Penn State vs. Auburn Odds, Picks & Predictions: Why Nittany Lions Shouldn’t Be Favored on Road
Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images. Pictured: Damari Alston (Auburn)
Penn State vs. Auburn Odds
Auburn looks avenge last year’s 28-20 loss in Happy Valley when it hosts Penn State for a Big Ten/SEC clash.
Penn State narrowly escaped West Lafayette in Week 1 with a win, and then followed that up with a blowout of Ohio at home.
This is a very tricky spot here, being favored on the road without an elite quarterback under center. However, if Penn State wants to compete with Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten East, these are the types of games it has to win.
Auburn got a pretty big scare from San Jose State in Week 2, barely beating the Spartans 24-16 after being down at the half.
It’s only Bryan Harsin’s second season at Auburn, but he is already on the hot seat after a tumultuous offseason. A win at home over a good Penn State team will help him get some job security and get Auburn on the right track heading into SEC play.
Nittany Lions Offense
This will now be Sean Clifford’s fourth year as the Penn State starting quarterback. In the past three years, he’s failed to finish a season with a PFF passing grade over 70, and he has more than 10 Turnover Worthy Plays.
The 2019 season was the only campaign in which he averaged over 7.5 yards per attempt.
It’s been the same story this season, as he had a 54 PFF passing grade in Week 1 against Purdue. Despite the blowout last weekend, he only had a 64 PFF passing grade.
This year, he lost his favorite target and an All-American in Jahan Dotson, but everyone else is back.
The program added Western Kentucky’s Mitchell Tinsley, who had a 80.8 PFF receiving grade and 1,402 receiving yards in a pass-happy offense.
Clifford has no excuses. However, this was an offense that was 95th in EPA/Play and only gained 4.9 yards per play (105th in FBS) last season. Well, through two games this season, even though they’ve scored 75 points, the Nittany Lions are still only gaining 5.0 yards per play.
Five-star freshman Nick Singleton has burst onto the scene and is the Nittany Lions’ new lead back after a dazzling 70-yard run against Ohio last weekend.
NICK SINGLETON IS A STAR 🐾 pic.twitter.com/tnRVacX0KZ
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 10, 2022
However, Penn State lost three starters on the offensive line from a unit that was 124th in Offensive Line Yards last year. I don’t expect this rushing attack to run all over Auburn like it did against Ohio.
Nittany Lions Defense
Boy, oh boy, does Penn State have a lot of holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball, as only four starters return from last season.
The Nittany Lions are going to regress from ranking fourth in Finishing Drives on defense, which was a big reason why they started out 5-0 in 2021.
They were pretty average against Purdue, allowing 5.3 yards per play, a 48% Standard Down Success Rate and Purdue to get inside their 40-yard line six times.
The defensive line loses three starters, but returns four players who have at least started a game.
Last season, Penn State was 51st in Defensive Line Yards and 101st in Havoc, so I can’t see it drastically improving after losing three starters. This will also be the first good rushing attack its seen this season.
The biggest losses come on the backend. The Nittany Lions lost their top two tacklers at linebacker and two starters in the secondary, including First Team All-Big Ten talent Jaquan Brisker.
They were pretty good against Purdue — holding Aidan O’Connell to only 6.4 yards per attempt — but this game is going to come down to stopping Tank Bigsby and the Auburn rushing attack.
Despite the bad looking final score line, Auburn’s offense was actually pretty effective against San Jose State on Saturday. It averaged 6.4 yards per play, had 24 points on six opportunities inside the 40-yard line and most importantly, averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
T.J. Finley is back at starting quarterback, which I am not so sure is a good thing for Auburn. In his three starts at the end of last season against South Carolina, Alabama and Houston, he failed to put up a PFF passing grade over 65 and failed to average over 6.5 yards per attempt.
He did improve his yards per attempt against Mercer and San Jose State to 8.0, but with that came four Turnover Worthy Plays.
The real focus of the Auburn offense is behind its outstanding running back Bigsby. Bigsby toted the rock 223 times last season and averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Bigsby averaged a whopping 3.13 yards after contact per attempt and had a 86.9 PFF rushing grade in 2021.
Auburn RB Tank Bigsby is a tough one to catch 😳 pic.twitter.com/prRrQ0UKxV
— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) September 5, 2022
Bigsby also has four of his starting linemen back from last season with a 120 combined starts between them.
Auburn had one of the best run defenses in the country in 2021. It only allowed 3.7 yards per carry and ranked inside the top 10 in Defensive Line Yards, Stuff Rate and Power Success Rate Allowed.
The Tigers did lose some depth on the defensive line, but they have an edge rusher who can absolutely get to the quarterback in Derrick Hall.
Hall had a 86.6 pass rushing grade, nine sacks and a 15.5% pressure rate, all of which were top-five in the SEC in 2021.
Clifford has a 27.7 PFF passing grade when under pressure in 2021 — one of the worst marks in college football — so if Hall can get home, I don’t see Clifford and the passing attack having a lot of success.
Here’s a video of Derrick Hall and Eku Leota being flat out better than dominant OTs pic.twitter.com/nBaGekL0sx
— AU Helmet (@au_helmet) July 23, 2022
Auburn lost First Team All-American Roger McCreary in its secondary, but it did bring in a couple of high-value transfers, along with one of the top JUCO defensive backs.
Plus, the Tigers held both Mercer and San Jose State under 7.0 yards per attempt.
If the defensive line can get pressure on Clifford, it will make its job much easier.
Penn State vs. Auburn Matchup Analysis
Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how Penn State and Auburn match up statistically:
Penn State Offense vs. Auburn Defense
|** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)|
Auburn Offense vs. Penn State Defense
|** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)|
Pace of Play / Other
|SP+ Special Teams||84||5|
|Seconds per Play||25.2 (49)||26.6 (71)|
|Rush Rate||44.3% (103)||64.2% (16)|
Data via CollegeFootballData.com (CFBD), FootballOutsiders, SP+, Pro Football Focus and SportSource Analytics.
Penn State vs. Auburn Betting Pick
I really don’t think Penn State should be a favorite on the road. We’ve seen enough of a sample size of Clifford to say that he is a below-average quarterback and all of the advanced metrics back that up.
This is also the first time Penn State’s defense is seeing a legitimate rushing attack in a hostile environment, so I love the Tigers here at home.
I have Auburn projected at -5.2, so I love the value on it as underdogs at +3 (BetMGM) and would play it down to a pick’em.