STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (WHTM) — The biggest game on Penn State’s schedule is set to kickoff Saturday night against No. 22 Auburn. The 10th-ranked Nittany Lions host the SEC Tigers for the annual White Out game featuring 107,000 fans inside Beaver Stadium.
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While this matchup is extremely rare to see in the regular season, many expect the product on the field to be evenly-matched. Auburn should be used to the avalanche of noise from the Beaver Stadium crowd, as an SEC environment is often some of the most difficult environments in college football.
Penn State has hit its stride knocking off ranked Wisconsin in the season opener and dismantling defending MAC Champion Ball State last week at home. On the other side, Auburn is also 2-0 but with a 60-10 win over Akron and 62-0 over Alabama State; this is the first road game for the Tigers of 2021.
With so much had about this matchup coming into the weekend, here are five things you need to know before the game kicks off.
Quarterback play will set tempo
Penn State needs Sean Clifford to show up in a similar fashion to last week. The third-year starter was highly questioned coming into the season after a year full of turnovers and problematic play in 2020. Last season, Clifford completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 1,883 yards and 16 touchdowns, but the nine interceptions and 22 sacks caused concern.
Against Ball State, Clifford seemed to hit his stride going 21-for-29 with 230 yards, one touchdown. He also rushed for 66 yards on 11 carries and one score. The QB said he’s having fun in the Penn State offense under first-year offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich.
Auburn’s QB Bo Nix struggles on the road. He has more interceptions on the road in his career than touchdowns (great news for a guy like Jesse Luketa who pick-sixed Ball State last week). The third-year starter has a 4-5 record on the road and has lost eight of his past 10 games against ranked teams.
But thankfully for Tigers fans, Nix doesn’t have to do it himself. Sophomore running back Tank Bigsby brings the juice in the offense already rushing for 241 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns in just two games.
Rotation in coaching staffs on each sideline
So much has already been made about the Penn State rotation at offensive coordinator and the fact that Clifford has played for a new OC every year he’s been the starter. However, this is the first time it looks like the QB is actually having fun on the field. Penn State’s Mike Yurcich (the QB whisperer) has given Clifford so much confidence and has clearly set expectations, something the senior said he needed.
“He’s a thermostat, not a thermometer. He really sets the tone when he walks in the room, and we feed off that,” Clifford said of Yurcich. “He’s hard on you sometimes, but it’s for the better. I think that I really needed it this past year, to set my mind straight and get my confidence truly back. And I can really say that I’m the most confident quarterback in the country, because of the guys around me, the way I’ve prepared and the way everybody else has prepared.”
Auburn also has new coaches including one very important newcomer in head coach Bryan Harsin. In QB Nix’s three years as a starter, he has also had three different coaching staff.
“[I’ve] been in a few different offenses,” Nix said in the summer. “This will be my third different offense, third different offensive coordinator, but it’s exciting because I’ve gotten to learn and grow with each.”
White Out environment brings the noise
White Out. White Out. White Out. You can’t talk about this game without talking about the sea of white in Beaver Stadium, 107k-plus fans in State College, and the best atmosphere in college football.
ESPN’s College GameDay made the trip for the fifth-straight year. It’s the first time fans will be allowed at the White Out since 2019 due to COVID-19. This is a bucket list item for many college football fan, and the 2021 edition will be extremely special.
SEC/Big Ten Crossover is rare
This type of game rarely, if not never, happens: Big Ten hosting an SEC school in the regular season. In fact, for just the second time in 56 years, two ranked teams from the SEC and Big Ten will play in a home environment (not a neutral site).
ESPN analyst David Pollack explained that the uniqueness of this game is that college football media and fans will have a comparison point for which to base the success of each conference. Want to know how Penn State stacks up against No. 2 Georgia? We will be able to compare how PSU does against Auburn this week, and then how Auburn does against Georgia on October 9.
No more guessing. Better crossover matchups are good for football.
Gameday Forecast looks perfect
Saturday tailgating features dry and comfortable conditions with temperatures in the 60s and 70s. We stay dry for the afternoon leading up to kick off Saturday evening. Temperatures for the game will slowly dip into the 60s under mainly clear skies.
Penn State/Auburn will be broadcast on abc27; kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. After the game, the abc27 will have live reactions and analyses from outside Beaver Stadium.