AUBURN —Turnovers, poor offensive line play and a mess at the quarterback position doomed Auburn in its big-time matchup with Big Ten foe Penn State. The Tigers fell to the Nittany Lions 41-12.
This was Auburn's worst loss at Jordan-Hare Stadium since the much-maligned 2012 season when the Tigers were shut out by Georgia 38-0.
"As coaches, we get our guys prepared. We didn't have them prepared well enough tonight to go out there and play the game that we want it to," Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin said.
The worst area for the Tigers tonight was the turnover battle, with two in the first half and two in the second half just stalling any momentum the Auburn offense had during the game. Four turnovers are the most an Auburn team has had since 2019 when the Tigers faced Florida in the Swamp.
Auburn is now at -8 in the turnover differential through three games this season.
"The turnovers have to be cleaned up. We got to be better at that. And we got to win that turnover battle," Harsin stated. "I said that last week. That's not a sustainable formula."
Auburn's defense only gave up 10 points off of four Auburn turnovers, but they could not stop the Penn State rushing game.
The Nittany Lions were able to run the ball at will in the red zone, with five rushing touchdowns against the vaunted defensive front of the Tigers. Kayton Allen and Nicholas Singleton, two true freshmen, had four combined on the ground.
Singleton finished the game with more yards on the ground than the entire Auburn offense at 124-119.
"I know they ran a lot of downhill runs on the duo and on the counter. So I know that played a part in getting going in the second half, what they wanted to do run game-wise. And obviously, we didn't corral enough to stop it," Auburn senior edge Derick Hall said.
With the reliance on the rushing attack, Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford was not called upon as much by James Franklin and his staff. After a 54-yard dagger from Singleton, his second and final touchdown of the day to give Penn State a 38-12 lead, Clifford's day was done, and it was a good one for the veteran quarterback.
He finished with 14 completions on 19 attempts, with 193 total yards and one rushing touchdown. Another efficient and effective performance from Clifford when facing the Tigers, with his two freshman backups, Drew Allar and Christian Veilleux, finishing the game under center.
Auburn lacked such stability at the quarterback position, with T.J. Finley getting the start for the Tigers, his third consecutive for the season. Finley was solid to start the game, but a costly interception at the end of the first quarter, his fourth of the year, cost Auburn a chance at points and started the downward spiral of the offense.
He led the Tigers on another drive ending in a field goal, making it 14-6 at halftime, but a bad three-and-out to start the second half followed by a fumble from Finley put an end to his day at quarterback. He finished the game with 11 completions on 19 attempts for 152 yards and two turnovers.
"TJ was trying to make plays out there as well. And Robby came in and did some good things for us. But, just, it's not enough," Harsin emphasized.
Ashford stepped in and provided a small spark running the ball, but he still has a ways to go in the passing game, finishing the contest with 10 completions on 19 attempts, totaling 144 yards and one costly interception near the red zone.
The quarterback play was not what it needed to be, but the offensive line struggled to protect either quarterback, giving up six sacks and nine quarterback hits. The unit was dominated at the line of scrimmage in pass protection and running the football.
"We ran the ball fairly well, [Penn State] did some things, and we knew they would, I mean their D line moved. They hit us in the backfield a couple of times, they created some penetration, created some negative plays," Harsin said. "The goal was to stay ahead of the chains. And I think we got behind the chains because of that."
Harsin and Auburn will go back to the drawing board and try to regroup as SEC play begins. The Tigers of Auburn will take on the Tigers of Missouri in the fourth game of a five-game homestand next Saturday, with kickoff scheduled for 11 a.m.
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