Takeaways From Penn State's 28-20 Win Over Auburn

Penn State and Auburn traded body blows and wild decisions on a rowdy night at Beaver Stadium.
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Penn State rolled out a fake punt, two Wildcat snaps to its No. 3 tight end, a pass by a receiver and even a punt on third down (unintentionally, of course). The result was a wild White Out victory at Beaver Stadium on Saturday night.

No. 10 Penn State defeated Auburn 28-20, its first win over an SEC team since 2010, before the tenth-largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history. A total of 109,958 fans celebrated the return of the White Out despite some nervous moments against Auburn's jarring run game.

But after giving up 10 unanswered points in the second half, the Lions (3-0) rallied behind quarterback Sean Clifford and the defense once again to win their seventh straight game.

Here's the breakdown.

The turning point

Having seen Penn State run a receiver option throw in the first half, Auburn tried one of its own to start the second half. Even did so with a receiver wearing No. 5 (Kobe Hudson). It didn't work.

Hudson lost the ball, which Penn State defensive tackle Derrick Tangelo recovered at the Tigers' 20-yard line. Tangelo then did the celebration swim that Saquon Barkley invented in 2017.

The Lions, who improved their turnover margin to plus-5 on the season, capitalized four plays later with a gem.

Third-string tight end Tyler Warren, a high school quarterback at Atlee (Va.) High, ran a Wildcat play over the pile for a 2-yard touchdown. It's the type of play former Penn State quarterback Will Levis, now at Kentucky, used to run. Warren is built similarly to Lewis (a bit taller at 6-6, 252) and ran a flight path over the Auburn line.

Franklin has insisted all season that he has a three tight-end rotation, always placing Warren in the conversation with Brenton Strange and Theo Johnson. Warren played a huge role Saturday. In addition to the touchdown run, Warren made his first career reception, a 22-yarder that led to Penn State's second touchdown.

Auburn's fourth-down decisions

Auburn twice shied away from running back Tank Bigsby, the most intimidating player on the field, in two key fourth-down, fourth-quarter situations. First, coach Bryan Harsin chose a field goal instead of trying Bigsby on 4th and 1 at the Penn State 26.

The kick cut Penn State's lead to 21-20 but took Auburn's best player off the field at a crucial time. Then, in the waning minutes, Auburn threw a fade route to Hudson (with Penn State's Jaquan Brisker aggressively defending) on 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line. Bigsby, who rushed for 102 yards, was left to block. Curious choices.

Jahan Dotson does it all

The Penn State receiver caught a career-high 10 passes, scored a touchdown for the fifth consecutive game and became the first non-Penn State quarterback to complete a pass since Saquon Barkley vs. Michigan in 2017. Fitting, then, that Barkley attended the game.

Dotson was electric, catching two passes that easily could have turned into interceptions. He also drew a late pass interference (the first against him this season) that at least got Penn State off its own goal line on a key fourth-quarter possession.

Sean Clifford's exceptional night

Penn State merely needed the quarterback to be consistent and protective of the ball. Clifford was far better, going 28 for 32 for 280 yards and two touchdowns. Probably his best game for the Lions.

Penn State's mysterious third-down punt

The SEC officiating crew had a rough series in the second quarter. It called Clifford for intentional grounding on a first-down throw, which appeared to be a route miscommunication between Clifford and receiver Parker Washington.

Two plays later, Penn State punted, ostensibly on 4th-and-11. Yet it really was third down, since Penn State ran only one play in between.

Why the confusion? Franklin evidently wasn't sure, either, as evidenced by his halftime interview with ABC's Holly Rowe.

Penn State didn't get caught in the swirl, though, and perhaps didn't even really know. The Lions held Auburn to a three-and-out possession, then went on its longest scoring drive since 2020: the 14-play, 91-yarder that ended with Clifford's touchdown pass to Theo Johnson.