Week One.

Predictions:

John Patishnock: Penn State 38, Ball State 17
Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 33, Ball State 20

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Penn State Preview: Wisconsin

Penn State opens the season at Wisconsin on Saturday, with the two teams meeting in a season opener for just the second time (1953). Photo credit: John Patishnock

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: No. 19/20 Penn State at No. 12/15 Wisconsin, noon kickoff (ET), broadcast on FOX.

Venue: Camp Randall Stadium, where Penn State won 31-24 in 2013, in the teams’ last meeting in Madison.

Weather forecast (via Accuweather): High of 70, and mostly cloudy with a shower in spots.

The line: Penn State +4.5

All-time series: Penn State leads 10-9.

Last meeting (2018): Penn State won 22-10, extending the Nittany Lions’ winning streak in the series to four.

Throwback classic (2012): Penn State upended Wisconsin in the season finale to cap off an emotional (to say the least) 8-4 season in Bill O’Brien’s opening campaign in Happy Valley.

The lead: By rankings, this will be Penn State’s toughest opener since 2001, when the Nittany Lions hosted Miami (Fla.) in a game well-known for featuring Adam Taliaferro walking, and then jogging, onto the field at Beaver Stadium after suffering a paralyzing hit at Ohio State the year before.

Last season was strange, awkward, and unusual for all the reasons that everyone already knows. Logic says that last year’s 4-5 season was a fluke. Winning 42 games in four seasons doesn’t happen by accident, so it’s completely reasonable to think that another double-digit win total is within reach. If the new coaches, especially offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, can adequately mold, push, and motivate the incredible level of talent on this team, there’s a real chance that Penn State can push Ohio State for the Big Ten title this season. A win Saturday can go a long way to making that happen.

Penn State wins if: Sean Clifford and the offense play close to mistake-free football. The margin of error for the Nittany Lions isn’t that small Saturday — Penn State doesn’t have to play perfect to win — though having one or zero turnovers probably flips the Nittany Lions from a small underdog to a small favorite, everything else being equal.

Wisconsin wins if: the Badgers can effectively run the ball in the second half. Wisconsin’s going to get its fair share of yards on the ground, though the Badgers are especially good at wearing down teams as the game goes on. If Penn State doesn’t tire, the Nittany Lions should be fine.  

Count on: Seeing plenty of blue and white if you’re traveling to the game. Our Friday night mixer that we’re co-hosting with the Madison Chapter and our game day pep rally both reached capacity a week or two ahead of the game. 

Keep an eye on: How new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich works the tight ends into the attack. Last week, Franklin said that this year’s core is the best group of tight ends he’s ever been around. 

Trivia tidbit: Penn State ranks eighth all-time by being ranked in the AP preseason poll a total of 48 times. Wisconsin, meanwhile, trails quite a bit. The Badgers stand 22nd with 30 appearances.

For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

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