Penn State football hits the road for clash with Auburn

Story posted September 17, 2022 in CommRadio, Sports by Alex Rocco

Penn State is making history in its next contest.

The newly ranked Nittany Lions are the first Big Ten program to travel to Jordan-Hare Stadium and take on the Auburn Tigers in the second half of a home and home series.

The last time the blue and white faced off against an SEC opponent was in 2010 when it traveled to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama.

Both teams have gotten off to undefeated starts to open the season, and the Tigers will look for revenge after losing last year in Happy Valley.

In the first two weeks of the campaign, Penn State teams predicated on throwing the ball, but Saturday’s contest will be different.

Auburn is known for pounding the rock, ranking No. 14 in the nation in rushing yards per game, averaging 247.5.

The ground game is led by junior running back Tank Bigsby, who racked up 102 yards and two touchdowns in the last matchup.

While the contest against the Tigers will be an adjustment for the secondary, the front seven is thrilled to play more in the run game.

“I feel like this is a game you want to be a part of as a linebacker. Being able to come downhill, strike, get those tackles,” Curtis Jacobs said. “I mean, you didn’t come to Penn State to be a linebacker to watch someone play 7-on-7 against you.”

Through two games, Bigsby has logged 29 carries for 198 yards and three touchdowns, while his backup Jarquez Hunter has found the endzone four times, tallying 75 yards on 16 carries.

Auburn has a two-quarterback system, with T.J. Finley being the primary option and Robby Ashford having the ability to run.

Ashford has compiled 129 yards rushing on 13 carries, along with 101 yards passing on five completions. As for Finley, he’s struggled early this year, throwing for 279 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

Facing a dangerous running game poses a tough task for a defense, and having to prepare for two quarterbacks makes things much more complicated.

“When you’re dealing with a two-quarterback system, you want to find the strengths and weaknesses of both,” Ji’Ayir Brown said. “Knowing your opponent is the most important thing when going against two quarterbacks.”

While Penn State’s linebacking core will be tested early and often on Saturday, so will its offensive line.

A year ago, Derrick Hall cemented himself amongst the top pass rushers in the nation after recording 12.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks.

Hall is extremely valuable with his versatility in the Tigers' defensive scheme as he can line up on the defensive line or at outside linebacker.

The Nittany Lions' offensive line has struggled this campaign, and with Hall potentially lining up across from Sal Wormely or Caedan Wallace, it could be a long afternoon for the running game.

Left tackle Olu Fashanu has been Penn State’s best offensive lineman this year, and he acknowledged the challenge Auburn’s defensive line brings.

“They’re a very talented group of guys. They’re all very physical, they play with extremely high motors and it’s going to be great to compete against them this week,” Fashanu said. “It should be a great battle between our offensive line and their defensive line.”

In the blue and white’s Week 2 46-10 victory over Ohio, it found much-awaited success running the ball as true freshman Nicholas Singleton shined in his Beaver Stadium debut.

Singleton became the first Nittany Lion since Keyvone Lee in 2020 to rush for over 100 yards in a game as he tallied 179 yards and two touchdowns.

His first score of the day went for 70 yards and was the longest run since 2019 when Journey Brown had an 85-yard rush against PITT.

While Singleton got the bulk of the carries a week ago, Franklin mentioned there hasn’t been a change in the running back rotation.

With Singleton running the ball at an elite level against Ohio, quarterback Sean Clifford played with more confidence and found a variety of different receivers in the win.

The blue and white played three quarterbacks in the Week 2 victory, with Clifford, Drew Allar and Christian Veilleux taking snaps under center.

The trio of quarterbacks found 17 different receivers, and the Nittany Lions are anticipating the return of one of their premiere targets.

Tight end Theo Johnson missed the first two games of the season with an injury but was seen at practice on Wednesday.

While no decision has been made on Johnson’s status for Saturday, his return could provide a huge spark to the offense.

“We’re hopeful. No final decisions have been made yet, but we’re hopeful, and he’s been doing a bit more each day,” Franklin said.

Although it's the third week of the season, Penn State faces one of its toughest environments in recent history.

Traveling to Jordan-Hare is never an easy task, and Franklin has stressed that to his players throughout the week.

“These types of opponents like Purdue, opening up with a Big Ten game, prepares us for this game maybe in a different way if we hadn't played them,” Franklin said. “Obviously, we’ll know a lot more about our team come Saturday night than we do at this stage on the road, this atmosphere, this type of opponent and the athleticism that they have.”

Alex Rocco is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email