Auburn has started the season 2-0, but it faces its first real test this weekend.
The Tigers will defend the Plains against the No. 22 Penn State Nittany Lions on Saturday while also hoping to avenge its loss to them last year in Pennsylvania. After scraping by San Jose State, Auburn can make a statement by defeating a ranked team on its home turf, but it’s going to take a great defensive performance to slow down the weapons that Penn State will bring to the field come game day.
With that in mind, here are four defensive keys to defeating the Nittany Lions and showing the nation that the Tigers aren’t pretenders:
Stop the run
(AP Photo/Stew Milne)
Penn State running back Nicholas Singleton is averaging 10.5 yards per carry so far this season. Yes, you read that correctly.
Of course, a big part of that is splash plays, but the Tigers’ front seven will have to start its game plan by making sure those 70-yard-runs that Singelton has busted off so far this year don’t become a reality in Jordan-Hare. [autotag]Colby Wooden[/autotag], [autotag]Jason Jones[/autotag] and [autotag]Marcus Harris[/autotag] will have to play tough up front to secure the gaps and guys like [autotag]Derick Hall[/autotag] and [autotag]Eku Leota[/autotag] will have to make sure running backs don’t bounce off the outside.
Put Sean Clifford out of his comfort zone
(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Look, it’s no secret that quarterback Sean Clifford isn’t exactly a Heisman candidate out there, but don’t underestimate him to much — just ask Purdue what he can do when faced with a game-winning drive.
Clifford is very streaky as a quarterback, and it’ll be Auburn’s job to make the good come out more than the bad. A strong pass rush and good containment on his favorite passing weapons — we’ll get to that right below here — should do the trick in throwing him off his game and forcing him to get creative, which won’t end well for him or the Nittany Lions.
Keep an eye on Mitchell Tinsley
(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Penn State wideout Mitchell Tinsley is a weapon. The transfer from Western Kentucky has snagged a touchdown in each of Penn State’s first two games and it doesn’t seem like he plans on ending that streak anytime soon — it’s Auburn’s job to change those plans.
The Tigers’ secondary should key in on Tinsley and take away the Nittany Lions’ playmaker throughout the game. Safety [autotag]Zion Puckett[/autotag] should be on the lookout and give aid to [autotag]Nehemiah Pritchett[/autotag] and [autotag]Jaylin Simpson[/autotag] if needed, because letting Tinsley break contain could spell disaster for the Plains come the end of the matchup.
Stay staunch in clutch time
Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
Penn State had six contests last year that came down to a possession or less, with one of those games being against Auburn. In many ways, the Nittany Lions are more like cardiac cats, and Auburn will have to ensure it doesn’t get bit again.
If there comes a point where Penn State has the ball down eight or less in the game’s final stretch, the Tigers have to tighten up and finish the game. Penn State lost four of those six games last year, and this time around, a tightened-up defense that performs well in the clutch will make sure the Tigers aren’t on the other end of that statistic like they were last year.