6 Penn State players that Auburn fans should be looking for Saturday
It’s not the Iron Bowl, but it’s very intriguing.
Auburn travels to Happy Valley, Pa., on Saturday to play Penn State in what could be the best game in college football this weekend. The Tigers have shown several signs of buying in to first-year Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin’s system. Everything seems to be falling in place. Auburn is 2-0. They have beaten their opponents by a combined score of 122-10. Quarterback Bo Nix looks like Clark Kent after he changed clothes. Everything is good on The Plains.
Whether that continues will be determined at 7:30 p.m. EST on Saturday when things will get a bit more difficult. Penn State has planned a “whiteout,” which means fans are encouraged to wear white to Beaver Stadium. ESPN’s College GameDay will be in attendance. Things just got real.
It’s only the third meeting. Penn State won 43-14 in 1996. Auburn won 13-9 in 2003.
You are certainly forgiven if you don’t know the Nittany Lions well. After all, it’s not a team that regularly comes up in southern conversation. So, let’s set the record straight: Penn State is 2-0 with a 16-10 win on the road against Wisconsin and a 44-13 thumping over Ball State in Happy Valley last week. They have a veteran QB in Sean Clifford, who has had a love-hate relationship with fans for most of his tenure. Clifford was benched briefly last season and replaced by Will Levis. Clifford regained it and Levis transferred to Kentucky. This season, Clifford has thrown just 2 TD passes in 2 games.
What would a road win mean for Auburn? Well, it wouldn’t get Auburn to the SEC Championship since it’s a nonconference opponent. It wouldn’t be like beating Alabama, but it would be big. Beating Penn State would would be a gem of a road win for a young team that is still finding its way, a milestone moment for Nix, in particular.
Think of the possibilities. With a win against Penn State and a win against Georgia State next week, which is likely, Auburn could roll into that Oct. 2 game at LSU with a clean 4-0 record. ESPN would surely take note of that — if LSU can keep up its end of the bargain. LSU is 1-1 with games against Central Michigan and Mississippi State in the next two weeks. But let’s get back to Penn State — the team Auburn will play this week.
The Nittany Lions are in the Year 8 of the James Franklin era. Auburn should know him well. He twice won 9 games at Vanderbilt.
Franklin has had time to build Penn State’s football team in his image. Here are 6 players to keep an eye on when the Tigers face the Lions:
WR Jahan Dotson
It’s easy just to say the SEC has more team speed and should usually win at the skill positions when they step outside the conference. After all, that is what typically happens. However, Dotson might take issue with that. The Penn State wideout has 10 receptions for 167 yards and 2 touchdowns this season. The senior is widely thought of as the best player on Penn State’s roster.
S Jaquan Brisker
Just a sophomore, Brisker has become a dependable player against the run and pass. He already has 6 tackles this season and an interception that he returned for 41 yards. The interception came against Wisconsin to help seal the game as the Badgers were driving late in the fourth quarter. That’s called clutch.
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) September 7, 2021
RB Noah Cain
Cain is handling his return to active duty quite well. After suffering a season-ending knee injury in October 2020, the junior appears to be fully recovered. Cain has carried the ball 28 times this season for 117 yards. More importantly, he carried the ball 20 times last week, which shows he is healthy. Cain will be looking for his breakout game from surgery when Auburn hits the field on Saturday. Cain averaged 5.3-yards per carry as a freshman in 2019.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 11, 2021
LB Brandon Smith
When you think of linebackers, you think of Penn State and their tradition of having elite linebackers for decades. Now, it’s time to think about Brandon Smith. He was a huge recruiting pickup for Franklin in 2019. Smith, who already has 15 tackles this season, must be accounted for in Auburn’s rushing attack.
LT Rasheed Walker
This may be Walker’s last season in a Penn State uniform. The junior left tackle has already drawn strong reviews from professional scouts and could decide to skip his senior season and enter the 2022 NFL Draft. Walker could make things tough on Auburn’s defensive end, especially those that line up on the right side of the defense.
WR Parker Washington
Here is another receiver for Auburn’s defensive players to keep an eye on. At 5-10, Washington isn’t big but he’s proven to be shifty. The junior already has 10 receptions for 104 yards this season. Auburn’s defensive backs will be challenged Saturday. Along with Dotson, Penn State has 2 formidable wideouts that could play a key role in the Auburn game.