Penn State was at-times dazzling Saturday in its 28-20 victory over Auburn, with quarterback Sean Clifford and the defense shining in some intense moments.
Let's recap, shall we?
The transfers strike again
Penn State struck gold in the NCAA Transfer Portal with defensive linemen Arnold Ebiketie (Temple) and Derrick Tangelo (Duke). They have been starters from Week 1 and were exceptional against Auburn.
This fourth-quarter hurdle by Auburn's Jarquez Hunter rightly drew gasps from the crowd and on social media. It was a legit move.
But the clip cuts off what proved to be the play's most important aspect. Tangelo (No. 54 entering the frame late) chased down Hunter at the 10-yard line to prevent a touchdown. Four plays later, on 4th-and-goal from the 2, Auburn's Bo Nix threw an incomplete fade attempt to Kobe Hudson, and Penn State took over on downs.
Franklin called it a "game-saving" tackle, just one of two huge plays the lineman teammates call "Congo" made Saturday. Tangelo recovered a fumble on Auburn's first play of the second half, which Penn State turned into a touchdown to take a 21-10 lead.
Ebiketie, meanwhile, tormented another quarterback. Though he didn't get a sack, the defensive end hurried Nix three times, causing duress and altering throws. Ebiketie also made five solo tackles.
The way those two linemen, and his defense in general, are playing gave Franklin the confidence to punt back to Auburn in the last minute.
"Defensively, we bend but don't break," Franklin said. "And we, for the most part, keep people out of the end zone, and we make big-time plays at critical moments."
Penn State's offensive line rises to the occasion
Noah Cain showed an important measure of patience on his 3-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. But watch the block by left tackle Rasheed Walker that opened the gap.
Walker, Penn State's leader in pancakes, looked every bit the part of a rising draft pick and the player he expected to be in deciding to return this season. And Penn State's line in general played a more assertive game, particularly in pass protection.
Auburn, which had nine sacks in its first two games, made none against Penn State. According to the official stats, the Tigers hurried quarterback Sean Clifford just once (Zakoby McClain's second-quarter shot that led to Clifford's first interception of the season).
Franklin said that he felt as though Clifford had 12 seconds to throw on some plays. Even Clifford said that, on a few occasions, he was "waiting for a guy to hit me."
Little wonder, then, that Clifford completed 87.5 percent of his passes in his best game at Penn State. Good thing, as an NIL deal, Clifford partnered with a State College restaurant to take his offensive line to dinner weekly.
"Honestly, everybody, I really believe they are the best in the country," Clifford said, "and they showed it on a national stage tonight."
Tyler Warren, the tight ends, and the 'Lion'
Clifford laughed at the suggestion that the 'Lion' has returned to Penn State's offense. That was the hybrid position assigned to former quarterbacks Tommy Stevens and Will Levis in past seasons.
Well, Tyler Warren is a former quarterback, too. Is he the new 'Lion'?
"It makes it fun to just bounce in personnel and keep defenses on their toes," Clifford said.
Warren, who played quarterback at Atlee (Va.) High, took two Wildcat snaps, scoring a touchdown on the first. He considered throwing on the second snap ("We have a lot in that package," Clifford said), something Franklin hinted might come in handy in the future.
"It's good to be playing quarterback again," Warren said.
Warren (6-6, 252) bulked up to play tight end at Penn State and is becoming a threat in the rotation. The tight ends, considered an offensive strength to begin the season, were quiet in the first two games, with a combined three catches for 29 yards.
But they got open, and Clifford found them, against Auburn. Warren caught a 22-yard pass, Theo Johnson caught a 37-yarder and Brenton Strange caught four passes for a career-high 71 yards.
In all, Penn State's tight ends combined to make six receptions for 130 yards. And all three tight ends made career-long plays.
"That's a room that we believe in, we think is super talented," Franklin said. "And we want to keep those guys involved as much as we possibly can."
Penn State has beaten two ranked teams in its first three games for the first time in school history.
Expect Franklin to continue making aggressive decisions, especially with the way his defense is playing. The Lions ran two fourth-down attempts, tried a fake punt, and threw deep from their own goal line inside the last 3 minutes. The fourth-down plays didn't work, but the long ball to Jahan Dotson resulted in a key pass-interference penalty. "A lot of it, obviously, is how we are playing on defense," Franklin said.
Running back John Lovett, inactive for the first two games, had two carries for 9 yards and caught an 18-yard pass in his first Penn State game. Lovett is another transfer, having played at Baylor the past four years.
Penn State's offense was 4-for-4 in the red zone, all touchdowns.
Jordan Stout ranks second nationally in punting average (52.21). He has averaged 50+ in all three games this season.
Penn State by the numbers
45: Career TD passes for Sean Clifford, fourth on Penn State's all-time list.
18: Consecutive non-conference victories at home.
10: Career-high number of catches for Jahan Dotson.
6: Defensive takeaways in three games. The Lions had nine takeaways in nine games last year.
5: Scoreless red-zone stops for Penn State's defense this season (in 11 opponent red-zone trips).