If Auburn coach Brian Harsen is hoping to get some heat off his back, it won’t after his team’s performance on Saturday against No. 22 Penn State.
In fact, things are about to get a lot more intense (if that’s even possible in Auburn).
The latest cause for ever-growing anxiety at The Plains was a 41-12 defeat at the hands of the visiting Nittany Lions.
While PSU got four collegiate touchdowns from the dynamic new running duo running back from Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen, the defense was on Auburn’s back court throughout the afternoon. The Nittany Lions forced four turns in Auburn, including two deep in the PSU area.
Auburn moved the ball relatively well, but the red zone’s success – or lack thereof – made the difference early on. Auburn was held in front of multiple field targets in the red while Nittany Lions consistently finished driving with a touchdown. As a result, PSU led 14-6 at the end of the first half.
The second half was more unbalanced.
The PSU’s first drive in the second half needed only three individual rounds — a 53-yard blast, four yards and then a one-yard touchdown — to add to the lead.
The Penn State defense forced a confusion from Auburn QPT J. Finley on the next route and then picked another Auburn QB, Robbie Ashford, later in the third.
From these two flips – a field goal first and then touched down by Allen, PSU scored his second.
By this point, Penn State was leading 31-6 and it was very difficult for Auburn to beat him in an attempt to dominate. Early on the fourth day, Singleton cut a 54-yard touchdown to put the final nail in the coffin.
Penn State would finish the game with 481 yards of attack, including 245 yards off the ground. PSU has struggled really hard in the running game in recent years, but seems to have real breakers with Singleton and Allen. Singleton finished with 124 yards on just 10 gigs while Allen went down at 52 yards on nine attempts.
Meanwhile, Auburn has very few – if any – attack variations. Tank Bigsby is one of the SEC’s proven comeback teams, but the Tigers have a mediocre centre-back, a leaky attacking streak and a mediocre receiving group at best.
It’s not a good recipe and it resulted in Auburn losing the biggest home without conferences since a 41-7 loss to Nebraska in 1982.
What does this mean for Auburn?
Fair or not, Harsin entered the 2022 season with one of the hottest seats in the country.
He’s only in his second season, but it’s no secret that many of The Plains’ big-money boosters never wanted Harsin when former Auburn athletic director Allen Greene brought him in from Boise State.
That clamor subsided when Auburn started 6-2 last season, but things got worse when the Tigers finished the season with five straight defeats to finish 6-7. Lackluster’s findings didn’t help the recruiting path get things going and things went crazy in the off-season, culminating in a much-publicized investigation into Harsin’s supposed behaviour.
After all that chaos, including nothing coming out of that probe, Harsin has entered his second season under the microscope. The Tigers started the year by beating first-tier opponents, including narrowly past San Jose State. But the tide would likely have changed if Auburn had taken up business versus a good Big Ten like Penn State.
Instead, the tigers’ doors were blown out. And with the SEC going live next week, things could get ugly at The Plains.
Where does Pennsylvania go from here?
PSU is now 3-0 with road wins over Purdue and Auburn and is set to jump in the rankings. The Nittany Lions are hosting downtown Michigan next week before diving into the convention scene.
Is this team talented enough to compete with Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten East? The addition of Singleton’s explosive element in the running game is a big deal and it looks like the offensive line has improved dramatically.
These two developments help Year 6 QB Sean Clifford tremendously.
In addition, the defense looks more aggressive with Manny Diaz as the defensive coordinator. The Nittany Lions were burnt with some lightning attacks from third place early on, but they were able to generate four turns and keep pressure on the Auburn passers-by.
Auburn may be a very humble team, but it still represents a confidence-building effort for James Franklin’s group. This is especially true after successive disappointing seasons.