Penn State vs. Auburn postgame updates: How Lions dominated, crush SEC Tigers

Frank Bodani
Erie Times-News

Penn State uses one-two punch to win big on the road

The Nittany Lions earned their biggest win of the young season with a combination of their attacking defense and rising run game.

That Manny Diaz pressure defense grabbed a hold of things by the second quarter and eviscerated Auburn and its shaky quarterback combination. While the Tigers started well enough moving the ball they had no answer for an ever-increasing pass rush that wreaked havoc at scrimmage.

They harrassed Auburn QBs TJ Finley and Robby Ashford, giving the Tigers no chance on offense, especially while playing behind and being forced to throw and neglect star runner Tank Bigsby.

That all gave the PSU offense an opportunity that its much-maligned run game took advantage of maybe more than most could have imagined in the 41-12 runaway.

Penn State Nittany Lions running back Nicholas Singleton (10) runs the ball as Auburn Tigers take on Penn State Nittany Lions at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.

They softened up the Tigers' defense with body-blow runs early before freshmen Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen broke through and wrapped up the outcome by the end of the third quarter. The pair combined for 19 runs and 176 yards on the ground and a stunning four scores.

Singleton already has five runs of better than 40 yards through his first three college games, including his clinching 54-yard touchown blitz that he sprung up the middle.

The Lions ran for 245 yards in piling up 477 overall.

Auburn, by the way, has never been beaten so badly at home since 1982 − the year, of course, of the Penn State's first national title.

Nick Singleton runs past SEC Auburn TigersPenn State put things away on the road in the SEC with freshman sensation Nick Singleton.

The kid is doing things even faster than Saquon Barkley did.

He's played three college games and owns another outing with at least two 40-yard-plus run. His latest, a 54-yard torching through the middle of Auburn's line, all but wrapped up the Nittany Lions' impressive showing in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

His 53-yarder to start the third quarter led to his own TD a couple of plays later. This time, he ran through a huge lane, thanks to two kick-out blocks by his line, and then outran everyone else for another score and a 38-12 lead.

And it just looked easy, as if the kid isn't even putting in his maximum effort.

Of course he almost sure is.

It's just that how fluid he looks already.

Kaytron Allen, PSU run game crushes Auburn

The numbers aren't necessarily dramatic when it comes to ground game recovery.

But it was a style and feel so far today in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Penn State rookies Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen knifed through the Auburn Tigers' defense in the second half, rolling to a 31-6 lead.

Penn State Nittany Lions running back Keyvone Lee (24) carries the ball as the Auburn Tigers take on the Penn State Nittany Lions at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.

Singleton has run 8 times for 68 yards and a score. Allen rotated in to run 9 more times for 52 more yards and two scores. Former starter Keyvone Lee added 18 yards on limited work.

The defense clamped down and handed Sean Clifford and the offense opportunities. And the Lions' long-struggling offensive line and run game took advantage.

The Lions led 31-6 as the third quarter ended.

Adisa Isaac, Chop Robinson causing havoc

Penn State's Adisa Isaac appears to finally be back in a big way.

The pass-rushing defensive end missed all of last season after an Achilles injury. It took a long time for him to rehab and be comfortable as himself on the field again.

But he certainly broke out big against the Auburn Tigers. He registered three tackles for loss and nearly got a fourth by the early stages of the second half. On the other side of his line, transfer Chop Robinson was causing big issues for the Auburn offense, too.

Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Jonathan Sutherland (0) dives on an Auburn fumble as Auburn Tigers take on Penn State Nittany Lions at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. Penn State Nittany Lions leads Auburn Tigers 14-6 at halftime.

Penn State's pass rush was really starting to let loose since the middle of the second quarter.

That led to a second turnover early in third quarter, thanks to Robinson's rush and Ji'Ayir Brown's timely hit.

The Lions took advantage with a long field goal.

Lions lead 24-6 midway through the third quarter.

Nick Singleton turns on jets vs. Auburn

It just took a bit of time.

Penn State fabulous freshman Nick Singleton only had four carries for 10 yards in the first half.

But on his first carry after halftime?

He roared through open space on the right side and owned the corner against these fast, athletic Auburn Tigers. He took it 53 yards down the sideline to set up his own score two plays later.

The numbers look better now: 7 carries, 68 yards, touchdown.

Penn State leads, 21-6, early in the third quarter.

PSU defense turns up heat before halftime

The one thing keeping the Auburn Tigers in this early, somewhat surprisingly, is suspect quarterback TJ Finley.

The transfer QB came into the day with more interceptions than touchdown passes and a twinge in his shoulder. Despite those issues, he put some nice touch on big passes early vs. Penn State and also broke through with a few nice runs.

He kept the Tigers moving early against the Lions' attacking defense.

Sep 17, 2022; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Curtis Jacobs (23) tackles Auburn Tigers running back Jarquez Hunter (27) during the first quarter at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

The Lions did adjust and began bringing more heat and breaking through before halftime. They hit Finley a few times on the final drive before the break and the big man's suspect shoulder seemed to be hurting as he left for the locker room.

