247Sports recently released an article projecting the first loss for every SEC team in 2022.
You don't have to look very far down Auburn's schedule to see what could be their first road block. In fact, Austin Nivison of 247Sports believes that the Tigers will lose the first game they play against a Power Five opponent- Penn State in week three.
This is what 247 had to say about Auburn's matchup with the Nittany Lions.
This is definitely a winnable game for Auburn, but it still has some serious questions to answer as the 2022 season begins. The Tigers had consistency issues in Bryan Harsin’s first season, and they are still in the process of determining their starting quarterback. After beating Auburn in Beaver Stadium in 2021, Penn State will be on a mission to do the same this year. Even without star playmaker Jahan Dotson this time around, the stout Nittany Lions’ defense might give them a bit of an edge on The Plains.
A couple of things should be noted here.
Nivison is right, this is a winnable game for both teams. Both Auburn and Penn State possess a fair amount of talent, and a respectable coaching staff. These two teams are on the same playing field and this projects to be an even matchup.
Consider some of the things that held Auburn back last season in their 28-20 loss to the Nittany Lions.
Inability to get into third down situations
Penn State had 11 drives, and only faced third down 10 times. They converted five of them. They faced third down a collective three times on their four scoring drives because they either worked with short fields or the offense had several chunk pass plays.
For reference, Auburn faced third down 17 times, converted 10 times, and faced third down nine times on their four scoring drives.
Auburn refused to send pressure and proceeded to get picked apart by Sean Clifford and Jahan Dotson.
I doubt Auburn makes the same mistake again this season.
Auburn's gameplan was not good. They shot themselves in the foot several times, and they still only lost by one possession.
If Harsin & Co. do a better job of timing play calls and make better defensive adjustments (as we saw later on last season), that's worth at least a touchdown in Auburn's favor, possibly more.
Auburn's former quarterback was 21-of-37 (56%) passing for 185 yards, no touchdowns, and a near pick six. Not great.
On a more positive note, Nix showed maturity and poise in what was an incredibly hostile environment. However maturity and poise don't win football games alone. Auburn needed a little more out of their quarterback, something above underneath average.
Does Auburn have someone on roster that could outperform what Nix did? I would argue yes. If they get solid to even average QB play against PSU this season, they should have a much better chance to win.
The White Out
The White Out is one of the most difficult road environments college football has to offer. If you did not see this past year's, or if you have not seen the White Out at all, do yourself a favor and watch this clip from 2016 vs Ohio State, and then watch this clip vs Michigan in 2017. Not ideal circumstances for a first year coaching staff, or anyone in general honestly. Home-field advantage is crucial.
This year, the game is being played at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Need we say more?
In my opinion, despite the unknown at quarterback, Auburn should be a preseason favorite in this game. On paper, most things indicate that the Tigers should win, and depending on how aggressive Auburn sends pressure, it may end up being a double-digit victory.
If you scroll further in 247Sports' article, you will see that they project LSU to lose to Auburn in week five. Their reasoning being that the rivalry has been tightly contested since 2016, neither squad has a quarterback right now, and "with this game being played in Jordan-Hare Stadium, it feels like Auburn pulls out another tight matchup."
You can apply this thought process to Auburn's game against Penn State.
Auburn played a tightly contested game against Penn State last year even though the played poorly. The Tigers' quarterback situation is unknown, sure. There's no getting past that.
Also understand that Sean Clifford had literally never completed more than 67.6% of his passes or finished with a better passer rating against a top 25 opponent before playing Auburn and Derek Mason's defense. Clifford isn't going yard against the Tigers this season, especially with the loss of his top target Jahan Dotson.
Even if the perception is that Auburn's offense is expected to struggle, which is one of the points 247Sports makes when explaining why Auburn might lose this game, understand that Penn State is 103rd nationally in returning defensive production... and that Tank Bigsby, the running back who had 102 yards and two touchdowns against the Lions, is back for Auburn.
This game is also being played in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
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