Finley did throw an ill-advised interception to end the first quarter but, otherwide, matched Penn State and Sean Clifford each step of the way. Finley completed 11-of-17 passes in the first half for 152 yards.

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The problem? Star tailback Tank Bigsby just didn't seem to get enough touches − reminiscent of last year in Beaver Stadium.

Penn State leads 14-6 at halftime.

Chop Robinson's sack and forced fumble sent the Lions into halftime.

Sean Clifford throws, runs and receives

So far, Sean Clifford has been pretty good throwing the football.

And running it when needed.

Catching it, too? Well, that was the key play in the late second-quarter Nittany Lion touchdown drive. Clifford threw a quick pass behind scrimmage to KeAndre Lambert-Smith who stopped, then threw back to his quarterback.

Clifford pulled in the pass and rolled down the sideline and into the red zone.

A few plays later PSU freshman tailback Kaytron Allen made a nice cutback inside and scored from the 3 yard line on a key third-down play.

Curtis Jacobs, Zakee Wheatley leading PSU charge

The Penn State defense is shutting down the Auburn Tigers when it matters most.

But they are still looking for that knockdown kind of blow against this suspect offense. PSU's defense still needs to tighten up more, especially on third down.

The Lions have failed to get off the field twice already on third-down and long. TJ Finley bailed out Auburn a couple of times with big runs up the middle. He also hit a long, looping pass on another.

To the Lions' credit, they did get a big sack early from linebacker Curtis Jacobs force one Auburn field goal and a Zakee Wheatley interception to thwart another drive. Most recently, The Lions held tough in close to make the Tigers settle for a second field goal.

That was Wheatley's second turnover of the season. He forced a key fumble in the opener at Purdue.

Wheatley was dubbed the team's "Turnover King" during preseason camp.

Sean Clifford banged up? No worries. Leads early TD drive

Sean Clifford absorbed one of the hardest hits a Penn State quarterback can take.

He didn't miss a play.

Though that first drive didn't end well after Clifford got rocked while scrambling, he came back strong on the second. He stayed in the game, hit two impressive passes to transfer Mitch Tinsley and ran the final 7 yards for the go-ahead score.

He's 4-of-5 passing early on for 63 yards to go with 13 more running.

PSU leads 7-3 midway through the first quarter.

PSU player predictions: Curtis Jacobs, Ji'Ayir Brown, KeAndre Lambert-Smith

It's time for the defensive front seven to prove itself.

Check out the big guys up front against Auburn's standout runners and suspect throwers. Tackle PJ Mustipher and defensive ends Nick Tarburton and Adisa Isaac will be tested in a big way and must respond with their best effort of the young season.

Penn State wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith (1) celebrates a touchdown with offensive lineman Olumuyiwa Fashanu (74) during the second half of the team's NCAA college football game against Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

They will help set the stage for those helping from behind, like linebacker Curtis Jacobs and safety Ji'Ayir "Tig" Brown. They've been relatively quiet against two pass-first opponents. Not today. They will have the opportunity to make big plays and shine near scrimmage.

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Will they match the opportunity?

Here's my prediction: Jacobs will put his athleticism and grand abilities on display in a breakout performance −12 tackles, a couple of TFLs, a sack and a turnover; Brown also will hit double-digits in tackle (10) and mine a couple of turnovers.

On offense, expect the Penn State receivers to have lots of catch-and-run opportunities if QB Sean Clifford is accurate and quick in his reads. Start with Lambert-Smith with tremendous athleticm and questionable consistency.

Don't be surprise if the first play or two of the game go to him, possible a screen pass to get the offense ahead of the chains.

Overall effort for the junior: 7 catches, 98 yards, two scores.

Turnover alert: Joey Porter, Jr., PSU defense must finish better

Penn State's defenders must ratchet up their pressure and effectiveness in one particular way today at Auburn.

They must be able to take the ball away.

Certainly, the Nittany Lions' secondary locked down on Purdue's prolific pass game in the opening victory.

And each layer of the defense helped to make life extremely difficult for the pass-first Ohio Bobcats in Beaver Stadium last week. They found little room to maneuver against the Lions' starters and top backups.

Penn State's defense has excelled at breaking up passes, like safety Keaton Ellis did here vs. Purdue. But they still don't have an interception to call their own. That must change Saturday at Auburn.

Put it this way: The Lions have been credited with a stunning 25 pass breakups through two weeks − but do not have an interception to show for it. They have recovered just one fumble, as well.

So, they must be able to finish out better, to take full advantage of their skills and opportunities.

The Auburn Tigers just might be the right place to start. Consider that quarterbacks T.J. Finley and Robby Ashford have combined for four interceptions and just one touchdown pass through their uninspired opening.

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The Lions must, first, be able to slow down Auburn's preferred run game and force it into long-yardage pass situations. That is when defensive coordinator Manny Diaz's array of rush pressures can be most disruptive and successful.

That's when opponent mistakes lead to opportunities.

Penn State's deepest and possibly most talented secondary just needs finish better, starting with ace corners Joey Porter, Jr. and Daequan Hardy.

It seems like only a matter of time.

Follow beat reporter Frank Bodani here all afternoon and evening for updates, analysis and opinion for Penn State's crucial road trip to Auburn.